Crouch

A brief history of the Crouch Fishing Reel as written by Arthur Crouch in December 2015:

“My father (J T Crouch) was born in Doncaster, Victoria in 1890 – in the days when Doncaster was a separate town in the country and not just another suburb of Melbourne as it is now. He grew up as an orchardist working on his parents orchard. This property would have been situated near the present corner of Williamsons Road and Manningham Road (now all suburban houses).

In 1914, he enlisted in the army and served at Gallipoli and later spent about 18 months in France in the Artillery on the western front and also in Signals. He was decorated twice – receiving the Military Medal and Bar. In late 1917, he was wounded in the left thigh by shrapnel from a German shell while repairing communication lines. He subsequently had to have his left leg amputated because the wound would not heal.

When he returned after the First World War, he he had to start a new career and so began training in engineering as an Instrument and Clockmaker with a company called Ingram Bros. After a few years he had set up his own manufacturing factory in a small shed attached to our home in the Melbourne suburb of Fairfield. Later on he built a new larger workshop in the backyard.

This was about the time that my father started making fishing reels. The first reels he made were for flyfishing and he called the reel the “Sportsman”. It wasn’t long before he got interested in making a casting reel so that he could fish using lures, devons etc. Also about that time, as a member of the Fairfield Angling Club, he became interested in tournament casting and the reel he designed was ideal for this. The Crouch reel was an ideal reel for this event because the user had such good control over the plug using the forefinger on the revolving spool – you could control the accuracy with the rod and the distance with your forefinger.

Also because of the large diameter spool, a quick recovery between each cast would enable you to have more casts in the allotted time. My father won a couple of these events in 1939 – one of which was called the Evans & Balfour Championship Trophy.

During the Second World War, he was involved with making parts for the Defence Department including clockwork type parts, small gears and gear boxes, range-finder parts etc.

In about 1945, my eldest brother Jack became apprenticed to my father and after finishing his training, he became a partner in the business then known as J T Crouch & Sons. He was followed a couple of years later by my other brother Ken who had trained elsewhere in Electrical Fitting. I joined the firm in 1951 when we shifted to Dunolly. For a short time after the war, material supplies – like aluminium – were hard to get and we had to buy material where we could, sometimes from war disposal sources. Sometimes the material was more suitable than others, and you will find a variation in metals used in Crouch reels made during this period. A total of 369 fishing reels were produced during the year ended 30th June 1946, and this increased year by year to 1577 reels for the year ended 30th June 1950. The business had bought land in Alphington to build a new factory, but building restrictions still applied for some years after the war ended, and we could not get a building permit. Decentralisation was a big catchword then, and a government department was formed to encourage businesses to move away from metropolitan areas and into the country. We decided to accept the offer and so we were found an empty factory and a housing commission house to rent and so in January 1951, we shifted lock stock and barrel up to a small Victorian country town called Dunolly.

There were some advantages to this arrangement and some obvious disadvantages. The main advantage was a ready supply of good quality reliable workers and much of our success over the following 10 to 15 years was due to them.

The main disadvantage was of course the long distance away from Melbourne, both for travelling and for expensive long distance telephone calls.

The fishing reel business began to boom and raw material supplies began to become more readily available and to be of better quality. This enabled us to build a very robust fishing reel. By selecting the best aluminium alloys and developing the best manufacturing methods, we were able to make a spool which was very strong and yet still quite light. This is a very important feature of the Crouch reel – the spool has to be light enough so that you can cast directly off the spool and still retain control of the revolving spool with a finger tip. We took great pride in the quality of the reels we were making and I believe we developed a good reputation for quality and service. This was due in no small measure to my fathers background in clockmaking and to instilling in us, his sons, an interest in all things mechanical. And we were all pretty keen on fishing as well. At one time we decided to try and market a fishing rod which would be of a most suitable length and stiffness to suit casting with a Crouch reel. We did make a batch of 250 split cane rods, but we found the process to be very labour intensive and we decided to leave it to the specialists like J. M. Turville and Jarvis Walker. I used a Turville split cane rod for years which had been made to suit the Crouch reel.

After several years, about 1953, my eldest brother decided to leave the business and in 1958 my next older brother decided to leave also. My father and I carried on the business with about four employees until January 1960 when my father died from heart problems, aged 69. He had lived a very full and active life and had involved himself in many other civic activities and charities in the district.

At this time I decided that as we had been experiencing a drop in sales over the last couple of years, that it was time to bring out a new model of the Crouch reel. I thought it was time we acknowledged that there are quite a few left handed anglers in the world, and in about 1962 we introduced the “Crouch 77” reel to cater for both right handed and left handed winders. The main changes were to key the spool to the centre spindle so that it would not come unscrewed when wound the “wrong” way, to change the gear lever so that it would still be in the most convenient position whichever way the reel was used, and to place the finger hole at the top close to the saddle. Also to overcome the problem, which sometimes happened, of the sideplate thread corroding and making the sideplate difficult to remove, I made the two sideplates out of a water resistant grade of Nylon. The new reel was very well accepted and sales increased markedly over the next few years. However after about 1966, sales started to get slower and the market was being flooded with cheap imported reels, it became clear that there was a big disadvantage being so far from Melbourne.

For the first 15 years it did not seem to be such a problem because we had plenty of work, but it was very hard to chase up other subcontract work from so far away. I kept going for a couple of years with less and less employees but in 1968 I decided to shift back to Melbourne where I continued to sell the remaining stocks of the reels until about 1971. Since then I have repaired Crouch reels and supplied spare parts when required. Over the years the majority of the reels would have been sold in Victoria and Tasmania and in the Albury- Wodonga area. In the early years a lot went to New Zealand but import restrictions were imposed there and that market was lost. Later, with the Crouch 77 Reel I appointed agents in all the other states but their sales figures were not great. I estimate that over the years we probably sold about 30,000 reels. I wonder how many of them are still being used.”

The end plates and plastic fittings for Crouch fishing reels were manufactured by TAMCO West Heidelberg, Victoria.

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