Six Key Factors in Choosing a Fly Fishing Reel

Six Key Factors in Choosing a Fly Fishing Reel thumbnail

If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!

by Keith M.

On any given evening you can search eBay for a fly fishing reel, and be confronted with nearly 1000 to choose from. Hopefully this will help to narrow down your search and single out the one that’s right for you.

1) Start with your fly fishing rod..

For starters, you’ll need to know what weight fly rod you’ll be matching the reel to. Like fly rods, fly reels are designed to work with a certain range of fly line weights. Most reels will accommodate a two or three weight range. For instance, one reel will recommend using an 8 or 9 weight line, and another may be designed for use with 2, 3, or 4 weight lines. As you go from smaller to larger weight lines, the appropriate corresponding reel will generally increase in size and weight. In part, this is due to the need for a larger spool that can hold a larger diameter fly line, as well as a greater amount of backing. A reel for a 3 weight setup may only hold 100 yards of 20# backing, while a 12 weight saltwater reel may need to hold over 400 yards of 30# backing!

2) Balancing your rod with your reel

This is a good time to mention that the actual weight of the reel itself can be a factor as well. When loaded with backing and fly line, the reel you choose should be of such a weight that it balances your rod properly. The balance point should be close to where your index finger naturally rests on the rod’s grip. It sounds odd, but having too light of a reel can make your setup seem heavier than it would if you had a slightly heavier reel that balanced the rod better! Most of the time this isn’t a big issue, but keep it mind, particularly if you’re looking for a reel to mate to a heavier than average rod – bamboo for example.

3) What type of reel frame do you need?

The next question is what kind of reel frame to look for. There are two main issues to consider. One is simple – saltwater or freshwater? If you plan on doing any saltwater fishing, make sure the reel you choose is recommended for saltwater use. These are generally hardier reels with corrosion-resistant finishes (although one should still rinse them off with fresh water after each day’s fishing).

If you’ll be fishing for strong, fast fish like steelhead or bonefish, there is a benefit to being able to reel up slack line as quickly as possible when the fish makes a run towards you.

The second reel frame issue is whether to look for a standard arbor reel or a large arbor reel. The arbor of a reel is the cylinder in the center of the reel that the backing and fly line is wound around. Large arbor reels are relatively recent innovations that can offer a couple of advantages. With a large arbor reel, a single rotation of the spool while reeling results in a greater length of line being retrieved.

If you’ll be fishing for strong, fast fish like steelhead or bonefish, there is a benefit to being able to reel up slack line as quickly as possible when the fish makes a run towards you. The larger circumference will also help reduce fly line memory since your line won’t be wound into as small a coil as it would on a standard arbor reel. Standard arbor reels are not without their own advantages, however. They tend to be lighter and less bulky than their large arbor counterparts, and are often less expensive as well.

4) Is fly fishing really a drag?

Fly Reel Click & Pawl - Pawl Side (TR2 Reel)Another consideration that should play an important part in your choice of reel is the drag system it utilizes. There are two main types of drag systems – the click & pawl, and the disc drag. Click & pawl is a style of spool restraint that uses one or two spring loaded “pawls” that ratchet against teeth on the spool. Disc drag reels use a more sophisticated system where variable pressure is applied directly to the spool via a disc of cork or synthetic material.

Fly Reel Click & Pawl - Tooth Side (TR2 Reel)Smaller, less expensive reels are often of the click & pawl variety. The fish targeted with these reels tend to be smaller trout or panfish, which don’t demand a particularly precise or durable drag system. These fish are usually brought in by stripping line as opposed to having them “on the reel”. If you’ve hooked a fish that requires more drag than your click & pawl reel provides, you can always “palm” the outer rim of the spool for increased resistance.

Larger or more expensive reels tend to incorporate disc drag systems because the fish targeted with those reels may be salmon or steelhead or any number of saltwater species that can give a drag system a real workout. These fish can smoke 100 yards of line off a reel in a few seconds, and require a drag system that will protect your tippet by providing smooth, consistent resistance without overheating. If you’ll be targeting this type of fish, the drag system of your reel is likely to be its most critical component.

5) Right versus Left handed fly reels

Last, don’t forget to choose which hand you prefer to reel with. Many fly reels can easily be converted from left to right hand retrieve or vice versa, but some reels may have to be sent back to the factory for conversion if you change your mind once you’ve made your purchase.

6) Are you fishing for Bass or Bluegill?

By now you’ve probably figured out that if you plan to target larger, faster fish, your reel choice is quite important. You’ll probably want a large arbor model, and you’ll definitely want a high quality drag system. And, this means that you’ll most likely be looking at some higher priced reels. On the other hand, if you just need a “line holder” for your lightweight bluegill rod, your choice in reels is not as critical, and will likely be a less expensive proposition. Of course, there just may be a 6 pound bass lurking in that bluegill pond…

One Response to “Six Key Factors in Choosing a Fly Fishing Reel”