Collecting the world’s finest angling gear
Fly-fishing is the noblest form of angling. It has a long pedigree; written records of the sport date back to the 2nd century. Over the course of the last 200 years, with many of the finest rivers and streams increasingly under private ownership, it has become the preserve of the well-heeled. And as with other aristocratic field sports, the equipment available to the most discerning—and wealthy—enthusiasts has been of the finest quality, which makes it ripe for collecting.
For many collectors, the most sought-after brand name is Hardy. Established in 1872 in Alnwick, Northumberland, in the north of England, the company has been at the forefront of design and innovation since its inception and is referred to as the Rolls-Royce of fishing tackle. The Hardy Perfect reel was introduced in 1891, and with some minor alterations the same model is in production today. Notable and historic examples of Hardy rods and reels are extremely collectible, fetching stratospheric prices at auctions and estate sales (a reel from the early 20th century recently saw bids of more than $19,000 on eBay but failed to reach reserve). Less notable vintage reels commonly change hands for $1,000 to $3,000. But a collector can start out smaller, if he or she chooses, and for a few hundred dollars can begin to amass a fine trove of vintage fly-fishing treasure.
Hardy produced excellent marketing materials throughout the early 20th century. Their full-color paperback books contained not only a detailed catalog of available products but also extensive information about fishing conditions in far-flung corners of the empire like Kenya, Bengal and Singapore. These books are highly collectible, as are the myriad tools, gadgets and knickknacks listed within, some of which are pictured below (along with some notable rods and reels, including a 1923 Perfect that belonged to writer and keen sports fisherman Zane Grey and a CC De France rod).
Lastly, there is another path open to the would-be fly-fishing tackle collector: Buy new. Hardy reels are throwbacks to the peak of Edwardian mechanical innovation, and if you’re a fan of steampunkish technical terminology like stainless steel ball races and floating pawls, then you’ll be happy to find that a brand-new Hardy reel looks, feels and functions almost exactly like its pre-WWI forebear. In the case of the Diamond Jubilee–edition Perfect, you can dispense with the word “almost”—this jewel-like reel features a re-creation of the famous and highly sought-after “1912 pattern-check” pawl mechanism, as well as red agate in the line guard and ivorine from a century-old supply on the handle, all for $2,400. And if your pocket is deep enough for such wonders, in-house master rod-maker Tom Moran still makes hand-numbered split-bamboo rods, remarkably delicate, detailed objets d’art that look almost too refined to actually use. But do not be fooled: Split-bamboo rods have and continue to land monster fish, and for $4,500 or so, you will have a fearsome and handsome weapon in your angling arsenal.
And that’s precisely the point; an added bonus for starting a modern collection is that you will get a lifetime’s use from your contemporary Hardy gear before handing it down to your own grandson or granddaughter once it—and you—have become suitably vintage.