As I mentioned above, my 2nd fly reel ever was a Martin, so the brand was always in my back pocket.
The reason I started doing this was feeling insulated from the fishing by graphite and disc drags, and wondering why I was harassing the fish while feeling totally jaded.
Some people reach this point, cut the hooks from their dry flies and begin counting coup.
For me, it all changed with my first 20" rainbow in fast water on cane and vintage click-pawl - oh, crap, what am I going to do now? - this is why we do this.
I began buying vintage reels to balance cane rods, and my first purchase was a Very Fine Dingley uniqua, with an even cooler merchant mark, Graham and Sons of Cockermouth - $100 from Tim Zietak. Second was an Allcocks Ousel (even less), which at that time nobody knew or was brave enough to state was a Young-made reel. Third was a near perfect (pattern 8 ) marked MC Thornburn Maker Edinborough. The fourth from Australia lit the fire - a pattern 8 marked JW Young & Sons Redditch Fishing Reel Specialists.
The fire was lit for me to learn everything I could about JW Young and Sons between the wars, all the reels they marked for merchants, and I began correspondence with Rupe Atwood.
It was later that I began exploring vintage glass - really intexpensive then, guys - and the reels were, too, because most people wanted vintage Hardy and no one had yet written a book about the others (reel prices tripled when books were published). I bought the first Heddon Pal Pro Weight we discussed on the forum for $15.
I paid $57 for my first Pattern 15a
With glass, added postwar Youngs, more Martins, Meeks, Heddon Imperial, Holmes, Stuart. Working on reels for me and OPs, and also buying up every postwar Young I could get my hands on to convert to LHW and sell on the forums. I got really good at sniping them for a price that would let me recoup my labor for the LHW conversion, and this funded tackle buying for me. Can't tell you how many reels have passed through my hands, but excepting just a few reels I really wanted, bought them all at wholesale prices.
Hardy? Well, I've worked on them, but the only Hardy's I've ever really lusted after were the 1917 St. George (so what do you think I'm going to do when one shows up with an unopposed bid on ebay for half price - rhetorical question). And the beautiful 1936 C-spring Lightweight will almost certainly remain forever elusive.
What defines junk? Whether or not you can repair it to fish through the next generation - all the way through. Most of the time it means did the maker think about that, as well.
If you fish your reel hard, you're going to find out - the hard way. Most things you can tell by feel, and sometimes photos are enough to make the choice.
My first reel was a Berkley Japan OC clone that I never liked then, could afford, never quite did what I expect of a fly reel, and doesn't work now (but yes, I have it stashed away, it was my first fly reel - and I do my best never to badmouth these when somebody on the forum praises them).
If there's one theme I've been trying to get through on this thread, is that it's possible to do this without regrets - even selling a reel you absolutely adore because it's burning a hole in your pocket and you need the funds for a different project - a kayak to tandem your young daughter - or later buy bike parts so she can build her trick bike (last year I bought back one of the rods I sold for this project).
and I have to disagree with so-and-so likes such-and-such. Better to ask one what they think.
no, so and so is smart enough to know what is a good move to buy at this price and what may not be wise to buy at any price.
The proof of denial is saying he's a collector, but I'm a fisherman (see my first post on this thread).
for me, I spent years setting up 10 snipes/week on ebay and winning one each month - at half the value of the item, or less.
I was so caught up on my ebay search algorithms, I could check everything newly listed that might interest me in a half-hour over coffee.
When I was caught up, I also had friends who regularly consulted me about where to set their snipes and invested a lot more money than I did (appgap has an incredible collection of reels that he bought for dirt, and he hasn't sold anything) - and no, we didn't snipe against each other.