Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Round Reel Fanboys Rejoice!

In August of 1979, a much younger, sweeter, slimmer and more optimistic version of the current me was driven (because I was too young to drive) to the TG&Y department store (now long-defunct) on Main Street in Norman, Oklahoma.

Mini-me walked up to the sporting goods counter, a fantastic, magical place that he spent hours haunting (back in those pre-Wal-Mart/Bass Pro/Cabela's big-box days small regional departments-store chains like TG&Y had wonderful hunting and fishing departments), took out his blue plastic Santa Fe railroad change purse and plopped down virtually every cent of his net worth.

This small fortune, almost sixty dollars amassed from a combination of means both legitimate (birthday money, Christmas money, chores) and not-so-legitimate (the ill-gotten lucre of sofa diving, action figure/Hot Wheels selling and the illegal schoolyard trafficking of reptiles and amphibians) was handed over to the clerk. In return, the clerk handed mini-me a box containing a shiny, brand-new midnight black Ambassadeur 5600C.

It was my very first "real" reel. In the years since that day I have fished with, bought, sold, traded, lost, broken, fixed, praised and/or cursed literally hundreds of baitcasting reels from pretty much every manufacturer out there. But I still have that one (yes, that's the actual receipt), and in fact I still have just about every old Ambassadeur I've ever owned. Some reels were sexier, some reels were smoother, or easier to cast and palm. But none of them, not even my beloved Shimano Bantams of that same vintage, were as rugged or reliable or simple to work on as my old round Ambassadeurs. Even a dunce like me could keep them going with a minimum of care and maintenance.

Every one I've ever bought, new or used, every one, is still working and catching fish. That's a claim I can't make with any other model of reel besides my Shimano Calcuttas, which are classics in their own right, but a much newer and more modern reel.

I do not claim that my old Abus can compare to modern reels, performance-wise, although with some fairly simple and easy super-tuning mods (upgraded bearings,drags and polishing) you can get damn close. Reel technology and refinement have come a very, very long way since then. Modern reels are wonders, they truly are. Hideously ugly, most of them, with their bulbous, misshapen sideplates covering those ridiculous over-sized gears (so you'll be prepared when a three-pound bass suddenly rips off sixty yards of line and strips your main gear, because that happens like, you know, never) but I cannot argue with their casting performance and their smoothness.

Despite that, I just can't seem to warm to them, which is why I own but a few modern low-profile reels that are relegated mostly to catfishing, back-up and loaner duty in favor of my Calcuttas and my Abus. Which guy catfishes with a $160 Daiwa baitcaster because he doesn't want to get his 35-year-old, $50 Ambassadeurs icky? Yeah, this guy.  I guess I'm just a round-reel guy in a low-profile world.

At any rate, this entire post is merely a roundabout (get it?) way of introducing a really cool-looking new documentary on the history of Abu Garcia that I read about over on the Fishing For History website last week. Now I don't know how, exactly, this documentary will present the latest chapter in Abu's long and storied history, specifically its ownership by Pure Fishing/Jarden, because an awful lot of die-hard Abu enthusiasts are not too keen on what they perceive as Jarden's unforgivable cheapening of the brand (Chinese-made Abus? The horror...).

I'm assuming, since the documentary was sanctioned by Jarden/Pure Fishing, that all will be ice cream and roses. Personally, I can't speak to the relative quality or lack thereof, of any of the new Abus because, well, hell, my old ones haven't broken yet...

Interestingly enough, however, I also happened to see this bit of news from the press release about the documentary...

In 2014, Abu Garcia will re-launch its iconic Swedish made round reels. Set to be unveiled at ICAST in Las Vegas, July 10, 2013, Abu Garcia will present the newly updated editions of its original Record, C4, C3, Pro Rocket and Morrum Swedish-made round reels. With upgraded performance and style, the new line of round reels embodies the trusted durability and engineering that generations of anglers have come to expect.

To mark this occasion a poignant and beautifully shot documentary has been produced that traces the history of one of the most revered fishing brands in the world. The trailer of "For Life, The Story of Abu Garcia" is currently viewable at The full length documentary premiers online via YouTube ( and Vimeo ( ) at 3pm ET on July 10th.

"Chronicling the history of one of the world's most legendary fishing brands was a huge task and we are very excited to give an insider's look at how this company started," said the film's Director, Dustin Hoye. "The stories were so genuine and provided many different points of view for a great perspective of the lives influenced by Abu Garcia."

Highlights in the film include Lennart Borgstrom, former Abu Garcia owner, and Henning Karlssom who began working in the factory in 1940. Henning was just 14 years old when he started with Abu Garcia and to this day, still volunteers as curator of the museum in Svangsta, Sweden. Everyday anglers provide their heartfelt stories which underscore the way fishing shapes some of the most memorable and defining moments in their lives.

Now that's some good news, indeed. I used to lust after those Morrums something fierce, but never could afford them. Still can't, come to think of it, unless I find one in a pawn shop.

Even more interestingly enough, the PR firm that put out that press release, and indeed handles all of Abu's/ Pure Fishing's press/marketing, is an outfit called Blue Heron Communications. Blue Heron is based in my hometown of Norman, Oklahoma. The guy who owns Blue Heron, a helluva good guy named Gary Guidice, was instrumental in getting my writing career started lo those many years ago. He even scored me my very first press junket to cover the Bassmasters Classic, back when said junket was an all-inclusive, expenses-paid week-long vacation. It was a helluva lot of fun.

The press were, of course, expected to fish with the pros during practice days, so what reels did I choose to fish the Bassmasters Classic? Yep, a couple Ambassadeurs; a 4500C and that old 5600C you see in the picture above.

Small world, 'aint it?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Of Summer Lulls and Endearing Parisian Snobbery

Apologies for the lack of content. In addition to the normal summer posting slowdown due to typical summertime family activities and the sense of miserable torpidity brought on by 100-degree heat, most of my work time has been consumed by finishing up a few assignments for which I have looming deadlines as well as a writing project I hope will eventually pan out into something more substantial than an idea.

An appalling number of years ago this very month, my wife and I were in the midst of our first visit to Paris (and my first trip to Europe), a wonderful 10-day stay with expat friends who lived there. Some days were designated as typical tourist destination days; the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Montmartre, Latin Quarter, that sort of thing. Other days we'd spend walking and exploring the rest of the city, assiduously avoiding visiting and/or eating all things tourist.

It was great fun, and one day as we were walking along a Parisian side street I noticed a window lined with guns. Not knowing anything at all about French gun laws, nor even if it was lawful for me to enter, I asked our friend if she'd ask the proprietor if I could come in and browse. She did so, came back out with an affirmative and informed me that he even spoke English. Guns. Paris. Dude who speaks my language. How lucky could a guy be?

I walked in the door and right up to the patrician-looking gentleman, gave him a slight, world-weary shrug and said, in passable French, "Bonjour, monsieur, I see that you and I share a mutual love of fine guns and existential philosophy. I, too, find that a world without shotguns is a pointless world, indeed. May I please handle this beautiful Darne? Merci."

At least that's what I recall saying. What I've been told I actually said is a bit less world-weary intellectual, a bit more, uh, Gomer Pyle, or perhaps redneck Clark Griswold...

"Hello (in English)! I am a loud, overbearing American ass who enjoys invading your personal space and proffering opinions, loudly, where none have been asked for nor desired. Thank you for letting me browse your store. I will now stomp around, again, loudly, for a few minutes, taking pictures and getting fingerprints on your guns. I will then proclaim, again, loudly, that my old 870 will kill a bird just a dead as any of these fancy guns. I will then inform you that you need to to stock a few more 3 1/2-chambered guns. I will then ask for directions to the nearest McDonald's because I've been wanting to try one of those Royales with cheese. And before leaving, I will also ask to use your bathroom while complaining about pay toilets."

Or something to that effect.

The man glanced up from the copy of Sartre he was reading (OK, so I made that part up), slowly looked me over like I was a NASCAR-edition Big Mac with extra sauce and super-sized fries that had somehow made its way onto his plate at a Michelin-starred restaurant, shrugged, shook his head, then indolently went back to his book.

I then tried my patented Inspector Clouseau French-accented English (if you want more info on that, click here) thinking this might help. Again the shrug and head shake, but punctuated this time with a condescending sigh. There would be no international meeting of shotgun minds this day. I wandered around the shop for a few awkwardly silent minutes, snapped one or two hurried pics, then quickly exited in shame.

Back outside, the only thing we could figure out was that he got pissed off when I walked in the shop and started speaking English without first attempting French, or at least a French greeting.

That's just one reason of many why I love the French. I really do. You've got to respect and admire that kind of attitude. It was a funny, yet damn effective lesson in international etiquette, and one that has stuck with me.

Since then I've never forgotten to start off any conversation or question with a proper French greeting, and in turn I've never failed to have anyone in France go out of their way to help me after that first halting, painful butchering of the French language to show my due respect. And almost always in English, of course, because bilingual is how most of the rest of the non-Murkan world rolls.  If I'm ever lucky enough to make it back to Paris I'd love to find that shop again.   

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Old Pics of Importance Only To Me

 I was prowling around in my old computer a few days ago and found a ton of photographs that I had completely forgotten about. Dogs, fishing, hunting, landscape, weather, animals, lots of stuff, including a few early pics of my beloved male chessie, Lewey, whom I believe has been reincarnated as my young male English setter, Ozzie.

Their personalities and behaviors are eerily similar, and I'm not just engaging in some maudlin, cross-species emotional transference or supernatural anthropomorphism, either. My wife has noticed the same thing. It's weird, I tell you.

Or maybe it's just that the heart tends to see what it wants to see and many young male dogs simply have a tendency to be big. lovable, goofballs who act human. At any rate, the pics of Lewey as a pup were an interesting find because a few days ago I noticed a litter announcement on the Teamchesapeake website (a forum for folks who hunt and trial with chessies) out of one of Lewey's littermates. As far as I know it's been the only breeding out of Lewey's litter (other than my accidental litter), or at least the only one I've seen, which in turn was the only litter that Bill Burks ever produced out of his fantastic trial dog, Suite Judy Blue Eyes.

Time marches on, I guess. The first pic was taken not long after I got Lewey, during a training day with the old retired pro trainer who first got me into my serious (or at least semi-serious) retriever training phase. Lewey was just along for the ride that day, but as he got older he got to know that dog trailer well. Of course, both he and the old man are gone now, and these days I find that having an old dog and no training partner a bit of a melancholy combination. It's mostly bumpers in the back yard any more, but at one point it was a helluva lot of fun to train two young dogs.

Tess, (on the right) bless her homely little heart, has never been a terribly attractive dog, but Lewey was always a looker.

When I saw the puppy as on the chessie website, I quickly entertained the notion. You know, the puppy notion. Then just as quickly I shot it down. Tess probably has a couple seasons left in her creaking old bones, and right now I'm simply too preoccupied with the setters, anyway. But I can still think about it...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mallard's Infinite Playlist: Missed Opportunity Edition

Damnit, damnit, damnit. How the hell did I miss this?

People lounged on blankets, sat in lawn chairs and danced on the grass as the annual Summer Breeze concert series got underway Sunday at Lions Park with a performance by The Gourds. Singer/songwriter John Fullbright had been scheduled to kick off the season on May 19, but his performance was rained out. An appearance by Fullbright has been rescheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the park at Symmes Street and Flood Avenue. The outdoor concert series is sponsored by the Performing Arts Studio. All concerts are free and are held in Lions Park. For a complete schedule, visit

I mostly enjoy living out here in the middle of nowhere some 170 miles removed from my hometown, I really do. True, I must take my fishing where I can find it, which kinda sucks, but in the fall I can load up the dogs, pull out of the driveway and literally be on the ground hunting in twenty minutes. That's worth a lot. I generally don't like people, and there are relatively few of them out here to piss me off. That's worth a lot, too. But I must admit that sometimes I really miss the experience of growing up and living in a nice, progressive (for Oklahoma), culturally diverse (again, for Oklahoma), large-but-not-too-large state university town. Things like free and funky outdoor music festivals that draw bands like the Gourds...

I think that song should be required listening for all middle school geography classes. And since I believe it's actually against the law to mention the Gourds without also mentioning their classic, infamous, universally loved, much-mistaken-for-Phish, Best Cover Ever version of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" here it is, too (NSFW, or kids...)