Louis Bouglé by Andrew Herd – The Famous Hardy Bougle reel

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As a big fan of Hardy Bougle and Perfect I want to share this article about the classic Hardy Bougle reel

Born in Orléans in 1864, Louis Bouglé spent a good deal of his early life in America. His first love was cycling and when a craze for the sport swept France in the late 19th century, Bouglé not only became a successful competitor and coach, but also began to write about cycling under the nom-de-plume “L.B. Spoke”. Then, with characteristic single-mindedness, he turned his passion to profit by opening up a cycle shop in Paris as representative of the British Simpson cycle company, whose star product was a patent chain.

It was while he was working for Simpson that Bouglé had a brainwave and persuaded an artist friend to create a poster for his employer; the fact that his friend was Henri Toulouse-Lautrec must have helped some, but the result was a classic image which features Louis in the background together with his friend Tristan Bernard. Lautrec would draw his friend twice more, before sitting down to paint Bouglé in his cycling gear; the latter is a stunning image which has featured on endless posters, though somehow I doubt that many of the buyers realise they are looking at a man who designed one of the most iconic reels ever made.


Bouglé’s instincts usually served him well and he seems to have made enough money from the shop that he was able to indulge another passion – this time, for gambling. Unlike so many successful businessmen who have lost their shirts at the card table, Louis did rather well and his fame spread even further when news got out that he had won a million francs at cards… following which he became a country gentleman and devoted the rest of his time to his third passion, fishing.

Always the competitor, Bouglé had naturally been drawn to casting competitions and took full advantage of his contacts through Simpsons to travel around Europe, meeting angling greats like Skues, Senior, Halford, Marston and Decantelle. The latter left a description of Bouglé that leaves a strong impression of an eccentric, but likeable man of strong opinions, while Marston described him as a kind and modest friend who was a skilled dry fly fisherman.

So it is safe to assume that by the time Bouglé wrote to the Hardy brothers, he didn’t need too much of an introduction, not least because the Hardys had sold bicycles for many years after they first went into business, but also because John James was a keen tournament caster. Bouglé’s proposal was that the company should modify one of their standard Perfect Reels to take out some weight – effectively producing a smaller diameter reel without losing any capacity. This sounds like a straightforward modification, but Hardy’s Bondgate works didn’t have a foundry and all the castings were bought in until 1937, so the only way to produce the reel Bouglé wanted was to take a standard Perfect casting and file it down, which accounts for the unique appearance of the Frenchman’s reel. The raised pillars must have run a few bells in Forster Hardy’s memory, because one of his prototypes for the Perfect had raised pillars, although on that reel they were used to support the line guard.

Modifying a Perfect this way sounds like an enormous amount of trouble for very little reward, but bear in mind that Hardy’s had a long track record of producing custom products for favoured customers and Louis Bouglé was simply another name in a long line of famous anglers who had beaten a path to the firm’s door. Although many of the bespoke products the company made this way were one-offs, a few turned out to possess real advantages and being paid to produce custom tackle must have had its attractions – after all, from the brothers’ point of view, it was a very cost-effective way to do research.


As we know, the Bouglé wasn’t a one-off – it sold for nearly four decades after its first listing in the Anglers’ Guide, although it cost roughly 50% more than a standard Perfect and was never produced in particularly large numbers because of this. The reason for the higher price was the extra labour involved in filing down the cage, a task the workforce cordially detested, but which gives the Bouglé the distinction of being Hardy’s ultimate hand-made production reel. Initially, a 3″ model was listed, made in aluminium and complete with a perforated drum face; in 1905, a 3¼” version was added; and the only major change after that was in 1912, when the Hardys added a new patent compensating check to all their quality reels. At least four different finishes were applied to the Bouglé before the Second World War, which explains why vintage examples show every shade between bright metal and a black leaded finish.

Hardy’s re-launched the Bouglé as the “Mark IV” in 1999 and this version proved so popular that the design has been updated several times since, the current production version being the Mark VII, which went on sale in 2011.

And Louis Bouglé? He must have taken the launch of his reel in 1903 as a good omen, because that was the year the Tour de France began, and I feel sure the coincidence of the two dates was not lost on him. After the debut of his reel, he carried on in his own inimitable way, becoming a member of the Flyfishers’ Club in 1903 and the vice chairman of the Casting Club of France on its inaugural meeting in January 1910. He was a man of tremendous enthusiasm, very literate, with a huge library of angling works in English and in French, a great friend of the arts and a competitor not only in fly, but spin casting, using American multipliers. In 1914, at the age of 50, he volunteered to serve his country, but as far as I am aware, the offer was declined – he was too much of a national treasure and there can’t be too many anglers, even then, who had their portrait painted by the man who made the Moulin Rouge so famous. Sadly, the war did little for his health and Louis Bouglé only lived until 1924; while his passing was regretted by all who knew him, his reel has continued to fascinate every new generation of anglers that care to cast a fly on the water.

Bougle article by Andrew Herd – an official photographer for Hardy & Greys. Andrew is also an Angling Trust Ambassador, angling researcher, historian and writer. For more info please visit http://fly.hardyfishing.com/en-gb/home/


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