Remembering Stan Bogdan: A True Craftsman

The fishing world has always valued craftsmanship. In the years after World War II there was perhaps no greater craftsman than reelmaker Stan Bogdan, who died last week at age 92. The photo is one I took of Bogdan in his Nashua, N.H. shop in the early 1980s, as he turned out fly-reel spools from some aluminum bar stack. Note that his old lathe is not computer-controlled, and that the micrometer he has nearby is not digital. And that was the whole point.

Stanley used to tell me that there were no blueprints or schematics for his complex and jewel-like salmon reels. The myriad dimensions were all in his head, he said. He and his son Stephen were not mass-producers. A hundred reels a year, maybe. Or a few more or a few less. No website. No advertising. And a long waiting list, if you were lucky enough to get on that list in the first place.

Bogdan, a machinist by trade, began making reels in 1940. These evolved into the classic black-sideplate, S-shaped handle style first made famous by Edward vom Hofe nearly 50 years earlier. Eventually Bogdan developed a reel-brake system (a small center drum with a brake shoe on each side, somewhat like automotive brakes) precise and powerful enough to handle very large Atlantic salmon.

He started making reels for Abercrombie & Fitch, back when that name meant a lot to anglers, but eventually just sold reels on his own. His reels were even then astronomically expensive, but those captains of industry who could afford the salmon camps and leases could also afford his reels and sought them avidly.

I got to know Stan starting in the late 1970s, when I was a board member of The American Museum of Fly Fishing, where he was also active and ever helpful. He was on one hand a kind and gentle person; on the other, a stubborn, contrarian old Yankee. Here's a link to his obituary as it appeared in the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph.

Old-school craftsmanship is an increasingly rare thing these days. I really hate watching it disappear, bit by bit over time....