Atalanta fishing reels were designed by Errol Bullen. One of Australia’s most prolific early game fishermen in the 1930s.

Errol Eviot Bullen was the fourth of eight children born to William Henry Bullen and Martha, nee Webster. He was born in Cunningar, NSW on the 22nd of May 1982. His father was a school teacher there at the time. Errol was a very good sportsman in both football and cricket. He first worked for the railway, and then became a buyer for the produce firm RJ Mulloholland and Co, Sydney. Later on he was a rep for Kelloggs Corn Flakes (Stock food). It was during this time that while acting as a broker, he accumulated considerable wealth which allowed him to purse his love of game fishing. He was instrumental in Zane Grey coming to Australia and they fished together many times.

His game fishing boat “Atalanta” was requisitioned by the Navy in 1940 for War service and towed 27 boats to the safety of Sydney Harbour. After the War, the boat was sent to disposals and was sold to a Chinamen who kept the boat moored at Double Bay. Meanwhile King Hardwick became interested in big game fishing and was using a boat named “Marlin”. Hardwick was not satisfied with this boat. One day while visiting Double Bay in the early 1950’s, he saw a rather disreputable looking boat moored in the bay. With a true-blue water fisherman’s instinct, he knew that here was a frame around which to build a boat. After weeks of negotiations he swapped ‘Marlin”, fittings for the old hulk which bore the name “A—lanta”. After much time and money had been spent on her, in the way of a new v8 engine, two-way radio and other fittings which go into the makings of a big game craft, Atalanta became one of the finest game fishing launches in Sydney. When big game fishing point scores were published recently, Atalanta was so far in front that she will become well and truly Australia’s champion big game fishing boat.

Bullen took up competitive shooting and was a champion of the Sydney gun club. He lived in Vaucluse, Sydney until his death and was cremated at South Head Crematorium where his gravestone still stands.

He had the first boat built made especially for game fishing. The reels were manufactured by Frederick Commonwealth Smith in an upstairs room in his house that was converted into a workshop. Fred was born the 1st January, 1901 at the Royal Exchange Hotel in Marrickville, Sydney where his father was a hotel keeper. He did most of his schooling in Adelaide. He completed a course in Wireless telegraphy. He moved to Sydney around the 1920s. He trained as an engineer with Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Co. where he worked for over thirty years. Fred started making fishing reels in 1930 and produced Atalanta reels from 1933. On the 17th March 1934 Errol Bullen landed an 800lbs tiger shark using an Atalanta fishing reel. In his book An American Angler in Australia, Zane Grey commented that “the reels made for Bullen were just about as good as any reel I own”. Most of these reels were custom made with the owners name imprinted on both the reel and its leather case.

In the Outdoor and Fishing magazine, April 1952, Errol Bullen stated “The reel mentioned is still being used today. It was part of King Hardwicks gear when he caught his 1,120-lb. tiger shark off Dee Why (N.S.W) on March 19 this year. Although the biggest “tiger” caught in Sydney waters for some time, Hardwick’s shark was 260-ln. behind the record taken by Lyle Bagnard, a member of Zane Grey’s party, during the latter’s visit to Australia in 1939.”

In a letter enclosed with a reel sent to Lawrence Tippetts in America, Bullen states the following:

“Dear Lawrence,

Herewith the reel and case, and I trust some are to your liking.

I have typed out the dismantling and assembling instructions and they I fancy are clear enough. It has plenty of grease in it now, so do not let anyone turn the grease cup in the centre of the capstan, as this only pushes a tendency to slip. After catching a few fish with it you will soon become accustomed to the workings, always remembering that you have a double drag which can be very severe if too much pressure is applied to the capstan.

I think you will be delighted to with the beautiful smooth action of the reel when handling a fish, as the two drags, one each side of the spool, tend to give you perfect balance, and I tell you quite frankly, mine I have found to be a real joy to handle.

The capacity is 1.000 yards of 12 thread Cuttyhunk line, and I would say approximately 500 yards of 24 thread,.

Only one request I make to you, that you do not let any manufacturer examine the reel with the idea of reproducing it. The reel is entirely my own design and I have them made for my friends. I will add too, that I am very proud of them. They are not covered by patents.

Well my friend, until I see Mrs Tippett and your good self again, Goodbye and good luck.

Errol (one of the four “Tramps at sea”)

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