Cast from the Past

Vintage fishing equipment. Photo by © Jerry L. Neal (CPW)

I like vintage fishing gear. There’s just something fascinating about old rods and reels and the unique history they possess.  Behind every bent eyelet or scratched and faded surface are untold stories of backcountry adventures and decades of devoted use. Some blemishes denote years of hard-fought battles with feisty trout, while other scars speak of far less glamorous tales: of a fly fisher’s misstep on a “snot-covered” river bottom that sent both angler and his shiny, new equipment crashing against submerged rocks.  

As an avid fly fisherman, I find old fly reels particularly intriguing.  Similar to classic cars, vintage reels simply ooze coolness and personality. Although most old fly reels are quite utilitarian, it’s the functional, no-frills design that adds to their vintage charm. Sometimes, I’m also pleasantly surprised at just how well some of the traditional designs hold up next to their present-day brethren.

Hardy Bros. “L.R.H. Lightweight” fly reel. Photo by © Jerry L. Neal (CPW)

Recently, I acquired an older Hardy Bros. fly reel called the “L.R.H. Lightweight.” Based on the reel’s overall design and condition, I could tell immediately that this was no antique; nevertheless, I wanted to learn more about its origin and history. I decided to go directly to the source and e-mail the staff at Hardy Bros. Attached to my inquiry were a few photos of the reel and, within a couple of short days, the folks at Hardy replied with the inside scoop.

This 70s-era Hardy Reel was manufactured in England.  Photo by © Jerry L. Neal (CPW)

According to John Shaner, product specialist at Hardy and Greys North America, Hardy manufactured this particular reel in the late 1970s (that’s about what I had guessed based on the reel’s overall appearance and condition). However, Shaner added that the L.R.H. Lightweight fly reels have a long-standing history that transcends far beyond my disco-era gem.

“The L.R.H. Lightweight model was first introduced in England in 1951 and has been in continuous production for the last 61 years,” said Shaner. “There were some minor changes over that time period, but the reel has changed very little since its inception.”

A 1951 Hardy catalog shows an original “L.R.H. Lightweight” reel. The reel’s design has changed little over its 61-year history.

Shaner said that although the reel’s overall function and design have remained fairly consistent over the last six decades, its value has not. He estimates the current street-price of my L.R.H reel at $150 – $225.  That’s not too shabby considering the reel originally sold for a fraction of this price when it graced store shelves back in the late ‘70s.

“I bought my first L.R.H. reel in 1978 for $47,” said Shaner.  “It is exactly like the reel in your photos. I still fish with it today.”

Needless to say, I’m ecstatic to have found a 35-year-old Hardy reel in superb condition. And I think I’ll take a cue from Shaner. This reel should compliment a 4- to 5-weight rod nicely. Here’s to adding a few more years to this L.R.H.’s fish-catching history.


Photo by © Jerry L. Neal (CPW)

Do you own vintage hunting or fishing gear? Share your photos on Colorado Outdoors Online. Include a short description of your hunting or fishing item with your photo. The most interesting and unusual items will be featured in a future edition of Colorado Outdoors magazine or on this website.
Email submissions to Jerry Neal, Colorado Outdoors Online editor, at:

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