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Sun. Dec. 17, 10:00 AM ET

How Aluminum Changed Fly Fishing Forever

When you’re onstream, casting dry flies to rising trout, it seems like you’re alone in the wilderness, a million miles from the demands and detractions of technology. But the fact is that fly fishers are “early adopters” who have been quick to adapt the best in materials and processes to develop better equipment to use on rivers, lakes, saltwater flats, and wherever our adventures take us. It’s a simple premise: the less we worry about or gear, the more we can enjoy the fishing. And while our rods, waders, and fly lines have certainly come along long way, the machined aluminum reels we enjoy today may be the most enduring innovation our generation of fly fishers will ever experience.

Charles F. Orvis is widely credited with designing, manufacturing, and popularizing the first American-made fly reel. Its two round side plates were made from brass sheet material, with pillars riveted to each side to hold the structure together. The plates were heavily ported to save weight, and while “airy” ventilated design eventually became iconic in the world of fly fishing, brass sheet and later steel sheet materials were too malleable and heavy to make a truly functional fly reel. An idea was hatched, but it was never fully formed in Orvis’s lifetime.

By the 1950s, the aircraft industry had settled on 6061 aluminum alloy as its primary construction material due to its impressive strength-to-weight ratio and corrosion resistance. As American production capacity increased, aluminum found its way into the world of sports and recreation, with aluminum tubes being used for everything from bats, tent poles, and bicycle frames.

Almost all fly reels produced today are also made from similar aluminum alloys but they are not all created equal. Most inexpensive reels today are made through injection moulding, where molten aluminum is forced into a cavity, then cooled and released to produce both the spool and frame.

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