Back in the Day: The Great Fly Fishing Revolution of 1900-1950

The Great Fly Fishing Revolution was proven by the gear innovations.

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The first half of the 20th Century saw tremendous change in the world. Two world wars shook the politics, fashion, industry, scientific achievement, and the very society of nearly every continent on earth.

One notable area of advancement was that of recreation, particularly in the outdoor industry. Fly fishing went from the traditional, old-fashioned pastime it had once been to the modern sport we now know it to be in the span of those fifty years, as significant changes touched nearly every aspect of it.

Check out the slideshow to follow along on the Great Fly Fishing Revolution.

The rod 

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During the first half of the 20th Century, Greenheart, made by The Hardy Brothers, was the most popular rod for fly fishing. Less expensive than split cane, it suited the needs of a nation on hard times. Though it was more difficult to shoot line from this rod than its counterparts, it remained a firm favorite.

Though traditional reels remained popular, this time period also saw a time of advancement in the style of fly fishing equipment. Cork handles, known for their comfort, were readily accepted. The length of the rods, also, were in for some big changes. Traditionally, the salmon rod was 16-18 feet in length, while the trout was 9.5-11 feet. This had been the case for 300 years, until one A. H. E. Wood proposed a method to shrink the trout rods to 9-10 feet. Ten years later, Lee Wulff made this the norm, and the long rod became obsolete in America.

In 1948, the rod saw another significant change with the development of fiberglass cloth. Higher in quality than the cane rods, the new fiberglass rod was inexpensive, dependable, and highly efficient.

The reel 

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The rod wasn’t the only piece of equipment to improve during this time period. The reel, too, began to advance with the Farlow reel. Similarly to the patent leather reel, this steel reel did not revolve when the line was stripped from the drum.

Then came the Cooper reel, with handling extending beyond the frame for winding, and the Heyworth, which offered silent casting. Also popular was the Malloch Sun and Planet reel, so named after the gear arrangement in the casing.

Many of these advancements in America were the result of World War II. It was a low point in reel development in Europe, with equipment sinking in quality. This allowed America to take the lead.

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Reel seats 

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Around 1900, reel seats began to standardize when Dr. Emil Weeger invented the universal reel seat. Promoted by the Hardy Brothers, it is more or less the same reel seat used today.

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Leader material 

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Up until World War II, Spanish silkworm gut led the way in leader material, soon met by its substitute, Japanese gut. While widely used, the results of these materials were unpredictable.

The end of the war saw the development of nylon, which paved the way to the Dacron-core plastic fly line common in today’s fly fishing waters.

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Academic recognition 

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In 1947, fly fishing ceased to be a purely recreational pastime and entered the world of Academia. George Harvey, an Associate Professor of Physical Education at Penn State, introduced it as a course. It’s little wonder that it took off.

Penn State is surrounded by forty high quality limestone trout streams and soon, other schools followed suit.

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