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An Angler's Guide To The Classic Pflueger Medalist

Part Two - 1959 to Present

Article and Photographs by Joe Cornwall

 

In An Angler's Guide to the Pflueger Medalist, Part One we explored the history and evolution of the Pflueger Medalist fly reel, including the smallest sizes - the 1492 and 1492.  Those click-pawl models are still in production, largely unchanged from their functional form of 1930.  We also looked at the incorporation of the Pflueger drag system as realized in a "patent pending" model 1495 and an early production example of the first generation of the 1495.  We found that Pflueger had a very long and illustrious history in fishing tackle manufacture and was awarded multiple patents for fly reel design.  In this, Part Two, we will examine the iteration of the Pflueger Medalist most recognized by contemporary anglers; the reversible drag design. 

 

Changing a Medalist from right-hand-wind to left-hand-wind is very easy, but it is a process that has seldom been explained in a step-by-step format. Below we will rectify that situation by showing you in easy to follow steps how to disassemble, service and reset your Medalist.  The steps shown are valid for all models of the Pflueger Medalist from the "Made in Akron" versions of 1959 (and before) all the way to the present models available from a variety of retailers.

 

In this part of the article we will also explore some of the accessories and performance parts currently available from the One Pfoot company.

 

The 1950's and 1960's Pflueger Medalist

Example Shown 1494 "Made in Akron"

1959 was a year of great changes.  To put it into perspective, in 1959 the unemployment rate dropped to 5.5%,and popular TV programs included "Rawhide", "Bonanza" and "The Twilight Zone". Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the the Union and became the 49th and 50th States, respectively. The Boeing 707 Jet Airliner came into service and Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba. And if all that weren't enough, the culture of the United States was moving towards the consumer model we enjoy today where companies ask their customers what features and performance advantages they prefer, rather than simply building the product and then trying to generate a market. Consumer choice was growing in importance and the spinning reel had changed America's preference from right-hand-wind to left-hand-wind. 

At this time in history, Pflueger was a manufacturing powerhouse with prodigious market share.  Never a company to avoid change, Pflueger answered the demands of the market by modifying the most successful fly reel in the industry so it could fulfill the wishes of even those who demanded to use the "wrong" hand for reeling in a fish.  The modification was stunningly simple and so effective it has remained largely unchanged since.  What did Pflueger do?  They added a flange to the bottom of the drag ratchet plate so it could be installed "upside down".  Like magic, the Medalist became left-hand-wind!

If you look at the image of the ratchet plate to the left, you'll see the eight detents that engage the drag click pin in the reel's back plate.  What's unique about this plate is that shallow "shelf" around the inside radius.  That allows the ratchet plate to be inverted and still ride on the drag bearing (lower right).  Compare this view with the view of what would traditionally be the top of the drag ratchet plate (upper right) with the four detents.  Go back to Part One and look at the ratchet plates on the earliest models. You'll see the same flange.  In right-hand-wind all these ratchet plates are interchangeable.  But if you could install one upside down...

The Pflueger Medalist reversible ratchet plate features eight detents on the "bottom" or drag side and four detents on the "top" or wind side.  Herein lies a problem.  When the standard Medalist is set up for LHW, the spool may rotate as much as a quarter turn before the drag engages.  In a light trout reel, like the 1494, and especially when using light tippets such as a 4x or 5x, that free rocking before the drag engages can amplify the start-up inertia from the drag system and cause the tippet to part.  The effect is minor, but the rocking in the drag system is enough for me to run my Pflueger Medalists in RHW up to the 1495 size (lines weights of 6 and lower).  Your mileage may vary.

Through the 1940's and into the 1950's the Pflueger Medalist fly reel changed in a dozen minor ways that added up to a noticeable change in the construction and appearance of the reel.  The round line guard was abandoned in favor of the more practical and higher performing Diamolite four-piece affair.  The sculpted pillars were first screwed on and then replaced entirely by less expensive - but just as sturdy - straight pillars. The drag ratchet plate composition changed to a hard nylon instead of a very hard metal.  The spool shaft went from bronze to steel.  The latch cover went from aluminum to plastic. By 1959 the evolution was complete.  Pflueger added the reversible drag ratchet plate and the final product received a "Made in Akron O USA" stamp. 

In 1966, Shakespeare purchased Pflueger.  Under new management, the Medalist fly reel continued unchanged for several years. From this point on, the markings on the Pflueger Medalist fly reel will refer to the date codes of Shakespeare reels and the individual markings (ie... DA, CJ, AK) will reference the years when a design change (typically accompanied by a change in manufacturing plant location) took place.  Many of these changes served to take cost out of the reel without sacrificing practical performance, and what we were left with was an affordable American Classic!

 

Changing The Medalist From RHW To LHW

Step-By-Step Directions, Example Shown 1494  "DA"

The Pflueger Medalist is surprising easy to set-up and maintain.  While there are reels that are easier, demanding just a flick of a figurative (sometimes literal) switch, the Pflueger isn't hard to master.  And for the few minutes investment you'll make this reel will reward you with years - decades even - of faithful service.  The trick, if there is one, is to work methodically and on a clean, flat service with plenty of light.  The only tool needed is a flat blade screw driver (1/8 inch). Back the drag off before beginning.

 

Start the process by removing the spool.  If you're going to change the reel to LHW from RHW, it's best to remove the screws from the frame as you'll have to remount the line guard on the opposite side of the reel.  It's easy and self-evident to take apart the frame and remount the four-piece Diamolite line guard.  On the other hand, if it's not obvious to you how this is done, stop and bring the reel to a qualified shop!

 

You'll see the drag bearing mounted to the back plate with the drag ratchet surrounding it.  Remove the two screws identified with the yellow arrows (image left). Once the screws are completely backed out, pull up gently on the drag ratchet plate.  The drag pin and spring is under the drag ratchet plate. The drag pin and spring reside in the drag cup on the back plate (image above right).  When shopping for a used reel, if this cup is dented, don't buy the reel or examine the performance and damage very closely before committing!

 

Once you've got the drag ratchet and drag bearing removed, it is necessary to reverse the direction of the shaped drag pin.   The pin has a slope and the high end of the slope needs to be oriented perpendicular to the direction of rotation with the high side facing the blunt end of the ratchet plate detent.

 

Reassemble the drag ratchet and bearing with the eight detent side facing up for LHW.  Add a light bead of silicone grease to the detents and put a drop of oil in the drag pin cup.  There are any number of reel grease compounds available; I've used Garcia silicone reel lube oil and grease for many years to good effect. Below you see the reel set up for RHW (on right) and LHW (on left).

 

The 1970's Pflueger Medalist

Example Shown 1494  "DA"

In 1965, right before the purchase of Pflueger, Shakespeare moved their reel production from Kalamazoo, Michigan to a new plant in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In 1970 corporate consolidation caught up, and Shakespeare also moved production of the Pflueger Medalist reel from the Pflueger factory in Akron, Ohio to the Fayetteville facility.  This move was accompanied by a change to the reel frame; the "Made in Akron" stamp became the letter code "DA".  Whether through intentional marketing efforts or by happenstance, this marking came to be known as "Dual Action".  We've already discovered that the Pflueger Medalist, through the incorporation of the second flange on the drag ratchet plate, was convertible to left-hand-wind starting in the late 1950's. Minor changes continued to take place as parts vendors changed in the normal course of business.  For instance, drag bearings continued to morph from brass to aluminum and subtle changes to the color (and presumably composition) of the plastic drag knob and spool latch cover occurred as production in the Arkansas facility matured.  Functionally the reel remained identical through this run, and these are my favorite series of Medalists. The DA appellation indicates that this reel's build-spec was authorized in 1970.

 

As an aside, it's been surmised elsewhere that changes took place to the aluminum used in the back plate and spool after (some say during) this manufacturing series.  There are at least eight variations in aluminum alloy used in manufacturing today, ranging from series 1xxx to 8xxx, with much ado about T6061 or T6062 "aircraft grade" aluminum being bandied about by various fly reel manufacturers.  A quick Internet search will demonstrate that 2xxx and 7xxx are also used in various parts of aircraft construction, and that 2xxx is the most common alloy used in manufacturing.  Shakespeare doesn't publish any particular claims about metal quality for the Medalist series.  It's almost certain that as the world economy grew and placed new demands upon raw materials that the quality of aluminum alloy used in production of the Pflueger Medalist, and most other fishing reels, slowly descended the ladder of price. We'll revisit my subjective reaction to parts quality as we discuss later manufacturing versions.

 

The Pflueger Medalist 1498

Examples Shown 1498 "Akron" and 1498 "DA"

The Pflueger Medalist 1498 was first introduced in 1958 as a replacement for the discontinued and similarly sized 1496 and 1496.  By this time the United States was well into its post-war boom and leisure time and resources that could be devoted to sport fishing were becoming the norm.  Fly fishing in salt water for striped bass, bonefish and tarpon was taking its first tentative step into the mainstream.  Challenged by this new, more adventurous market Pflueger responded with a heavy duty giant killer. The first 1498's featured a reinforced six-rivet spool, oversized brake shoe, beefier drag spring and drag knob protective cage.  One doesn't have to look far to find photographic proof of the suitability of the 1498 for tarpon over 100lbs or double-digit bonefish.  Period books and magazines are full of pictures of impressive catches made on Medalists.

 

The 1498DA series Medalist went from the six rivet reinforced spool to six rivets without the reinforced sleeve, to the standard three rivet spool, with no reported ill affects.  The 1498 is a big reel, an inch across at the spool and four-inches in diameter.  It's capable of holding a full DT10 fly line and 100 yards of 30lb backing, or a WF10 and nearly 200 yards of backing.  I find this to be a great choice in fly reels for Ohio River hybrid stripers, pike and muskie fishing. To ensure top performance, I rig this reel with a One Pfoot hardened drag ratchet plate (shown installed in the image to the right).  This drag plate currently costs as much as a new Pflueger Medalist, which is to say it's very affordable.  The pay-off to this part is the extremely smooth and dependable drag performance in LHW.  In fact, I'll go so far as to say that if you intent to fish any Medalist from the "Akron" or "DA" period in LHW- regardless of size- you need this part.  Remember, in RHW there are 8 clicks on the outgoing drag and 4 click on retrieve.  Changing to LHW moves those four detents to the pay-out side, allowing as much as 90-degrees of spool rotation before the drag engages.  If you intend to outfit your mint 1494 to fish for trout with 4x and 5x tippets - invest in this drag plate before you go LHW!  I use this part in every Medalist I have set-up for LHW, which for me means anything carrying a 7-weight or heavier line.  I also suggest use of the One Pfoot spool counterbalance for situations where you may encounter strong, long-running fish like carp.   A balanced spool will feel much more confident during that first, hard run.

 

The 1980's and 90's Pflueger Medalist

Example Shown 1494  "CJ"

In 1979 Anthony Industries of Los Angeles, CA purchased 35% of Shakespeare Company stock. In 1982, Shakespeare closed the offices and production facilities in Arkansas and moved its corporate offices to Columbia, S.C.  Some manufacturing was moved overseas at this time, and among the products that were now produced off-shore was the Pflueger Medalist fly reel. 

 

The "Made In U.S.A." stamp on the spool latch cover was reworked to simply say "Pflueger Medalist" with some slight font changes.  The color of the spool latch cover and handle moved towards a cooler white from the cream white of the DA that had itself descended from the ivory of the "Akron" and earlier generations.  The drag spring cam is the final piece to move from bronze to aluminum, and the stamped characters on the reel rim loose definition as the overall fit and finish gain both a high-volume-production consistency and mass-produced blandness.  This is a dependable and predictable reel that somehow has lost the "mojo" of its ancestors. The Pflueger Medalist lost much of its standing in the realm of "serious" fly reels during the last decade of the 20th Century when a new generation of CNC and computer-designed complex drag reels invaded ever more affordable price levels.  Where once the mega-brand Orvis had commissioned a trade version of the Medalist, it now kicked it to the curb with the off-set drag Battenkill at a $100 retail price point.

 

A variation in the Medalist family is released during this production period, as well. The Medalist model numbers 1594, 1594, 1595 and 1595 are resurrected with an "RC" suffix and now have a "Palming Rim" spool design and spool counterweight allowing easy control of drag pressure by the reel hand in the case of an aggressive run.  This is a useful design enhancement that makes the reel highly functional during those times when the battle is about sheer power.  The brake drum-break and shoe design of the Medalist has a limit on its maximum available drag pressure.  While additional finger pressure was always an option, the exposed palming rim really makes manual control of the reel easier and more confident.

 

The Current Pflueger Medalist

Examples Shown 1494 "AK"

By 1996, Anthony Industries had grown to be a half-billion dollar recreational and industrial products giant, Its name changed to K2 Inc. as it swelled its conglomeration of brands to include K2, Olin, Exotech, ProFlex, Shakespeare, Hilton, Dana Design, and Stearns.  K2 Inc. also manufactures marine antennas, fiberglass utility poles, and residential insulative sheathing.  By 2000, board member Richard Heckmann had assumed control of the company and implemented an aggressive growth plan. In order to remain financially competitive, K2 moved its manufacturing to China in 2001.

 

The AK code now stamped on the reel frame indicates that 2001 build-spec.  The Chinese import features a drag ratchet with six detents on each side.  This makes for a smoother operation on pay-out when in left-hand-wind than the previous 4x8 design, but at the expense of a slightly clunkier feel than the eight detents set up as RHW.. On the upside, the performance is identical whether set up in RHW or LHW. The drag plate has also changed to a softer formula of nylon, slightly more prone to grooving and damage from frozen drag pins or sand in the reel.  The reel foot, now compatible with almost all reel seats, is cast.  Fit and finish are more than acceptable, even if the aesthetics of the design are beginning to show their age. The reel is manufactured and packaged from the factory for LHW, a Medalist first!  The reel still carries a familiar weight and feel in use.  Although the parts quality is constrained by demands of a near unbelievable retail price point under $40, the Pflueger Medalist retains its essential utility and remains a dependable, functional and wholly competent fly reel for small to medium sized freshwater fish.

 

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