Bogdan fly reels are among the most celebrated reels in the history of fly fishing. Made by the father-son duo Stan and Steve Bogdan in their Nashua, New Hampshire workshop, these reels developed a tremendous following among angling luminaries on salmon rivers around the world. They remain one of the most coveted reels available anywhere and hold pride of place in most anglers collections.
Today we're going to take a closer look at what makes Bogdan fly reels so famous, including taking the reel apart to have a closer look at the innovative Bogdan drag design, one that remained largely unchanged for the better part of seven decades. As any Bogdan aficionado will tell you, there is a good reason for that, as they were not only capable of stopping large fish, but would do so year after year with a minimum of upkeep.
Specifically we'll take a look at several different Bogdan models, including a model 00, a model 400, and a model 1 and 2. Then we'll take apart the model 2 to break down the Bogdan drag design and better understand the elements which make the drag so powerful and durable.
Note: We filmed this video before Steve Bogdan sadly passed away in August of 2021 and want to express our condolences to Sandy and the rest of the Bogdan family.
Jonas here from Spinoza Rod Company. Today we're going to take a closer look at the Bogdan salmon reel. If you know anything about classic reels, Bogdan is a name that needs no introduction. Stan Bogdan was arguably the most famous reel maker of the 20th century, one whose reels were revered by anglers, and by salmon anglers in particular. What we’re going to do today is take this reel apart and take a closer look at the famous Bogdan drag system, which was largely responsible for putting the Bogdan name on the map and keeping it there for the better part of seventy years. So let’s take a look.
Here are two Bogdan reels that I grabbed and the first thing you’ll notice, of course, is the iconic S-handle design. This style of fly reel was made famous by Edward Vom Hofe, one of the preeminent reel makers of the late 19th and early 20th century and he started this S-handle style design, so called for the graceful serpentine S-shaped handle on the outside of the reel.
Vom Hofe’s reels were largely made from German Silver and hard rubber, the best available materials at the time. Bogdan, coming a generation later, utilized aluminum which was far lighter and all of his salmon reels are machined largely from the material. They typically came in a couple of different colors. These are what I would call “champagne and black”, but you’ll also see them in all-black, in a full gold color (which Bogdan did at the request of some of his early retailers), and of course silver and black, which tend to be the most popular.
Bogdan aficionados can often spot a Bogdan a mile away, often due to the unmistakable Bogdan nameplate on the backside of the reel, and to some degree due to the drag adjuster which has signature Bogdan look to it. That drag adjuster moves back and forth with a little click at each stop of the drag setting and, as we’ll see in a minute, can take the drag from relatively light to incredibly strong in short order.
The inbound and outbound retrieves on Bogdans have a nice satisfying click to them. They’re not as loud as some other classic reels out there, but they are certainly loud enough and have a solidness to them that I really like.
Of course it’s the drag mechanism itself which made them famous and we’ll take a look at that right now.
A few tips when it comes to taking apart a Bogdan. I know some folks are reluctant to take apart an expensive reel like this, which is understandable.
So my first tip is to do it when you have a clear head and a steady hand. Taking it apart at your tying bench when you’ve had a bit of your favorite single malt may not be the best time, tempting though it is, nor when you’re in a place where you can’t concentrate easily.
The second tip I have is to have the right tools. We have some hollow-ground bits that fit perfectly into the screws on Bogdans and are great for getting good, even pressure on them. One of the things that we see a lot when reels come into the shop is that the screw heads have been pretty chewed up, often because someone grabbed whatever screwdriver they had handy but it wasn’t a great fit for the screws.
Now, the right tool doesn’t have to be a fancy gunsmithing bit however. Bogdan famously machined the slots on these screws to fit a Canadian dime, so if you have one handy that may very well do the trick. Of course the old saw was that if you had just purchased a Bogdan, a dime was probably all you had left anyway.
So let’s get those screws loosened up.
Now once you have the screws loosened you might think that you would be able to just pull them right out. But if you try that you’ll be at it quite a while. That’s because the screws on Bogdan salmon reels aren’t designed to come all the way out. And while that might seem odd, it’s actually pretty smart. Say you want to change out spools on the riverbank, for example, the last thing you want to do is lose one of those screws in the river or among some stones and never find it again.
I find that the best way to get them out is to pinch all three loosened screws toward the center of the reel at the same time and then to turn the reel over. Usually it will slide right out.
Now, before we dive into the drag, there is one more thing to note which is that this reel has a multiplying retrieve. A multiplier - in this case a 2:1 multiplier - just means that for every one revolution of the crank, you’ll get two revolutions of the spool. And if you pull the spool off of the crank plate, you’ll see the gears that are responsible for that. Not all Bogdan salmon reels are multipliers but most are. Even though they add a little bit of weight to the reel, I generally prefer multipliers. If you’ve ever had a big fish take off downriver on you and then, having run out a bunch of line, turn right back around and head toward you, it’s really handy to be able to get that line back in quickly.
And another little tip here too, is that you don’t necessarily need to take a reel apart to see whether it’s a multiplier. You can, of course, simply count the revolution of the spool as you wind the handle. That’s pretty easy. But there is an even easier way, which is to look at the width of each side of the frame. To accommodate that gear, the reel simply needs a little bit of extra width on the crank side. If you take a look at this reel and compare it to a single action Bogdan like this one over here, you can see that the width of the frame on the crankside is quite different. The difference is pretty clear.
Alright, so let’s take a closer look at the Bogdan drag itself.
If you stare at this for a minute, you’ll probably have some intuitive sense of what’s happening here. The drag essentially has three parts, with a few little additional pieces that we’ll get to in a moment.
First, we have the central drum right here in the middle of the reel and the story to this mechanism is that it’s really all about direction. If you look closely you’ll see that this central part isn’t one part at all. It has two parts, one stacked on top of the other. The first is the large circular drum on the bottom here, which has been ported to reduce weight, and then sitting on top of that is a smaller gear.
Let’s take a quick look at that smaller one first.
The first thing you’ll see are these two little parts that stick out and these insert into the spool itself, which has two little corresponding slots to receive them. And if you turn this little gear you’ll see that it has a pawl that engages it in a standard click-and-pawl style design. Now remember that this is the drag-less direction. The inbound direction. What you can’t see here is that there is actually a little spring that sits underneath and behind the larger drum, which keeps the pawl engaged on this gear. So what Bogdan has created here is a simple little click drag which keeps a small amount of fixed pressure on the inbound, dragless retrieve to control any spool overrun. So far so good.
Now if we switch, and if we try and rotate this gear in the other direction, it’s a different story entirely. It engages the much larger drum behind it. And as we’ll see in a second, this larger drum is where the stopping power comes in.
What I think is clever about this central mechanism is the way that Bogdan put both of these pieces together in a sensible, but also rather elegant design.
So that’s the drum. Now let’s go to the second major part of the drag design -- the brakes. You can probably guess how this works just by looking at it. As I mentioned earlier, it’s pretty intuitive. On either side of the drum are these two delrin brake pads which press directly against it (earlier Bogdan reels had pads made out of Micarta before he switched to Delrin, so if you open up a Bogdan and see that these pads are a brown color, it means you have an earlier model). And as you can see these pads are pushed in by these large springs that come in from either side. Makes sense. What isn’t quite so obvious are what these two tiny washers do. At first glance you’d almost think that they pin the brake pads directly into the side plates, which wouldn’t make any sense. You don’t want those pads fixed. But as it turns out there is actually a little slot machined into the outer part of the pad and this pin and washer basically hold the pad in place while also allowing it to slide back and forth. Nice design. And if we follow the springs out, we can see that they are mounted to these brackets. And again, if you looked at it quickly you’d almost think that these brackets are mounted to the sideplates as well. That also wouldn’t make any sense, because we also need those to move too. So what we have with the pads, springs, and bracket are a balance between stability - making sure that any possible movement is tightly controlled - but also allowing enough of that movement to adjust the force that’s transmitted to the drum.
This brings us to the third and last part, which is the drag adjustment system itself. As you can see, those brackets we were just looking at are mounted to these large, semi-circular arms that wrap around either side of the mechanism. And if you follow those arms out to either end, you’ll see pretty quickly how the force is adjusted. At the top here, those arms are held by pins that do, in fact, go into the sideplates. Not floating, for once! But if you follow the arms all the way to the other side you’ll see that they end here at this cam. And when you move the drag adjuster on the outside of the reel, it turns that cam, moving this end of both arms in and out. Let’s do that now. You can see pretty clearly that adjusting that cam pushes these arms in quite a bit, which produces a lot more pressure on the main drum.
I can turn the drag, with some effort, at the lowest setting. But if you crank it all the way up, you can forget about doing it like I’d need to here, with bare hands.
A fun aside, Graydon Hilyard, who wrote the book about the Bogdans used to have a brass ring that he wore, and mounted to the top of that ring was one of these cams. I’m not much for jewelry, but that’s a ring I can get behind.
And that - the central drum and gear, the brake pads and springs, and the drag adjustment system - are the three main components of a Bogdan reel.
Now some of you are probably wondering what this little pawl does, this one above the drum right here. I don’t really consider this to be one of the core features of the reel, but it’s still kind of neat. What this pawl does is engage some gear teeth that are machined in the backside of the central drum. As you can imagine, simply having brake pads press on a smooth drum isn’t going to produce any sound. And I, for one, can’t stand not having a nice click on an outgoing reel. It’s pleasing, sure, but it also allows you to audibly tell how much line is running out, which is helpful too. This pawl produces that sound. However, if you, for some silly reason insist on not having that sound, you can disengage this click by turning this small cam here. There is a little knob on the outside of the reel that just does that. And in fact, for some people, historically, the reason was not silly at all. They needed stealth to avoid the warden. That’s why this is called the poacher’s knob.
Part of the allure of Bogdans, of course, isn’t strictly functional. No one loves the drag design more than I do, believe me. But a big part of what makes these reels special is the care and the craft that goes into making them. These are not reels that were designed in a CAD program, sent out to a machining center somewhere, or any of the other hallmarks of modern mass production. They were made one at a time, by an individual craftsman who personally machined every part himself.
In fact, when Stan Bogdan began making these reels out of a machine shop in Nashua, NH in 1955, his initial investment in his machinery, I think, was about $400. All of these Bogdan reels were made on a Flathler lathe that dated back to the first world war and an ancient Van Norman Milling machine. There were few formal schematics or drawings involved. And they took a long time to make. That’s part of what makes them so great, and also part of what makes them so rare and so expensive. And to me personally, that’s a big part of what makes them special. When you love to fish, there is nothing more fun than fishing with a reel like this, where you know how much individual craftsmanship has gone into it. That’s true for Bogdans, and also true for a number of fantastic classic reels. For me, it really enriches the whole experience of chasing a salmon on the fly.
The last thing I want to do, on our tour of Bogdan reels, is to leave you with one recommendation, which is this book here. I already mentioned Graydon Hilyard a little earlier, and he’s the author who wrote this definitive book on the Bogdans, on Stan and Steve. It’s a fantastic read with a bunch of early history of the Bogdan reels and a number of twists and turns along the way. There is also some great correspondence between a number of angling luminaries, who, as it turns out, were often waiting for their reels just like the rest of us.
I actually had the chance last year to spend an afternoon with Graydon and Steve Bogdan in the shop, and it was a blast to sit around and talk reels and fishing. Graydon also unfortunately passed away just weeks later and so this book is also a little poignant for me too, and I think of him every time I pick it up. If you like Bogdan reels or want to learn more about them, definitely pick up a copy.
I hope you enjoyed this dive into Bogdan salmon reels. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out through our website: www.spinozarods.com. In addition to building bamboo fly rods here in our shop we also sell a ton of classic fly fishing tackle, including Bogdans, and would be happy to try and help if you have a question or are looking for one yourself, or looking to sell one. In fact, if you enjoy fine fishing tackle make sure to sign up for our email list, which goes out to thousands of anglers around the world, and is full of new rods and reels as they become available.
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