Stan Bogdan: Remembering a Fly Fishing Giant

steffen News / Articles, Tackle and Gear, Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Stanley Bogdan–perhaps the finest reelmaker the world of fly-fishing has ever known–passed away last week at the age of 92.

His craftmanship and passion for the sport were unparalleled and evident in his famed reels. Stan was known for his character and humility, passion for the sport and passion for those who loved the sport. While he will be missed, his spirit will live on global waters through his reels and craftmanship.

Read Monte Burke´s story about Stan Bogdan here

The Reel Deal

For $2,200 you can own a Bogdan. Slightly more if you want one used.

This exclusive club includes Bing Crosby, Benny Goodman, Ted Williams, Prince Philip, the Duke of Wellington and Paul Volcker. At one time or other they all cranked in silvery salmon with Bogdan fishing reels, known for their strength and distinctive styles: matte black plates, champagne-gold spools and S-shaped handles. Still handmade by 90-year-old Stanley Bogdan and his son Stephen, 59, the reels come in 15 sizes–to haul in Atlantic salmon or the smallest trout. They cost between $1,300 and $2,200.

The Bogdans are navigating this recession just as they have every other one over the last seven decades: by staying small and doing things their own way. Every part of a Bogdan reel, save for the springs, is tooled by Stanley or Stephen, S.E. Bogdan Custom Built’s sole employees. In their garage-size shop in New Ipswich, N.H. stands a table littered with dozens of boxes, each containing different parts of a fly-fishing reel: discs of stainless steel, screws, brake shoes, anodized aluminum frames and spools. Armed with a 130-year-old Flather lathe and a 50-year-old Van Norman milling machine, the pair churn out only 100 reels a year and have a three-year backlog. They hold no patents, take no deposits from customers (“That way they can’t bug me, and I have control,” says Stanley), store no files, designs or accounts on a computer (they don’t own one) and do no advertising.

A short man with fine white hair, Stanley, who never attended college, made his first reel in 1940 while an apprentice at Rollins Engine Co., a steam-engine maker. At night he worked on his reels, going full-time in 1955. “I was petrified,” he admits, but soon was filling orders for Abercrombie & Fitch and, later, Orvis. Annoyed at surrendering 40% of the $100 retail price, Bogdan became his own sole distributor in 1977, taking orders by phone or mail. Stephen bought him out in 1996, but Stanley is still in the shop three days a week. “I’m quality control,” he says.

The beauty of a Bogdan is in the drag–the mechanical resistance that slows down a hooked fish. Stanley invented a double-brake system using two brake shoes supported by springs that clamp down on a disc. There are ten settings to choose from, depending on the size of the fish. The result is a smooth drag with no hitches that could break off a fleeing fish. When taxed by a large salmon, the drag makes a distinct whirring sound–or, in the words of Royall Victor III, a retired Chase Manhattan executive who owns six Bogdans, “the muted joy of exultation.” To that add the powerful pull of exclusivity. Owning a Bogdan “puts you into the specially anointed of salmon fishers,” says former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker. Bozo Ivanovic, a retired London ship broker, famed fisherman and owner of four Bogdans, sums it simply: “Finally getting your Bogdan is an event.”

Antsy anglers go to great lengths to try to speed up delivery. Some have offered double the price, says Stanley, but he rarely budges. At one party a man lifted his shirt to reveal scars from a recent bypass surgery as evidence that he had only a short time to live and thus should be moved up the waiting list. Bogdan fell for it. The man eventually got his reel, then lived another 15 years.

The Bogdans have made one concession to demand. A few years ago, after seeing what the used reels were fetching online, they doubled their prices overnight. That still didn’t close the gap: Even in the midst of the recession, used Bogdans are going for up to $3,000 on Ebay–36% more than the most expensive model sold new. “I thought [raising the price] would be the end of us,” says Stanley. “Turned out to be the best move I ever made.”

Leave a Reply