The Origins of the fishing reel.

This is a small history of the fishing reel from it's origins back in the 17th century or even earlier. As my research on early fishing reels unearths more facts from those early days I'll include in this page. Thank you for reading and I hope this and other articles I write in my site relating to all aspects of fishing will interest you.


In Great Britain around the 17th the first reels or ‘wynches’ came into existence. The first reels were made of wood with two end plates held apart by a few pillars, and a spool that revolved on a central spindle, the spool was turned by a crank handle.

By the 19th century companies started to produce a more resilient winches made from brass, the best known manufacturer was Ustonson of London who was reputed to have supplied George 1V. The problem with wooded reels was the wood would very quickly warp, so making the reel redundant and so discarded, thus the lack of early wooded specimens. On the other hand brass was a far better material for fishing reels, it did not corrode or warp when subjected to water, and it was also a very malleable material.

By the middle of the 19th century reels had not really evolved, even in 1866 Allcocks still offered the original wynche designs. As storage of line the early reels were fine but had a tendency for the line to get tangled around the handle when playing a fish. This was overcome by the anti-foul rims. The handle was inserted on the plate and would be a greater distance from the line thus minimising the chance of the line getting snagged... By the late 19th century Allcocks was producing a large number of plate wind reels, they were hard to identify as often the reels were sold to retailers who stamped them with their own names.

The Nottingham reel was also invented around the 19th century, but they had a few faults for instance even when varnished they would swell and distort, making it rather hard to cast and retrieve. To try and minimise this effect a star shaped or straight brass strap was attached to the end plate, but after time this would lead to cracking.

These early reels were free running, and had no means to reduce line speeds, or increase and decrease drag whilst playing a fish or combating the river flow. This was resolve by the introduction of ratchet mechanism which would control the speed of the drum on centre-pin reels. These checks would be button operated on the backplate, another method was made by use of a spring and wing nut on the centre-pin that could be used to apply pressure or reduce pressure on the spool.

The best known Nottinghamshire makers of centre-pin reels was Slaters of Newark, he made rods in 1852 and then wooden and ebonite reels incorporating a small spring-loaded catch which meant the drum could be easily removed from the reel.

I will continue the story of the evolution of the reel in due course and also when available show graphically some of the inventions that in time developed into the modern day reels.