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©2000-2009 Phil White

The Rogue Reels of John Shaw

John Jackson Shaw was born in Boise, Idaho on October 30, 1913. He moved with his family to Grants Pass, Oregon in 1929.  After he graduated from Grants Pass High School in 1933 he went to work at the family gladiolus farm. Shaw worked at the family farm until 1948, with only an interruption for service in the Army Air Corps during World War II. That year Shaw won a homestead in Tule Lake, California, and moved to this new land development. He spent several years developing his own farm before returning to Grants Pass where he went into the logging business with his brother Charlie. This is still not the training that you would expect of the man who produced exceptionally high quality fishing reels of innovative design.

  Many people with a passion for fishing have thought that they could “build the better mousetrap,” but few ever put their ideas to fulfillment and developed their own fishing tackle. In 1956 John Shaw decided that he was no longer going to dream about the perfect fishing reel. He was going to produce his version of the ideal fishing reel for the type of fishing he loved. Since it was going to be used locally, what better name could there be than the river that ran through town, which was very famous. Thus the Rogue Reel was born. John’s Rogue Reel floating disk brake and precision machining were applied to a spinning reel design in the early 1960s. Forty-three years after going into the fishing reel business John Shaw assembled his last reels from parts on hand. His one man venture had lasted longer than that of many far more famous reel manufacturers.

 The original Rogue Reel was a combination big fish fly reel, and trolling reel. The major feature of his reel - the floating disk brake - is immediately apparent, since the lever that controls this brake sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. By using both the disk drag settings and the finger tip control lever, the fisherman can have complete control from free spool to a totally locked up spool, with any amount of drag between the two. This amount of adjustment is valuable in playing big fish, whether it be on a fly rod, or using the reel as a trolling reel.  When fly fishing you can set the disk drag to any amount of resistance, and then  when you want to strip line for false casting all you have to do is press the lever in and line comes out easily. Then when you hook that big fish and you need to stop or turn him there is no need for palm control of the reel - the lever does it for you. If you need to adjust the drag during the battle, simply turn the disk and set the drag as loose or tight as you wish.

  This original reel was designated the Model 200 Rogue Reel. Apparently there were some fly fishermen who did not like the looks or need the advantages of the  brake lever, for the Model 200 was also offered as a “Modified M-200” which did not have the lever, but was otherwise identical. Shaw called the regular drag “our exclusive Floating-Disc Brake.” It was different. The spool engaged the floating disk near the arbor, there was a brake shoe located on the outer edge of the disk. This gave the brake a great deal of leverage to handle any size fish. The brake plate was made of phosphor bronze, and the shoe was made from automotive brake fiber. Shaw claimed no heat or wear from this floating-disk brake.

  The reel frame, spool, and brake control cover were all machined from aluminum alloy. The fit between the spool and frame was machined to extremely close tolerances, to eliminate line becoming trapped or cut. These parts were all anodized and then received a baked-on powdered coating. Reels were available in all black, or black with gold trim. The reels had dual ball bearings and all spring were made of Beryllium copper. The Model 200 held 250 yards of back behind an 8 weight line.

  In the 1960s salt water fly fishing began to boom, and Shaw heard from fishermen who needed a reel with greater line capacity. Tarpon and Bonefish were stripping great amounts of line. Rogue Reels responded with the Model 300, which was simply a wide spool version of the Model 200. The drag spring was heavier and the one piece spool held 350 yards of backing under a 12 weight line. These reels were used by some of the top fishermen in this fledgling sport and photos and testimonial letters fill Rogue Reel brochures.

Fly fishermen did not have exclusive claim to these Rogue Reels. They were very popular with fishermen who liked to troll with single action reels. This type of reel is extremely popular for trolling on the Pacific coast for salmon and steelhead. They are also well liked by Great Lakes fishermen and those who troll deep for Lake Trout. Many Pflueger Captains and Taxies were retired for a reel with a quality braking system that aided in handling these large fish.  

  The reel was mounted on the top of the trolling rod with the brake lever facing the rod butt. The thumb could then be placed on the lever to easily pay out line, or to snub down a tired fish at the net. Between the strike and the net the floating disk brake did the job. This one handed control, allowed a boat fisherman to also control his boat and motor while trolling. The Model 200 held 350 yards of 20 pound braided line, or 300 yards of 27 pound monel. 

  Shaw claimed that this reel would eliminate the major causes of losing large fish - brake failure or knuckle busting from reels with no drag system; heat distortion from long runs by large fish; and line tangles from not having the reel under full control.

  All fly/trolling reels came in a fitted simulated leather bag. The handles and trim were made of Tenite. At the height of  its popularity the Model 200 listed for $167.50, with spare spools selling for $62.50.

By 1960 it was evident that those new fangled spinning reels were here to stay, and Shaw turned his attention to producing a fixed spool reel equal to the quality of his other Rogue Reel. The result was the Model 150 Rogue Spinning Reel, which came out in 1962.

  The Rogue 150 was a high quality machine that incorporated the floating disk drag principal in a spinning reel. This drag was innovative, for it was not found in the spool, or on the rear of the reel. The drag adjustment was on the back of the cup, and it also incorporated a finger lever. The spinning reel drag lever worked the same as on the Model 200 single action reel - push the lever forward and you had a free spool; pull it back and you could increase the brake to full lockup.

  This spinning reel was just as high quality as Shaw’s other reels. The frame, spool, and external brake parts were cast from an aluminum alloy. The working parts were helical cut gears of steel, caged needle bearings on the gear shaft with other bearings of oil-ite bronze. The bail roller did that - it rolled rather than just being a hardened piece over which the line passed. The bail was made of stainless steel, and the bail trip spring was adjustable. You didn’t need to back up the handle and slam it forward to make the bail trip with a Rogue reel. It always sprung to retrieve position easily. 

  This was a large spinning reel, made for the steelhead and salmon the Oregon. The spools  held 475 yards of 8 pound test monofilament, or 200 yards of 15 pound test monofilament. The spool only held the  line and had no other mechanical parts within. Extra spools were available. It was made in a left handed model as well as the standard right hand version. 

  The Model 150 Rogue Spinning Reel came out at a list price of $37.50, but by the 1980s it was selling (or not selling) for $87.50, including a simulated leather case. In the late 1990s John Shaw was still assembling spinning reels on demand, from parts on hand. 

  From gladiolus farmer to maker of the famous Rogue Reels, John Shaw led a very full life. He was eighty-eight years old when he died at his home in Grant Pass on May 13, 2001.

Phil White, with help from, and photo by, Ernie Johnson 


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