Friday, June 5, 2015

SHJ Reel Review ~ The Ocean City ‘Wanita’

Neoclassicism On-The-Cheap

Ocean City Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, made a broad spectrum of fresh & saltwater reels between 1923 & 1968, when the company was taken over by Tru Temper. Reel models ranged from affordable to top-end, & many, both well-made & affordable. Ocean City went big, modernizing the manufacturing & marketing process through the early 1900’s, & was prime on the scene mid-century when the growing middle class of America found itself needing more fishing reels. I suspect it is because Ocean City was able to supply affordable gear to the masses that O.C. fly reels are sometimes referred to as ‘blue collar reels’ – & funny, often, after the blue-collar rating is decreed, the rater will grudgingly allow that the reel is a “sturdy workhorse”. If ‘blue collar’ means reliable, sturdy-built & reasonably priced, then nothing wrong with that, though I’ve no doubt, if the Ocean City ‘Wanita’ fly reel had been born to a small maker in Britain, it would surely hold a more esteemed position in the hierarchy of reels.       

The ‘Wanita’ fly reel was introduced in 1924, & versions of it offered until the early 1960’s, with little change to its looks. In appearance, these harken back to an earlier era, looking very similar to the Meisselbach Rainbow & JW Young Condex. There are click-&-pawl versions, some with both click-&-pawl & a spring that provides drag pressure against the spool, & some, silent-operation, equipped with only the drag pressure spring. All are perfectly functional for trouting.

Post/drag spring assembly.
 The models NO.35 & NO.306 pictured here are the silent, spring-only type (same as JW Young Condex). About as simple as you can get. The spool tension spring is pre-set to provide some drag on a fish & to prevent backlash while stripping line from the reel for casting. Drag tension is usually still right on the old reels, though some might need tuning to give a bit more drag, & this can usually be accomplished by placing a shim washer under the spring. 

 For quality, I’d rate Ocean City’s ‘Wanita’ offspring, the NO.35, 36, 305 & 306, as equal to any 150-dollar reel made today. As good as some costing more. For style, I give them near-top rating. These are a meeting of timeless Old World style & American production know-how. Though the finishes may be nearly worn off, you seldom encounter an old one not serviceable, or easily brought back to service. For those who lust after one of the newer click & pawl reels featuring similar old-timey style yet don’t want to pay the big bucks, purchasing an old Ocean City might be a practical alternative.

The narrow, one-piece aluminum frames & spools were investment cast, buffed smooth & painted. Early models were gun-blued, a better finish that wears to a fine patina. Investment castings are high quality & precision, & actually stronger than machined bar stock. Strong investment casting frames can be made thinner walled than bar stock & still retain rigidity. These reels are surprisingly light, certainly not heavier than the comparable Pflueger Medalists. Two burly rivets fasten the nickel-plated brass reel foot to the frame. The round, nickel-plated brass line guide is retained by slots milled into the frame. On some of the old reels the guide ring may be a bit loose in the slots, but that is fine, it doesn’t affect the performance & the ring won’t come out. The guide rings on old reels are often grooved, particularly reels used with silk or Dacron lines, but these can be filed & sanded out. A steel bearing sleeve is pressed through the center of the spool, which turns on a generous 3/8 diameter oilyte bronze post. A bit of grease on the post now & then & you have smooth operation indefinitely. If you are a rock diver, this reel can take the punishment.

I like the worn paint finishes on the old, used reels, & these can be buffed with a fine polishing compound to achieve a patina-like finish similar to old bluing. Also, the old paint can be stripped & the reel sanded & buffed to a handsome ‘silver’ finish, or repainted with auto paint. I painted one, an old NO.35, a dark Lotus green, & a friend, a bamboo guy, fell so in love with it I had to give it to him. No problem. Ocean City made a lot of these & they are still fairly easy to find & fun to clean up & fish.

 My main beef with the Ocean City is that I’ve not found any but RHW & the reel’s line guide is not reversible. I like to cast with my right & wind with my left. However, click-pawl & spring drag versions work the same either direction, & the guide ring is not necessary, so the reel can be used LHW, though the guide ring does look a bit lame riding the back of the reel, out of commission. Still, for neoclassicists operating within a budget, these are cool reels. At 3” diameter, the NO.35 works for 5wt & under, & at 3-3/8” diameter, the NO.306 is just right for balancing an 8’, 6wt, glass or bamboo, as well as longer graphite rods, & at a blue collar price. These are old friends not ready to quit fishing. 

Son House sums up the way I feel about it: 


  1. I love these old solid faces. These have fared better for me than most of the high end reels I've had - and balance the long rods quite well. Definitely a sleeper reel. Thanks for sharing their history-

    1. Wyatt, thanks for reading. And I agree, definitely a sleeper reel.