Worldwide recognition has come with dedication, passion and quality.
It is often said that, to be successful in business, you have to have a passion for it. Sometimes, however, having a passion for what product you manufacture is as important, too. This point became clear to me while visiting Shilton Engineering to gather information and pictures for an article I wanted to do on the company. My interest in the company was piqued when I saw a social media post by a friend who loves fly fishing and is an avid Shilton Reels user, as are many of his fly fishing friends judging by the comments. From the photograph that I saw, the reel looked very impressive aesthetically. I had to find out why and where the product was manufactured, and more so if it is made in South Africa. Not that I am a fly fisherman but rather that I love to report on South African success stories. However, my primary interest would be on the company’s history, CNC programming and machining capabilities and anything metalworking.
While doing my research I did not realise how extremely competitive the leisure pursuit and the industry of fly fishing is. The issue of what constitutes ‘correct’ fly fishing comes up fairly frequently. If I use a jig, am I fly fishing? If I use a pegged bead, am I fly fishing? Then of course there are the ‘waters’ where you fish. Everyone has their own opinion whether you should fish in freshwater or saltwater. Both present their own challenges and that is not just the fishing. Accessibility, transport and accommodation considerations have to be taken into account, as well the affordability.
To me, the main appeal to fly fish in South Africa would be the diversity of species and the landscapes in which you can fish. Whether freshwater fishing or saltwater fishing, with the correct info, the pursuit of both species can be exhilarating and rewarding. Fishing off a boat in a dam or cruising along a river while elephants and rhinos roam the savannah conjure up many exciting thoughts. Equally stimulating is the thought of wading through the blue water flats on one of the Seychelles’ outer islands fishing for bone fish, trigger fish, permit or giant trevally.
As is the case in most sports though, without the correct equipment or gear, your experience could be ruined or best forgotten.
The Shilton reels are available in 23 different sizes depending on what setup you need for what species you are fishing for. Line weights 3 to 16 and backing capacity from 60 metres to 600 metres are accommodated in the selection. In 2010, Shilton Engineering was awarded the much sought after and prestigious Design Excellence Award from the South African Bureau of Standards
Tony Frittelli of Shilton Engineering
Although, still important, the line and rod are not as critical in your choice as is that of the reel. This has become an aggressive market amongst manufacturers, suppliers and retailers fighting for your business.
Since the species diversity is quite overwhelming, you’ll need a versatile range of fly rod-and-reel setups. You’ll generally need a minimum of three setups. The reason why it’s a good idea is that it enables you to switch quickly when out fishing. Everything happens dizzyingly fast when fishing and you have to make the most of each opportunity. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a second setup at hand, if you need to try a new fly – or if you’ve been blind casting with poppers, and a sight-casting opportunity suddenly arises.
The history of Shilton Reels
The Shilton Fly Fishing Reels are used in both fresh and salt water fly fishing environments, giving fly anglers a range of reels designed for targeting all species of fish.
Owner Tony Frittelli, an avid fly fisherman and founder of Shilton Reels, saw a gap in the fly fishing market in 1997. Combining his engineering expertise and his extensive knowledge of what was missing in other fly reels, he designed the first reel in the Shilton line-up, the CL Series, back in the late 1990s. This reel became commercially available in 2001 after extensive testing by Frittelli.
One of the recently purchased CNC machines is a Hyundai Wia HK-V1000 CNC vertical machining center. The first CNC machine that Shilton Engineering purchased in 1992 – a Supermax YCM 60-A vertical machining center – is on the left. The Hyundai Wia machines are sold by Spectrum Machine Tools
All aluminium components manufactured are machined from block or rounds
Frittelli, a qualified toolmaker, had initially started a business with partner Jerry Hewett, machining extrusions for two-way radios.
“The two of us had spent a number of years in employment and both of us had visions of running our own businesses. In 1990 we established our own machine shop with a saw, a Bridgeport milling machine and a press. In those days there weren’t many CNC machines around.”
Change of direction
“It was only much later that we acquired our first CNC machine – a Supermax YCM 60-A vertical machining center. By this time we had made changes to the type of components that we were producing and our material processing operations. In a way we anticipated the demise of two-way radio components because of the introduction of cellular phones and thankfully we did.”
The Hyundai Wia L 280LM CNC turning center was purchased just before Shilton Engineering invested in the vertical machining center
While steadily building the reputation of the durable and lightweight Shilton Reels, Frittelli has also been innovative in introducing a number of enhancements to the brand over the years. The standard black and titanium colours are traditional with the brand but demand led to the introduction of red, blue, purple, burnt gold and turquoise options
“The business had become ‘stale and repetitive’ and we needed a new challenge to not only revive the business but ourselves as well. I knew that if we were going to survive we needed to design and manufacture our own products.”
“In the back of my mind I wanted to turn my passion into something tangible and hence the choice of manufacturing a fly fishing reel that would stand out amongst the rest.”
“The first reel we manufactured was a freshwater model, sized for a 6-wt line. The CL series has an advanced, specially formulated polymer disk drag system, running on a polished stainless steel disc, which delivers an ultra-smooth drag with a very low start-up inertia and zero engagement backlash. They all have a click-type drag knob for consistent setting.”
“Through my obsession with quality and passion for precision, extensive testing takes place and, still today, every reel is bench tested before being shipped. Our design aspects were focussed on functionality, durability, consistency, extremely low maintenance and the aesthetics and good feel. The styling of our reels is uniquely Shilton.”
All components of the CL Series reels are precision machined and crafted from 6 082 T6 high-grade aluminium bar stock using the latest CNC technology.
A ventilated spool and frame reduces weight and assists in rapid line drying, while the anodised finish assures maximum corrosion resistance. The advanced polymer disk drag system runs on a polished stainless steel disc to deliver smooth and low start-up inertia with zero engagement backlash.
Reels are manufactured for both saltwater and freshwater fishing
The newest reel in the Shilton Reels freshwater line up is the CR series, which is available in CR2-CR4 for line weights 3 to 8
A click-type drag knob ensures consistent setting as well as silent retrieve and drag rotation. The spool runs on precision roller and deep groove ball-bearings in a sealed housing. The palming rim is exposed for enhanced control. All reels are approved for saltwater and carry a limited life warranty.
“All components for our reels are manufactured in our machine shop except the common components such as bearings, springs and screws.”
“We only use top-grade material which unfortunately still has to be imported. I know that it is a very competitive market but with the quality of the components that we have used I know that our reels can be relied upon.”
“On the back of the success of the CL, Shilton Reels began R&D on a saltwater reel. The challenges of saltwater bring about a whole host of problems in reel design. Sand getting into the drag system, the build-up of salt in the reel, and of course, the need for the smoothest drag possible to stop the beasts of the flats. This brought about the SL Series. The full open cork drag system makes it is easy for you to clean and service your reels.”
“The latest model to be launched is the Shilton SR Series. The SR range have been designed from the ground up with the saltwater angler in mind, rugged functionality with high grade 6082 T6 aluminium to give you the edge you need in any saltwater scenario. We have increased the overall diameter of the cork drag, resulting in less start up inertia and more stopping power, as well as adding one extra plunger (from two to three), for extra drag engagement and durability.”
New colours and replacement parts
While steadily building the reputation of the durable and lightweight Shilton Reels, Frittelli has also been innovative in introducing a number of enhancements to the brand. The standard black and titanium colours are traditional with the brand but demand led to the introduction of red, blue, purple, burnt gold and turquoise options.
While building the Shilton Reels brand Frittelli has not allowed it to dominate the machining department. About 50% of time is spent on manufacturing the reel components – which could number 25 to 30 different components per reel – and the other 50% is spent on machining components for clients in a variety of markets
Shilton Engineering also machines many different plastic components for clients
“You can now build your own reel with the colours of your choice. Frames and spools can now be supplied in one colour or you can mix and match. For example, a black spool looks strikingly attractive with a bright backing and contrasting fly lines on them – any amateur or serious fly angler’s dream come true,” explained Frittelli.
“We also have a full selection of replacement parts, meaning you don’t need to send your reel in to be repaired – you can do it yourself! What other reel manufacturer allows you to change your parts?”
We Stop Fish
The name Shilton Reels is now recognised worldwide, including in the USA. But also associated with the brand is the saying: We stop fish. Shilton Reels have one of the best drag systems of any fly reels because they were designed with one thing in mind – to enable fly anglers to fight and catch the strongest, toughest saltwater and freshwater gamefish in the world.
The reels are available in 23 different sizes depending on what setup you need for what species you are fishing for. Line weights 3 to16 and backing capacity from 60 metres to 600 metres are accommodated in the selection.
As said previously frames and spools are manufactured from aluminium bar stock and the other components are machined from stainless steel. Polymers, carbon fiber and cork are used to create the all-important clutch systems that take Shilton Reels’ drag to the next level and make We Stop Fish a reality.
It has been reported that fish up to 95kg have been caught by anglers using Shilton Reels equipment.
“Shiltons have stopped large fish and still do,” quipped Frittelli.
SABS design recognition
In 2010, Shilton Engineering was awarded the much sought after and prestigious Design Excellence Award from the South African Bureau of Standards.
Shilton Engineering have built up a loyal client base who are very consistent with their orders. They include clients in the electronics industry and the luxury goods market. An interesting one is the components that they manufacture for a high-end coffee making machine that looks like a replica of an engine block of a F1 racing car
Various aluminium components – non-fishing related
“To be entered for this award, the design of the product must not only have been done in South Africa, with the intellectual property domiciled in this country. This award, made to Shilton Engineering SA for the Shilton fly fishing reels, is an example of South African design excellence and we are still very proud that we received it. The recognition by industry and the authorities is sought after,” said Frittelli proudly.
While building the Shilton Reels brand Frittelli has not allowed it to dominate the machining department. About 50% of time is spent on manufacturing the reel components – which could number 25 to 30 different components per reel – and the other 50% is spent on machining components for clients in a variety of markets.
“We did not want to have all our eggs in one basket so we have actively sought clients in other areas. Fortunately we have built up a loyal client base who are very consistent with their orders. They include clients in the electronics industry and the luxury goods market. An interesting one is the components we manufacture for a high-end coffee making machine that looks like a replica of an engine block of a F1 racing car.”
“We are also machining many different plastic components. You don’t always have to machine metal on your machines!”
Reel spools ready for anodising
The latest model to be launched is the Shilton SR Series. The SR range have been designed from the ground up with the saltwater angler in mind
Shilton Engineering now has six CNC machines on the floor of its 700m² building in Sebenza, Gauteng. These consist of four lathes and two machining centers. The most recent capital expenditure purchases were a Hyundai Wia HK-V1000 that has a load size of 3 000kg and XYZ travels of 2 100mm by 1 350mm by 1 400mm and a Hyundai Wia L 280LM CNC turning center that has a swing of 650mm and a turning diameter of 300mm. I might add that this must be one of the cleanest and well organised machine shop floors I have ever seen.
“Having these size machines might seem like a bit of an overkill for the size components that we manufacture for our reels. The maximum diameter we machine for them is 126mm and the whole reel weighs 418 grams. We have set up the machines with our own fixtures so we take into account these smaller sizes. But at least we have the capacity to accommodate larger size components and will only be limited by the machine size capacity and capability.”
“Our Supermax YCM 60-A vertical machining center that we purchased in 1992 is still producing precision components 19 years later, as are other CNC machines on the floor. We look after all our machines so that we get the best precision work out of them. As the reel side of the business grows we will look at investing in more machines.”
Reading reviews and reports it clearly shows that Shilton Engineering has been around for quite some time and they have offered many years of dependable products. The Shilton reels are world class product recognised by many professional fly fishermen around the globe as one of the top performing reels. A great South African manufacturing success story I would say.