The Man Who Changed Fly Fishing Forever
The rest of Juracsik’s story is straight out of Horatio Alger. Sponsored by a Catholic orphanage in Brooklyn—St. Vincent’s Home—Juracsik began building a new, American life.
He found work in a plastics factory, moved up to making dies, and held down three jobs at one time. In 1960 he married Wilma Hanak, another Hungarian immigrant, and moved into his in-laws’ home. Two years later he had enough work to quit his day job and hang his shingle as Ted Juracsik Tool and Die. By 1970 he had four employees and practically no debt. “I never moved out of the garage,” he says. “I never borrowed a bunch of money. I paid my own way.”
And he reveled in an unexpected outlet for his boyhood passion. Juracsik had seven brothers-in-law, all of them fishermen, and they chased striped bass and bluefish up and down the beaches of Long Island Sound. “Oh, we had a life, a good life,” he remembers. During the late 1960s the family began visiting Florida, trips that grew in number and duration after his in-laws bought a house in South Florida in the early 1970s. And that’s when another piece of Jura-csik’s unlikely journey fell into place.
Among saltwater fly fishing’s elite, the story of Juracsik’s and famed angler Billy Pate’s meeting is a part of the sport’s canon. One day in 1974, Juracsik stood at the reel counter of World Wide Sportsman, the Islamorada institution founded by Pate, the guide George Hommell, and a wealthy Coca-Cola distributor, Carl Navarre. A friend of Juracsik’s from Fort Lauderdale worked at the tackle shop, and as they were chatting about the aluminum spools Juracsik was turning in his shop to replace the plastic spools in his casting reels, Pate strode up to the counter, disgusted with a fly reel that had locked up in the heat of a tarpon fight. Juracsik’s friend shrugged his shoulders at the tale, pointed at the customer standing quietly at the counter, and told Pate: “Ted can make you a reel that will never break.”
Juracsik, who had never even held a fly reel, found himself in the gaze of perhaps the most famous saltwater fly fisherman who ever lived.
“So you make fly reels?” Pate asked.
“No,” Juracsik replied, then added with a tone of hard-won confidence: “But I can make anything.”
As Juracsik opened up Pate’s classic Fin-Nor reel to inspect the workings, he felt right at home. “It was nothing but a machine in there,” he recalls. “You know—this does this, and that does that. It was no mystery. Right away I saw the problem.” The reels of the day simply hadn’t been designed to blunt the sizzling runs of one-hundred-pound game fish: The drag had too little surface area to stop a tarpon on the jump.