Tuesday, February 11, 2014

L.L. Cool Beans

I'm gonna knock you out 

Mama said knock you out

Wait a second...

where was I going with this?

Oh yeah... L.L. Bean... sorry I got a little sidetracked with my attempt at a catchy title... partly Mike's fault.


Anyway... getting back on track... 

Ever since I've had an interest in fly fishing, I've been obsessed with L.L. Bean.

I remember getting L.L. Bean catalogs in the mail as a youth and drooling over hiking boots, Teva sandals, canoes, backpacks, all sorts of other outdoor gear, and sometimes even clothing. On rare occasions, I was lucky enough that mom would actually break down and buy something for me. The items we were able to afford were usually on sale. I didn't grow up wealthy... and I still shop for bargains out of necessity.

When and where I grew up (1990s Memphis, Tennessee), believe it or not, L.L. Bean was really cool. It was something of a status symbol. Every cool kid at school had a Bean Deluxe backpack with their initials embroidered on it... and who could forget the Bean Anorak of the early '90s? I eventually got a Deluxe backpack, but not until I was almost finished with high school (Class of '96). Unfortunately, I never got a Bean anorak. I imagine if I did, I would still have it. I still have the Baxter State Parka that I got when I was in 9th grade. It still fits (it was too big for me back then), and I still wear it on the coldest days... it's the warmest coat I own.

Not only was L.L. Bean cool, but the gear they made was good stuff... like the Baxter State Parka that I'm still wearing twenty years later. Way back in the '80s and '90s, most of their products were American made as far as I can remember, and they were built to last. On top of that, L.L. Bean had a very generous return policy, excellent customer service, and they stood behind their products- replacing them if they were defective or otherwise unsatisfactory. It's been so long since I've ordered anything directly from L.L. Bean that I can't currently speak for any of those once commendable attributes. I would like to believe that some things haven't changed.

Baxter State parka and my first piece of Bean fly fishing gear

I still have the first piece of fly fishing gear that I got from L.L. Bean... circa 1995. It was an Angler-1 reel; Bean's entry level model made in the good ol' USA by Martin. My mom let me get it because it was on sale. It was a great reel for a young fly fisher. It was tough as nails, and it's still around today as a testament to its durability. I've replaced a couple of screws over the years that were lost while afield... and at some point the mounting foot started coming loose, and my machinist uncle helped me reattach it- we retapped and put in slightly larger screws. I obviously didn't pay close attention to the condition of my gear when I was younger... thank goodness some of it was well made.

That first reel started my love affair with Bean fly fishing gear. My first fly fishing waders were a pair of Bean's Flyweight... also purchased on sale. Over the years I've acquired several more Bean reels and rods as well as an Emerger wading jacket thanks to Ebay. The collection includes a 9' 7/8 wt bass fly rod that was supposedly owned by Dave Whitlock (I broke the tip back in '07 and have yet to repair it), a 9' 5 wt SPT ("Smooth Power Transfer"- Loomis made), an 8' 6" 5 wt GQS ("Guide Quality Series"- Loomis made) with GQS Disc 4/5 reel (Hardy made), two Guide Series reels- 200 & 300 (J.W. Young made), and a 9' 7 wt Orion rod with matching Orion reel (I believe this to be one of the last Loomis made Bean rods- later Orion rods were "Imported"). I also have 2 more recent Streamlight #3 reels and a spare spool. Here's most of it...



Burled walnut reel seat- they don't make 'em like they used to.



GQS Disc reel (Hardy made)- the wear shows it's a favorite


Guide Series reels (J.W. Young made)


Orion reel- this one has seen a lot of action

Streamlight reels and spare spool


I still look for old Bean fly gear on Ebay, but I feel like something was lost when one of the last great American fly tackle companies moved (most if not all) production to China. Unfortunately for loyal L.L. Bean gear hounds, "imported" doesn't equal a Hardy reel from England anymore... and I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment.

To answer Troutrageous! Mike's recent question regarding "why L.L. Bean gear isn't discussed more in fly fishing circles?", I think the fly fishers of this generation who discuss such things have little recollection of what L.L. Bean fly gear used to be- quality tackle made by top notch manufacturers. Bean is definitely not the leader in the industry that they once were, and I don't believe the "imported" element is gaining them any ground among serious fly fishers... especially those who buy high end gear. I think there may also be a perception among the younger crowd that L.L. Bean is an old company that makes duck boots, and since they don't focus on fly gear like Orvis always has, their fly fishing gear must be garbage.

Such was not always the case...

and I still like to remember when L.L. Bean was synonymous with quality fly fishing equipment.

This post was inspired by Mike's recent post on Troutrageous! I gotta give credit where credit is due. Like Mike, I would still love to get my hands on a Pocket Water outfit and take it for a test drive. I know that rod has gotten good reviews, and I admit being curious about the current quality of Bean fly gear, but I'm not willing to spend the money for what could be a serious disappointment compared to the Bean gear of days gone by.

I have no desire to ruin my high regard for L.L. Bean fly gear...

and I still like to think I'm cool beans with an L.L. rod and reel in hand.

15 comments:

  1. I've heard nothing but good things about LL Bean rods. They are one of the few manufacturers that put a "lightning warning" on their rods. I thought that is kind of funny.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Kevin. The Bean rods I have are pretty sweet... I just don't know much about what things are like at present.

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  2. If I ever get going this year on the idea I want to learn fly fishing I will have to pay LL Bean a look see. All I have right now is a rod & reel and that's it.

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    1. Beware, Rick. If you ever get going in fly fishing, there's no turning back. Seriously, if you enjoy fishing in any form (as I do), then fly fishing is the pinnacle of fishing enjoyment. If you ever need any advice about getting started, feel free to bug me and any of these other nutty fly fishers in cyberspace. We're always willing to share our knowledge. There is a steep learning curve in fly fishing that is easily overcome with a little direction from someone who has been there before. I learned the hard way, before the explosion of fly fishing resources on the internet, but I would not recommend that to anyone.

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  3. Love the shout out to LL coo J! lol That walnut reel seat is sweet! I only know of LL Bean because my fly mentor Mark has a LL Bean fly combo. Seems like good quality gear!!

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    1. Juan, I've always been happy with my Bean fly gear. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for something other than Orvis, Sage, Redington, and TFO... all the brands that dominate discussions about fly gear these days. I've got some of those too... they're all good, but I wouldn't say I'm obsessed with any of them like I'm obsessed with L.L. Bean.

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  4. Does anyone else have a guaranteed for life, no cost return policy? that's the reason I own a couple ll bean items. I sport the double L mid arbor reel on my 5wt. I've blown out a few reels and paid the $40 replacement fee from other manufacturers. Replaced or refunded at no cost is hard to beat.

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    1. John, I couldn't agree more. I'm glad to hear you've had good experiences with Bean... especially when it comes to the return policy. Since I've bought a lot of my Bean gear second hand, I think my ability to cash in on their generous return policy is null and void. I'm curious as to how they would handle that though.

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  5. Wow, who knew you had all that LL Bean stuff. I did almost buy the Quest reel but bought the Trout II from Allen Fly Fishing. I've been buying a lot of stuff from Cabela's. Years ago, I bought an ultralight from LL Bean's catalog. It's just easier to visit the store no that Cabela's is 6 miles away. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Josh, I wish I had a Cabela's store nearby. I've been in a couple while traveling, and they're really nice stores. We have a Bass Pro in the Birmingham area, but being located in this region, the White River Fly Shop in there leaves a lot to be desired. I really wish I had an L.L. Bean store nearby, but I don't see them spreading outside of the northeast anytime soon... since they haven't really attempted to do so in their long history.

      By the way, I've got more gear where that came from too. I'm kind of a gear junkie... although I prefer to find mine at a discount and I try to avoid truly new stuff. I tend to like things that can be called "vintage." I'll probably do a post or two on some of the other brands that I like sooner or later.

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  6. Much like Orvis, Bean had quality gear because it was sourced from top manufacturers. One of my first glass rods was a Bean Featherweight. I really loved it, but sold it to a friend and he won't sell it back to me.

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    1. Howard, thanks for the comment. I know Phillipson made some of the older Bean glass rods, but weren't the Featherweights made by Wright & McGill? Shouldn't you have one in your collection?

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  7. Bean has good fly fishing gear. I worked Bean fly fishing schools for a couple of years and spent a lot of time putting their rods, reels, etc. through the wringer. I think they make some pretty solid gear.

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    1. Ty, thank you for your comment. It's nice to have someone with some hands on experience chime in. Do you still use any Bean gear?

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    2. Yep, still got a fair amount of Bean gear. Most of it at least ten years old and still in good shape.

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