Elwin Lloyd Knowles captained the Yacht Byronic which was owned by Byron Miller, the president, and treasurer of W. D. Woolworth Company. Knowles was a talented machinist, a student of mechanical engineering, and successful inventor. One of Knowles' creations was a card table that would automatically deal cards to four players; it switched on a light in front of the player who had the first bid.
Although regularly mistakenly as the first Fin-Nor reel, the Knowles reel is a precursor. Knowles had Fred Grieten, of the Fin-Nor Machine Shop, machine most of the parts for his reel.
Because Grieten did most of the work on the Knowles reel many people thought that the Knowles reel was the first Fin-Nor reel. The first Fin-Nor reel would also be made by Grieten in 1935 after the Knowles Tuna Reel project had been dropped.
Knowles' reel was truly a monster as documented in an April 1934 article in the Miami Daily News written by Fred P. Bradford:
"Most striking of all the equipment is a special reel built by Lloyd Knowles of Miami for battles with giant tuna which heretofore have broken all tackle thrown against their strength. The reel, made of aluminum alloy, is designated as a 20/0 and weighs 17 pounds and carries 1000 years of 72-thread Cuttyhunk line testing 216 pounds. A hickory tip weighing 27 ounces has been specially made by Ralph Miller with mountings and an agate tip. The reel has a powerful drag adjusted from the left hand plate in order that the tension can be placed as desired without removing the right hand from the crank. Spool and most of the intricate parts are machined from stainless steel with gear ratio 2 -1, capable of sustaining a 55 pound drag for a duration of a period of 30 minutes, at a rate of 22 feet a second. Light graphite grease used on all working parts will be aided in cooling by the excess amount of cold water taken up by the heavy texture of the line."
According to John Cass, a friend and fellow captain, Knowles and his team attached the line to a 20-foot false killer whale in a somewhat unusual approach to testing the drag. Although the reel stood up to the abuse it was eventually spooled by the presumably un-phased whale. Knowles and his collaborators also tested the drag using Knowles' Buick. Knowles and the Cass brothers and Capt. Tommy Gifford all took turns fishing the reel.
Erl Roman's June 19, 1934, Miami Herald column he discussed the quest for record tuna at Bimini and reported progress using the Knowles reel.
"Captain Cass is of the opinion that they (tuna) can be landed on rod and reel and that some way will be evolved whereby the shark damage will be eliminated."
"The special reel made by Lloyd Knowles...was used in the (tuna fishing) experiments carried on by Capt. Cass and proved satisfactory."
Later that summer, Roman ever the Miami promoter, carried this observation in his column:
"One of the crying needs of big game anglers has been a better reel - not a bigger one. Lloyd Knowles of Miami has worked out a better design and a better braking principle in reels. This is recognized amongst the majority of big game fishermen and, while I have been in New York, I have been greatly gratified to note that the Knowles reel, made in Miami, is already well and favorably known."
Knowles applied for a patent in 1934, which was granted in November 1935, however, only three reels were eventually produced. Aside from issues with size and weight, the drag mechanism in particular ultimately proved less than satisfactory, often overheating and requiring regular bucket doses of seawater to cool it down.
Click Here to return to our - BIG GAME & SALT WATER REEL GALLERY