In conventional fishing, the reel plays an active role in casting and retrieving the bait or lure. However, in fly fishing, the reel normally spends most of its day simply as a place to store excess line. With that said, the reel is still important and can be extremely important if you're targeting large, powerful species that pull a lot of line. So what key features and functions help make up the average fly reel? Scroll down to find out!
Today's fly reel frames and spools are typically die-cast or machined from aluminum. Die-cast reels are formed from a mold filled with molten metal, while machined reels are cut from a solid chunk of aluminum for added strength and precision. Machined reels can command extreme prices; however, many affordable machined reels do exist.
Reel spools and frames are usually ported. Basically, this means they are designed with lots of holes and openings everywhere. One significant benefit here is reducing the reel's overall weight.
The core of the spool is called the arbor. Fly reel spools are made with standard (the narrowest), medium, or large-diameter arbors. Large-arbor reels are known for rapid retrieves since they have a larger diameter spool and spool core.
Fly reels usually have one of two types of drag systems. The first is the simple click-pawl system. This drag uses a piece of metal (aka a "pawl") that clicks against a small gear inside the spool to produce the necessary drag resistance. This drag system is dependable and has that classic loud clicking sound that some anglers love, but it typically offers little to no drag adjustment. Click drags are often used on certain reels built to handle light to medium-duty freshwater fishing.
Some type of disc-drag system is the most popular for pure versatility and performance. With this setup, friction between discs (commonly cork or synthetic) applies the necessary stopping force. Disc drags can be open to the elements or partially or fully sealed inside a housing to keep out water and grit. They are known to offer smooth operation, a broad range of tension settings, and adjust easily by an outer drag knob.
Startup inertia is something you'll often hear relating to drag system performance. This term describes the force needed to pull the line off the spool initially. A drag with low startup inertia is desirable because the drag will engage smoothly and without any noticeable "stick" or hesitation.
Line Rating/Backing Capacity
Fly reels are rated to hold specific line weights and a certain amount of backing appropriate for the targeted species. For instance, a reel rated for a 5-weight line may only hold 100 yards of backing, which is perfect for trout and other smaller fish a 5 weight is typically used for. In contrast, a big saltwater reel may hold a 12-weight fly line plus 300+ yards of backing, which is appropriate for large species like tarpon and tuna that take extremely long runs.
Note that the length and thickness of a particular fly line may cause the backing capacity specs to change a bit. For example, a narrow-diameter sinking line may INCREASE backing capacity a bit since it takes up less space on the spool.