Hardy: History and their reels

Grey Fox

Click on Thumbnail Graphic to see Detail Graphic

If any company reflects the rise and fall of the British Empire it's the House of Hardy. Hardy in it's heyday epitimizes all the great things in designs, prodution and marketing. The apprentice system and pride of workmanship came with the industrial revolution. With Britania ruling the seas there wasn't a nook or cranny that Hardy's pruducts aren't found.

Hardy's history initiating in the late 1800's with their reels and accessories are virtually the history of mid to modern fly fishing itself. Only America's fly fishing contributiions can compete with Hardy's. Amazingly the mass of anglers who have come into fly fishing in the last decade seem relatively unconcerned about these histories. By studying Hardy's offerings you will gain a keen insight of the evolution of angling products, what worked, what didn't, and apply these lessons to your personal angling needs.

The heart of Hardy's product line are their fly reels.

The Perfect was the base of the fly line from inception, and till afew years ago when production ceased. The years in between saw some great successes and failures. With ball bearings, various evolved click/drag mechanisms, extreme range of sizes, different materials, wood, ebonite, brass, aluminium, and finishes, the Perfect was produced in a configuration at one time or another to please any angler. Listed 2 1/4" to 6" at 46 oz., there had to be a size to fit your needs.

The 2 1/2" brass Perfect is an excellent example of their early workmanship. The ball bearings are uncaged so you have to be extra careful when opening it. A circular spring checking mechanism demanded exact tolerances and workmanship. Every interior detail was finished as well as the exterior ones. Note the ivorine handle and the brass strap protectingthe drag adjusting knob. The turn of the century and early 1900's models are in great demand by both collectors and users.

The Special Prerfect was billed as a very light trout reel capable of carrying a sufficient amount of line, and was produced from aobut 1905 to WWII. Heavy by today's standard for a trout reel, the Special did balance the 9' bamboo trout rods from that era. This Special also has the ivorine handle and brass strap knob protector.

 

The Bougle is a prime example of British know-how. The Leonard 1877 reel with raised pillars gave greater capacity for a given diameter and made for a very attractive reel. A M. Bougle requested Hardy to make a reel of this design and the Bougle was built. As the Leonard '77, the Bougle is an extremely comely reel and the raised pillar design helps bring the Perfect mechanism into a better weight to capacity relationship. Notice the roller pillar to protect the line. This particular Bougle has an Abercrombie and Fitch oval rivited in the interior. To many trout equiptment conniseurs, the Bougle was the Perfect for trout fishing.

The Silent Perfect on the outside looks for all intensive purpose like a standard Perfect. Though it was produced for 33 years, from 1908 to WWII, it never really caught on. As the graphic of the Silent's interior shows, this reel was made by J.S., Jimmy Smith. Prior to WWII, most Hardy reels were assembled from beginning to end by one person, and many of them stamped their initials in the interior. You can see the pad of the break as black. The pad is a piece of quality wool felt, that started out white. Oil, grease and use usually turns it black quickly.

 

 

The Wide Perfect was a natural variant. As stated before, capacity to weight was a standard drawback for the Perfect's design, so what simplier way to give it more capacity than to just make it wider. There seems to be no listed history on what was available in widths, so it almost appears that Hardy would give a client any width desired on special order. Most wide Perfects were in the larger diameters. This particular Wide Perfect is in the smaller 3' diameter.

Perfects don't wear out. The design is so good that even obtaining one 60 years old, fishing it hard, you can virtually be assured that you'll be able to pass it on to your heirs. The one drawback to Perfects is that today's light trout rods have evolve to such light weight that a Perfect with the capacity match would be too heavy to balance it. The pawl/flat spring design hasn't the braking power of modern big game drags but experience anglers can still land anything that will take a fly on big Perfects.

The second classic line of Hardy's are the St. Georges. Evolved thru decades of production for trout thru Salmon/Steelhead the devotees of the St. Geroge preferred it for it's lighter weight to capacity, simple, uncluttered, classic lines. The 3" model shown here is 30's production with the blued finish showing lovely patina. This particular model had to be customed order. Study the graphic and you'll see the agate line guide is near the reel foot. And the wind is left hand. In the 1920's and 30's many salmon angler when fishing the large salmon rivers preferred to play fish with the fly reel above the rod instead of below. Likely this was influence by the popularity of casting reels in that period. These reels are commonly referred to as "rings up" reels, with the rod's guides being rings. Large "rings up" reels show up occassionally, but a trout model is an extreme rarity.

The other St. George graphic is a very late 2 9/16" Junior model. This particular reel is in new condition, along with the original hard leather case that Hardy had available as an option. Compare the two St. Georges and you'll gain a feel for how reels evolve. The 30's one is blued versus an enamel finish. The earlier one has a blued, brass foot versus a smooth aluminum one. Time and production methods move on.

 

One great variant St. George is the Barton. Made for only about a 5 year period, 1935 to 1940, they are extremely scarce. Designed for a Dr. Barton, a president of the Fly FishersClub of London in the 1930's, he apparantly knew his reels and exactly waht he wanted in one. The offset foot to keep the reel weight closer to the hand and further from the ground when standing the rodup. A tapered handle to help from keeping them from sliding off. A contracted drum so allow the large diameter for quick line retrieve and less weight. A superbly machine alloy line guide. The machined indentation for the drag adjustment knob keeping it in line with the reel's circumference.

Like the Perfects, St. Geroge's last forever, and should any of the parts brake or wear out, they are still availabe from Hardy. The Junior and 3" models are in great demand as their weight to capacity with today's graphite rods are almost perfect.

One of the great attributes of Hardy reels made thru the 1960's, is the finishes used seem to enhance the looks with use. Whether brass or blued, handling them produces a fine patina that today's hard, high tech finishes can't compete with.

WWII was really the beginning of the end for Hardy's craftsmanship and the Empire. Mass production was coming to fly reels and Hardy had the Leightweight series coming in the 1950's. The Lightweights were of course, Hardy's third great series. The earliest of them were green framed. The grey framed models are still currently in production, almost 50 years later. There are rumors that they may be discontinued.

Hardy is still making numerous other fly reel models but the average angler would be hard pressed to name 2 or 3 of them. To many of the fly fishers the best spring/pawl reel on the market today is the Orvis CFO. With clean line incorporated into the exposed palming rim this design seems as though it should be evolved through the Leightweight series. This shouldn't be surprising as they are made by Hardy.

The most attractive and popular reel Hardy is producing presently is marketed under someone else's name. No wonder they lost the Empire.

Copyright© 1997 Fly Fishing Network