Stanley Bogdan, Maker of Much-Coveted Fly Reels, Is Dead at 92
By MITCH KELLER
Published: April 2, 2011
Stanley Bogdan, a maker of fly fishing reels so coveted that anglers were willing to spend years on a waiting list to buy them and then to pay far more than they would have for reels of only ordinary excellence, died March 27 in Nashua, N.H. He was 92 and a lifetime Nashua resident.
Shawn G. Henry
His death was confirmed by his son, Stephen.
In fly fishing, in particular fly fishing for the mighty Atlantic salmon, owning a Bogdan reel signals high seriousness about the sport and, not infrequently, a fair amount of disposable income. Many expert anglers consider it the finest reel ever made, a synthesis of incomparable engineering and aesthetic elegance.
Yet many fly fishermen, unless they have spent time on the classic salmon rivers in places like Quebec and the Maritimes, may have actually seen precious few Bogdans, let alone dared to dream of owning one. In a sport that is already expensive, they are content to pair their fly rods with any number of fine reels that will provide many years of service for a few hundred dollars.
A new Bogdan, on the other hand, ranges in price from about $1,500 for the smallest trout reel to about $2,400 for the biggest salmon reel. Hand-tooled by Stanley and Stephen Bogdan in their shops in New Hampshire — originally in Nashua and then in New Ipswich — Bogdan reels could not be rushed. Only 100 or so have been produced a year, and it has not been unusual for buyers to have to wait three or four years for delivery.
“Almost from day one, there has been The Waiting List, a sort of secular purgatory on the way to achieving tackle bliss,” Graydon R. Hilyard wrote in his biography “Bogdan” (Frank Amato, 2006). “How long must you dwell therein, who can tell? As the dreaded list has never actually been seen, your position on it can never be determined.”
Its salmon reels are what S. E. Bogdan Custom Built, the company’s official name, is best known for. What sets them apart and makes them so expensive is their innovative system for controlling “drag,” the adjustable resistance by which a properly handled reel tires and ultimately controls a powerful game fish.
Stanley Bogdan invented a braking system for his reels that allowed for drag of extraordinary smoothness and strength, greatly decreasing the chance that the fish of a lifetime would be able to strain and break an angler’s line. A Bogdan may not help you hook more fish, but it will help you land more of the fish you hook — and much more stylishly.
Stanley Edward Bogdan, one of four children of Polish immigrants, was born on Dec. 16, 1918, in Nashua. Like his father, a machinist, he had good mechanical aptitude, and after finishing high school he went to work at the Rollins Engine Company in Nashua, a manufacturer of steam engines. From an early age he had a deep interest in fishing, hunting and the outdoors. His entry in his high school yearbook was prescient, noting that the young man “could work miracles with fishing tackle.”
For years Mr. Bogdan made what reels he could on the side while working as a machinist and raising a family. His big break came in 1955 when he entered into a deal to provide reels to the original Abercrombie & Fitch, that era’s big retailer of high-end sporting goods. A few years later he struck a deal with Orvis, and gradually word spread that there was no fly fishing reel quite like the one being made by the friendly, smiling, occasionally contrary Yankee in Nashua, N.H.
Mr. Bogdan’s wife, Phyllis, died in 1995. In addition to his son, Stephen, of New Ipswich, he is survived by a daughter, Cheryl Doughty, of Palm Bay, Fla.
Stephen Bogdan, 61, started working with his father in 1973 and became the company’s sole owner in 1996.
A passionate and accomplished angler in his own right, Stanley Bogdan was devoted to the Atlantic salmon and pursued it on the sport’s best rivers. “He was a very, very good salmon angler,” said Bill Taylor, the president of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
Last September, Stanley Bogdan, at 91, caught a 32-pound salmon on the Grand Cascapedia River in Quebec. “I believe that was his last fish,” Stephen Bogdan said.