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Getting Started In Fly Fishing - Choosing A Fly Reel

How To Fly Fish Series: How to choose the right reel for your fishing

by Fly Fisherman Magazine  |  January 3rd, 2017



In conventional fishing, the reel is an integral part of the casting process. In fly fishing the reel doesn’t play a role in casting, but it’s still an important piece of equipment. It needs to be sized and balanced correctly for the rod weight. A reel that is too large is heavy and awkward. A reel that is too small makes the rod tip feel heavy because there is no counterbalance. Manufacturers size their reels to certain line/rod weights, so be sure to get a reel that matches your rod.

A good trout reel can run from $50 up to $500. Lower-priced reels are cast: Molten aluminum is poured into molds to form the reel spool and reel housing. More expensive reels are machined or sculpted from blocks of aircraft-grade aluminum. Machined reels have much more exacting tolerances—each piece fits together more closely—and machined pieces are by nature made from harder, more durable aluminum and can withstand more abuse.

Good reels are anodized, an electrolytic process that hardens the reel surface by increasing the depth of the oxide layer on the surface of the aluminum alloy. Anodized reels are corrosion resistant, and more durable.

Arbor size. The arbor is the spindle or shaft at the center of the reel. Some reels are advertised as “large-arbor” reels but hopefully what the manufacturer means is that the reel circumference, width, and the arbor are all larger to help you pick up line faster while reeling, and to store the line in looser coils. If you merely increase the arbor size and leave the reel diameter and width the same, you don’t have a functional large-arbor reel, you merely have reduced the reel capacity.

Drag type. All reels have drag—the mechanical function that controls and slows the line as it comes off the reel. This prevents backlash—not just when you are dealing with a large, long-
running fish but also when you are pulling line off the reel by hand to prepare for casting. A smooth drag can also help protect fine tippets and small flies when you fight large trout. The simplest drag mechanism is click-and-pawl. It has been used in reels like the Hardy Perfect for more than 100 years and it still works well for most trout fishing.

Disk drags work more like the brakes on a car, where a pad rubs against a smooth surface to create friction. The surfaces can be metal, cork, Rulon, Teflon, carbon fiber, and several other types of materials. Disk drags are smoother than click-and-pawl devices, and can apply much more tension. They are required for saltwater fishing, or any fishing where the fish are strong and you need a mechanical advantage to wear the fish out. As a result, many trout fisherman also use a disk drag just in case they hook the big one.