Hary Tobique River Reel

The Hardy Tobique Rivers Reel.

I was very interested to read the section on the Cascapedia reels in John Drewett’s book on Hardy Brothers. I am particularly interested in comparing these reels with similar reels made by the Edward Vom Hofe company around the same time. John mentions the Tobique River reel sold at auction in America in November 1993, and I have known about it for some time. So I decided to do more investigating.

The reel was a size 2/0 and only had two medallions, the Royal Warrant by Appointment and the model designation. There was no medallion with the Prince of Wales’s feathers.

Hardy Brothers Tobique River Reel

Ed Zern's Tobique River Reel by Hardy Brothers sold for $5,900 at Lang's Auction Broxborough Ma. USA November 1993

The King granted This Royal Warrant in 1931, and the Cascapedia was included in the Hardy supplement. Hardy made the Tobique River reel in 1930 or even 1929; it would require many months, if not years, to produce a new reel. This reel is undoubtedly the prototype or first production model for the Cascapedia.

Edward Vom Hofe launched the Tobique reel in about 1928, claiming it was the world’s first multiplying action reel with a centrally located winding handle.

We can only speculate as to the reaction of the Vom Hofe company on seeing the appearance of the Tobique River reel. Panic, shock, anger – who knows? 

Or what about this as a theory? Hardy Brothers and Vom Hofe worked on producing the reel as a joint venture. “No chance”, you might say. Well, let us look at the evidence. 

The Tobique and the Cascapedia share the following features:- “S” shaped handles, handles mounted within a handle guard, oiling ports on the back plate, indicating dots for the drag system and roller bars. Finally, both reels used ebonite, German Silver and Duralumin in the construction.

No other Hardy reels produced had any of these features, with one exception. The exception was the New Brunswick, a variant of the Cascapedia, introduced in 1935. The Cascapedia was the Hardy equivalent of the Restigouche single-action fly reel. Unfortunately, according to the production book, only two reels were made.

The Vom Hofe company did not make aluminium fly reels, and Hardy Brothers, evidence of a close relationship, filled this gap.   

So with both companies deciding to develop the reel, someone chose the project name “Tobique” The man from Hardy asked what that was, and Vom Hofe said it was a river. So Vom Hofe built the Tobique and Hardy the Tobique River. However, Hardy and Vom Hofe could not use the same name once the reels, so Hardy changed theirs to Cascapedia, named after another river and an earlier Vom Hofe model.


Far fetched! Well, we have the reel as evidence. 

The reel or reels, who knows how many Hardy manufactured, ended up being used. The one sold at auction belonged to Ed Zern. I was surprised to find out who the gentleman was and asked a few people if they knew anything about him.

What I learned was that to many people, he was like a member of the family.


Close up of Hardy Tosbique River Reel medallion

Close up of the Tobique River Reel Medallion

One person told me how, as a youngster, he always looked forward to the arrival of his dad’s Field & Stream. Even if the front cover story was, “How I beat off a 10-foot renegade Grizzly with a Spatula whilst landing a salmon”, he would always turn to the back page to read Ed. Zern’s column first.

I managed to get hold of some of his books, and he was undoubtedly an excellent writer with a wonderful sharp wit.

Nick Lyons wrote a fine tribute to the man in the magazine Fly Fishing in 1994 and pointed out some of his observations on fishing. 

In” The Truth about Izaak Walton”, the book “has nothing whatsoever to do with fish or fishing. On the contrary, in every detail, it is a turbidly political allegory intended not for the amusement or instruction of anglers but simply for the advancement of the Caroline cause and the confusion of the forces of Cromwell.” 

His review of Lady Chatterly’s Lover was a “fictional account of the day-to-day life of an English gamekeeper” with” many passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways of controlling vermin and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper. Unfortunately the book was filled with “extraneous material”. It would never replace J. R. Miller’s Practical Gamekeeping. Various people wrote into Field and Stream asking where they could buy the Miller book, obviously thinking that it too had “extraneous material.”

The story of his meeting with a man named Thompson, who first appeared in “A Day’s Fishing” in 1948, was his favourite. A recommendation from a colleague pointed in his direction during an impoverished day’s sport. Still, the man warned that if there were a contest for the most unpopular man, he would win it easily.

He meets Thompson and quite openly describes what would occur. “if he likes your looks, he will let you go to the river, and if he didn’t, you wouldn’t”. Thompson looks him over with folded arms and then curtly says he will show him the way to the river. Would Thompson like a few trout to eat? Silence – then a few hundred paces later. “I guess I could use some. If they’re cleaned.”  


Ed Zern author, angler conservationist. Owner of the Hardy Tobique River Reel

He then tells us about the fishing and the fish that he caught. About a day’s fishing, what some of us still try to do, pleasant, rewarding, solitary and uncomplicated. It is a break from everyday life and the pace at which it is lived.

He then returns to Thompson and, although he looks “well-to-do”, lives in a basic and somewhat primitive state. So why does he use a dug well instead of a pump? “Had a pump once, and it froze. This doesn’t freeze.”

Thompson then brings a chocolate cake and says, “There’s cake.” Ed waits to see if he wants to “pursue the subject” and then asks if he might have a slice of it. Did a neighbour cook it? “I do my own cooking,” says Thompson.

Does he fish? “Don’t fish a-tall. I don’t see the sense of it” But aren’t trout pretty good at eating? “Not that good. Not that good enough to go traipsing up and down a river all day getting bit by black flies.”

He asks if Ed has ever milked a cow, and Ed indicates that he has – though poorly. Thompson says he’d known; he could tell a man who’d milked a cow. “Never missed a one.”

Then they part with Ed asking if he could come back someday, and Thompson says, “I guess so”, but it would have to be alone; he didn’t want “all creation tramping across the fields”. 

As Ed turns his car out of the driveway, Thompson calls and walks over to him. “You can bring someone if you want” Ed thanks him and says that he will be back the first chance he gets, but he will only bring someone who has milked a cow. He means to go back but never does. It is the same with us.

We move on, and special days like that are often forgotten, missed or trivialised. 

Keeping the memory of that day and sharing it with us was at the heart of the man who once said, “When the fishing goes, I’m willing to go too.” 

The last few years of his life were rough for him, and when he died in March 1994, many thought it was a blessing.

As the nurse wheeled him out of the rest home on the way to the hospital, he asked the nurse where he was going; the nurse said, “On a fishing trip, Ed” Shortly after, he slipped into his last coma and died.

So there we have it, a unique reel that was, for a time, in the possession of a unique man.