An Angler's Guide To The Classic Pflueger
Part One - 1930 to 1958
Article and Photographs by Joe
I've been a Pflueger Medalist fly reel fan for
as long as I've been able to hold a fly rod.
A Medalist was my first
fly reel, purchased for me by my grandfather all those many years ago.
It was a 1494DA and I still have it. Since those early days I've
gone on to fish Medalists in fresh water and salt and in every size from
the petite 1492 to the hefty 1498. Along the way I've learned a lot
about the personality of this iconic piece of gear. It's a simple
design, capable of performance far beyond that which its modest parts
As popular as the Medalist is for fishermen
and collectors alike, one would think that getting accurate and detailed
information about servicing and maintaining this reel would be an easy
click away. Over the years I've found that there is some great
information on the Internet about this and other classic reels, but there
isn't one place where it's all been brought together. Until now. In
this series of articles we'll explore the history and evolution of the
Pflueger Medalist. We'll look at variations in construction from the
earliest models to the present. We'll compare and contrast the
in-hand performance of vintage and contemporary versions and examine
line-size applications and capacity. We'll see what makes them tick
and we'll explore, in detail, what needs to be done to convert a reel from
right-hand-wind to left-hand-wind and to keep it running for years to
Pflueger has a long and interesting
history. In 1881, Earnest Pflueger established the Enterprise
Manufacturing Company in Akron, Ohio, with the goal of producing and
distributing hooks, lures and fishing tackle. Earnest enlisted the
help of his brothers Joe, William and and Charles and, over the next
several decades, the family founded a strong business, primarily as a
manufacturer of fishing hooks.
By 1916 Earnest A. Pflueger, son of the founding Pflueger, would take over
the family business, rename it, and build it into the dominant and
diversified American fishing tackle company which it would remain for the
next half century.
Pflueger company applied for a patent for a fly reel design in October
1928 and was granted the patent in September of 1930. The patent was filed
by Charles Pflueger and was for ornamental decoration of a fly reel design
— the iconic round line guard
and other elements. The Medalist
name made its debut in the Pflueger 1931 catalog, but it would be a few
more years before the reel would take on the characteristics that would
come to define the recognized Medalist with adjustable drag topology. It
wasn't until 1938 that the adjustable drag was added. Prior to the award
of this patent, the earliest Medalists featured a click-pawl drag and a
"cage" spool arbor. These early reels are prized collector items and
sell for amounts that really preclude their consideration as ordinary
These early reels were available in three
sizes; small, medium and large. We now know them as the 1492, 1494 and
1496 respectively. All featured the now classic round line guard and
were designed as right-hand-wind reels. Several generations ago
almost all fishing reels were right-hand-wind; it wasn't until the
spinning reel exploded on the scene after World War II that using the left
hand to crank the handle became fashionable. Because there were
left handed anglers in the market, there was a series of reels made
that were left-hand-wind. Of course these sold in minute quantities,
proportional to the percentage of lefty's in the general population.
These reels were known as the 1392, 1394 and 1396 and are currently so
rare (and expensive when they do come to market) that they are of no
concern to the angler or casual collector. There also was a series of
Medalists that were, for lack of a better term, "ambidextrous" They
didn't have the round line guard at all. They were the 1592, 1594
and 1596. In an interesting aside, the 15xx model numbers would be
revisited in the 1990's when Pflueger released a modification of the
Medalist design that featured a palming rim on the spool. The new
reels are essentially drag-enabled 14xx series reels with a different (and
completely interchangeable) spool and bear no functional relationship to
these very early click-and-pawl designs.
Of the click-pawl reels, only the tiny 1492
and its wide-body brother the 1492½
remain in circulation in sufficient numbers to be readily available.
They are also currently manufactured and available as new. There are
a number of minor variances to all the Pflueger Medalist reels that were
excellently documented by Richard Komar in his article
Pflueger Medalist Reels - A History. Komar's article is a great
resource to help identify the age of a particular Medalist permutation.
Let's start this adventure by taking a closer look at a couple of the
variations in the click-pawl line-up.
1492 and 1492½
The 1492 has
been in the line-up since the beginning and is only available in
right-hand-wind. Originally released with a round steel line guard
and sculpted "bowling pin" frame pillars, the model 1492 features a dual
click-pawl gear and pin over-run check. Early versions will feature six
rivets around the spool latch cover. As you can see in the
photographed example, this reel has a newer replacement spool with three
rivets. To a collector this may decrease the value by $50 or more,
but to an angler it has no meaning. Almost all Medalist spools are
able to fit just about any generation of reel and it's not uncommon to see
an older reel that had its spool replaced years later. The earliest
versions of the reel (true for all models) also had an aluminum spool
latch cover. Again this is mostly an aesthetic consideration and the
hard plastic used since 1952 offers no appreciable performance
1492 and its one-inch wide sibling, the
are simplicity incarnate. They feature a dual-click mechanism. In
some reels dual clicks are designed so one pawl is for RHW and one is for
LHW, with the tips of the triangular pawl pieces aligning just off the
exact axis of the spool. In the Pflueger reels, the "handedness" of
the retrieve is fixed by the round (or in later versions, square) line
guard. The pawls line up with the center of spool rotation.
worth noting that the earliest models of the Pflueger Medalist, dating to
1939 and before, used a pinned, painted brass foot that is often too large
to fit a contemporary reels seat. Reel feet that have been filed or
"modified" to fit newer rods diminish the collector value considerably.
Later reels used screws to connect the reel foot to the reel frame.
On those models a new reel foot can be installed so the reel can be
fished, and the original piece kept for it's "collector" value if the reel
is subsequently sold. The wryly named
One Pfoot company
is the best source for high-performance replacement parts; they will be
discussed again over the course of this article.
Medalist 1492 is a great size for double-taper 2 and 3 lines. It
will hold a full 80 to 90 foot line with a few wraps of backing to ease
the connection to the spool. The reel will hold a weight-forward 2,
3 or 4 fly line and about 50 yards of 12lb Dacron backing. This is
fine capacity for an ultra-light outfit, but for heavier fly lines or more
robust applications it lacks capacity. Stuffing a 4wt line onto a
Pflueger 1492 will result in a tightly coiled line that must be stretched
before fishing, but the reel does look and feel great on fiberglass and
bamboo rods of 7' and under.
increases line capacity by increasing the spool width to 1 inch. The
drawback to this is that the angler must be careful to guide the fly line
across the spool to prevent a jam. Because the Medalist
wasn't released until the early 1970's, it was never available with the
round line guard, which is a blessing in disguise. The round line
guard looks pretty, but it is actually a functional hindrance to even
spooling of the fly line. That said the
is a great match with a double-taper 4 fly line and a 6½, 7 or 7½ foot rod
of bamboo, fiberglass or graphite. I especially like this reel using
half of a double-taper 5 or cutting the running line back on a WF5 and
matching it with a 6 or 6½ foot 5-weight fly rod for tight quarters.
This is one of my favorite configurations for panfish and warm water creek
fishing in truly intimate runs.
The Pflueger Drag System
1936 Pflueger applied for two patents, one which described a drag system
for a fly reel, and one which described a click system that would allow
the drag to operate in a unidirectional fashion. This later feature
was very important as this enabled the reel to provide a firm and smooth
pay-out while eliminating friction on retrieve. This patent was
credited to Walter L. Adams as inventor. The second patent described
a drum brake system for a fishing reel and the inventor is credited as
Rudolph G. Wenzel. Both patents were assigned to the Enterprise
Manufacturing Company (Pflueger) and were granted in 1938. The first
Pflueger Medalist fly reels with adjustable drag systems began to show up
on the market almost immediately, with official product introduction in
the 1939 catalog.
drag system is a drum brake design. In a drum brake is a system
where a shoe presses against a spinning surface or drum. It was, in basic
principle, the same system used on automobile and truck braking systems
until the disc brake was perfected. In the patent application the drag
system was particularly aimed at the trout market, presumably to
differentiate the design from anything being used on casting or bass reels
or in other technologies.
application reads specifically; "This result is secured by combining
with the rotatable rim a brake mechanism acting upon the outer surface
thereof and preferable
always in contact therewith. Such a device is constituted by the
pivoted brake shoe mounted upon the pin and having a curved surface
bearing against the rim of the ring. A leaf spring is shown mounted
upon the pin and having one end bearing upon the outer end of the brake
shoe and its other end in an adjustable keeper." So the Pflueger
Medalist drag system is a drum-brake and leaf-spring design, which went on
to become one of the most copied and long-lived mechanisms in fly fishing.
unidirectional drag ratchet is a clever way to provide drag on pay out and
free rotation on retrieve. Looking at the patent application;
"The outer side face of the ring is formed with ratchet depressions (here
shown as two in number, and the spool is provided with a spring actuated
pawl or pin which will engage said depressions as the spool is rotated.
When the spool is rotated to reel in the line, the pin will ride over the
depressions, but when the line is drawn out, the ratchet and pin engage
and cause the joint rotation of the spool and the friction ring. The
purpose of this construction is to exert a drag upon the fish when it runs
with the line. To exert the requisite drag, a pivoted brake having
an arc-shaped bearing surface is mounted upon the back plate and bears
against the friction ring. Spring pressure is applied by a bent
spring, one end of which bears upon the brake shoe and the other is held
by the adjustable block, which is moved by the screw shaft."
The Early Pflueger Medalist
Example Shown 1495 "Patent Pending"
it first hit the market the drag-equipped Medalist had a "Patent Pending"
stamp on the frame. By the end of 1939 the "Patent Pending" stamp was
dropped and "Patented" was instead stamped on the frame just above the
reel foot and to the right of the reel's model number. A very few
models made after the patent was granted, but before the "patent pending"
materials were exhausted carried both stamps. This was during the war, so
wasting materials wasn't an option. The reels equipped with the drag
system were all right-hand-wind and consisted of the 1494, 1495 and 1496.
non-drag 1492, left-hand-wind 1392, 1394 and 1395 and non-line-guard 1594
models remained in the line-up.
Pictured is a
sample of the 1495 that carries both "patented" and "patent pending"
stamps, so it dates from 1938 or early 1939. Certainly it is among
the very first of the drag-equipped Medalists and it is in completely
sound mechanical condition after more than seven decades of use.
This is a nearly unprecedented level of service! This reel features
the painted brass reel foot, which is soft and prone to being bent or
deformed. For a collector, bent is better than filed down, though.
Also this reel foot is often too large for contemporary reel seats, making
the practical use of this particular reel questionable. While this
example may be lined
fished one day, it is more collector's piece than daily fishing reel.
On these very early
Medalists the reel foot was pinned to the frame, as were the sculpted
pillars and the line guide. Therefore models this early in the
Pflueger line can't be easily upgraded to the latest standards.
The drag click
mechanism features two clicks on retrieve and sixteen on pay-out.
Sixteen detents makes for a very smooth drag. The reel only has to rotate to the
point where the "ratchet and pin engage and cause the joint rotation of
the spool and the friction ring" and with sixteen detents the spool
only has to rock a few degrees before the drag comes on line. With
only two detents on retrieve, spool can rotate up to half a turn before it
catches a click detent, making for a slightly clunky feel when cranking,
The 1940's Pflueger Medalist
Example Shown 1495½
the time we get to the World War II period, the evolution of the Pflueger
Medalist is nearing completion. Only a few more changes would take
place before the model settled in for its long run of production.
The first change we see in the early 1940's is the drag ratchet plate
picking up four detents on the retrieve side while maintaining sixteen on
the pay-out side. This is the smoothest Pflueger Medalist drag
configuration made, ticking like the finely designed machine it is.
It is important to note that these early drag plates were extremely hard
and are seldom damaged in the reel; if there is a problem with spool
rotation, check the pin-pawl in the reel's back-plate as they often become
The round line guard is still in place and the
spool latch cover and the drag knob is no longer aluminum, but is now made
from the same bone-colored plastic as the handle. The reel foot is
now screwed into place. The sculpted pillars are still riveted in
the earlier models, but that will change over the course of the decade.
The reel, of course, is right-hand-wind only. The example shown on
the right has a shrunken handle, a common failure on reels of this age.
This can be easily and inexpensively repaired with a replacement handle
One Pfoot company.
One Pfoot also
provides replacement aluminum latch covers and drag knobs.
The 1940's also bring about a new size of
Medalist. The 1495½
retains the diameter of the 1495 but increases the width by 3/16's of an
inch. This increases the spool capacity greatly, allowing for a
slightly smaller and lighter reel than the 1496 to be used on the new
generation of fiberglass rods then making their debut on the market in the
later half of the decade. The
is perfectly sized to hold a full double-taper 6, 7 or 8 line and up to
100 yards of 20lb Dacron backing or a weight-forward tapered 7, 8 or 9
line and up to 150 yards of 30lb Dacron backing. This size reel is a
great match for an 8½ or 9-foot fiberglass or bamboo fly rod.
There were some minor changes to
the reel over the years from 1940 until 1958, including the addition of
and the 1496½ size reels, the change to straight screwed-in pillars
instead of the sculpted "bowling pin" design and further changes to the
reel foot. Otherwise the Medalist spent the middle of the 20th
Century wearing this suit. Up next we'll look at the first major
change to the Medalist line-up; the ability to switch between left and
right hand retrieve modes.
Part Two for the rest of the story...
"That 70's Show" Pflueger Medalist
The Giant Pflueger Medalist and One Pfoot
The Current Pflueger Medalist