This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
THE invention of the fishing reel dates back something over two centuries. The earliest mention of it, so far as I know, is in Baker's "Art of Angling," London. 1651. He says:
"Within two foot of the bottom of the rod, there was a hole made for to put in a wind, to turn with a barrell, to gather up his line, and loose it at his pleasure."
In the second edition of his work, the author says: "You must have your winder within two foot of the bottom, to goe on your rod, made in this manner, with a spring, that you may put it on as low as you please." In the "Compleat Angler," 1655, we read: "Note also that many use to fish for a Salmon with a ring of wire on the top of their rod, through which the line may run to as great a length as is needful, when he is hooked. And to that end, some use a wheel about the middle of their rod, or near their hand, which is to be observed better by seeing one of them, than by a large demonstration of words.*'
The "Experienced Angler; or, Angling Improved," by Col. Robert Venables, 1662, shows, on its frontispiece, an illustration of the reel, as it was then made, and in the text the author says:
"The next way of angling is with a troll, for the Pike; you may buy your troll ready-made, therefore I shall not trouble myself to describe it, only let it have a winch to wind it withall, and when you may certainly conclude he hath pouched your bait, and rangeth abroad no more, then with your troll wind up your line, till you think you have it almost straight; then with a sharp jerk, hook him, and make your pleasure content. * * *
"The Salmon takes the artificial fly very well; but you must use a troll, as for the Pike, for he, being a strong fish, will hazard your line except you give him length."
From the character of these statements, we may safely conclude that the reel had but just been introduced, and was not then by any means well known. It appears, however, to have grown rapidly in favor during the remainder of the seventeenth century, and to have become recognized, by the beginning of the eighteenth, as a necessary article in every well-to-do angler's equipment. There are still to be found men who take fish with a hook, and who think they enjoy doing so, who adhere to the ancient float, and who scout the reel as a superfluous bit of modern extravagance. Such men, however, do not-cannot obtain the full meed of sport from angling. They are ignorant of one of the greatest sources of pleasure in either bait or fly fishing, namely, the music of the reel, the pleasure of taking and giving line, and the confidence and sense of superiority that the angler feels who holds the crank of his reel and watches the frantic leaps of the gamy Trout, the lusty Black Bass or the lordly Salmon.
No Angler's outfit is, complete therefore, without a good reel, and the better the reel, the more complete his outing and his summer pleasure will be. As the heart is the seat of life, and as perfect health depends upon its action, so the reel is the most important part of an angler's kit, and the success of his tours depends upon its good behavior. Nothing can be more annoying, and I might say heart-rending, than to have your reel give way at a critical moment, when a "champion catch" is tugging away at the end of your line; or equally sad and terrible is it to have a handle drop off or a screw work out and be lost, when you are far away from shop and civilization, leaving you helpless as a "condemned soul without claws," to watch the sport go on and gnash your teeth in agony.
In order to avoid such misfortunes as above mentioned, and to furnish the Angler with an article he can depend on, a great deal of care and time, to say nothing of money, has been spent to perfect a reel to stand hard use and rough trips, and stay with him "from start to finish." In this broad land of ours, a man can find a reel, like everything else, to fit any. purse.
There are many different kinds of reels made, of various shapes and at various prices; but when you get one because it is cheap, you must expect a very unsatisfactory affair, and must prepare yourself for many a troublesome accident; for a good article cannot be made cheap.
The cheapest is the common spool, with handle riveted directly to spool-bar; and the bearings of the bar at center of reel-plates. A good pattern of this form will allow you to cast fairly well, but when you begin to draw in your line, the trouble begins, for you lack speed. There are some styles of this spool made though, tall and narrow; this increases the diameter, and by mere size causes the line to be reeled in quite rapidly.
The click-reel is of this style, being a spool with a permanent click attached. This is used only for fly-fishing, where an easy, free-running reel could not be used, because the rod is caught above the spool and the line drawn off and whipped over the water.
Then there is the automatic reel. This implement handles the fish literally on its own hook, and a sportsman who loves to feel his fish, and whose blood tingles when his rod bends and his line cuts the water, who revels in that honorable, just feeling, peculiar to all true anglers, when he puts his skill and generalship against the finny beauty's pluck, endurance and strength, could never use and enjoy this style of reel.
We have, in the next class, the multiplier. This class is as numerous as the sands, and the price varies according to material and workmanship. They are all made after the same style and upon the same principle, viz: a wheel working into a pinion, the pinion attached to the spool multiplying twice, four times, or even oftener. Some people are surprised when they hear that a fine multiplying reel costs seventy-five dollars or one hundred dollars; but when we explain that these extra fine ones are made of coin-silver, with gold slides and trimmings and jeweled bearings, the price does not appear extravagant.