Neil Travis - January 17, 2011

Sysadmin Note
Part 1 can be found here

“As to reels, there is not much to be said. The old-fashioned one has been greatly improved by the more modern pattern with the handle on the revolving plate. There must be a check. Some anglers lay great stress on having a silent one, but, with no particular reason for it, I prefer the old-fashioned noisy one, which certainly gives forth to my ears agreeable music on the first rush of a three-pounder. There is, however, in connection with the check one point to which tackle-makers should pay a little more attention, and that is its strength, or in other words the resistance which it offers to the line being taken off it. As a rule it is far too strong, and hence even when striking from the reel (and no other style of striking can by any possibility be considered satisfactory), one does occasionally leave a fly in a fish which lighter action in the reel would have saved.”

Again it is interesting that the idea of a silent reel and a reel with a check is once again in discussion today. Like Halford I prefer a reel that makes an audible noise when the line is being stripped off by a good fish, and it doesn’t have to be a ‘three-pounder.’

Reels in Halfords time were constructed of brass or ebonite. Ebonite, or vulcanized rubber, was invented by Charles Goodyear in 1839 and patented by him in 1843. A British scientist, Thomas Hancock, developed a similar product at about the same time. Ebonite, or hard rubber, was usually black and had a shiny surface. It was created by heating rubber and sulfur in a process called vulcanization. You can find ebonite today in bowling balls.

Halford noted that reels made from this material were lighter than those made from brass. Unfortunately, prolonged exposure to water could damage ebonite. The sulfur will begin to leak out, causing the shiny surface to dull and the material to flake or crumble. Ebonite was also brittle, and many anglers in Halfords day rejected it for that reason, preferring the greater durability of brass. Halford acknowledged that fact but noted: “I find a first-rate ebonite reel make of the improved material now in use, treated with care, will last many seasons.”

Like some anglers today, anglers in Halfords day preferred the heavier brass reel to “balance their rod.” Halford found this “an argument most incomprehensible on the part of the angler, and the most ignorant on the part of the tackle-maker.” If a rod maker could not make a rod that was properly balanced without “loading it with a lump of metal at the butt end -----it is time he was taught better.”

Having dispensed with his discussion on fly reels Halford turned his attention to fly lines, a subject which he indicated that he had spent considerable time on this subject. By this time in angling history silk had replaced horsehair and similar materials as the fiber of choice for fly lines. On this point Halford was adamant – “A reel-line should be made of pure silk. This sounds like an axiom, and it is; but unfortunately, in the present age, owing to the mania for extreme cheapness, adulteration is so much the rule, that to find a pure silk line is today not altogether an easy matter. Then it should be plaited solid.”
Plaited lines came in three styles: hollow, with a core, and solid. Halford considered only the solid plaited silk lines to be acceptable. However, even if the line was pure silk it needed to be dressed or waterproofed. Once again Halford took considerable pains to explain how to properly waterproof a silk line. It was a very detailed project involving boiling oil – “under the receiver of an air-pump; exhaust until all the air-bubbles are drawn to the surface,” drawing the line through felt cloth to remove the excess oil, winding it on a frame to allow it to dry, baking it in an oven for 10 hours. Then the line was cooled, rubbed with fine glass-paper, and then it is put through the process again for a total of 10 times!

“A line dressed thus only requires to be thoroughly rubbed over with red-deer fat, and the red-deer fat to be occasionally renewed as the line is used, to be, to my mind, as near perfect as possible.”

The line was to be tapered, and Halford said it must be “fairly heavy in the middle; for a fairly stiff rod. It must then taper to as fine a point as the angler dare use. The length of the taper is a very important point, and if I had to fix upon an absolute one, I should say that from the thickest to finest it should be five yards long.----As a matter of economy it is well to have a taper worked on either end of the line. When the tapered point has been too much reduced in length, the whole of the original taper should be cut off, and a new tapered point can be spliced to the central parallel portion of the line with waxed silk.” This was a fair description of the modern double-tapered fly line.

Halford concluded his discussion on tackle with a short discourse on gut leaders or gut collars as he called them. The gut leaders and the points, tippets, needed to be kept in a wet box. The leaders should be dyed a slight blue-grey. The approved knot for attaching the point to the main leader was the double-overhand surgeon’s loop.

In re-reading Halfords thoughts on tackle I am reminded how grateful I am that we don’t have to go to all the trouble of boiling and baking our fly lines, dressing them with red-deer fat, and dying and soaking our leaders. However, it is interesting to see that many of the discussions that were on-going in Halfords day are still part of our sport today.


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