Choosing the Right Fly Reel

A fly reel is a relatively simple mechanical device used to store your fly line, backing and leader. A modern fly reel essentially consists of a seat (or foot) to secure it to the rod, a handle to retrieve spent line, a frame, a spool and some type of drag system that puts tension on the revolving spool to tire fish and stop the fly line over-running. A fly reel may cost anywhere between £15 and £500 depending on its design, the material it’s made from and the features it offers.

Large arbor reels have been around for almost twenty years, but in recent times have become extremely popular. There’s a host of reasons why large arbor reels are favoured today such as reduced line memory, high-speed retrieve and low start up inertia. We have found that some may have low line capacity for their size and may also be heavy, so if these factors are important to you then always check with us before purchasing.

The drag system of the fly reel serves two different purposes. It helps keep the line from tangling when stripped out, and helps to tire a running fish by exerting tension on the spool. The relative importance of the drag system to the angler tends to increase with the size of fish being played.

A fly reel’s drag system, for example, may not be used at all on a small trout that can be played by hand. The smoother the drag system the more uniformly the tension is distributed to the leader, and this prevents it from breaking with a hard running fish. Fly reels come with basic types of adjustable tension drag systems. Firstly, there is the ratchet and pawl type, also known as click drag (because of the clicking sound it makes when the spool is revolved). This simple and reliable design of click drag systems makes it a good choice for most fishing situations.

The second type of system is the disc drag, which generally uses cork or synthetic pads to exert pressure directly on the spool.

Smoother than click drags – and usually silent when engaged – disc drag systems can make larger, feistier fish easier to handle.

In addition to these built-in drag systems, many fly reels feature an exposed rim to allow increased drag by “palming the spool” (that is, running a palm or finger across the spool) as the fish takes out line.

Saltwater fly fishing demands a reel expressly designed for the purpose. Saltwater fly reels are generally heavier, sturdier and have greater line capacity than their freshwater counterparts. In addition, the frames and internal parts of these reels are often constructed of materials such as anodised aluminium to resist the corrosive effects of saltwater.

Choosing a reel can be baffling, especially for the novice. The buying decision needn’t be difficult, however. The question here, as with most fly fishing tackle purchases, is, “what kind of fish are you after?” If the answer is smaller fish, such as trout, a good inexpensive click drag reel should suffice. If larger fresh and saltwater varieties are the target, a more expensive reel with a great drag system will be essential.

Whatever the price range, there are several things most experts say should be considered before a purchase is made. First, what is the reel’s capacity? By this, we mean the type of line and the amount of backing it can hold. A typical description of a reels capacity will look like this: WF8+125yds 20lb. This means that the reel will hold a weight forward, 8 weight floating line with 125 yds of 20lb backing. Use this information to ensure that the reel you’re buying matches your rod and is right for the type of fish you’re after.

Another important consideration is whether the reel is set up for a right or left-handed angler. The difference is in the direction the drag is applied. Years ago many reels had to be set up one-way or the other by the manufacturer. Today, however, most reels can be switched from left to right-retrieve with ease.

Finally, for the most part, no one should be overly concerned about making the wrong buying decision. Why? Because it’s at the extremes of fly-fishing that most people are prone to make buying mistakes. That means that customers should be extra careful when buying ultra light or heavy reels.

In most other cases, a little background reading and the guidance provided in our catalogue is all that’s needed to buy smart the first and every time. Why not contact one of our expert advisors for free advice on choosing the right model?


2 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Fly Reel

  1. I would like to purchase a reel/line for fishing small lochs and rivers in scotland. I already have a Bruce and Walker 10′ 4″ 7-9wt rod that was used a couple of times over twenty years ago! It is still in perfect condition. Alas the fly line and reel I have has seen better days, also twenty years ago! Could you recommend a reel about £70 -£120 and the number of different fly lines I would get by on. I have still retained some knowledge of how to fish but technology and materials have changed a lot. I still have some seals fur in my tying box so you may well guess how long ago I last cast a line.

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