Igot a phone call at the house on Sunday evening with some surprising news: “It’s Stan,” a rodmaker friend told me, “he just passed away.”
If you live long enough you start to receive too many of these sorts of calls but I had to admit to being surprised by this and of course deeply saddened. As I posted a few months ago here on the site, Junior and I had run into him at the Marlborough show and he seemed pretty spry for 92, regaling us with some good fishing stories and, as Junior gleefully pointed out later, giving me more than my fair share of needling. In short, he seemed to be doing rather well.
I was told that his health deteriorated rapidly after recently returning home from Florida and he passed away in Nashua on Sunday with his son Steve Bogdan and his daughter-in-law Sandy at his side. A memorial service is planned for Tuesday April 5th at 10:00 am at St. Patricks church in Nashua with a luncheon to follow.
To many of us in the fly fishing world, of course, Bogdan was a legendary craftsman. Born in 1918 in Nashua, NH to a father who was a machinist, the younger Bogdan went to work for the Rollins Engine Company after graduating from high school in the mid 1930’s. As a fisherman and natural tinkerer, he soon began thinking about making his own fly reels and started experimenting with their construction on nights and weekends, producing his first reel in 1940. In what would become a Bogdan trademark, he developed an innovative and highly effective double-disc brake system capable of stopping the strongest fish while maintaining incredible smoothness, a combination which would go on to become the hallmark of fine fly reels.
So good were his creations, especially compared to many others of the era, that Bogdans soon became must-have equipment for serious fisherman. Much of his client list read like a who’s who of famous anglers: Ted Williams, Bing Crosby, Paul Volcker, and numerous British royalty and other celebrities, but there were also many others who would pinch pennies and wait years before finally acquiring one (I know because I was one of them).
Many other rodmakers and fisherman knew him better than I, but he was always especially kind to me when I first started out building rods (at which point Bogdan had been building reels for 30 years). I remember a friend taking me up to his shop many years ago – a modest but crowded affair not unlike my own – and marvelling at the simplicity of his machine tools: a lathe that was from the early 20th century, a milling machine not much newer, and of course boxes and boxes of materials from which his reels were made. To the very end of his life Bogdan relied solely on reputation, eschewing booths at fishing shows, catalogs, websites, and other marketing devices that everyone else needed out of necessity. If you wanted a Bogdan reel you had to call up the shop and get on his waiting list. That was how it worked.
A yankee through and through, Bogdan also had a mischievous side. Many years ago I recall Stan helping me play a rather complicated prank on another fishing friend Joe Garman (also departed, sadly) involving a “secret salmon fly” that I had tied and which, through a complicated series of maneuvers, we managed to have crop up “serendipitously” wherever Garman appeared that season. It was exactly the kind of thing that Stan seemed to get a real kick out of, a break from the serious work of crafting the serious reels that bore his name.
Bogdan was also quick with a story, and one in particular – which I suspect was well-worn from retelling – involved fishing Lower Murdoch pool on the Grand Cascapedia, a pool that is notoriously difficult because of a tricky backcast where one’s line had to zip out over a section of nearby road. Well Stan was fishing there one morning and was apparently reaching back for a little extra oomph on a backcast when he ended up hooking a tree on the far side of the road. Turning around to see what had happened Bogdan was trying to figure out how to unhook the fly, when, much to his horror, he looked up the road and saw a Winnebago barreling down it and heading straight for his line. “It wouldn’t come free,” the diminutive Bogdan would say, “so what was I to do? I scrambled up the rip-rap and jammed the rod as high in the air as it would go. Sure enough the Winnebago just barely squeaked under it. When I turned around again, my guide calmly said: ‘Well, Stan, looks like you almost had the catch of a lifetime there.’ Did I ever!”
Above all of course Bogdan was also a superb craftsman and one who maintained his humble approach despite his worldwide fame. “I never wanted to grow my shop any bigger,” he once told me, “because I’m too damned particular about how to do things. Can you imagine the poor guy who would have to work for someone like me?” His devotion to the craft remained to the very end of course, and in his advanced age, when most would be embracing a life of relaxation, he still worked in the shop several days a week.
In fact when it was erroneously reported earlier this year (on this site among others) that he was quitting reelmaking altogether, Bogdan was emphatic about his plans. He had been a reelmaker his whole life, he pointed out, and he would continue to do it until the day he died. I don’t know about you, but I admire him all the more for doing exactly that.
Rest in peace Stan.
UPDATE: Forbes’ Monte Burke also has a brief tribute here, along with an earlier published article.