Why Does Fly Reel Size Matter?
Updated: Jun 10
When shopping for a new fly reel, do the dimensions of it factor into your decision to purchase?
Particular sizing of a reel might seem relatively insignificant, but if a reel doesn't "measure up" so to speak, I won't buy it. Reel width and diameter do indeed influence performance and functionality to some degree, so those attributes should definitely be something that's considered. Let's explore some of the basics of reel size...
Reel and Arbor Diameter- The size of a reel's arbor and, more importantly, its overall diameter, have a big effect on retrieval rate. Here is some cut and paste from a previous article I wrote explaining why that is:
The arbor of a reel is the center of the spool. Some may even refer to it as the bottom of the spool or its core. This core is very narrow on a standard-arbor reel, while on a large-arbor reel, it's much wider in diameter. Think of it like a toilet paper roll (standard arbor) vs. a coffee can (large arbor). There's also mid arbor, which is between the two. A reel with a bigger arbor can often retrieve more line per turn of the handle, but that's not only because of the bigger arbor size.
With the increased arbor diameter, a large-arbor reel's overall diameter should be increased as well.
If only a reel's arbor is made bigger but not the overall reel's diameter, two problems arise. First, think of standard and large-arbor reels that are both the exact same overall diameters. Once the reels are packed full of line and backing, the line circumferences would be equal. As a result, the retrieval rates of these reels would be about equal, too. Second, the backing capacity would suffer greatly on the large-arbor reel since the arbor is taking up all that useful space at the center of the spool. The large-arbor reel will run out of backing first since it holds less.
To compensate, a large-arbor reel should have an increased overall diameter. The larger arbor and larger overall size offers the best of both worlds: a bigger circumference for a faster retrieve speed (regardless of how much line is on the spool), along with good backing capacity. That's why if you compared a standard and large-arbor reel that were both perfect for, say, a 5-weight line, the large-arbor reel should be the bigger of the two. You can read more on large arbor reels here.
Spool Width- When cranking line, it's best to use a finger to guide the line back onto the spool evenly. The narrower a reel is, the easier it is to distribute the line evenly because your finger doesn't have to travel back and forth so far across the spool. For me, this helps maintain a fast retrieve speed without having to readjust or concentrate quite as hard on what my finger is doing. Keep in mind, though, that a narrower large-arbor spool will lose some backing capacity compared to a wider spool, but giving that reel a wider spool would add weight.
Retrieve Speed Benefits- A reel with a rapid retrieve makes it easier to keep up with fast-running fish and lets you reel in your line quicker when it's time to try another spot. Relating to that second point, if you're able to crank in and move from spot to spot just a little faster each time, all those saved seconds over the course of a day can add up to give you some additional time for extra casts.
The Ideal Size- I like a reel to have a large arbor, healthy diameter, and relatively narrow spool. Functionality aside, I find a reel like this to be well proportioned and just more sleek and attractive to look at. A reel that's super wide and/or has an overall diameter that's too small or, yes, too big, can look a bit funky when mounted on a particular rod.
I'm a big fan of the Abel Super Series (now discontinued) and really like the proportions of them. Abel simply does a great job designing reels that strike a balance between efficient function and looks. Of course, there is some wiggle room there, but I consider these reels (and others in their lineup) to be my personal "baselines" when it comes to size comparisons. What I mean by that is, if I'm shopping another brand, I'll often refer to the spec page of an equivalent Abel reel to see how the competitor's dimensions compare.
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