Collection of Historic Fishing Reels Now at History Center
Tales of Island Life: February 2024
Jerome Parkinson Fugate, known as Park to his cousin Betsy Fugate Joiner and others, recently donated a collection of fishing reels to the Historical Society and they are now on display at the History Center. Park’s grandfather, Jerome Fugate Sr., bought the general store and pharmacy previously owned by the railroad company around 1916. In his commentary about the history of these reels, he notes that his father also named Jerome, his uncle Delmar and his aunt Ellie – all worked at the store. As the area developed and sportwriters were writing about the tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass, Fugate’s began to carry the fishing tackle needed for the sport.
It wasn’t long before the volume of fishing tackle Fugate’s was selling caught the attention of reel manufacturers and the Penn reel company contacted Jerome Fugate Sr. about running a tarpon tournament to promote the sport and the tackle sales. The task was assigned to Fugate’s two sons, Jerome Jr. and Delmar, although Park notes say that his uncle Delmar “lead the charge.” Later Delmar worked for a year in New York for the largest at the time fishing tackle and sporting goods store. And, in the mid to late 1930’s, the Penn reel company produced a reel called the Delmar in honor of Delmar Fugate’s work on the tarpon tournaments. Park has researched the Delmar reel and believes it was designed “as a shore casting reel for coastal beach fishing.” He recalls that it was a very popular reel in California.
In addition to the Penn reels, Fugate’s collection includes Edward von Hofe reels. Von Hofe started his company in New York in the late 1800’s producing handmade reels “often capped with German silver around their edges.” The early reels had a “leather thumb restraint to add resistance to the reel as the fishing line is pulled out by the fish.” Von Hofe was “an avid fisherman and is said to have not missed a tarpon fishing season in Florida.”
Park admits that he was not much interested in fishing until he was about 20 years old and happened upon a fisherman near the Lighthouse who was fishing for a shark with a 12-foot bamboo pole and an old Penn Senator reel. He decided to try fishing with some of the tackle his dad had accumulated at the Fugate’s warehouse and chose a Von Hofe 6/0 reel and a standard size tarpon pole. He was successful at hooking something very big but the reel was old and it locked up and broke the line. Island resident, Frances Lowe, with whom Park had shared his misadventure, then sent him a Penn Senator 12/0 reel which is part of the collection. Jerome went on the catch a 350-pound Jewfish and 180 pound Bull Shark on that reel.
Jerome’s fishing interest waned but his admiration for reels continued and his collection is now on display at the History Center.