Buying Guide: Best Fly Fishing Reel For The Money (2019)

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By Bryan Rucker •  7 min read

With summer on its way, many fishing enthusiasts are looking forward to hitting the lakes and streams for fly fishing. Anglers who have been using fly reels for years know all the ins and outs of buying one. However, those who have never bought one before have a lot to learn. There are literally hundreds of different styles out there. But, you need to be careful because not all reels are created equal. You need to find the right one that fits your needs and your budget.

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Common Features Of The Fly Reel

The fly reels all have the same characteristics, as they are mechanical devices that allow you to hold, release, and then retrieve the line. They have a handle attached to a spool that allows the angler to keep the fish from pulling the entire line from the spool. There is a bracket that allows the reel to be attached to the rod. A fly reel gives the angler an experience, unlike traditional fishing. Part of the charm is that the angler gets to fight the fish directly. The reels are simple because it is a man versus nature battle, and it has been done this way since the dawn of time. While other reels are getting more sophisticated and practically reel the fish in for you, a fly reel allows the angler to control the battle with their brute strength.

Types of Fly Reel Retrieval Mechanisms

A fly reel has three specific types of retrieval systems; they are single action, multiplying, and automatic. The single action reel is the most popular and abundant style of reel found today. They are easy to operate, and each turn of the handle equals one full turn on the spool. These are used in all sorts of fishing applications, but they are especially liked in rivers, freshwater lakes, and streams settings.

The multiplying retrieval system allows the angler to bring the line onto the fly quicker. There is a confusing network of gears that turns one of the fly reel handles, and one turn is equal to two or more turns on the spool. Though this type of reel is acceptable in some situations, river fishing is not designed for these types of reels. These types are best when used in a saltwater or deep lake fishing applications.

The automatic reel has a reputation for being a bit temperamental. It can be a little hard to change the spools too. However, this reel will retrieve the line without the angler working to turn the spool. This reel has a trigger that allows the fly line to zip back into the reel when engaged. It is not good for freshwater applications, and it is also not good for river fishing. However, many prefer these rods when they are fishing in salt water or larger lakes. They all three are great options, but it depends on where you are fishing in regards to the style you should use.

Large-Arbor, Mid-Arbor, and Small-Arbor Reels

Just as important as the retrieval system is the arbor size. There are three major types of reels, standard arbor, mid arbor, and large arbor. For those who are looking for a more traditional style design, the standard arbor size is sufficient. It is the style found on older rods and is smaller in size. It does not pick up the line quickly without some backing in reloading. Many look to the standard reel because it has significant weight savings. Though most reels are lightweight anyway, the standard arbor reel has a significant reduction in weight because it takes less material to make them.

On the other end of the spectrum, the large arbor reel is a whole different ball-game. It allows the angler to reel in their line up to two times faster. It has the high-tech look that so many want, and it makes the angler’s job easier. However, all of this convenience comes with some additional weight. These reels are made with a high-end aluminum that more bulky than heavy. Those who want to go a grade above the standard arbor may look to the mid arbor reel as a compromise between the two. They are a safe bet in between the two arbors.

Manufacturing Process of Fly Reels

Most of the fly reels are manufactured from a light metal of magnesium or aluminum. Due to the fact that the weight of the reel is so important, some choose reels made from graphite or composite materials. The reel’s frame and spool typically have holes in them to help reduce the weight. This also helps the line to dry once the line is all rolled. There are some extremely light models that use counter weights to help offset the weight of the handle. When you have a fish running really quickly, this little feature becomes important. The weight of the handle can cause the reel to become unbalanced. This will cause your drag to falter and possibly break the line. Additionally, the aluminum frames are anodized to help protect them from corrosion.

Other Shopping Considerations

Another important factor to consider when buying a reel is the drag system. On today’s market, you will find three main types: click and pawl, disc drag and the turbine system. The click and pawl system is often called the “click-click” mechanism. A spring loaded ratchet on the gear is used to create the drag. To adjust the drag, simply increase the spring tension for more or less braking action. Some reels have single or double click pawl drag systems. The only difference is the number of spring loaded ratchets that contact the gears.

The disc drag system uses a process that includes friction discs. Just the same is in the “click-click” system; the drag is adjusted by increasing the friction through an adjuster on the reel. Higher quality reels are typically equipped with this feature. It gives a much wider range than their counterparts. The friction disks can be made of composite or cork. Both the disc drag and the click and pawl systems require drag to be adjusted when reeling in a fish. This stops the fish from running too far.

The latest system to hit the market is the turbine system. This system is covered in a special multi-viscosity fluid that provides the smoothest drag around. You do not need to adjust the drag when reeling in a fish. The system automatically adjusts based on the speed the fish is traveling. There are also some combination systems that mix the turbine drag with the disc drag for the best of both worlds. In general, the disc drag is the most popularly used system today.

Leaping into the world of fly fishing provides nonstop adventure. Many start out with basic rods and reels and upgrade later as they become more experienced. Some say the best reel is made from aluminum, has a mid or large arbor, and it uses a turbine drag system. Be careful in your selections. These reels can start at around $50 and go up into the thousands. It pays to know what you are shopping for before you head to your local sporting goods store.

Bryan Rucker

Brian Rucker has spent his entire life participating in essentially all things wildlife. His concern grew astronomically during the previous tensions between the United States and other nations. He also has grown a substantial interest in survival and sustainability due to the current shape of the world over the years. He believes that preparation triumphs all things.