The workshop at Peetz Outdoors could pass as an antique store. All of the equipment used to make its famous hand-made fishing reels is from the 1950s. The floor is soft and worn down like an old shoe.
“It’s a really neat place to spend your time,” says Peetz co-owner Art Aylesworth, as he enthusiastically explains the process of making the reels. “I really do love it.”
Aylesworth has a lot to be excited about these days as the unique Victoria business marks its 90th anniversary this year. In order to celebrate the occasion, Peetz has commissioned Kwaguilth carver Jason Hunt to produce 90 reels for its artist series. The reels sell for $799 a piece, with a portion donated to salmon conservation programs in B.C. and the Yukon.
Hunt, who was born in Victoria but now lives in Port Hardy, has been carving for almost 25 years. It’s a tradition that’s been passed down through his family.
When Hunt was contacted by Peetz about carving the reels, he thought it was a natural fit. But he questioned whether it could be done given the reel’s size and the tough, mahogany wood they’re made from. After trying seven different designs, Hunt finally found a good fit.
“There was a lot of experimenting when we first started going,” he said, adding the design had to be redone about four or five times before he got to the final stage.
“Once we saw that we could actually do it and started looking at all the other potential possibilities, we kept thinking of more designs. We’re learning as we grow.”
So far Hunt has completed more than 30 reels, which take a full day to carve by hand. The reel features two female salmon with roe in a symmetrical circular pattern. Each reel is numbered and signed by the artist.
A fisherman himself, Hunt tingles with excitement about the thought of people using his art to catch fish.
“We do a lot of salmon fishing here and everyone I know, any time I mention anything about Peetz, everyone has a reel,” said Hunt. “We’re doing something that’s different and unique. For the people that are picking them up, they’re getting something you just don’t see anywhere, which is exciting for me.”
Peetz was founded in 1925 by Boris Cecil Peetz — a master jeweler who combined his love of fishing with his ability to fashion timeless, beautiful works of art. The reels were originally based on the Nottingham style reels popular at the time throughout Europe and are still crafted by hand in Victoria.
With his partners, Aylesworth invested in the company a year-and-a-half ago and is keeping the tradition alive. He’s also breathing new life into the brand with innovative ideas such as bringing Hunt on board as an artist in residence.
So far Hunt’s reels have been a big hit, with seven sold last week. Aylesworth is now pondering whether to do a series of different designs with Hunt or go from artist-to-artist.
“They are just unbelievably beautiful. The reels on their own are a work of art and you lay on Jason’s work and it’s just kind of eye popping,” he said, noting the six artist proofs were used for auctions and sold for $3,000 to $5,000 a piece.
In a typical year, Peetz produces a couple hundred reels (that typically range in price from $150 to $300), but last year the company managed to double that. Within the next few years, the company plans to increase production to between 2,500 and 3,000 reels a year.