BRINGING BACK A ROSS FLY FISHING REEL
By Garhart Stephenson
Serendipity. Fate. Call it whatever you like, some things are just meant to be, or maybe not to be. We’ve all lost that favorite piece of gear on the river and it only brings chagrin. But it happens. You just don’t know when it will.
What I do know is that four years ago my friend T.J. Hailey and I were floating the river on a really nice spring day. So were plenty of other folks. When the hatch is on, the word is out and boy was it ever out…like nationwide. Well, too big a portion was out enjoying the fine weather and mediocre fishing. No matter where you go…you should have been there yesterday. I know that for sure. I was there the day before. We were still catching fish though and any day bobbing along in kickboats and slinging hackle is still a good day. The two of us stopped to fish at the lower tip of an island that I usually just pass by, but the lack of any other boat was encouragement enough to give it a go. After about 15 minutes of rolling out mends with very few takes, I decided to try the seam on the other side. Planting my feet in preparation to cast, I looked down for reasons that elude me now and noticed a distorted image beneath the surface. I realized it was a fly reel, heavily encrusted, and attached to what was once a fly rod.
Stooping down, I pulled the assembly from its stone rubble grave. Previous high flows had buried the rod and reel almost entirely. A few firm sweeps of my water-shriveled hand revealed that I was holding a Ross Reel! Not Ross Worldwide either. The thing was hardly functional, but certainly worth an attempt at resurrecting from the dead. That evening I carefully worked the mechanisms until they loosened up to the point I could remove the spool. What was left of the line and backing went into the “round file”. I washed and scrubbed the reel then immersed it in vinegar to dissolve the mineral scale. Each week I checked the progress, sort of. Week one’s inspection revealed that the vinegar was doing its job. After two weeks, a beautiful bronze patina showing the patterns were scale had somewhat blocked the sun’s ultraviolet light from fading the originally black anodized finish. About another week would finish the job.
Oops. I forgot about week three. Four weeks submersion produced a clean, but now silver reel. I really did like the mottled bronze and considered having it anodized again. Then I realized that this thing had character, unique character. Decisions, decisions. On to the mechanicals… Thanks to marine-grade materials, the mechanicals only needed a good cleaning and some silicone grease. After about an hour of effort, I reassembled the Ross, drag smooth as butter. The only casualty to years underwater was the rolled steel tension pin that indexed the spool bushing with the rest of the drag assembly. Rust had severely compromised it and it soon failed during testing at home. The replacement I found at the auto parts store was a bit too long, but for 80 cents I was willing to trim it with a file. The Ross was now ready to rock.
An intermediate sink line graces this reel, a valuable addition to my arsenal. Teamed up with a fast action 4 weight rod, the combo has seen action from Wyoming to Minnesota. The list of species includes most of our trout, bass, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, crappie (black), yellow perch, and northern pike. Not bad for a reel long considered lost to the ravages of time, nature, and “fate”. It just goes to prove that quality is quality, no matter what happens. I never did send it off for refinishing; even the sand eroded handle is left as is as a testament to its journey. Not bad for what may have started out a loose bootlace. The rescued Ross, my best catch to date.
- Wind River Outdoor Admin