Todd Reels

Todd Reels

Hostetler, Jeff
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When it comes to outdoor gear, my tastes slurp on the meager sundae of practicality. Last winter I had the opportunity to pit Birten Todd's locally manufactured Madison Fly Reel against the rigors of my pragmatism.

Machined of aircraft-quality aluminum in Bozeman, Montana, the Madison is laser-engraved, sequentially numbered, and equipped with a personally engraved nameplate in each case. Ported on both the spool and the frame are a rising trout and an elegant mayfly, and the handle is adorned with wild Montana elk antler. Each reel comes in a handcrafted, laser-engraved cherry wood case. These high-end features don't come cheap — the Madison dons a price tag of $460. It had failed the first test; I could not afford it.

The second test challenged its performance. The first day I took it to the Missouri River near Wold Creek. The air was crisp but not once did the click-pawl drag freeze or bind on me. It evenly fed line without backlashing. Three 16- to 19-inch trout worked the clicker and it performed superbly, although on two fish I needed to tighten the drag, and the thumbtack-sized knob was difficult to locate and crank during the frenzy of buzzing. The variability of the drag system, like most pawl systems, is little, but it performs as smooth as any Hardy. The exposed spool rim allows an angler to palm the reel — but watch for a stout rap on your knuckles from the antler handle.

The final exam was less strenuous due to the uncooperative trout. I fished the river for which the reel is named and landed several trout, but few were a challenge, so it did what every fly reel does best and just held the line.

The Madison graduated from my school of practicality, but with its adorned resume, those on a budget will not employ it. Its performance is nearly flawless, and for a numbered, limited-edition reel with artistic flair, the price tag will appeal to those looking for the perfect desk ornament or special, made-in-Montana gift.

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