Made in Britain – it’s the reel thing

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Country Week fishing writer Roger Beck reports on the creation of a first of its kind fly-reel, designed and made in Yorkshire.

“Made in England” has a certain nostalgic ring to it; “made in Yorkshire” evokes an expectation of rugged reliability based on common sense. Historically, Yorkshire is famous for making things from metals. I am delighted to tell you that history has been brought right up to date. I have a story that will warm the cockles of your Yorkshire heart.

As a consequence of a rather mysterious phone call from Tim Brown, one snowy day in March found me drinking coffee in his shop Brown Trout in Harrogate. After a few preliminaries, Tim produced a box from which he removed a very special salmon fly reel. Whilst I scrutinised it, he began to tell me a story that became more satisfying by the minute.

At the age of 13, local schoolboy Shaun Benzon walked into Tim’s shop and enquired after a Saturday job. Young Shaun was an enthusiastic angler, so Tim was pleased to offer him a part-time job. Eventually, Shaun decided to pop over the border to Lancaster University and further his education in mechanical engineering.

From time to time, Tim and Shaun would meet up in the shop and during holidays, he would spend time behind the counter of Brown Trout. It transpired that Mr. Benzon was a very clever mechanical engineer; having secured a first degree, he elected to pursue a Master’s qualification.

In the not-too-distant-past, fly reels produced in England were sought after and cherished. Unfortunately it all went horribly wrong and British designs were sent to the Far East for manufacture before being shipped back to this country for sale. The American reel manufacturers were delighted as they enhanced their reputation for reliability whilst quality control and short cuts in processing began to undermine confidence in “British” reels carrying a “made in Taiwan” sticker.

Luckily, on another winter’s day in 2011 Shaun and Tim were drinking coffee in the shop and fell to bemoaning the decline in British manufacture of fly reels.

There are not many people who would be brave enough to decide to reverse the fortunes of English fly reel manufacture. So, as a result Tim and Shaun embarked upon a project that would return to the market a fly reel that was genuinely “made in England”, or Yorkshire to be exact. That word “made” is very important; it has a different meaning entirely from “assembled” or “designed”.

An awful lot of very clever science and engineering was mobilised. Let me give you but one example. When a salmon is hooked, it does not flop about and sulk. It sets off as fast as it can, usually for the Atlantic Ocean. The angler’s job is to scupper that ambition.

In order to meet this aspiration, the angler relies to a great extent on the reel. By this time, the reel is rotating at great speed so a means of slowing it down is required; a bit like applying the brakes on a car. As with a car, the discs can become very hot and so can the brake pads. Shaun altered the shape of the reel several times until he and his computer were convinced that the heat was effectively dissipated.

After a huge amount of work, Tim and Shaun were confident that they have a fly reel that will restore British manufacturing back to the highest echelon.

So, at the end of the story, Tim proudly produced a box and handed it to me across the counter.

Within it was a magnificent piece of engineering that masqueraded as a fly reel. I balanced in my hands and marvelled at both the quality and aesthetics of the first product of The Fly Reel Company Limited; the “Reel Britannia”.

Skilled hands behind product

An engineering company was required that had the skills and experience to turn the prototype into a manufactured entity. Enter Claro Precision Engineering in Knaresborough. They specialise in taking prototypes to production and have wealth of experience. Peter Curran is its design engineer and he has been responsible for a significant amount of work in getting the final prototypes completed and designs proved. Peter is a skilled engineer with a background in machining and the ability to easily analyse and very often improve on, complex design concepts.

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