Remembering Jack Nilsen: The lessons of fishing long range


Very sad news on Christmas Day, 2020… Accurate Fishing announced the passing of patriarch Jack Nilsen. He will be long remembered for his good natured camaraderie at the rail, as well as his place in sportfishing tackle history. He was quite proud of this story published in April 2020. Heartfelt condolences to his family and vast number of friends and fishing buddies. PL

CORONA — Without the long range fleet, there might be no Accurate Fishing. No ATD, no TwinDrag, no bustling Ameri­can made high-performance reel company.

“My sons are the driving force,” says Jack Nilsen. His twin sons Doug and Dave Nilsen did the heavy lifting of designing the products and founding the company, but Jack was involved from the very beginning. “I helped light the flame and get things going because of my love of fishing, but long range fishing in particular,” he says.

The elder Nilsen, Accurate Fishing patriarch, started early. He was only 5 when he wet his first line. Later, in the ’70s and ’80s, he remembers fishing albacore on the sportboats out of San Diego.


“I learned to fish with a Penn Jigmaster 500,” he says. “We’d go out Friday night to Fisherman’s Landing and get on a boat — I think it was the Lo-An at that time — and get in the jackpot.”

The Jigmaster would feature prominently in Accurate’s early history. The young tackle manufacturer made its name with high quality sideplates and frames for the ubiquitous saltwater reel.

“We made gears, handles, all kinds of improved products,” Jack says. “Dave and Douglas were very involved at that time. We asked ourselves why we were making components for someone else. It was time to produce our own reel.

“That’s when my sons really kicked in. I stepped in as an advisor and product tester around 1998 when they came up with their first two-speed, the ATD series 30, and it progressed from there.”

LIFE IS ABOUT FRIENDSHIPS, and the late Del Marsh, left, was a great one to Jack Nilsen of Accurate. He’s gone, but Jack has stories of the prankster to last a lifetime.

But enough background, let’s dive deep into the long range fishing side of this story. Jack spent many of his trips aboard the Qualifier 105, a legendary sportfisher that is now a research boat in Alaska. It was owned then by John Klein, who Jack said bought Accurate’s first fishing product, a stainless steel gaff they were making for friends. “One day in my office, David comes running in, says, ‘Dad, you won’t believe it, John Klein wants to use our gaffs on his boat.’ That was the Holy Grail, the first time Accurate got recognition from the long range fleet that we were even alive. It was fun.”

Jack would go on to put in a lot of rail time on the Q105, including the boat’s longest multi-day trips. “The long, long trips, and the testing of the ATD series, it goes way back,” Jack says. “My sons were out of college driving the fishing side, and I participated by advising, testing and giving input on what was good and not good.”

Jack continues, “Long range crews and anglers have a deep knowledge on what works and what doesn’t, and they don’t sugarcoat it. They provided a large reservoir of input from people I could trust.”

On the ATD, the TwinDrag was the big innovation. Jack remembers telling his sons they had to come up with something really great and innovative, that hadn’t been done before.

“My sons asked me simple questions, like why do all the reels only brake on one side of the spool,” Jack recalls. “What if you only had brakes on one side of your car?”

TwinDrag provides a system that is in equilibrium. “On so many reels (with a single drag), when they start to heat up, they’ll start to slip and go,” Jack says. “It raises the chance of pulling the hook out of the fish. On an Accurate you have to look to see it’s taking line, that’s physics working for you, you only have to put half the pressure on each side.”

With half as much pressure and twice the braking surface, heat dissipates efficiently. It goes into a heat sink, the aluminum in the frame. “You have to have somewhere for the heat to go. That process is much more efficient with dual brakes,” Jack says.

THEY LOOK SO YOUNG — Jack Nilsen, right, with his twin sons David and Douglas during the early days of Accurate.

But it wasn’t easy to develop. Jack and the twins tested the TwinDrag system for more than two years and almost gave up. “We’d go to Long Beach Harbor in our boat, take a 3-gallon bucket on Spectra line, and throw it out there to see how the reel behaved,” Jack says. “You can’t go out and catch a tuna any time you want but you can always catch a bucket. We were looking for a smooth drag.”

The solution was simple — they’d tried complicated stuff but it didn’t work — the ultimate solution was the simplest of all.

The Q105’s Klein did a lot of testing on the ATD 30. “I took the first production models on the boat with me, plus a couple of Penns and a couple of Shimano Long Range Specials,” Jack says. “Those were good reels, I fished them. We were at Clarion Island and all we could do was hook sharks. Sharks, sharks, sharks.

“There was a deckhand on the boat we called Bacon. Everybody knew him. He came up to me, says, ‘Jack, you want to test this reel? Here’s a cable rig so the sharks won’t be biting off. Let’s have some fun.’

“We put a greenback mackerel out and sure enough, we hooked a tiger shark. We fought that shark for two hours, it was real world testing on the drags. We finally buttoned the drag down, we were up on the bow and the 130-pound Spectra popped and I went ass over teakettle in a backwards roll!

“Bacon was, ‘Jack, are you okay? I think that reel is good to go.’ I sold my Shimanos and Penns for a couple hundred bucks apiece, fresh Spectra and all, and that was that,” Jack recalls with a laugh.

SMALL REEL, BIG FISH — Jack Nilsen with one of his favorite catches, a 300-pound class blue marlin caught on a little Accurate VX500 Boss Extreme single speed. Two hours of torture and glory. When it was all done, Jack released the fish as he does with all marlin.

Life lessons

Jack says long range fishing taught him lessons that stay with him to this day, and even have daily application in business. “Patience, fishing is patience,” he says. “Ninety percent of the time you’re fishing you’re waiting.” Patience, he said, is a valuable trait for a businessman.

He also learned how important it is to keep an even keel. “You should never be too high or too low in your reactions. If you go on a fishing trip and are killing it, don’t get too high on that. You’re the studly man, the next day on the same trip you’re not too high. And don’t get too low when you’re off. Try to stay in the middle, because it all changes. This kicked over to the business world and dealing with all things in life. Things change every day,” he says.

Jack was born in Nazi-occupied Norway during World War II. He came to the United States in 1951. “I’ll never forget. My father pulled me onto the top deck as we came into New York Harbor, he got me out of bed at 6 in the morning to see the Statue of Liberty. This is a special place, not just the freedoms but free enterprise, it was a chance for my father, a chemical engineer, to get to a higher level.

“It changed my life,” Jack continues. “I instilled that in my sons and daughter and grandchildren. What an amazing country we live in.”

Then there’s the importance of friendships. Never take them, or today, for granted, Jack says. “I try to have a little talk with the people on the boat. I say ‘appreciate the days we’ve had on this trip, we may not see each other again. It’s not like we hang out all the time. We see each other on brief, 10- to 13-day adventures.’

“I learned to appreciate every day,” Jack adds. “We trade stories. Remember this guy, remember that guy? Where’s so and so this year? Didn’t you hear? I learned to appreciate relationships because we have this bond of fishing together.”

ALL THOSE ACCURATE reels wouldn’t have been possible without the San Diego long range fleet. Jack Nilsen used them as a tough proving ground. Guys like Capt. Andy Cates, right, of the Red Rooster III don’t pull any punches when it comes to tackle.

Jack’s very best fishing buddy was the late Del Marsh, a great prankster. Del would take Jack’s boots and stash them overnight in the refrigerator, looking for a reaction. Jack wouldn’t give him the satisfaction but merely endured his cold feet.

On slow fishing days, Del would wear a necklace with a 3-inch pink high heel. He wanted people to ask about it. Jack says Del would reply, “That’s my lucky whore shoe.”

They’d bring a boom box and play music. “On days with a slow bite and a hot sun, tunes spark things up a lot,” Jack says.

They were always having fun, and that’s a lesson all its own. There were afternoon cigars and tequila shots or Scotch to sip after dinner. “The fishing you can’t control. The good times and bad times will come, we try to keep a smile on our faces and not take it too seriously,” Jack says. “It’s just fishing and it’s just a fish. There are heartbreaks, such as when a guy loses a fish at the gaff. It’s just a fish, put it into perspective, it’s not your life, it’s not your wife, it’s a fish.”

Jack isn’t one to hang his hat on how many he catches. “I honest­ly can’t tell you how many fish over 200 I have,” he says. “Probably between 15 and 25. I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s the experience that counts.”

One particularly memorable one was catching and releasing an estimated 300-pound blue marlin on a little Accurate VX500 Boss Extreme single speed. “It was quite a battle,” Jack remembers. He was fishing with Mark Rayor in the East Cape, and his deckhand Diego kept saying, “Mr. Jack, give me the rod. Let me help you.”

Jack wouldn’t have it. “No,” he remembers saying, “I’m in this for the finish. Two hours of agony later, I got the fish to the boat and we got a wonderful picture, we let it go, we don’t kill marlin at all.”

The stories are a bedrock element of fishing. “The experience, the camaraderie and the stories I can tell, the people that bonded together, that’s the most important,” Jack says. He has dozens of 20-minute videos of his trips with friends — everyone on the trip would get a copy. He still plays them in the shop in his office.

“It gives you perspective in life, nothing goes on forever. I enjoy living in the moment like Capt. Andy Cates said to me one time. ‘One of you guys will be the guy who can’t do anything wrong,’ Cates said. ‘If you’re that guy, fish ’til you drop because it won’t last. Enjoy that moment because nothing last forever.’”