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 Apropos of Frogwater and the earlier post titled What We Know.

My assertion therein regards an embattled elite (the expert and adept) often maligned by an absurd politics of “equality” and “identity” and celebrated by unimaginative, populist thinking. My continued meditation on this topic was recently punctuated by a brief visit I enjoyed with Robb Marquette (one of our marquee float reel fabricators—designer of the much vaunted Frogwater reel).

Robb had extended a generous invitation in response to my interest in his work. Robb is well known to the float fishing community as one of the preeminent machinist/designers (Ron Gardiner and Adam Demarco round out this triumvirate) fabricating custom float reels. The float reel or centerpin as it is often called, is a fishing reel specifically designed for a technique proper to the slower water of European river systems. The design is not mystifying—not some black-box technology—rather it is simply a machined disk in whose center is affixed a stainless steel axle on which the spool is mounted holding the fishing line—it looks something like a fly reel without a drag system to the uninitiated.

After what seemed an interminable drive to Southwest Ontario and equally (if not more) vexing backtracking around the hamlet of St. Mary’s, I finally arrived—via an old-world, tree-lined country road—at an enchanting family homestead. It’s an idyllic setting such as often depicted in 17th C. Dutch landscape painting. I’m greeted almost immediately as I step from the vehicle by Robb who offers an amiable smile and generous handshake. We step into what would otherwise have been his garage. Now a general shop, 1/3 of its space (no more than 120 sq. ft.) is filled to overflowing with all manner of drill presses, lathes, and fabricating machinery—it’s a veritable alchemist’s shop for spinning aluminum into “gold.”

Over coffee Robb shares with me a brief history of the trials and success of his River Keeper Reels—we talk tolerances of mere thousands of an inch, design, function, anodizing, other reel designers he esteems, the market, and general fishing culture and mayhem. We sit among numerous, jewel-like, reel components (including his unparalleled, really COOL clicker design) in various stages of finish that will be assembled to become the exceptional Frogwater Reel.

Not unlike the wheel or the mousetrap the principles of physics that inhere in the float reel are irreducible; that is, nothing can be added or taken away to enhance what it does or how it performs. Robb would tell you the same thing, “not rocket science—a pin and a spool.” Robb, like those who truly excel in their craft or discipline is generous and deferential, downplaying any reverence he receives for his efforts. I have known scholars of this sentiment also, those who are never stingy or selfish with information, insight, and guidance.

So what sets these reels apart from others brings me to the question of how to design a better spool on a pin? It is ultimately the discerning and well-seasoned eye of the adept, engineer, artist, or designer who finally conjures what minutiae can be re-tooled to attain perfection and beauty. I want to dispense with the proscriptive deference of the Persian Flaw (the inclusion of an error so as not to seem arrogant and vie with the perfection of god’s own work) and elevate to the same lofty status, the perfection wrought by their expertise. Why should we not celebrate the triumph of the exquisite craftsmanship and engineering of their “intelligent design?” It is essential that the term elitist be reclaimed to once again assume the place proper to describing those few who reside in the pantheon of great makers and artists (not just athletes); that such terms as objectivity, knowledge, the master painter, the expert, among others, not be allowed to be maligned by the propitious and fatuous few in this culture who can only abide bologna.

Here are a quick couple of research photos, one of Robb (maker of Frogwater Reels), and his “museum” of earlier efforts.

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