Author: Will Rice
Trouts Fly Fishing is always on the hunt for the best new fly fishing gear that gives our clients an edge on fly fishing. Earlier this year we came across the Bozeman Reel Company headquartered out of Bozeman, Montana. When we talk about reels, most often we focus on reliability, durability and performance. We’re happy to announce we are the first shop in Colorado to carry Bozeman Reels.
Before we brought them on board, Tucker Ladd took two reels to Argentina for a thorough test drive and product testing.
“I've been fishing Bozeman reels for about 3 months now, and I continue to be impressed with their performance, look and overall functionality.” Said Tucker Ladd, Owner of Trouts Fly Fishing. “I've had the privilege of fishing a wide range of fly reels over the past 9 years, and none have stood out so starkly from the competition. I'm very excited to see how these reels will perform throughout the upcoming summer, but I have little doubt that they'll remain a favorite of myself and the rest of the staff at Trouts.”
Here is an in depth interview with the guys who created Bozeman Reels that you will not find anywhere else.
Trouts Fly Fishing: Tell us how you got into fly reel design and manufacturing business?
Bozeman Reel Company: Montana State University alums that were fisherman, engineers and machinists. The idea was born out of the reality that there wasn’t a reel company in Montana nor one that focused on producing a mix of modern technology and classic styling. The shop here builds all sorts of products and this was a way to differentiate the business and help us grow our own product offering.
Trouts Fly Fishing: What sets the Bozeman Reel Company apart from other premium fly reels on the market?
Bozeman Reel Company: There are some design aspects of the reel that help to identify us with the premium market. We’ve spent a fair amount of time optimizing the drag for the supple start-up that is required to protect light tippets. We have a developed a reel testing unit that allows us to experiment with various drag systems and types which helped us settle on the drag system we use now – sandwiched rulon with just under 2 square inches of drag surface. This allows us to achieve sufficient stopping power, a one-turn on/off drag and a very light start-up inertia which will protect light tippets, when needed. Another aspect of our design that helps to differentiate is the way our spool is mounted on the housing. The spool is referenced against the conical spindle – in the same way that the high-tech CNC machines mount their cutting tools. Its proven and it works.
Trouts Fly Fishing: The RS Series is a bomber reel that combines strength, reliability, durability, and precision and is designed for 3-9 line weights. The SC Series is a flash back in time from a design perspective. Tell us how you approached these two relatively different designs?
Bozeman Reel Company: The classic appeal of the SC is timeless in some sense. The sound, the aesthetics and the simplicity are natural partners to some of the classic rods and fishermen. We wanted to pay tribute to that aspect of fishing. The simplicity of this design for trout – fishing the spring creeks with a focus on form is achieved with that design. It isn’t over weighted, but properly balanced. The RS is the modern-era version of our reel line. The machining lines and design are a great compliment to the modern rods and modern technology. It is lightweight and balances well with the lighter technology rods and its drag system is scalable to support fishing for big browns, steelhead, light tippets or small rods.
Trouts Fly Fishing: All of your reels are designed, manufactured, and field tested in Montana – tell us about your operation and how you can compete with other reel manufacturers who build their equipment overseas?
Bozeman Reel Company: Our machine shop is the downstairs ½ of our building, our anodizing is done 3 blocks north and in the upstairs ½ of the building we handle design, assembly, customer service, inventory and fulfillment. Its awesome – our supply chain is short and therefore our time to build and deliver is much shorter. We don’t have to place orders for the year and then deal with the inventory in front of us, we can be flexible to support our retailers. That said, these are tightly tolerance reels with design aspects that mirror some of the most accurate CNC machining tools. Our design team focused on making the reels precision pieces that will operate for a lifetime. In regards to the competitiveness question, while we have chosen not to sacrifice design, we did make some decisions that allow us to keep the production time efficient and focused. We are setting up our shop so that it can ultimately produce reels efficiently and somewhat effortlessly.
A Bozeman Reel added to the Trouts Fly Fishing reel arsenal
Trouts Fly Fishing: We spend a lot of time talking to our customers about reel durability as well as performance. What is Bozeman’s approach to creating a durable reel?
Bozeman Reel Company: We use similar materials to what other reel manufacturers use. T6061 aluminum barstock is somewhat standard in the industry in achieving the durability of the frame and spool. We are choosing to brand our products with laser marking and anodizing over the machining. This is a subtle aesthetic difference, but means the graphics, logo and lettering will last. The internal components (primarily rulon and stainless) were chosen for their ability to withstand temperature changes, humidity and exposure. Then, we sealed the drag system keeping it maintenance free and eliminating the exposure concern.
Trouts Fly Fishing: What is Bozeman Reel’s approach to creating a reel that is going to perform well over time and what type of guarantee do you guys stand behind?
Bozeman Reel Company: We have a lifetime guarantee to the original purchaser. We do that because we believe in the product and its performance. The Type II anodizing protects the components of the reel and our design focus was to create a reel that is able to withstand the rigors of years of use. We aren’t pumping these things out of a factory outside of our control, we are crafting these with care in Bozeman, MT.
Trouts Fly Fishing: Tell us about your testing process.
Bozeman Reel Company: Oh man! We’ve had some fun with this one… once we determined what we believe to be the optimum performance characteristics we set out to destroy some of our designs. We hooked our reels up to the lathe and began to spin the reels. We varied the speed, drag settings and length of test. We measured temperatures and before/after drag tensions and start-up performance. We found very little variation in our design – we believe that is a result of the materials used and the design.
R&D Bozeman Style
Trouts Fly Fishing: At Trouts, we’ve blown up fly reels and lost fish due to reel failures – SXit happens. Any interesting reel experiences you’ve weathered prior to starting Bozeman or during the process?
Bozeman Reel Company: Oh hell… haven’t we all?!?! We’ve explored a lot of reel designs in this process and all of us have a lot of on-river experience. That’s exposed us to a few too many mishaps. Line getting caught between the spool and housing, backlashes, spools coming off completely. Probably the worst story we’ve got prior to building our own is one of our guys had a spool pop off casting a deep break on the ocean. The spool and spindle cap of the design popped off and the spool dropped into the water… now imagine trying to hand-line a spool back to the surface. He was able to get that done, but the drag system was in pieces and the manufacturer wasn’t able to send parts because they were “proprietary.” After rigging a makeshift fix of foam, the trip went on… but never to be used again. Customer service, the voice of the customer and supporting the brand are essential and we’re focused on learning from these experiences as we put our brand forward.
Trouts Fly Fishing: How’s fishing been in Montana this fall/winter? Any good stories to share? Any big trips on the Horizon?
Bozeman Reel Company: Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado are mostly our proving grounds. The great thing about this area is that we can find water to fish pretty much any time of year. We’ve had some good days fishing the spring creeks and dashing around to the tailwaters. Biggest challenge this winter has been keeping dry! We’ve got one of our guys who can’t stop ending up in the drink. Might be time for some stream treads! We’re always on the water – between us, our team, our guides or our friends. These things get fished. We’ve got the day-to-day trips hitting the Gallatin, the Mo and the Madison as it warms. Our crew swings some bigger stuff over on the Clearwater and places west. But, yeah – we’ve got a trip planned to the Bighorn to hit some warm spring weather there in a few weeks (always good fishing this time of year before the major fiberglass hatch starts) and then we’ll take a guide rendezvous down to Cody in April to kick off the summer season up here.
And there you have it…