Fly Reels

The fly reel is a commonly misunderstood device. It varies in importance with the type of fish the angler is pursuing. For smaller quarry, the fly reel does little more than serve as a place for storing unused fly line. For larger fish the reel can get quite a work out and is of great importance. Reels come in assorted shapes and sizes and have a number of actions.

The single action reel is the most common. The arbor of the reel turns at the same rate that the handle does. These reels rarely have mechanical difficulties and for that reason they are the most popular. Another great aspect is that the angler can carry many spools with different fly lines to quickly over line or under line the rod. Further development of the cassette reel has made this even easier.

The multiplying action reel contains gears that increase the arbor to handle ratio. This simply means that the spool turns faster than the handle. The common multiplying action reels will have a 1.5 or 3 retrieve ratio.’

The drag system of a reel is an important feature. The drag is a mechanical control of pressure exerted on the line when being pulled of the spool. There are two main types of drag systems.

Click and Pawl Reel

click and pawl reel
The Click and Pawl is the most common. It is of a simpler design and is the less expensive of the two. It consists of a toothed gear that is limited by its periodic contact with a pawl, or tensioned wire. The pawl or pawls will provide tension and is adjustable from a know on the casing of the reel. When selecting a click and pawl drag system it is also worthy of noting if the drag mechanism also effects the retrieval process. Some lesser quality reels do not have this feature and can cause spool entanglements during casting. In general, it is better to have the drag effect both line in and line out applications.

Disk Drag Reel

disc drag reel
The second main type of drag system is the disk drag. Disk drags are ideal for larger and more powerful fish. These types of drag systems are common with saltwater, salmon, and steelhead fisherman. The disk drag consist of a smooth plate on the spool and a disk in the reel chassis. The disk is commonly made of cork and is oriented so that it will apply even pressure to the spool and thus create drag. The disk is controlled by a knob on the outside of the spool. The disk drag system will give a much smoother response than the click and pawl system. This is very important when a big tarpon or steelhead makes an explosive run.
Another drag type is the leather drag. This uses the same principle as palming the reel. It is a simple piece of leather that is large enough to protect a fisherman’s finger when applying it to the spool of the reel. This type of drag was employed on older models of reel and is considered an outdated means of applying drag.

As stated above the primary role of the reel is to hold the fly line. Reel spools have two basic dimensions which directly relate to the reels ability to hold line. Diameter and Depth. The diameter is the distance across the reel spool and the depth is the thickness of the spool. Obviously the larger these dimensions the more line the spool can carry. Because fly lines are generally sold in set lengths, it is necessary to provide backing to the reel. The amount of line would be the length of the fly line and the length of the backing. This can be found from the manufacturers reel documentation. The diameter of the spool also contributes to the rate at which line is retrieved. This is especially important when going after large gamefish with single action reel.

Most high quality reels are built from bar stock Aluminum or Aluminum Alloys. This allows reel manufacturers to produce reels precision reels cut on computer aided milling machines. This has led to an increase in performance, reliability, and uniqueness. These reels are now created to allow using the reel as a right handed or left handed rig as well.

Some important concepts when selecting a reel.

  • Action-will a single action reel work for your needs?
  • Drag-Click and pawl is great for most applications but will you be going for powerful fish?
  • Handiness-Can the reel be set up to be left or right handed?
  • Anodized-Anodized reels can be used in saltwater environments.
  • Line Capability- How much line will the reel carry?
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