Tom Greene sells wonderful fishing rods and reels, but these days, he's hooked on vintage tackle.
Greene is the owner of Custom Rod & Reel, which is known for making beautiful fishing rods that are crafted to an angler's exact specifications. It doesn't matter if you fish for swordfish, sailfish, snook or snappers, Greene can build a rod to make your fish-catching efforts more effective and more enjoyable.
For all the state-of-the-art tackle that Greene sells, he spends more time appraising and collecting classic fishing rods, reels and lures, some of which were made 150 years ago.
Greene loves the ingenuity of the old tackle and the precision of the vintage reels. Many of those reels were made by hand by watchmakers and gunsmiths and are as smooth as any of today's high-tech reels.
"Here's what I love," Greene said as he picked up a Pflueger Templar reel that was made between 1900 and 1910 out of German silver and a hard rubber that was used to make bowling balls. "These early reels had no drags. This one had a leather thumbpad attached to the crossbar for the drag."
Greene also loves sharing his knowledge of vintage tackle with others. It's something that comes naturally from his many years in the tackle business.
The middle of seven kids, Greene and his family moved to Boca Raton in 1957. He began working in a local tackle store a few years later, when he was 11.
"Being in the tackle business for more than 40 years in South Florida," said Greene, 54, "I have to be able to answer questions on how to go bass fishing, tarpon fishing, snook fishing and dolphin fishing every day."
Green started collecting tackle 20 years ago. The walls of his office are covered with old fishing lures. Rods are piled in the corners. A variety of big-game and baitcasting reels, as well as spinning and fly reels, are on his desk and shelves.
As more people sought him out for advice on old tackle, Greene studied up on collectible rods, reels and lures. He can tell you about the high-quality reels made by George Snyder in the 1850s as well as valuable Fin-Nor fly reels made in the 1950s.
Thanks to a veteran, dedicated staff in his store, Greene is able to devote a good chunk of his time to vintage tackle. His day typically begins in front of his computer in his office, where he answers e-mails sent to him through his web site, www.antiquereels.com. Many of those messages include photographs of the tackle in question.
"I usually have 30 to 40 e-mails from around the world, asking me questions about their tackle," Greene said.
Greene prides himself on being honest and fair. Many times he has helped people avoid getting taken advantage of by unscrupulous tackle dealers. Like the guy who told Greene he had several old bamboo fly rods. A dealer told the guy the rods were worth $100 to $150 apiece, and he'd rewrap and refinish the rods in exchange for the guy's fly reel.
"None of the rods was collectible and none of them was high-end," Greene said. "They were worth only $50 to $75 as wall hangings. The dealer told the guy the reel was worth $200. I said, I'll tell you what, I'll pay you $3,000 cash for the reel.' It was a vom Hofe Perfection fly reel. It cost $32 in 1931. Fly reels, in general, are very good investments."
The man held on to the vom Hofe, but he was grateful to Greene for steering him straight.
Prices of vintage tackle depend on several factors. Condition is critical. So is the number of rods, reels or lures originally made. For example, Fin-Nor spinning reels made from 1950-70 that originally sold for $99 and $109 are now worth $250 to $400.
"A Seamaster reel made in the same time frame is worth $1,500 to $2,000," Greene said. "The reason is there were thousands of Fin-Nors made and only a handful of Seamasters."
Sometimes the box is worth more than the reel or lure that came in it. Someone e-mailed Greene a photo of a wooden box for a Shakespeare Kalamazoo level-wind reel made from 1907-11. Greene said the reel is worth $20 to $30 "because they made a million of them," but the box is worth $250.
"A serious collector wants the box to go with a lure or reel," Greene said.
Some people just want to know the age of their tackle. Greene said you can tell by their features. In 1920, reel handles started being made from plastic, rather than ivory. Other items can be aged by their serial numbers and their make and model.
Then there are those who simply want to get rid of old rods and reels.
"I get the phone call every day," Greene said. "Do you buy used tackle? My husband passed away and I need to know if it's worth anything.'
Usually, Greene tells them what they've got and suggests that they pass it down to family members as a remembrance. One elderly woman told Greene her husband had been a big fly-fisherman, and no one in the family wanted his bamboo fly rods. She was too old to drive, so Greene drove to her condo in Sunrise.
"She's got three or four two-piece cane poles that sold for $4.95 four or five years ago," Greene said, shaking his head at the memory. "I told her to give them to some local kids."
Occasionally, Greene and the caller are pleasantly surprised.
"A woman from Fort Lauderdale called and said her late husband was a fisherman in Michigan. They lived on a lake and he loved fishing more than anything in the world, and she had his tackle box," Greene said. "The woman came in, and the tackle box was so heavy I had to get it. I open it up and in the bottom there were five or six reels, all of them classics."
Greene spoke to the woman, who was in her 80s, for two hours, asking her about the reels and the tackle. One of the reels belonged to her grandfather, who used it to compete in casting contests.
When Greene asked her what she thought everything was worth, the woman said she didn't know. She did point out that some of the lure boxes still had price tags -- mostly $1 and $1.15 -- so she figured she could get a little more than that, and she said the reels had to be worth something.
"I said, Give me your hand,' and I counted out 20 $100 bills," Greene said. "She turned white. She was twitter-patting worse than me. She had to call someone else to drive her home."