Antique Fishing Reels Can Be a Big Catch

Give me a day off, and you’ll likely find me fishing. Not only do I have great memories of spending lazy, sunny days with my father and grandfather fishing at secret hideaways, I cherish time with my own children at lakes and fishing holes throughout Arizona. I especially love fly fishing at Lee’s Ferry and striper fishing at Lake Powell.

Reeling in a big fish is exhilarating, and I think collectors of antique and vintage fishing reels feel a similar adrenaline rush when they bid on and win a rare reel at auction. Serious collectors will devote a lot of time to the hunt for these treasures, not unlike the amount of time required for the adventure of fishing. So, when they win a valuable reel at auction, it’s no wonder they react as if they just scored a big catch.

If you’re not big on fishing and you came across an antique or vintage fishing reel, you might mistakenly think it’s obsolete and worthless. But in fact, collectors will shell out cash for antique brands in good condition, such as Abbey & Imbrie, Edward von Hofe, John Emery, Pflueger, Meisselbach and vintage brands, such as DAM, Penn, Heddon, Alvey and Garcia.

Why the fascination with a spool that deploys and retrieves fishing line?

Many people don’t realize that fishing reels date back several centuries. In fact, fishing reels can be seen in Chinese paintings from around 1195 A.D. Back then, they were hand wound and attached by twine to a bamboo pole. It was actually an American, George Snyder of Kentucky, who realized the reel could be more than just a storage place for excess line. In 1820, he invented a bait casting design that doubled as a fly reel. Since then, fishing reels have undergone many changes, and it’s no surprise that something so simplistic has transformed into highly collectible pieces of art.

Last week, we sold a large collection of antique and vintage fishing reels. The biggest bidding frenzy was for a circa 1920 Kiest aluminum casting reel and original tin, which realized $225. But there were also some great finds, including an Alvey side cast promo sample model 40-c1 reel dating back to 1940 that sold for $50, and a vintage Dam Quick 238 spinning fishing reel that sold for $40.

There’s no doubt that people worldwide love to fish. I think there will always be a market for antique and vintage fishing equipment, even during this unprecedented time. I wouldn’t recommend bottom fishing, but if you’re looking to start or add to your collection, the secondary market is a great place to search.


Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale.

Contact him at, or 623-878-2003.


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