As many of you have heard by now, Jack Charlton passed away on 10 June, 2011. The news of his death was made public on 15 June. I realize it has taken a while for me to write something here.
I did not know Jack Charlton, personally, very well. We have been phone/email frends for a number of years now, and he inspired me when I opened my business, but we were not close personal friends. And yet his death affected me much in the same way the passing of a close family member or friend does.
The reason for this, I imagine, is that Jack’s hand touched some of the most intimate experiences I have had on the water. And while this didn’t happen by the post-catch phone calls and after-fishing dinners that typify my friendships, it was forged repeatedly in perhaps the most personal way possible: in the fingers of my right hand, while connected to a large fish. Over and over again, Jack’s work was quietly present in my life when I was seeing the most beauty, doing the most good, and having the most fun.
Jack’s reels, both the original Signature Series and the Mako series of reels, were transformative pieces of equipment. This not because they brought new technology to the fly reel market, or because they changed how people viewed what a fly reel was capable of. Quite simply, his reels elevated the very experience of catching a fish on a fly rod. I remember the first time I caught a fish on a Charlton reel much in the same way some people remember first watching color television, or hearing Jimi Hendrix play the guitar for the first time: not only was the content new, but the medium expressing it had changed: the difference in form was sufficient to elevate the function. His reels transcended the ordinary.
I can imagine no piece of equipment that has had such a sigificant impact on the way catching a fish feels for an angler. If you have fished one of Jack’s reels, you understand this. Jack’s work transformed, elevated, and complemented the experience so quietly that many people did not notice at first. It wasn’t until 3M, the company that purchased Charlton Outdoor Technologies, ceased production of the Signature Series that consumers spoke; the market elevated the price of these rare pieces of equipment to four or five times their original retail price. In many ways this was no different from the hand that quietly, almost imperceptibly at first, elevated the experience of anglers all over the world lucky enough to fish a Charlton Reel.
In fact, after writing this, there is no doubt as to why his death affected me to the extent it did. It’s the same pain I feel with the death of a favorite musician; someone who, though they weren’t a personal friend, had a great and far-reaching effect into my personal life. While they weren’t there in person, their work was etched, indellibly, onto the most intimate experiences. Jack lived a life that, no matter the measure, was a smashing success. His work transformed the complex to simple, the ordinary to elegant, and the monochromatic to Technicolor. My experience as an angler has been elevated due to his vision. My business, my personal life, and my angling have all been lifted up due to the work of Jack Charlton.
Jack is survived by his wonderful wife Judy, who intends to keep maufacturing Mako Reels. If you own one, or have the opportunity to fish one, catch a fish with it. Use it. And enjoy what he made.
Here is a photograph of one of my most memorable catches. Fishing with Fitz Coker, I landed this beautiful lemon shark on 20# tippet. Jack was there in the reel I was lucky enough to fish with. I intend to confer with Jack in the future as I mostly did when he was living: through his vibrant and precisely engineered fly reels.
I wish the Charlton family all the best, and I am so happy for the life Jack led.