Bozeman Reel Company

At the Heart and Soul of Bozeman Fly Fishing

Danielle Martin

The buzz and whir of machines cutting and shaping aluminum fills the North Church Avenue production facility of the Bozeman Reel Company. The space is small but well utilized with friendly employees humming about intent on their craftsmanship on the first and second floors. It’s a breezy spring day and although the overhead door to the machining floor is open, I am ushered through a small entryway alcove before we step into the facility.  

There I am greeted by Dan Rice, the CEO of Bozeman Reel Company. Rice, 37, brought his family from the Midwest to Bozeman a little over a year ago when he purchased the company. As a self-described business man and fly fisherman with a passion for Montana, being able to live in Bozeman is a dream come true for him and his family.

 “I’ve been a longtime fan of Bozeman and had friends that are from here. It was on the bucket list of places that I wanted to move” said Rice.

The sounds of working machines get louder as we enter the production area. After a quick look at the basic aluminum building blocks and the reels in their various stages of assembly we head upstairs to his small office.

The company’s been around for a little over four years but it went through a couple of phases before Rice acquired it. After the initial design and development phase “the design and vision for the company was put into a three ring binder and stuck onto a shelf and it was set aside for a little while” to weather the economic downturn he explained. “We really reinvigorated it a little over a year ago.”

After growing his career in the aerospace industry Rice was ready to set out on his own. That is when he met Matt McCune. “Matt is my business partner” he said. “Matt and I connected and realized there could be a good match for me trying to promote Bozeman Reel and him doing some of the machining and design and production.”

Rice and his wife have three kids – two daughters aged 9 and 6, and a 2 year old son. The family settled south of town near Hyalite with their yellow lab, a rat terrier, “and my daughter has a black lop-eared bunny” he said.

“We’re the only Reel manufacturer in the state of Montana,” said Rice “being made in Montana is really important to us.”  

What is also very important to them is the quality and reliability of their reels, as well as their strength and precision. Rice explains to me how “start-up inertia” is one of their most important features.

“Think of it from the standpoint of a fighting fish” he said “When you set the hook on the rod when you yank up your rod its going to bend a little bit and suddenly the lines going to start to peal out and that’s called start-up inertia.”

The goal of Bozeman Reel is to make it so the drag system does not create a “big stick” that will inhibit this run from starting. “So start-up inertia and the smoothness of the drag is the most important part of the reels” said Rice.

The reels are machined from aluminum, Delrin, Rulon and stainless steel. There are 37 parts that go into the reel assembly “Some are simply turned on a lathe, while others require multiple operations on a CNC mill to ensure that they have smooth, rounded edges” explained Rice. “There is over 2 pounds of material that is carved away from the beginning material to arrive at the finished product.”
At every step along the way there is a thorough inspection process to ensure accuracy and consistency. “This is where the talent and skill of our machinists shine – they each have a high attention to detail ensuring a stable production” boasted Rice.

His office on the second floor has stacks of boxes with the company logo lining the far wall along with other Bozeman Reel Co. products, hats and nets. The office has a tall computer desk on one side and a work bench on the opposite side.
“Ultimately we get all the sub components of the parts up here after the machining” Rice said. The reels then go through finishing processes such as tumbling and polishing before they are anodized, laser engraved, and hand assembled in the shop.

“The anodization process actually builds a protective layer on the outside of the metal to provide longer-term defense against wear.” Rice added.

Rice stands at the work bench holding two reels and explains to me the differences between the two models. “We have two different styles, we have the R/S series which we call our river stream series.” As any angler knows you need to match the size of your reel to the weight of your rod and line to create a balanced gear setup. “This comes in a 3, 4, 5 weight which we call our ‘325’, a 5, 6, 7 weight which we call our ‘527’, and it comes in a 7, 8, 9 weight which we call our ‘729’” he explained further.

Their other reel is very popular with what Rice describes as the “bamboo rod guys or the fiberglass rod guys. Those guys tend to have an appeal for these more classic reels. They like the sound of it and the features to it” he said. This S/C reel stands for S handled classic or stream and creek. These reels come in a 2 to 5 weight and do not have a geared drag system like most modern reels.

While the S/C reels bring an echo of simplicity and nostalgia, the R/S series is a modern all around trout model that is made for Montana conditions. The R/S series “Is your standard ‘I’m going to go fishing on the Yellowstone or Gallatin’ and that is what most people take with them” he said.

A company poster sits near his computer that says “BUILT IN THE HEART OF FLY FISHING” and Rice explains the why that is at the core of what they do.
“The CEO of Simms often says that Bozeman is the epicenter of fly fishing and I think that that’s a nice advantage for Bozeman Reel, a lot of fisherman come through Bozeman” he said “And I get to have input from people that have been in the industry 50 years and that breadth of experience that we get just from proximity is tremendous.”

When asked about the feedback they’ve been getting Rice said “People have been saying really good things.” He shows me a stack of magazines including Outside, Sporting Classics, Field and Stream, and Trout Magazine with reviews that range from a few lines in a buying guide to full reviews and endorsements.

In March 2014 Trouts Fly Fishing in Colorado wrote this on their website: “I’ve been fishing Bozeman reels for about 3 months now, and I continue to be impressed with their performance, look and overall functionality. I’ve had the privilege of fishing a wide range of fly reels over the past 9 years, and none have stood out so starkly from the competition. I’m very excited to see how these reels will perform throughout the upcoming summer, but I have little doubt that they’ll remain a favorite of myself and the rest of the staff at Trouts.” Tucker Ladd, Owner of Trouts Fly Fishing.

Rice adds “I think people like what we’re doing from a product perspective and what people really like is from a culture perspective, being locally made and locally sourced.”

You can find the reels on their website at The Bozeman Angler, Rivers Edge West, Rivers Edge, Fins and Feathers and Gallatin River guides carry them as well.

For the future Rice said the company is going to focus on establishing themselves as reliable in terms of product, delivery, and service and then move on to new product evolution.  

“We have a good crew here that wants to see the growth of this product. We have a lot of people in Montana that want to see the growth of this product, and so that hopefully reflects on [how] the good community can help catapult us ahead.”
Rice let me know that the company is open to anyone that wants to visit and learn about their products, but a word to the wise “We have a quasi-rule that if you want a tour of the facility then you bring a six pack.” From there I let him get back to it.    

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