Vintage fishing tackle – Michael Farrior a collector of collectors
10. In the early 1900s, coils began to evolve into a variety of star drag systems. Notice the elaborate cases that some of them have entered. In 1972, a San Diego businessman Michel farrior attended a small “flea market” to Rancho Bernardo Vineyard. On a table strewn with silverware and dusty porcelain – dishes from another era – the afternoon sun was shining on an old fishing reel. Not realizing that this was an overwhelming event that would take him on a remarkable journey, he bought it for a few dollars.
After some research he found out that the small aluminum star drag reel was a “Castey” named after the builder Dalmo castey of Santa Monica. Although not a rare reel, it sparked his curiosity as he loved fishing gear and had a penchant for collecting having previously worked for a successful collector of native artifacts and ivory through Alaska.
His passion for saltwater fishing fueled his desire to collect saltwater gear from the Civil War to the mid-1930s.
He knew the importance of having first-hand knowledge of artifacts from his Alaskan mentor. However, since there was no internet at that time, his method was to uncover information by researching old catalogs, books, magazines, brochures and interviewing living legends in the sport.
Research has enabled him to understand which manufacturers have advanced the technology and which have made the highest quality hardware. Learning why some things were more important than others led him to be highly sought after as a trusted source of information. The collection is internationally recognized as one of the best examples of the evolution of modern material.
Early on, he recognized the importance of focusing on acquiring the rarest items under the best possible conditions and avoiding the temptation to collect whatever comes along. Mike told me that “My best advice to collectors is to first determine which segment and period of our sport you would like to collect and stay focused.”
Mike has enjoyed sharing his knowledge through writing, museums, public exhibits and PowerPoint presentations over the years, and many collectors claim he has helped them get started in this wonderful hobby; some have even turned it into a business. We ask him so many questions and surprisingly, he answers them all!
People are always surprised to find that not all of the pristine material he exhibits is for sale, quite the contrary – he is always interested in learning more, buying items, and answering questions. If it doesn’t know the answer, it will search for it and get back to you. Who does that in a show?
I recently asked him about a series of beautiful German silver reels on the display and he replied, “These were all patented 1867 spools individually manufactured by Frédéric, Jules and Edward Vom Hofe in New York for the striped bass casting
beaches and rocks. Later, when the railroad got to South Florida, these makers (he points to about 15 other reels) innovated these new ideas that allowed anglers to catch the largest tarpon. This was followed by Californian anglers pioneering the segment of the sport known as “big game fishing”. It was in California that the first tuna, billfish and broad-billed swordfish were caught with rod and reel.
He showed me a screen of “punch”Reels typical of what early fishermen used when fishing for tuna. The name referred to how the handle of the direct drive reel spun back when a large fish struck the bait, sometimes scratching the knuckles or, in some cases, literally snapping a fisherman’s fingers before it hit the bait. ‘he couldn’t pull himself together. His research established that the birth of big game fishing took place on the Pacific coast and that the first fishing gear used to combat large bluefin tuna, billfish and swordfish evolved here. The ethics and rules of sport fishing used today by International Sport Fishing Association were widely adopted from the writings of our founders of the Santa Catalina Tuna Club Island at the turn of the century.
“Making Californians aware that big game fishing originated here is one of my proudest accomplishments,” said Farrior. “Even here in California, it had not been recognized, and the incredible story was simply lost in time.”
Many “makers” have combined their skills as craftsmen with their experience as anglers. Examples of Bates, Conroy, Leonard, Meek, Milam, Hardy, Mitchell-Henry, Kovalovsky, Stead, Lee, Klein, Hoesel, Atlantic, Garey, Fin Nor, Coxe, Stevens, Frederick, Julius and Edward Vom Hofe and several others are represented in Farrior’s collection. Beyond reels, the first metal and wooden lures, lines, books and all types of souvenirs, material belonging to Zane Gray, Ernest Hemingway, WC Boschen, Kip Farrington, George Farnsworth and others are all included.
In addition to rods and reels, it contains the first metal and wood lures, linen thread, books and fish surveys, including Zane Gray’s 1,041-pound marlin from Tahiti. As former president of the Tuna Club of Santa Catalina Island and their historian for nearly 30 years, Farrior wrote the award-winning “History of the Tuna Club 1898 – 1998,”A collectible but privately printed book. He thanks his deceased friend Paxson Offield to believe in the project; Mike describes Offield as “the best sportsman, environmentalist and gentleman fisherman I have ever known”.
This opus literally changed the way the International Game Fish Association and the the global angling community perceives sport fishing on the west coast. Michael is the first official of the International Game Fish Association Historian, where it is also Curator and Member of the Management Boardr. He was credited by the IGFA by being the first to collect and record all relevant documentation to verify that Californian fishermen caught the world’s first tuna, billfish and broadbill swordfish and set the rules for tournament fishing in 1898!
Michael has received numerous awards, including being inducted into the California Outdoor Hall of Fame. His support for young anglers includes an annual tournament in his honor at the San Diego Marlin Club. The collection he has assembled and the research he shares is how Michael gives back to the sport he loves.
This year, Michael offers something very unique to the “Day at the DocksApril 9. In addition to a limited exhibition of its collection, it offers free information and assessments to anyone interested in learning more about their own treasures.
Mike is always on the lookout for additions to his own collection that could help better illustrate the colorful history of the sport. A collector for 45 years, he always encourages others to share this wonderful hobby, a fascinating and rewarding pastime for the whole family.
In addition to material belonging to Ernest Hemingway, Zane Gray and other rare big game reels from around the world, Farrior will also feature ancient Viking, Roman, South Pacific, Alaskan and Native American fishing lures and hooks.
Written by: Michael Farrior and Gary Graham