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A Saltwater Legend

Stephen Brown

   A true fisherman—one who has mastered the four-count rhythm, a tight loop and muscular double haul—knows fly-fishing is art in motion. There is a certain religiosity when it comes to fly-fishing: There's the patience, the repeated ceremony of the cast, the faith in the fly and the end struggle of pulling in that prize that too often eludes just below the surface, a hidden blur along murky shoals. Be it the romanticism of the act or just an utter enthrallment with Norman MacLean’s poetic novella A River Runs Through It, fly-fishing has, for me, become more than fishing but a sacrament of inner thought; a fight not of man versus nature but of man versus self.

The Fly Fisherman - Tibor Reels

   But these philosophic musings are for naught if a fisherman is stuck with a bird’s nest of leader and line coughing from the spool. Fly-fishing equipment becomes an extension of the hands and arms, which is why serious fisherman do not take their tackle lightly. When it comes to fly-fishing, few people have been as influential as Tibor “Ted” Juracsik (below), who developed one of the most influential reels to ever snag a fish. Whether it's trout, bonefish, permit, salmon, snook or marlin, Tibor Reels have been catching them all since 1976, landing more than 750 world records, with more set each year.

   “Ted is an innovator and pioneer of the saltwater fly-fishing industry,” says Rob Kramer, president of the International Game Fish Association. “His reels set the bar for quality and craftsmanship.”

   But Tibor’s beginnings, along the banks of the Danube River, seem almost at odds with the influence he has had on the sport here in the land of eternal sunshine.

Tibor

   Born in Budapest in 1937, Juracsik was an avid soccer player in Hungary, more adept to the 2-3-5 (pyramid) formation of the pitch then the four-count rhythm of the fly rod. But fishing was always a childhood diversion.

   “We use to fish for carp and catfish in the Danube River all the time,” he says. “I got plenty of beatings from my dad because the river was pretty dangerous, and I was just a little kid monkeying around. He was scared; a lot of people drown in that river—it was very fast.”

    At 17, Juracsik earned his master papers in tool and die making, the youngest Hungarian ever to do so. He used his skills to learn about "any kind of mechanical thing I could figure out [and] why it was not working,” he says.

   But in 1956, with tensions between Hungarian nationals and Soviet occupiers erupting into open revolt, Juracsik was swept into the fray. For two weeks, he and his fellow Hungarian Freedom Fighters had overthrown the Iron Curtain. But victory was short-lived.

   “We lost the revolution. I had to escape; otherwise they would have hung me. They hung a couple of my friends,” remembers Juracsik, who fled to neighboring Austria shortly after the Soviets led a counter offensive to quell the revolt. “I was 18 and I didn’t have any relatives anywhere, so the U.S. took me. When I got here, I had no sponsor, no relatives, no nothing. I wound up in a Catholic orphanage in Brooklyn [St. Vincent’s Home]. They signed up to take care of me for about a year so I could learn the way of this country, learn the language.”

Tibor Juracsik with a peacock bass from the Amazon River.
Tibor "Ted" Juracsik with a peacock bass from the Amazon River.

   Once in the United States, it wasn’t fishing but soccer that led to opportunity for a new life. “I was pretty decent in soccer in those days, and was asked to play for the Bulova company team. They gave me a little money and we played all over,” Juracsik says. He eventually played for a German team in Long Island that, in turn, set him up with a job at a plastics factory.

   “I found out pretty quick that this country really, really is a great country,” Juracsik says. Working three jobs and newly married, he saved enough money to purchase equipment and start his own tool and die shop out of his Long Island apartment basement. Operating the shop at night, business began to grow steadily until Ted Juracsik Tool and Die was born, a company he still operates today. But it wasn’t until 1970s, during a trip to visit his in-laws in South Florida, that the name "Tibor" would become synonymous with fly-fishing.

   While visiting a friend who worked at World Wide Sportsman in Islamorada, legendary saltwater fly angler Billy Pate walked into the shop, fuming over lost tarpon. Juracsik had no idea Pate was one of the most accomplished fly-fishers in the world. To him, he was just a fisherman with bum reel that could not handle the 100-pound tarpon lurking in the temperate waters.

   “He was having trouble with the drag on the reels he was using and just lost a couple of really nice fish. So my friend volunteered me [and] said, 'Ted will make you a reel,'" Juracsik recalls. “I had never even seen one of these reels before. I didn’t know what the fly-fishing was. So Billy sat me down and explained the fly reels. The one he had had such a small drag surface; I could see right away why he had a problem. So I told him when I come down next year for vacation, I will bring a reel down for him to try.”

   With that, the course of fly-fishing was forever changed. What he created was a handmade, stainless-steel anti-reverse reel that increased the drag surface of the Fin-Nor reel Pate had been using while bulking up the arbor (the spool) to accommodate 12-weight line. When Juracsik returned the following year, Pate took to the reel like, ahem, a fish to water. Juracsik didn’t want a dime for the hardware. Rather, he told Pate, “You have to show me how to fly-fish, because it looked kind of cool.”

   What started out as two fishing buddies poling around the Keys turned into one of the best-known names in the industry. The first reel Juracsik made was heavy but built to last. “I didn’t know a lot about fly-fishing then, and there was not this concept of today where everybody wants lighter rods, lighter leaders, lighter reels and all that. So my first reel was a little bit heavy; I wanted to make it rugged so it would never break,” Juracsik says. “In fact, Billy was using that very first reel for more than 30 years, and it never broke.”

Tibor Reels - original Billy Pate Reel prototype
An original Billy Pate Tarpon Reel.

   That reel went on to land a record 188-pound tarpon on just a 16-pound tippet. It was the first to catch six billfish species (blue, black, white and striped marlin, plus Atlantic and Pacific sailfish) and a countless number of fish species around the world. Juracsik and Pate went on to perfect that prototype, creating the first Tibor production reel aptly named the Billy Pate Reel. They made a limited run of just 100 and sold them at Pate’s World Wide Sportsman in Islamorada.

Ted Juracsik at home on the Chokoloskee Bay, testing the latest gear.
Ted Juracsik at home on the Chokoloskee Bay, testing the latest gear.

   “Billy asked me if I could make some more reels to sell. I said, 'Sure, but not just a couple, because it would cost too much,'" Juracsik says. "There were no [computer numerical control] machines back then; everything was handmade. So I said I would make 100. We shook hands on it, I made 100, he sold them and that is how the business started.”

   Juracsik made the move to Florida in 1976, settling in Delray Beach with a state-of-the-art tool and die shop (the same Ted Juracsik Tool and Die), spinning out more than 600 Billy Pate signature reels that year. Now, the business is still thriving, with the fly-fishing reel department making up about 30 percent of the business. The Billy Pate Reel is still a popular model, with four more models joining the portfolio: the Tibor Series, Tibor Light, Tibor Spey and Tibor Signature Series—each designed for a certain type of fisherman and prey in mind.

   These days, Juracsik, 76, is just as busy at home as he is at his workbench. He poles around the Chokoloskee Bay along the western fringes of the Everglades, exploring the 10,000 Island, mangrove-fringed jungles for his next catch, constantly testing his product.

Tibor Reels - Ted Juracsik with his favorite prey, snook
Ted Juracsik with lands one of his favorite fish, snook.

    “Its like paradise. You can fish forever,” Juracsik waxes poetic about his Chokoloskee Island home, where he spends his time when not in Delray Beach. “You can fish for trout, permit, snook, tarpon, ladyfish, jack, bluefish—unlimited opportunities. And you can get away from people. It is very serene.”

   And retirement seems nowhere in sight. The Tibor shop produces roughly 4,000 reels a year and has a clientele that includes professional fishing guides, celebrities and politicians. In July, Tibor and company will unveil its first new product in two years at the International Fly Tackle Dealer show in Las Vegas. The lid is still tightly shut on details of what will debut, but rumor has it that it will be a smaller addition to the portfolio.

   “I am always looking for improvements because if you are not, you are just going to be stuck spinning your wheels," Juracsik says. "So I am always coming up with new things.” 

   For the fishermen dedicated to the fly, these are encouraging and welcome words. Whenever a new Tibor hits the market, more records are begging to be broken.

 

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