The autumn years of the Victorian era were synonymous with great inventors sporting radical new ideas in fishing tackle. The fixed spool reel era was in its embryo stages in the latter stages of the great empress’ reign.
Brass fixed spool reel
Peter Malloch, a fishing tackle dealer from Perth, patented the first brass fixed spool spinning reel in 1884. Using a swivel foot principle, a conventional centrepin or rotating drum reel could be turned on a 90-degree axis allowing line to come off the top, thereby achieving greater distances. Its biggest drawback being that after the cast the reel had to be turned back to its original position on the rod.
This new reel provided the opportunity for 'spinning' with dead baits, spoons, etc, rather than using the accepted centrepin where much skill was needed to execute these techniques. The Malloch reel had just one more glitch. With greased cotton or silk, the line retrieved in the same direction every time, so it quickly became kinked to such an extent that it had to be taken off the spool and the kinks removed. Malloch countered this by introducing the reversible spool so that, in theory, the kinks could be removed automatically just by reversing the spool. It worked up to a point.
The Malloch Casting Reel survived into the 1940s. As late as 1946 P Topsfield patented the 'Adaptacast', an add-on swivel foot gadget to convert a normal centrepin into a fixed spool style casting reel, using the Malloch principle.
The Illingworth reel
The acknowledged inventor of the fixed spool reel is Alfred Holden Illingworth (pictured), a mill owner, who undertook to iron out the kinks of line twist that dogged the earlier Malloch. Like Malloch before him, Illingworth had the idea to let the line come off the top of the spool in a similar way to the wool strands on his factory bobbins.
Illingworth's contribution was the development of the bail arm to collect the line and lay it back on to the spool without the need to rotate the reel on the rod.
In 1905 the first “Illingworth Number One” was patented. Illingworth went on to win the International Bait Casting tournament in 1908 using a modified crank wind fly reel incorporating a cotton bobbin as the spool. Modifications by other anglers on Illingworth's original design specification were soon to follow. The revised bail pickup Illingworth Number 2, patented in 1910, became the first fixed spool reel of the shape and form we know today.
The publicity surrounding Illingworth's newly invented reel took the angling world by storm. Amongst its supporters and field testers were the Yorkshire match ace Jim Bazley and that great trout angler W Carter Platts. One contemporary report, from a Yorkshire newspaper dating from 1910, makes interesting reading:
"Mr JHR Bazley and the Illingworth Reel Win Again
“Mr Bazley must be a bit of a terror to North Country anglers who fish in competitions! Armed with the 'Illingworth' reel, which permits of a very light bait and float being cast almost any reasonable distance, he again beat 399 other anglers in the recent big competition on Bank Holiday. The match took place on the Swale near Skipton Bridge, and the winner was Mr. Bazley with 5lb. 1½ oz., the next Mr. Vernon, of Leeds, with 2lb. 11 3/4oz."
How many 400-peg matches do we see on the Swale today?
Other manufacturers soon copied the Illingworth design but Holdroyd Smith was ruled to have infringed Illingworth's patent rights. JE Miller of Leeds retailed the revised 'Chippendale', an engineering triumph with a compacted spool, though it did not have a multiplying gear.
Inspired by these attempted improvements, Illingworth went on to improve his reel. He introduced the No 3 in 1914, and a final improved bakelite spool No 5 appeared in 1937, some 12 years after Illingworth's death. Throughout this time Illingworth, “steadfastly refused to make any personal profit out of it. By this invention of the fixed spool reel he opened up a field of angling that has given untold pleasure to a great number of anglers.”
The Allcock Stanley
Designed in 1926 and later mass produced by the great Redditch firm of S Allcock & Co, later to become Shakespeare's, our nation's early favourite was the 'Allcock-Stanley'. Costing just 25 shillings in 1930, which is the equivalent of around £75 today, it was more affordable than most fixed spool reels of the day. It was however an abomination to use.
First closed faced reel
Time moved on and the year 1930 saw Milwards introduce the ill-fated 'Torpedo' reel (endorsed by Jim Bazley), which was in essence the first attempt at a closed face reel.
Five years later PW Felton designed his famous 'Crosswind' reel, a clever improvement to oscillate the spool and lay the line evenly upon it. The second world war intervened in the progress of tackle development as most firms became involved in war engineering and munitions.
The post-war years saw the rise of the famous Ambidex and Duco series sold under the JW Young and Allcocks names. Hardys, never out of the limelight, had been at the forefront of design in the more expensive stationary drum reels like the Hardex and Altex. They successfully patented the automatic full bail arm system in 1932 and were to prevent other manufacturers from using this feature until the mid 1950s.
Arrival of the Mitchells
The French firm of Carpano & Pons introduced the first half-bail 'Mitchell' (300) in 1948, a reel that was to capture the imagination of English anglers, land the record carp of Dick Walker in 1952, and as the 'Mitchell Match' go on to help competitors win the National Angling Championships many times over. It was perhaps the fixed spool reel of the last century, or were the Abu closed face reels, such as the 501, 506 and 507, even better?
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