CHOOSING QUALITY FLY FISHING REELS
Although they are an important element of a complete fly fishing outfit, even the most complex fly fishing reels are simpler than an average spinning reel.
A fly reel has three basic purposes: To store line and backing; to provide a smooth drag against a running fish, and to balance (or at least not to put out of balance) the weight and leverage of your fly rod when casting. Most quality fly reels can easily be switched from right to left hand reeling according to your preferences.
There are good serviceable, quality fly fishing reels available in almost any price bracket, and for those who don’t live in price brackets there are jewel-like masterpieces that are a pleasure to fish and own. Scroll down to read the article below for a complete run down on types of fly fishing reels and how to choose one.
CHOOSING A FLY FISHING REEL
There are two main
considerations when choosing a fly reel: Quality and Capacity.
Fly reel quality is important for functionality, but don’t
automatically assume that high quality equates with high prices. There are many
good reels of excellent quality available today in the $50 to $80 price ranges
that are very well made by reputable manufacturers who stand behind their
warranties. There are also quite a few reels in those ranges and below that are
absolute junk. The extremely cheap reels are made of stamped metal parts, and
should be avoided completely. If you get a chance, compare a stamped reel and a
machined reel side by side. You’ll easily learn the difference between poor
quality reels and reels machined with high tolerances and skill. Even a cursory
examination of a poorly made fly reel will reveal deficiencies like gaps
between reel and spool that will pinch and tangle lines and leaders, and
erratic drag systems that don’t adjust easily or run smoothly.
The next step up from stamped reels is cast
aluminum. There are several very good quality cast aluminum reels out there
that are perfect for most types of trout fishing. Good examples of very high quality reasonably priced standard arbor fly reels are our Voyager 3/4 Reel, the Voyager 5/6 fly reel, and the Voyager 7/8/9 fly reel. The popular new large arbor fly reels like our Expedition 3/4 Large Arbor fly reel and our Expedition 5/6/7 Large arbor fly reel are in the $55-65 price range and are a fantastic value, offering durability and quality usually found in reels costing over $100. The very best fly reels are machined
with amazingly high tolerances from solid aircraft grade bar stock, resulting
in a pricey but durable reel suitable for any type of fly fishing including
saltwater big game. If you can afford them, buy them. We offer a great value in a machined bar stock reel: The M60 Large Arbor fly reel. In the $150 dollar range the M60 offers quality and features found in reels costing hundreds more. If you can’t afford a
machined reel and your fly fishing is not of the heavy duty sort, get a high
quality cast aluminum reel, but please don’t listen to the vocal few out there
who proclaim that a fly reel’s only purpose is to store fly line, therefore you
should only buy the cheapest available. That route is sure to lead to disappointment
and to a second trip to the fly shop to buy the reel you should have gotten the
On a tight budget, spend most of your fly fishing budget on the
rod, but try to budget for a quality fly reel, a top-notch fly line, and especially
high quality flies.
FLY REEL CAPACITY
In much the same way that a fly line is matched to a rod, or vice versa, a fly reel should be matched to its line and backing capacity. All quality reels are rated for 2 or 3 line sizes and an associated amount of backing, for example: “UP TO WF6 WITH 100 YARDS BACKING”. This same reel would work with a WF5 (Weight Forward) with more backing, or perhaps with a DT6 (Double Taper) Line and less backing, since DT lines take up more room on a spool. Check with your fly shop pro, the online or paper catalog listing, or the manufacturers’ packaging to get the info you need to match the reel to your fly lines and type of fishing before you buy. If there is no information, then you can assume that the reel is manufactured for the mass market and move on to another brand. For the vast majority of trout fishing the backing merely pads out the arbor of the reel so that the fly line is in larger coils on the spool. Once you become a big fish hunter, however, the backing comes into play as an extension of the fly line while fighting strong running fish.
FLY LINE RETRIEVAL SYSTEMS
Fly reel line retrieval systems include the single-action, the multiplier, the mid- and large-arbor systems, and the automatic fly reel. This feature is most often a personal choice developed by the angler after gaining fly fishing experience, but generally speaking you won’t go wrong with the single-action fly reel. It is by far the simplest, lightest and most popular type of fly reel. One turn of the reel’s handle retrieves one complete turn of the spool circumference, a simple 1:1 retrieval ratio. Multiplying reels, or multipliers, add a gear ratio that retrieves up to 2 times the line for each turn of the handle. Although multiplier fly reels have fallen out of use lately, there are still some very high quality ones out there in favor with Atlantic salmon and saltwater anglers, where rapid retrieval of loose line can be a real advantage.
Among trout and steelhead anglers, the mid-arbor and large arbor reels have become more and more popular and are replacing the multipliers. Large arbor reels are just what the name implies: A large open central arbor spool that allows you to retrieve about twice as much line in one turn of the handle as a single-action reel without the complex, heavier gears of a multiplier. This was a real revolution in fly reel design, and like most revolutions it has its detractors who feel that the large arbor reels are too heavy for their rod size (They do take some getting used to!) and just not “traditional” enough in looks and styling. However, they do have a sort of hi-tech look that is popular with younger anglers, and more traditional anglers have been mollified with the development of the mid-arbor fly reels, which allow for some improvement in line retrieval speed and retain a more traditional look and feel.
Automatic fly reels have pretty much been reduced to the category of fly fishing oddities. They are a spring driven rig that is wound up as line is stripped from the reel, and when the angler pushes the release lever, the line is zipped back into the reel at a fantastic rate. I don’t know of any that have spare spools, so switching from sinking to floating, etc. is not an option. You might keep your eye out for one at a garage sale, as they have achieved a nostalgic, if impractical, status in fly fishing history similar to the wicker creel. It has been pointed out that an automatic reel could allow a disabled angler to enjoy fly fishing even with limited use of hands or arms.
A BRIEF NOTE ABOUT ANTI-REVERSE FLY REELS
Anti-reverse fly reels are usually high-end heavy freshwater or saltwater reels that incorporate a mechanism that allows the spool to turn freely with drag while the handle remains still in your hand. This can prevent rapped (or broken) knuckles when a big fish makes a run, but it is a feature that is totally subject to the preference of the individual angler. There are more moving parts to wear out or corrode, and since most anti-reverse reels spend their time on the salt, maintenance is a serious consideration.
FLY REEL DRAG SYSTEMS
Fly reels drags have a practical, if often unappreciated, purpose in that they prevent the fly line from over running the spool and getting tangled up. Just try turning off your fly reel drag completely and then strip off some line as if you were preparing to work out line for a cast. You’ll soon have a mess on your hands. When casting and fishing, it’s best to keep your drag adjusted to just that perfect tension that allows you to strip line smoothly without allowing the spool to keep running after the strip. After you get a fish on that requires more drag, then adjust the drag up. Practice adjusting your drag while playing smaller fish BEFORE you hook up with Walter.
Fly reel drag systems today consist of variations of click-and-pawl (or ratchet-and-pawl) systems and disk drag systems. Either system can also have an exposed rim that can be palmed by the angler who prefers a more tactile link with the fight. Click-and-pawl systems are usually found on lower end trout reels, or often on higher-end traditional light trout reels. They are the reels that give you the classic screaming reel sound effects, and many anglers like them for just that reason. Disc drags use cork, Teflon or other synthetic material discs that can be adjusted to give almost infinite degrees of drag pressure. There are a lot of high quality disc drag reel manufacturers out there, and they all have proprietary construction methods for achieving a smooth, non-binding drag. Once you get into the $150 and up range, anglers’ choice of brands is subject to personal tastes, aesthetics, etc., since almost all of the high-end reels function beautifully and have a following in the angling fraternity.
WHICH HAND SHOULD I REEL WITH?
This is a good topic to start a bar fight with, so I’ll just put in my two cents worth and keep quiet thereafter. The answer is: Left or right! There is no right answer. One theory holds that if you are right-handed, you should switch the rod to your left hand and reel with your right. I never got the logic behind that, but here are my thoughts: If you cast right-handed you are necessarily performing complex tasks with your left hand like stripping line and double-hauling. For me, it is quite natural to drop my line loops and reel with my left hand while my dominant right hand and arm play the rod. That’s how I’ve done it for close to forty years, so I’ve pretty much lost interest in any other way. My suggestion for a beginning fly fisher is just to start out reeling with one hand until you’re comfortable with the whole fly fishing thing, and then maybe switch reel hands for a season to try it both ways before you become too set in your ways.