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Aftco History

Since 1958, the world's leading saltwater fishermen have relied on AFTCO fishing rod components and tackle accessories for their consistently dependable, flawless performance. Here's how we've made history...

Aftco History


Milt Shedd and friends use live bait for the first time to catch marlin.

Prior to 1952 the conventional way to catch striped marlin in So Cal was to troll dead flying fish on the surface. For Milt Shedd, one of his real thrills in fishing was to figure out a better way to catch them. While cleaning marlin to smoke, he often noticed mackerel, sardines, anchovies, and more in their stomach, but rarely did he find flying fish. He figured if he could cast a live mackerel by a tailing or sleeping marlin his catch rates would improve and they did. As reported in SportFishing Magazine in their January 2000 article reviewing important fishing firsts in saltwater fishing from 1900-2000, "With 200 boats in the So Cal fleet, Milt and his two friends caught 5 of the 8 fish caught by that day." It did not take long for others to follow Milt's lead, and sight casting for marlin quickly became common practice in So Cal. View the Milt Shedd story here


J.C. Axelson founds the Axelson Fishing Tackle Company (AFTCO).

Axelson Mfg. Co. was a large company with over 1,000 employees that manufactured a number of products including aircraft landing gear, tooling for the oil industry and even the famous Axelson machine lathe. The man who built the company, J.C. Axelson, not only loved the manufacturing process, but fishing as well. As an angler, he could not find roller guides to match his quality standards, so he decided to make his own. What is unusual is where he developed them. After selling his business he bought a home on a double wide lot on the water front of exclusive Lido Island in Newport Beach, CA. To indulge his passion for manufacturing and inventing, he built a full-fledged machine shop in the basement of that waterfront home. That is where J.C. Axelson developed AFTCO roller guides, and no expense was spared in his effort to develop the world's best roller guides and roller tops.


Milt Shedd and wife, Peggie, found the Mission Bay Research Foundation, which Milt later renames, the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute.

Hubbs has become a major marine research center. In the beginning, it was mainly Milt and Peggie. Peggie did all the accounting on the Shedd family's kitchen table for the first 6 years. Hubbs was created in order to give something back to the marine resource via science and education. It is common in today's world for businesses to focus on ways to contribute to their community. What is so unusual here is that this was 1963, not only a full year before SeaWorld was open, but prior to even the thought, in the business world, of concepts such as "cause marketing", "going green", or even simply giving back to the community. Milt Shedd truly was a visionary and his passion for the ocean and the creatures that live there drove that vision. He understood that what the future marine world needed most was for people to better understand its many mysteries. He knew that could best be accomplished through science and education. The mission of the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute is "to return to the sea some measure of the benefit derived from it." Milt was willing and able to return benefit even before any was derived.


Milt Shedd co-founds SeaWorld and begins his position as SeaWorld Chairman of the Board until retirement in 1985.

The idea for SeaWorld is one that switched from seafood restaurant to an oceanarium. Originally, Milt Shedd and fraternity brother George Millay were going to build and own a seafood restaurant in Long Beach, CA. George had restaurant management experience running restaurants for others, and Milt as an investment banker with experience helping others raise money for their business. Both wanted to own their own business, so they went in together. Their idea was to build a restaurant below sea level so that people could look out into the harbor and see marine life as they dined. The problem was that often the water would be too dirty for people to see anything, and even if it was clear, there might not be much life swimming by. They then figured they would find a way to build a partition out beyond people's sight so they would actually be looking into a controlled tank that looked like the open harbor. If they could do that, they figured why not expand the concept into an oceanarium. Thus, the idea for SeaWorld was born, and shortly thereafter, fellow fraternity brothers Dave De Motte and Dr. Ken Norris joined the partnership. George took on the role as President and Milt became Chairman of the Board of SeaWorld Inc., a position he held until retirement in 1985.



Milt and Peggie Shedd purchase AFTCO from Mary Axelson, widow of J.C. Axelson. Peggie assumes daily role as head of accounting, and Milt assumes role as Board Chairman.


Bill Shedd joins AFTCO as Sales Manager.


AFTCO introduces aluminum rod butts.

One of the first things Bill Shedd did when he joined AFTCO in June of 1974, was to drive from Boston, MA to the Florida Keys, visiting east coast customers to learn about their needs. One of the things he saw was that the supply of aluminum rod butts was inconsistent, and the customers often complained about the heavy weight of the butts that were machined from solid bar stock and then drilled. Bill figured if AFTCO could make them in a better way and provide a consistent supply, they could create a good business. When Bill returned to AFTCO, he began to look for a manufacturing solution. While on an offshore fishing trip with his dad Milt, he explained the opportunity, but that he had been unable as of yet to find a proper manufacturing solution. Milt suggested that when they got ashore, they talk to his friend Jim Easton from the Easton Aluminum Company. They went directly from the boat to the nearest payphone to call Jim. As luck would have it, Jim explained that another manufacturer who had begun to work with Easton on aluminum rod butts had just pulled out of the partnership and Easton had several partially completed dies in process. He invited them to come up the next morning and as of 2012, AFTCO butts and Unibutts are still made from JD Easton swaged parts.

Milt Shedd builds the 67' boat SeaWorld.

Milt Shedd builds the 67' boat SeaWorld to fish swordfish by harpoon, to collect specimens for SeaWorld, facilitate marine research projects and most importantly, take family and friends sportfishing.


Milt Shedd organizes first-ever sonic tagging of broadbill swordfish with Dr. Frank Carey of Wood Hole.

One of the early projects Milt Shedd organized for the Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute was to tag pelagic fish. In the 1960‘s, his efforts led to the tagging of several thousand albacore, bluefin tuna, and marlin as well as 30,000 anchovies. He was also one of the first to tag broadbill swordfish with conventional "spaghetti" tags as he tagged 13 free swimmers from the plank of his boat SeaWorld. Dr. Frank Carey from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was the leading authority on sonic tagging. He had successfully tagged and followed 16 bluefin tuna and other pelagic game fish, but had been unable to successfully place a sonic tag in a swordfish and wanted to be the first to do so. When Milt learned of the difficulties Dr. Carey was having, he told him that if he would join Milt on the SeaWorld in Cabo San Lucas, Milt would guarantee he could successfully place a sonic tag in free swimming swordfish. Dr. Carey took Milt up on his offer and in the spring of 1977, he joined Milt in Cabo aboard the SeaWorld. Milt was successful in placing sonic tags in five different swordfish and Dr. Carey was able to gather the data he was looking for.


AFTCO introduces the Unibutt.

The AFTCO aluminum rod butts introduced in 1975 were having great success in large part because of the superior strength-to weight advantage of the JD Easton swaging process. One of AFTCO's competitors was Frank Johnson from Mold Craft. Frank had developed a product he called the Unibutt that was a two-piece aluminum product that replaced the need for the standard brass reel seat. AFTCO had developed, and was about to introduce, its own product that also replaced the brass reel seat. The main difference being that AFTCO's product was a true one-piece aluminum product, so there would be no chance for the reel seat to turn around the handle. AFTCO had a better product design and manufacturing process. Frank had a better name with his trademarked Unibutt. Both companies had a respect for each other, and neither wanted to fight the other in court over patent issues, so they decided to join forces. Frank stopped making his product, turned over his Unibutt trademark and patents to AFTCO, and AFTCO paid Frank a license fee on all Unibutt sales for the remaining years on Frank's patents. The result was the AFTCO Unibutt, a win-win for both parties, and the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the Johnsons and Shedds.


AFTCO TAG FLAG Tournament.

Greg Stotesbury & Bill Shedd fish with Pete Barrett for tuna out of Manasquan Inlet, N.J. Seeing firsthand the number of boats involved in the northeast tuna fishery inspires Bill to create the TAG A Tuna for Tomorrow Tournament. That leads to the AFTCO TAG FLAG Tournament, which becomes the world's most successful tagging recognition and awareness program running for the next 18 years.

Seeing the long line of boats coming back into the Manasquan inlet after a weekend of tuna fishing was a graphic reminder of how important that fishery was. What might happen to it if commercial fishing pressure caused a fishery collapse as it had in so many other fisheries? On his return home, Bill began to look into what data was available on tuna and was surprised to see how little was known about them and how few were being tagged. He decided AFTCO should create a tuna tagging program to help create increased awareness of and participation in tagging tuna. He devised a program to recognize participating anglers, which involved all of the major fishing magazines and a system to make tags more available to anglers. The resulting program called, "Tag a Tuna for Tomorrow" had a major impact on the number of tuna being tagged in the northeast. It was so successful that Ed Scott, who was head of the NMFS tagging program at the time, called Bill asking if AFTCO could create an expanded program that could include billfish. Bill agreed to do so and created the AFTCO TAG FLAG Tournament, which included recognition for both captains and anglers using not only NMFS tags, but TBF tags as well. View the 2007 Marlin Magazine article.


Bill Shedd starts the AFTCO Clothing Division.

During the drive to a father-daughter weekend at Forest Home, a Christian conference center in the local mountains, Bill Shedd was being asked questions about AFTCO by a friend, John Snyder. John was the father of the girl in the back seat with Bill's two daughters. A successful businessman and bright guy, John quizzed Bill on how AFTCO could continue to grow when it already had such a high market share in its main products, roller guides and Unibutts. Bill named various products to consider and John kept asking what else AFTCO might consider making. Bill finally told John that they needed to look at most anything the serious angler uses for saltwater fishing, including the clothes on his back. That night while lying in bed, Bill thought about the conversation and his focus quickly went to the clothing comment. AFTCO had never before considered clothing, but the more Bill thought and prayed about it while laying awake that night, it became clear to him that other sports like surfing, skiing, golf, tennis and more had clothing lines that serious participants identified with, but fishing did not. It was time for AFTCO to try and fill that void. By the next morning, AFTCO was ready to enter the clothing business. Its first product, the M01 and M01L short remains the world's most famous saltwater fishing short.

AFTCO Tackle Sales Manager Greg Stotesbury & Bill Shedd begin to lead successful effort on behalf of UASC to remove long lines from California waters.

In 1989 Bill Shedd received a call from a California Department of Fish & Game employee (who will remain unnamed) expressing concern about an experimental shark longline fishery. The person said it was being set up to take the experimental fishery to a full fledged fishery, and if that did in fact happen, the So Cal mako shark nursery area was in big trouble. The individual said they did not know who else to call, and wanted to make sure that Bill understood that somebody needed to do something or the mako resource was sure to collapse. Bill decided that AFTCO would take this longline issue on as a company project and that it would be operated out of the AFTCO offices under the banner and support of UASC. Since Bill was still in the middle of the gillnet fight, Greg Stotesbury was assigned to head up the effort. Greg knew a lot about the mako fishery as he had spent a great deal of time fishing makos with his dad and brothers. Over the next several years, Greg and other AFTCO staff members spent over 1,000 hours on the effort and when the gill net fight ended, Bill joined in on the longline fight. The result was that longlines were not allowed to establish themselves in So Cal. The experimental shark longline fishery was defeated as was a separate AFTCO/UASC effort to develop a conventional longline fishery in CA. In other areas of the US such as NE, SE Gulf and Hawaii, longliners were able to establish themselves. Once in place they are difficult to remove. AFTCO's effort to keep long lines out of CA waters early on remains one of our proudest moments in our long marine conservation history. Read more.


Milt Shedd helps found the UCLA Marine Science Center.

Toward the end of his life, Milt Shedd combined his lifelong interest to learn about the ocean with his desire to support his alma mater, UCLA, in an effort to help them create the UCLA Marine Science Center. He gave them direct funding and his 67 foot boat, the SeaWorld. His signature enthusiastic leadership, helped them develop other funding and a business plan for the effort. Among other things, the UCLA Marine Science Center provides courses for high school teachers to learn about ocean issues so they can better educate the kids in their classrooms. This was a fitting effort for Milt and his longtime belief that the best way to ensure a healthy ocean in the future was to educate the people who are here today.


AFTCO now officially stands for the American Fishing Tackle Company.

When J.C. Axelson started AFTCO in 1958, the acronym stood for the Axelson Fishing Tackle Mfg. Co. Because the name was too long, AFTCO is what was stamped on the products, and over the years the company and its products became known as AFTCO, as opposed to the full name. Over time, people began to assume that AFTCO must stand for the American Fishing Tackle Company and referred to it that way in articles in fishing magazines, correspondence back to the company and in general conversation. Rather than fight this natural progression and thought, AFTCO embraced it and officially registered the name AFTCO with the US Patent Office to represent the American Fishing Tackle Co.


AFTCO becomes licensee for all Guy Harvey sportswear including Guy Harvey T Shirts.

In 2004, AFTCO took over the master apparel license for Guy Harvey apparel.

Over the life of our relationship, the sale of Guy Harvey by AFTCO product generated $3,263,150 of funding for the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. AFTCO's contract with Guy Harvey formally ended on 6/30/2019. At the time of announcement, the partnership had seen a 400% increase in sales since 2004.


AFTCO Moves to Santa Ana

Bill & Jill Shedd, and their 4 children purchase a 117,000 square foot building in Santa Ana, CA. to consolidate all of AFTCO's operations from 5 separate buildings into one. Move is slated for April 2012


AFTCO helps develop CCA of California.

In 2014 leaders of the Southern California sport fishing community met at AFTCO to discuss the development of an organization to represent the interests of anglers in California. That meeting and the meetings that followed led to the creation of CCA of California (CCA CAL), where Bill Shedd was elected as CCA CAL Chairman of the Board.

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AFTCO purchases Marsh Wear Clothing, forming a new partnership with charter captain Logan Roberts.


AFTCO Enters the Freshwater Market.

AFTCO Clothing launches into the bass fishing world and wins both clothing Best of Show Awards at the 2018 fishing industry ICAST Show. Spearheaded by Casey Shedd, the new focus includes a number of freshwater fishing conservation programs and products developed specifically for the freshwater anglers. 


Cody and Casey Shedd

AFTCO enters third generation of Shedd family leadership.

In September 2019 Casey Shedd is named AFTCO President. Cody Shedd is named as AFTCO VP of Finance & General Manager with Christie Shedd working alongside her brothers as Operations Manager. Bill Shedd remains as Board Chairman with Casey and Cody now running the business.