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.