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How to Choose a Fly Fishing Reel -Tips for the Beginner

With all aspects of fly fishing there are many options and fly fishing reels are no different.

First of all when deciding on a fly fishing reel it’s first good to look at what type of fishing you are planning to do.

Most of all we want a fly reel to match a rod setup and if we were fishing on a small river using an 8 foot 4 weight or 9 foot 5 weight rod then we need a fly fishing line to match and when we need the line to match we need the reel to match also this means we get a nice balanced outfit.

Check our Reels List here!

Rod length has an impact on the reel you choose

There are many ways to fly fish, from a boat, from the shore chasing many species and really there is not one fly fishing setup that will do them all so it is wise to decide beforehand what fishing method you plan to do
For instance, if standing on a Stillwater fishery there is a good chance you will need a 10 foot 7 weight this will help get you out into the water from the shore especially if there are winds present.

This is not so important if you have access to a boat and you can drift around the lake with your rod and that case and 9 foot 5 weight would be ideal.

Also, inshore saltwater fly fishing you will need that extra push required to get past the breakers, especially with an onshore wind then an 8-weight rod would be better.

If you plan to go fly fishing for predator fish like Pike or Muskies and so forth these require large flies and will require a 9-weight or 10-weight rod to turn over the flies properly and then land these larger fish. So there you have loads of different setups.

You can buy fly rods anywhere from about 5ft up to 15-16ft double-handed spey fly rods and these all require matching with the correct fly line and also the reel, the container for that fly line also needs to match. As you can see there are many options for a fly rod so it’s best to know what type of fly fishing you intend to do first.

On top of the above other options that you can get for the fly fishing reels are drag systems, arbor, which is how the line is coiled on the reel, corrosion protection, weight as in the actual physical weight of the real the lighter the better and how that reel has been machined or pressed out of the materials it’s been made from.

The weight of the reel is important too

As mentioned above fly reels are manufactured in different ways and from different materials. The way in which these are put together makes a difference to the actual weight of the fly reel. The lighter the reel the better as you will be able to fish for so much longer without getting tired.

Rod manufacturers have now made further progress into lighter and lighter fly rods and so the need to match these with lighter and lighter reels is important. You want the rods to sit nicely in your hand when you grab it in the fishing position. If it wants to tip in any direction it means the rod is too heavy or the reel is too heavy for the setup. Ideally, you want it to tip slightly back or lie level in your hand this makes for a nicely balanced outfit that will fish well all day long.

There are reels available now weighing around 3oz for a 5 weight. However, when the fly line and backing is added usually another 1.5 oz it takes you to around 4.5 ozs. The average reel weighs around 4.5-5 ozs taking it to around 6 ozs when loaded something to bear in mind when choosing a rod to go with it.

Reel drag systems – what to look out for

Let’s look at this real drag systems first there are several options again like everything with fishing going from the basic standard click right up to the disc washer system of a sealed drag system. Seal drag means that no debris can get into your system causing problems with the drag making it stutter or stop.

Sealed drag systems are very efficient. The Startup inertia of them is very low and they go to full tension with one turn of the knob compared to other systems that may need several turns. Ideally, you want the tension to turn from high to low within one full turn of the knob any more than that and it becomes fiddly.

Some of these drag systems have been specially machined and manufactured with fiber washers instead of cork washers that is used in the more basic ones. Fiber washers will last a lot longer and give you a smoother drag. It has been noted by many fly anglers that the cheaper reels with cork washers do stutter and stammer when in the drag. If you’re playing a fish and that happens it does not let the fish take line effectively out of the real and there’s a good chance that the hook will come loose.

Like all things and fly fishing the better options are more expensive so it’s a trade-off price versus options. If it’s a dream fishing holiday and you’re going to fish for some tarpon off the Florida Keys it may well be that you purchase a good reel with a sealed drag system ideally with fiber washers because you do not want to lose that fish of a lifetime

On the other hand, if you’re just planning to fish your local river on a weekend basis then possibly a cheaper option will be good enough just keep up on the maintenance of it to keep it working properly.

Small, medium or large arbor?

Next, we have the reel arbor, which is the way the reel spool is set to wind the surrounding line. There are three options really in this, large arbor where fly line pick up is very fast because each turn of the handle brings in a good amount of line, mid arbor which is smaller and each turn will be bringing in less line and then low arbor which is like the old standard reels of past and it means on each coil of the line is small and wound very tightly around the center of the reel.

The small arbor reels of past left fly lines with coil memory on them mean that once you cast a line out after it had been sitting on the rail for a few weeks it’ll be all coiled up sitting on top of the water not very pleasant and not easy to fish.

You can uncoil a line by taking it, stripping it off the reel and stretching it out ideally with a damp cloth in one hand and pulling it through your hand. You can usually straighten it out to get fishing for that particular day but this will happen again the next time you reel it up and store it away for your next fishing session.

That’s when larger arbors came into production as they help you pick up the line a lot quicker with each turn of the reel and it has less memory recoil in your line. Ideally, you want to buy a large arbor reel and most of the manufacturers now make them as standard.

There are a few that seemed to go for the mid arbor as their preferred option as you can carry a bit more backing on the reel so if you’re going for fish that are going to strip loads of line from you the medium arbor might be the way to go. Backing line is getting thinner and thinner and buying a decent backing fishing line you can still get loads on your reel along with your 7, 6 or 5-weight fly line without a problem so the larger arbor will work too.

How resistant to corrosion is your fly reel?

Next, we have anti-corrosion this really depends again on where you are fishing if in the saltwater then it is imperative that you keep an anti-corrosion reel on you at all times but even with anti-corrosion properties it is still advisable that you run it through fresh water when you finish your trip to neutralize the salt.

Metal will rust when damp and even in freshwater fishing in lakes or rivers with a damp reel stored away in a bag and left in the shed or garage there is a good chance that when you come back to get that real to go for another trip there’s going to be some rust on it. You need to look after your gear to keep it in tip-top condition especially if it’s not got anti-corrosion properties built into it.

Rinsing off debris and dirt, greasing the bearing, and cleaning out the drag are all things you will need to do with reels in the lower-end market more than those in the top-end. So if you want one that is maintenance-free or at least minimal then go for the top category.

If you have the budget and I’ll suggest you go for a reel that is made from aluminum and anodized the anodization process is one where an electric current is passed over the surface of the aluminum which causes a coating to be produced on the layer or oxidization. This process then proves the reel from further corrosion and many manufacturers nowadays have fine-tuned this process so that it actually colors the real in a certain way to give it a nice effect to the finish of the reel.

There are other ways of anti-corrosion proofing reels and different manufacturers have different options anodisation of aluminum is one of the most well-known but as long as a reel has protection then you’re good to go. Ideally, a reel that is anodized and has a sealed drag system will last you many years

Reels that don’t have a sealed drag we’ll pick up problems and when you’re out fishing you will get dirt and grime in your reel as you fish, you leave it in the water, in the bottom of a boat, on the banking, so there is a good chance you’re going to pick up some dirt and grime and that will work its way into the disc drag system. If you clean the reel when signs show then it should keep you going for many a fishing trip.

Final thoughts on choosing a fly fishing reel

So that’s the main areas to look out for when choosing a fly fishing reel, are weight, size, drag, arbor, and anti-corrosion. All have their benefits and you will pay heavily for the top options but as a beginner, you can come up with a compromise somewhere your budget allows.

Check our Reels List here!

I hope you found some use of this post and can make a better decision the next time you want to get a new reel.


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