ESSAY: The Best Fly Fishing Reel Ever Made
Roger O'Keefe | 5/8/13

The warm afternoon breeze is filled with bird chatter. I stretch length wise in my hammock, hung riverside between two ancient pines. I like to drift like a caddis fly on a sedate stretch of river, a delightful drift. Our great rivers form the earth’s circulatory system and reveal Mother Earths health and well being. Rivers provide us answers to our questions. All too often rivers prompt us to ask better questions. What is the best fly fishing reel ever made? 

Admittedly there is a long list of reels to test and rank. One must also consider the fact that many experts regard the fiberglass fly rod not the fly fishing reel as one of mankind’s greatest technological achievements. Clearly utilizing an objective criteria such as; the greatest impact or change produced in ones lives, the fiberglass rod has proved worthy of its accolades. 

Admittedly after rigorous examination, at the end of the day, W. A blackened coffee pot hanging from a stick over an open fire purist; his background is impressive. From fishing as a young boy on Walloon Lake Michigan (right next door to Earnest Hemmingway’s family cottage) to just missing the World Record in Acapulco, Mexico in 1953. He caught the second largest marlin in the world that year. 

I grew up on Lake Washington in the Pacific Northwest. My weekends were spent fishing for trout and steelhead with my old man on the Olympic Peninsula, Mount Rainer, Snoqualmie, Yakima, Chehalis, and Columbia Rivers, and a myriad of canoe – access – only - lakes in Eastern Washington. Sadly, I never accompanied my father on his many solo trips to Ketchikan Alaska where he subsequently flew on pontoons onto desolate lakes for weeks at a time, where he enjoyed supply – stocked – cabins, and more wild trout then can be physically caught. 

I was fond of watching my old man fly fish. I only saw my father use the one reel throughout his entire lifetime, the Pflueger Medalist. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how Pflueger Medalist shaped the lives anglers here and around the world. 

“Hey Rog, hold my rod I have to take a leak.” This was my first real chance to fly fish for Big Browns on the Piedra River in Southern Colorado. Haltingly I received the Holy Grail from the Master. Up to that moment in time I had been relegated to worms only fishing. This meant my father’s precious time on the water was not entirely spent on knot tying duties, and my constant casting entanglements. 

I felt trembley and funny inside holding my old mans rod and reel. Suddenly the line was taught, my wet fly was hit hard. Panic set in as the monster ran, raced straight up the middle of the river. The Medalist screamed bloody murder turning green line to brown in seconds. The big brown swam under a log or two and headed straight into the shadows of low hanging branches jetting out from the banks of the swollen river. Suddenly my father’s rod and reel was yanked out my hands. 

“Wasn’t that a keen fish, Dad?” We retrieved the splintered, crumpled cane pole and massive snarl of line. I anticipated my punishment. Dad plucked the Medalist out of the water with the precision of a surgeon. A glimpse of my fathers face revealed the same look I’d seen in the picture of him in 1953 shirtless on the dock next to his prized marlin which hung from a crane. 

The following day he rigged me up for fly fishing and formal instruction began. Armed with removable pre-tied Pflueger spools protected in soft deer skin pouches, I fly fished for browns with my old man. I watched him carefully crush insects on his forearm by day. Later he would tie similar looking flies by campfire and Coleman lantern light. 

I often hated my father for dragging me away from my friends on weekends to fish. It’s true what Mark Twain said about his father. About how much smarter his own father became on each of Mark Twain birthdays, Mark’s 21st and beyond. 

My old man had plenty of rods over the years, cane and fiberglass but only one fly fishing reel. He died years ago fishing on his sailboat boat in the Caribbean. Today that same reel is proudly displayed on my living room wall, faces the river, he would have liked that. 

A fifty something optimistand Rocky Mountain angler I'm forever indebted to the Pflueger Medalistfor bringing me closer to my old man. Sturdy designand innovative, made in the good old U.S.A. this iconic reel did so much more than catch fish. It changed lives.


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