Fishing reels made by nature not NASA

Today’s fishing reels are evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

They may look like miniature satellites, but for centuries the driving force behind fishing reel technology has been nature.

Here we take a look at some of the materials and techniques involved in constructing the latest fishing reels.

Aluminium block

aluminium fishing reels

Top end fishing reels are made from a single piece of aluminium
Source: Library and Archives Canada

Strong and light, aluminium is the perfect material for the block – the core of the reel. But manufacturing techniques vary considerably.

Top end reels are machined from a single piece of aluminium, often either 6061-T6 or duraluminium. Space age names perhaps – but in reality, tried and tested materials. 6061- T6 dates from the 1930s and is regarded for its strength and resistance to corrosion.

It is still used in the manufacture of private light aircraft, yachts and SCUBA tanks. Duraluminium is an even older material – dating back to 1903 and was used in the construction of airships.

Cast, machined or forged?

cold forged fishing reels

A cold forged frame makes your fishing reel tougher
Source: Richard

Does it matter? In fact the various methods used in forming the core of the reel do impart different characteristics to the finished product.

The toughest of them all is a cold forged frame. As the metal is pressed into a mold, its internal structure deforms to follow the shape of the mold. This results in a grain that runs in the same direction, throughout the piece, making it stronger.

Carbon fiber

fishing reels carbon

Carbon fibre – effective and hard wearing, but not against chickens
Source: Mark Tighe

Carbon fiber drag washers are incredibly hard wearing and effective but the technology itself though born in the United States, was developed and patented by the British Ministry of defense.

Rolls Royce was one of the earliest adopters of the new material, using it to construct the blades of its RB211 jet engine. Unfortunately having passed all other tests, the material then failed spectacularly, shattering when a chicken was fired at it!

Ceramic bearings

fishing reels ceramic bearings

Ceramics – harder, smoother and tougher than steel
Source: JL Gavino

Ball bearings are one of the technologies of the industrial revolution. The concept is simple enough – rolling balls create less friction than sliding surfaces. However, not all bearings are equal.

Top of the range fishing reels may well contain hybrid ceramic bearings. This actually means, ceramic bearings in a ferrous bearing race. The advantages of ceramic versus steel are three fold.

First, ceramics are much harder than steel, resulting less compression and reduced heat and friction at high speeds. Second, the surface of a ceramic bearing has a smoother finish than steel – again cutting back on resistance. Third, ceramics are harder wearing – a longer lasting fishing reel.


fishing reel gears

Which metal is best for fishing reel gears? Discuss…
Source: Freefotouk

Fishing reel gears are commonly constructed from stainless steel, brass or bronze. Go on any fishing forum and you’ll find a debate about which is best and why different alloys are used in combination.

A popular setup is a stainless pinion and bronze main gear. Brass gears are perhaps smoother, but softer, and stainless can be noisy but hard wearing. Do bear in mind that the quality of the gears is just as important as the material used to make them.

So now you know. Modern fishing reels are the product of manufacturing knowledge and natural materials, not space age discovery.

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