Hardy Bouglé Baby review, less is more

Bouglé in it's leather and sheepskin case
The Bouglé, in all it’s shiny aluminium glory

I’ve written several posts on this blog, and entries on various social media platforms, over the years stating I’m back and going to make a serious go of keeping this site up to date. Well, looks like I’ve been called out on all the previous excuses I’ve made; the global pandemic has cleared the decks of all the other ‘things’ I had to do and given me some time to write inane drivel on here. Hope you like it!

First a little context about why I’m reviewing this reel. I’ve owned it for around 18 months, but have only gotten around half a seasons use out of it (again, down to being too busy to get to the river). I bought it, along with a Hardy rod as a present to myself not long after getting a small bonus at work. I must have caught Mrs Northeastflyfisherman at a moment of weakness, as she agreed all too quickly to a drive up to the Hardy factory to look at some new gear. Three hours later, bingo!

So here I am 18 months on, with no likelihood of fishing for the next month or two at least, but time on my hands to write for the blog – so a review of this little thing it is.

A close up of the back of the Hardy Boulgé
Clouse up of the back of the Bouglé

The Bouglé Baby review

Firstly, what is it? This model is the Bouglé Baby size 2. You can read a little more about how this reel came about on my post here Real manufacturing – Hardy Reels History, an interview with the reel design team. My particular reel is loaded with Orvis Superfine WF4 line, and a few yards of backing – but only a few yards as this reel is both tiny and unlikely to ever come up against anything that requires me to have 30 yards of 20lb braided Dacron on hand.

As I mentioned, it was bought at Hardy’s Alnwick headquarters, from their onsite shop and factory outlet. When I purchased it they provided a free line and line fitting service. I went for the Hardy Compact Rocket in WF4 (not a cheap line at £49.99) but after the first cast knew I wouldn’t get on with it. The line felt too heavy when casting and didn’t present well at all on the #4 Hardy rod I coupled the reel with, which is a shame as it was nice to get the line and fitting for free. I’ll tell you more about the rod/reel/line combination I’ve ended up with, and am very happy with in the review for the rod.

Close up of the man made ivory handle
Man made ivory handle

In terms of the reel itself, it’s as solidly built, as good looking (and sounding) and simply as exquisite as anything this small and this expensive should be. The reel features a rolling pillar, reversible click check, naval brass bush and spindle and sports a hand polished, deep anodised ‘pearl silver’ finish. The winding handle is a man made ivory substitute, and very convincing it is too.

It’s made at the Alnwick factory and proudly sports the ‘Made in England’ moniker twice on the small frame, once on the side plate and once at the base of the foot. It came in a very plush black leather reel case, lined with very thick sheepskin wool. This will not only protect the reel when stuffed into the bottom of my fishing bag, but also do a great job of wicking the moisture away from the reel after a session on the river.

But where’s the technology and bling?

That covers the mechanical specs, and the super observant amongst you will have noticed there’s no mention of ceramic materials, there’s no sealed, carbon adjustable drag, wide arbour this or that. There isn’t even a spare spool. It’s ‘just’ an aluminium reel (I’m slightly over simplifying, apologies to the guys in Alnwick), so why pay so much for it when you could get a similarly priced reel with a specification list as long as your arm, littered with space age materials and bold claims?

The screws holding the spool on the Hardy Bouglé
Remove to take the spool off

To answer that, let’s look at what this reel will do for your fishing, and what it won’t. Firstly, I think it’s fair to say (from my point of view at least) this reel isn’t going to increase the number of fish you catch. In that regard it is no better than the 10 year old, £30 when I bought it, now battered and scratched Greys #3/4 reel (a bit like this Greys reel) the Bouglé replaced in my fishing bag. It won’t improve your casting, or (again in my experience) your ability to retrieve line or play line out. All of those functions are the same between two reels separated by a small mortgage payment in cost.

What you are getting is an extremely well built (in England!) and incredibly beautiful piece of history. This reel first saw the light of day well over 100 years ago. It’s had a few changes since then, but is essentially the same design Louis Bouglé and Hardy came up with all those years ago. Anything that’s been around for over 100 years without any significant design changes can be considered an item that’s incredibly hard wearing. It’s highly likely to outlast the purchaser. I’d like to hope I’ve got another 20 fishing seasons in me at least, that equates to just £20/season (and yes, I did use that very justification to Mrs Northeastflyfisherman).

Close up of the engraving on the reel
The engraving on Boulgé

The Bouglé Baby feels and sounds amazing, something that can most certainly not be said about the now sidelined Greys reel it replaces. Many who buy these classic reels hide them away in their collections, never to see the light of day. Whilst I can understand doing that – especially after I took the photos for this review and gained an even deeper appreciation for it’s beauty – it’s how it feels when you actually use it that makes it so special. £399 special? I’m not sure – but this isn’t a purchase that you can make on the promise of any tangible return, so only you will know if it’s truly worth it. I think it is.

I’d love to be able to go into all sorts of detail about why this reel is better than an Abel TR Click & Pawl reel, or the Orvis Battenkill, or any other small premium classic design reel; but in truth none of these reels ‘perform’ any better than the other. At this end of the reel market, performance isn’t really a consideration. As my cheap Greys reel has proven, even at the £30 price point you get something that’s more than good enough to do the job. It’s far more about how you feel about the reel, if it’s aesthetically pleasing to you and if it makes you happier when you’re fishing.

The Bouglé loaded with line and a little backing
Loaded with line, and a little backing

Should you buy a Bouglé?

Should you get one? That’s a difficult question for me to answer. This without doubt fits into the ‘want’ category and doesn’t even come close to the ‘need’ category. No-one needs a £399 #3/4 weight fishing reel. But if you’ve got the expendable cash, nothing else on your ‘need’ list (or have a ‘Ça ne fait rien’ attitude to spending your money!) and a river where you use a #3 or #4 rod then go for it. If you £399 is a bit rich for your blood, I’ve got a slightly used Greys #3 going cheep, I’ve even got some barely used Hardy WF4 line to go with it 🙂

In closing, I love everything about the Boulgé Baby reel, and find myself looking at it when I should be scouting the river for the next (first?) rising 4” brownie I’m going to fail at catching. It makes me happy, and I think that’s money well spent.

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