John Andrews Posted on 29/08/2019
The angling historian Stefan Duma suggests that the Nottingham reel – a turned wooden drum with twin bone handles mounted onto a wooden backplate via an iron spindle – was invented between 1810 and 1820 from bobbins used on machines in the lace trade, for which Nottingham was famous. Constructed from mahogany or walnut with iron and later brass fittings, the best examples excelled as tools for fishing the deep and wide waters of the Trent.
The Nottingham design is widely believed to have been brought south to London by ‘Nottingham George’ aka George Holland who plied his trade on the Thames as a professional fisherman and was also used by the champion angler William Bailey. In the century that followed, the Nottingham became ubiquitous. Millions were made in various forms and sizes, to different patterns, and were sold by almost every tackle maker and retailer in the book. They are the forerunners to every centre pin reel in existence today.
The Homer Flick ‘Em
The Homer “Flick ‘Em” Reel was again a centre pin reel of two pieces, a drum and a backplate, designed in the early 20th century by the angling specialist W.F. Homer whose premises were in Forest Gate. Rather than being turned in wood like the Nottingham, the Homer “Flick ‘Em” was cast in hard aluminium alloy and was of the most contemporary design, being narrow in form and having a ventilated drum, a bar locking latch, and twin handles of gutta percha. Like the Nottingham, it was designed so that anglers could fish a free running line as opposed to a fixed line so beloved of the more traditional London ‘pole’ anglers who fished without a reel. So elaborate was the design of the Homer “Flick ‘Em” that at the time it was launched it was offered for sale alongside lessons by its designer as an extract from the Fishing Gazette in 1912 testifies:
“Mr. Homer makes a special reel for this style of fishing, and I am sure he will be very glad to give any angler a practical demonstration with his “Flick ‘Em” reel. There is some water not far from his fishing tackle shop at 105 Woodgrange Road, Forest Gate, London, E. Anyone who wants to be taught in the “Sheffield” style, which has taken the chief prizes at “All England Championship Matches”, should buy the outfit from Mr. Homer and I am sure he will arrange a lesson.”
The Allcock’s Perfection Flick ‘Em
The Allcock’s Perfection Flick ‘Em was a 1925 modification of Homer’s earlier reel. Again formed from two pieces of turned and cast alloy, a drum and a backplate, the model was modified by the incorporation of a more sophisticated latch to release the spool. Its design was also simplified, less busy and more streamlined. The ‘Improved’ Perfection Flick ‘Em went on
to be developed into J.W. Young & Sons Rapidex and Trudex reels, which after the war became as commonplace in angler’s bags as the Nottingham had been in the first half of the century. Writing from his home in Parliament Hill in 1932, a short cast from Highgate Ponds, the Evening News angling correspondent Eric Marshall-Hardy said of the Perfection Flick ‘Em:
“I have now had the opportunity to try out my new Perfection Flick ‘Em reel and I am glad to be able to say that it is entirely satisfactory. Indeed I know of no better reel for trotting and general bottom fishing – the workmanship is beautiful – the adjustment precise. Its line recovery is as rapid as one could possibly wish and the addition of the adjustable drag should prove of the greatest possible use under certain circumstances. If your new reel meets with the success it deserves, you will have little time for selling anything else.”
The Allcock ‘Aerial’
The Homer Flick ‘Em and the Allcock’s Perfection Flick ‘Em are eclipsed by one reel only – the world famous Allcock-Aerial. Developed from Henry Coxon’s 1896 design, where a light ebonite drum made up of twin plates held together by 12 brass pillars and reinforced by six brass spokes was mounted onto a wooden back plate, the Allcock-Aerial in its myriad of cast alloy forms and through a number of design modifications became far and away the king of fishing reels. By 1934 The Allcock’s Trade Catalogue boasted:
“There is no exaggeration in saying that no Nottingham type reels have ever been received with so much favour by the angling public as have the ‘Aerials’. Not only are they absolutely practical and surprisingly simple, but they stand supreme as superb examples of the reel-maker’s art. An “Aerial” reel will last a lifetime and every one is guaranteed without time limit against all defects caused by faulty material and workmanship.”
The same catalogue gave the reel spec as follows:
“The “Allcock” Aerial (Improved Model). Aluminium, finished black, perforated front rim to decrease weight and to allow free circulation of air to line, optional trigger check which can be flicked on or off in a second, regulating drag, adjustable to any tension according to weight of bait, largely increased line capacity.”
The ABU 506
The one pre-requisite of all Nottingham or centre-pin style reels is that they allowed the angler to ‘long trot’, to let the line run unchecked other than by the angler’s thumb or forefinger and in doing so enable the bait to be presented to a waiting fish downstream in as natural a way as possible. Whilst fixed spool reels gave better overall control when fishing still waters, for rivers the split second it took to engage the fixed spool’s bale arm very often meant that the lightning fast bite of a roach or a dace was missed. Until that is, a reel was introduced in 1969 that
revolutionised river fishing.
The Swedish designed ABU 506 was developed from the ABU 505, which had come to the market a couple of years earlier and was a closed face reel incorporating all the best elements of a fixed spool with those of a centre pin. According to the ABU ‘Tight Lines’ Catalogue of ’67 the 505 was “perfect for casting light canal tackle and long casting on a wide river. Long trotting really is a pleasure for the line can be allowed to pull off the spool naturally by the float drag and can be held back by the forefinger to mend line at will. Immediately the float dips strike ‘on the finger’, something you cannot do with a bale pick-up.”
The 506 included all of these features and was a high speed retrieve version to boot. It became the match reel of the 1970’s alongside the Mitchell 410 and Mitchell Match 440 and was then naturally absorbed into pleasure angling.
But which vintage fishing reel to choose? John Andrews has this advice…
In design terms and for practical use there is no better reel for river fishing than a Flick ‘Em or Aerial but a good example of either excluding the cheap and useless ‘Aerialite’ style made in bakelite, will set you back anything from £75 to hundreds and in some cases thousands of pounds. On the other hand an early Nottingham may resemble a crude piece of mid Victorian folk furniture and the ABU 506 a Cold War relic but either if serviced well and fished with a balanced tackle will catch roach by the bagful and, despite the 150 year difference in age and all the various alternative designs in between, a decent example should cost about the same amount – around £30.
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