A fly reel from a well-known brand that comes pre-spooled with line and backing for under $100? If that sounds like complete baloney, you'd be wrong. Cheeky Fishing hasn't been around as long as some of the competition, but that hasn't stopped them from making big waves in the industry. Pushing the envelope even further for 2019, Cheeky has now introduced their new PreLoad series of reels. Currently consisting of a 350 (5/6) and a 375 (7/8) model, each one is priced at just $99 and comes loaded up with 20-pound Cheeky backing, fly line, and even a tapered leader.
Line Size: 7/8
Advertised Weight: 4.7 ounces
Diameter: 3.75 inches
Spool Width: 1 inch
Backing Capacity (20 pound): 100 yards
Drag: Stainless/Composite Disc Drag
Tested Max Drag: Around 2 pounds
Machined/Cast: Die-cast Aluminum frame/spool with machined parts
Easy Release Spool: Yes (twist-off center cap)
R/L Conversion: Yes
Reel Pouch: Yes (neoprene)
Tested Reel Price: $99.00
PreLoad reels are designed with die-cast frames and spools along with machined components like the handles, center caps, drag knobs, and reel feet. I found the overall look of my 375 tester to be really attractive. The construction is very "open" which not only looks great, but also makes for a nice lightweight reel.
Despite the price point, the finish, casting, and machining was nicer than I had expected—no complaints there. As always, keep in mind that die-cast reels do typically lack the overall durability and refinement of a quality fully-machined reel.
The spool to frame connection felt nice and tight as did all other components. This really helps amplify the solid feel of any reel which is always welcomed. I do wish the tolerances between the frame and spool were tighter, though. With the fly cut off and line/leader all wound in, when just playing with the reel I found that the end of the tippet would constantly slip between the frame/spool. Also, when stripping off line at an angle, I found that the fly line would sometimes bind or rub hard against the corner shown above due to its design.
The drag of any fly reel is of utmost importance, so lets start there. This reel uses a partially-sealed drag comprised of stainless/PTFE composite discs. The maximum drag pressure I was able to eek out registered only around 2-pounds. At moderate and especially higher settings, I did find a fair amount of startup inertia when first pulling line off the spool, and the drag would continue to stick/jutter a bit when line came off the spool very slowly. When line was pulled off at anything but those very slow speeds, the drag performed with decent smoothness.
It took a little over 2 1/2 turns of the rear drag knob to go from minimum to full drag. Through the usable part of the drag the clicks/detents are on the light side. The knob has nice grip and is easy enough to grasp, but could be a little taller, especially at those higher settings as the knob slightly lowers down into the frame as you increase tension.
I did notice some light vibration in the reel when stripping line off at a rapid pace. Since I only caught largemouth on this reel during testing, their short, slower runs weren't enough for me to notice the spool vibration while fishing. For the most part, it likely won't be noticed unless perhaps you hook into a real hot, fast fish like a steelhead or bonefish.
The machined handle is tapered and sized nicely and is very smooth to spin on the post. It is also affixed to the spool quite tightly so there isn't any play or slop when cranking fast. The retrieve is buttery smooth and silent. I also like how the spool isn't too wide which makes line leveling easier. Slapping/smacking the spool will spin the spool a few times if that's your preferred way to pick up loose line in a flash.
To remove the spool, just unscrew the center cap and separate the spool from the frame. The cap is quite thin but has good texturing around the outside so it's real easy to manipulate. A nice feature here is that the cap also stays connected to the spool, so you don't have to worry about it coming off and plunking into the drink. The frame also re-seats onto the frame with ease.
The Preload series is a really smart move by Cheeky. Not only do we need more affordable products in the fly fishing world, but a reel like this that comes pre-rigged makes it a lot more attractive to beginning anglers who may want to buy something already set up so they can just go fishing without the hassles. While it may not have the performance or overall refinement of a costlier reel, you simply cannot deny the value the PreLoad 375 represents. For $99 bucks it's a solid buy, and the included Cheeky backing and Cheeky-designed fly line seemed to be of good quality. For many anglers, especially those new to the sport, the PreLoad will get the job done just fine!
Cheeky PreLoad Fly Reels