Shakespeare Wondereel 1898 EC – A Vintage Saltwater Fly Reel As saltwater fly-fishing bust on the scene in the mid 1970’s, anglers scrambled to find suitable saltwater fly reels. While there were a few high end reels available, mainly from Florida, most folks needed something more affordable. Often that meant using the venerable Medalist 1498. I know I did.
Gradually manufacturers rose to the task and more reels appeared to fill the demand. Today we’ll take a look at a less well-know fly reel from that era – the anti-reverse Shakespeare Heavy Duty 1898 Model EC.
I got this reel at Stars department store (Nu Star) in Torrington, Connecticut. In the 1980’s, Stars was a local landmark offering super deals on a wide variety of household paraphernalia, and had a fine fishing department too. ( Stars closed their doors in 1997) So I often swung by on my way upstate to fish the Housatonic River in Cornwall.
Well there it was in the show case. Now I’ve never been a fan of anti-reverse fly reels, mind you. Still the price tag was enticing. New in the box with a vinyl case, I remember the cost being around $70. Okay, you know what happened next; I asked to see it. The salesman removed the reel from the display case, so I could fondle it. It proved to be a very well-make, sturdy, anti-reverse saltwater fly reel. Based on the quality, the price was a steal. Why so cheap? At that time the big boy Shakespeare 1898 was competing unfavorably with the lighter and more popular Medalist Supreme anti-reverse fly reels (577 & 578). Hence the 1898 was a poor seller and eventually discontinued. ( Interestingly Shakespeare also owned the Pflueger Medalist company as well, having purchased it in 1966)
The Shakespeare Heavy Duty 1898 was a truly indestructible tank. With 250 yards of backing aboard the 1898 tips the scale at nearly a pound! Wow! What a beast. But when you opened the reel up you saw why. It is built to last a lifetime or two. The gears, the pawls, the spindle and the rest of the inner workings were massive. No kidding. (I once rebuilt a Medalist Supreme anti-reverse 578 for a friend, who returned from a bonefishing trip and left the reel wet in its case for over a year. What a mess. Yes, the Supreme was a far lighter reel, but construction-wise it was a toy compared to the 1898).
The Wondereel 1898 is a “spool-in-cage” design, with a diameter just a hair under 4″. It easily accepts a 10wt line. The line guard is reversible. (Not sure the reel is? Mine is right hand wind.) On the back plate there is a “free spool” lever. This allows you to freely pull off fly line without loosening the drag. And you’ll find a spool release button was well. As you expect on an anti-reverse reel, the drag knob is front and center. It applies tension to a powerful six-disc drag system. a popular configuration in those years for plug casting and spinning gear.
Many moons ago, I used this reel for striped bass and bluefish along the New England coast. It saw only occasional use because I preferred direct-drive over anti-reverse. Still the Shakespeare 1898 EC ran trouble free many a tide, never offering up a problem. I trusted it. So if you’re looking for an inexpensive, second hand, anti-reverse saltwater fly reel, the Shakespeare 1898 is worth considering. Granted its a big chunk of metal, but it was then, and is now, an attractive and reliable reel.