To the seasoned fly fisherman, there is no sound sweeter than the mechanical hum of a quality fly reel, especially when the drag sings under the strain of a big fish. Whether you’re new to the world of fly fishing or are brushing up before selecting your next reel, watch Backcountry Gearhead Brandon Collett run through the basic features you’ll want to consider when looking for the perfect fly reel. Just need a quick refresher? Check out the highlights below.
Like rods, fly reels are assigned a weight designation. The weight is not a reference to the physical mass of the reel, but an indication of what species and fishing style the reel is intended for. Regardless of what species you plan on fishing for, you’ll want to make sure the weight of the reel you choose matches the weight of the rod you plan on using. For example, if you’re fishing a 5-weight trout rod, you’ll want to pair it with a 5-weight reel.
The two basic construction styles for fly reels are pre-cast and machined. As the name implies, pre-cast reels are made from liquid metal cast in a mold. These reels are typically heavier and slightly less durable than their machined counterparts, but they can also be had at a more reasonable price point. The reliable performance and affordable price of pre-cast reels makes them a great choice if you’re looking to get started in fly fishing. Cut from a solid block of metal, machined reels are the strongest and lightest reels available. Although they can be pricey, machined reels are built to last and perform at a high level year after year.
When selecting a fly reel, you’ll also want to consider the type of drag system. The two main types being click-and-pawl systems and disc drags. Compact and lightweight, click-and-pawl systems are ideal for small fish species, smaller rivers, and protecting light tippets. Featuring a disc brake, not unlike those used on a car or bike, disc drags provide the stopping power needed to slow down bigger species of fish.
The last thing you’ll want to consider is the arbor size on the reel you select. Standard size arbors fit easily in a pocket thanks to their smaller size and are generally less expensive than large arbor designs, making them a great choice if you’re shopping for your first fly reel. Large arbor designs increase retrieval rate and reduce fly line memory, helping you fight larger fish and avoid line tangles out on the river.