An Angler's Guide To The Classic Pflueger
Part Two - 1959 to Present
Article and Photographs by Joe
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 1492½. 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 1495½. 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
One Pfoot company.
The 1950's and 1960's Pflueger Medalist
Example Shown 1494 "Made in Akron"
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
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
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"
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 1494½ "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
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
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
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
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 1494½ "DA"
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
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
The Pflueger Medalist 1498
Examples Shown 1498 "Akron" and 1498 "DA"
Pflueger Medalist 1498 was first introduced in 1958 as a replacement for the
discontinued and similarly sized 1496 and 1496½. 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
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
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.
1980's and 90's Pflueger Medalist
Example Shown 1494½ "CJ"
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,
1594½, 1595 and 1595½ 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 1494½ "AK"
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.