An In Depth Look At The Humphreys Reel


About 5 years ago, I wrote my first blog here. That blog questioned the beginnings of the spin-cast reel. It was not well written, in my opinion. It showed my bias toward Johnson reels that I have long since overcome. Try as i might i just could not fix that blog to my satisfaction, so it no longer exists here. Anyway, about a week ago, while writing about the early Johnson reel, I once again expressed my view that the early Johnson is the only “true” spin cast of the early attempts. By “true,” I mean all of its features can be found in a modern spin-cast reel.

Another member of ( OCAUTO) believes that the stainless steel Humphreys reel actually is the first” true” spin-cast reel. He and Jim even collaborated on a very nicely written blog about the subject on another site. But I was still skeptical. So Al, being the gracious fellow that he is, bought me this fine example of the Humphreys Model 3 to examine and give my opinion on. Be sure to read ‘Humphreys: First Spincaster‘ for some of the more technical details on the reel.

this is the first in a series of blogs that i will be doing in conjuction with ocauto based on the colorado reel makers.


First let’s take a look at the reel. It is extremely well built and breaks down into just 4 parts, all stainless steel. The first thing I noticed after disassembly was the cupped spinner with a cut out on 2 sides for picking up the line. I said to myself, that is one of 2 types of rotor line pick ups that most “true” spin-cast use.


The reel also has a centrally located shaft that moves forward to cast and returns back to its original position in order to retrieve line. The shaft consists mostly as a solid part of the spinner head with the handle threading into it to complete the shaft. This to is very similar function to all true spin cast reels. However, I found the way the reel achieves this to be somewhat crude in its design. A spring loaded latch lever near the foot of the reel is connected to a metal “bail arm” (that is what I’m calling it!). When you move the spring hinged latch one way, the bail arm forces the handle outward for line retrieval. Move the latch the other way, and the arm pulls the crank handle inward for casting mode. While in casting mode, the retrieve is locked out and the spring lever must be tripped in order to retrieve line. There is a loud bait click sound that comes from a finger on the bail arm riding a toothed wheel on the inside of the handle.


In this picture, the bail arm is in the casting position...


In this picture, the bail arm is in the retrieve position..


I spooled the reel up with 8lbs trilene, then mounted the reel to both a spinning and casting rod with the line coming out on the left side. I tied a small washer to the line and gave about 20 cast on both rods. I found it much harder to use on the casting rod. I was getting pretty decent distance for such a light weight reel. The reel has no gears, but is direct drive. It retrieves line very slowly, but it works well... If I were to take this fine piece of history fishing, I suspect I would quickly tire of reaching for and tripping that lever. It’s just not very handy.


After taking a close look at this thing, I had to admit that it does indeed have some spin-cast features. Most notably is the cup shaped line pick up that is moved forward and backward to pick up the line and allow it to spin off the spool in a similar fashion to all true spin-cast reels. So i think it only fair to attribute the basic idea for the spin-cast bail mechanism to Humphreys. He was certainly on the right track here.

So, what do I think? Is the Humphreys a true spin-cast reel? Well, almost, but not quite. There are a number of things I feel a reel must have or certain functions that must be present in order to be comparable to a modern day spin-cast reel.

  1. There is one thing that all true spin cast reels do (so do most open bail spinning reels). When the bail is open for casting, you turn the crank to return the bail to the pick up position and start line retrieval. The reel drive is never disengaged. With the Humphreys, I found that I could not crank the handle in cast mode. Instead, I had to reach down and flip the bail arm latch lever in order to allow line retrieval.
  2. The Humphreys has no drag or line brake, which I also feel are essential features of a ” true” spin-cast reel.
  3. A push button with spring return bail release is another feature that I feel a reel must have to be a true spin-cast reel. The spring lever and bail arm the Humphreys uses are neat and it works, but you won’t find that in any other reel claiming to be a spin-cast.

With that being said, I think this is a fantastic reel! I love it! While it is not a true spin-cast reel, it is definitely a legitimate try. I am calling it the predecessor of the spin-cast reel. It would also be a good bet that this reel was the inspiration behind both the Zebco and Johnson reels. Still, I’m sticking to my guns on this; of the early attempts at a closed face spinning reel, only the Johnson model is a” true” spin-cast! The other 2 both have some features that can’t be found in any other spin-cast type reel and this disqualifies them from being “TRUE” spin-cast. Some of you will agree and others will not, but it certainly has made for some interesting debate.

in closing I would like to comment that I stand corrected. I was mistaken when I said I didn’t think the Humphreys reel contributed much to the concept of spincasting, as it clearly did. It is a shame that Humphreys, or the company he made the reels for, never worked towards making improvements to the reel like Zebco and Johnson did with their reels. Had he done so, maybe Humphreys would be a household name... If you love reels like I do, then you should have one of these. It is wonderful piece of fishing history and a vital link in the quest for the perfect closed faced spinning reel....

So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.


  • Vale: Nice blog Timmy and good comparison of features and description of why you came to your conclusion :)
  • OCAUTO: Thank you Timmy for your efforts in dissecting and diagnosing the Humphreys 3A CFSR
    This invention pertains and is directed to an improved fishing reel for use with a fishing rod as a casting or fly rod reel and more particularly and specifically to a reel of that type where the reel spool or drum remains stationary at all times and the fishing line during the casting operation is drawn off over the end of the spool or drum. Reels of the general type of the present reel are frequently referred to as spinning reels. Timmy, you are right on the spot with the comparisons and the improvements that Johnson and Zebco made. They overshadow other attempts to improve/better with reels (sidewinders) such as the Magic reel, the Hansen reel and the Fre-Line all by the Colorado reel makers. . No argument from me that other makers are better but they learned from the earlier attempts. Keep in mind that I never said Humphreys was better... just first to patent a closed face side delivery reel with similar characteristics. keep up the good work. Al
  • timmy: Thanks vale. Al, thanks for your efforts and i fully agree with you. the Humphreys is with the possible exception of W & W , the first closed face spinning reel. i think an inventor and an engineer got their hands on one and they both said: hey this is neat, but i have a better idea. like we talked about on the phone, that is how we got the spin-cast. also, now i am beginning to feel compelled to obtain and dissect some of those other reels you mentioned.
  • skip smith: Great blog on an intriguing reel, Tim! Very thorough analysis.
  • Reelcrazee: Very interesting and a great blog Timmy! I’ll read this several times I am sure. I always had a thing for the Humphrey reel and I’m sure I’ll get one one of these days. Maybe 2 since Al showed there was 2 different sizes. Thanks again!!.......Tommy
  • Huckster37: Thanks Tim,
    I always get educated when you write a blog. I have one of each of these reels, so far they’ve just sat on a shelf along side my Johnson sidewinders. I really appreciate your detailed description of the reel & your analysis of the spin-cast aspect.
  • OCAUTO: Last but not at least, I have copies of all three chapters log that he wishes he had not deleted..0;
  • OCAUTO: Last but not at least, I have copies of all three chapters of the blog that he wishes he had not deleted..
  • timmy: thanks tommy and dennis. i really enjoy tearing these down and writing about them. if you guys enjoy reading them and get something good from it, then it was well worth the considerable amount of time it took to put it together. Al, it’s not that i wish i had not deleted them, i wish i had never written them! i really came out swinging with those. it was the wrong approach and i don’t think anyone really cares anyway....
  • OCAUTO: I’ll try to send you a Magic reel to operate on..
  • Reelcrazee: Al too, filled an empty spot in my quest for some different reels. He sent me a model 3A Humphrey’s reel. It was a total surprise, as I wasn’t expecting anything in the mail. The reel had some old stiff line in it and the crank handle would hardly move. I couldn’t figure out how the front cover came off to get it fixed. I tried to unscrew it thinking it may be threaded or something, but it wouldn’t budge. I sent Timmy a PM and he replied, telling me how it comes off. It just pulls off, pulling the cover from the edge of it, where the clip by the foot is. The clip is the only thing that secures the cover after it is snapped on. Thanks Timmy for the info.!! I took the reel apart, removed the line, cleaned it throughout, straightened a couple of little dings that was in the cover and polished it with Blue Magic. The reel works great after getting that wiry old line out and lubing it with Vaseline and it looks pretty nice now too! I always wanted one of these reels and thanks to Al’s generosity and Timmy’s experience, I finally have one. No, it isn’t perfect, but it is what I wanted, a Humphrey’s reel to try fishing with! Thanks guys, your the best!!..........Tommy
  • OCAUTO: Glad you like it Tommy.
  • timmy: that is fantastic Tommy ! I’m sure AL is grinning ear to ear right now, and you can be certain that he got great joy from sending you that humphreys reel unannounced. glad to hear you got the cover off....
  • dustyjoe: Timmy, sorry it has taken me 3 weeks to gat around to reading this blog. I being your Zebco counterpart in the spincast debate. I too have a copy of your 3 Johnson vs Zebco blogs and think you should have left them here and just updated the new info you have learned since you first wrote them.
    As I have said all along, I don’t know who did what first. The truth is that Johnson and Zebco were both major contributor to the development of the modern spincast reel. The both started in 1949 trying to make a fixed spool reel that wouldn’t backlash and both did it in different ways. Johnson with their Sidewinder reels and Zebco with their Standard, Model 11 & 22 reels, which they themselves called a casting reel.
    Al of course is right that the Humphreys reel predates both, but Johnson and Zebco introduced the first 2 true modern spincast reel with the Century 100 and the Zebco 33 again at about the same time. All spincast reels since have characteristics of these 2 reels. As I have always said, it’s like liking a Ford or a Chevy, it’s a matter of personal taste and experience, not really which is better. Jim
  • skip smith: Great discussion on the history and origin of spin cast reels, guys! Thanks for sharing. Always something to be learned on this site.

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