To start, I would like to bust a myth: Fly reels are NOT only for storing lines! There’s a lot more they can do for you. And when you are catching a sizable fish, they are often the difference between you and the fish on your deck. That is why knowing how to choose a fly reel is mandatory for a successful angling career.
Back in the day, anglers didn’t give fly reels much importance. I, for instance, chose the cheapest fly reel I could get my hands on, unaware of what wonders I was missing. Fast forward to today; I cannot think of going on a fishing trip without my favorite one.
Now, whenever I see young angler starting their fly fishing journey, I always recommend they put enough thought into picking and buying the perfect fly reel for themselves. Here, I’ll discuss some of the critical points you need to consider while choosing the right fly reel.
How To Choose A Fly Reel? – Key Considerations
After learning how to use a fly reel, you need to know about the four main properties that differentiate most fly reels in the market:
- Size And Capacity
- Drag System
- Materials And Construction
- Arbor Diameter
Let’s discuss all of them in detail:
1. Size And Capacity
The primary purpose of a fly reel is to store fly lines and backings. They are sized according to the weight of the fly line they can hold. To explain how to choose reel size, take an example of the 4-6 weight fly reel sizes. They can store 4,5, and 6 pounds fly lines and are ideal for a five-weight fly rod.
When you are out in the market to buy one, always consider what species you are after or what fishing conditions you can expect. Generally, the bigger the fish, the heavier the fly line you’ll need, and thus, the fly reel weight will have to be more significant to match in size. So, what size fly reel for trout? 3-5, probably!
Most angles have more than one fly reel in different sizes to have varying fishing experiences. Also, suppose you need to change sizes often. In that case, cassette reels (like the Pflueger Supqrs Supreme Qrs Fly Cassette reel) are a decent option that comes with a set of acrylic spools of different sizes replaceable to hold various lines.
For fly reel sizes explained more elaborately, check out the fly reel size chart below:
Fly Fishing Reel Size Chart
|Fly Reel Sizes
|Panfish or small bass in ponds
|Small trout, bass, bream, and other small fish in creeks
|Ideal reel size for trout
|Trophy trout, big bass, streamer fishing
|Giant freshwater and inlet seawater fish. Sea trout, big bass, redfish, pike.
|Best for tarpon fishing
2. Drag System
A drag system is what stops a fish after it hooks. It is essentially the difference between choosing a cheap fly reel and a quality one.
Inexpensive drag systems are no good if you try your hands on fish other than trout. They aren’t as smooth and are nowhere near powerful.
Furthermore, the fly reel drag systems can be sealed or unsealed. How to choose a fly reel sealed or unsealed? The sealed drag fly reel has a covering that protects the inner assembly from dirt or salt in the water, keeping it running for a long. However, the unsealed one has no such enclosure and needs vigorous maintenance. There are a few partially seemed reels that lie somewhere in the middle. Saltwater fly reels for most suitable reels for fishing in saltwater.
Here are the two main types of drag assembly you often find in most quality reels;
Click And Pawl
The click and pawl reels feature a small gear against which a small plastic tooth “clicks” to produce resistance against the free-spooling of lines.
- The mechanism is straightforward, with very little that could go wrong
- It is a very lightweight system
- The click sound produced is surreal
- It very easy to maintain due to fewer parts
- Very beginners friendly
- The system is primitive and not as powerful
This kind of drag includes multiple gears and small parts that rotate around each other to produce friction. Most modern fly reels have a disc drag mechanism.
- It is more effective
- More suitable for professionals
- The braking power is considerably higher
- Maintenance can be easy if you use a sealed drag
- It weighs more
- The system is complex due its numerous parts
Which One Is The Best For You?
Click and pawl vs. disc drag? Well, it depends on what kind of adventure you’re expecting. If you are on your way to a small lake to catch little minnows or peaceful trout, you won’t even be using the drag system, so there is no thinking about it. But as the fish gets bigger and stronger, you’ll need more power, which comes from a modern disc drag.
3. Materials And Construction
There are three basic types of fly reels based on their materials or construction techniques:
Few fly reels are polymers or composite and are highly popular among beginners and one-time anglers.
- Plastic reels are the cheapest
- They are very lightweight
- They are usually fundamental and best for beginners
- Plastic isn’t durable
- The finishing may look cheap
Die-cast fly reels are manufactured by pouring molten hot metal (usually aluminum or its alloy) on a mold or die. They are prevalent among most anglers and make for perfect entry or mid-level reels.
- They are considerably affordable
- They weigh more than machined ones
- The finishing is not as great
- They are a little less durable
When a fly reel is cut out of a piece of aluminum with the help of computer-controlled machines, it is called a machined reel. These are the most luxurious ones and offer many advantages.
- Machined reels are much more durable
- The finishing is precise and accurate
- They weigh a lot less
Which One Is The Best For You?
The choice of materials mainly depends on your preference and budget. Plastic or composite reels are the cheapest but won’t last you longer than a couple of fishing trips. Similarly, die-cast ones are better but still not as long-lasting as machined ones. So you need to choose between budget and durability.
4. Arbor Diameter
The arbor is the distance between the inner and the outer edges of the spool. Its diameter is pivotal in determining the performance of a fly reel.
Here are the three fly reel arbor sizes you can get:
Large Arbor Fly Reels
They are the biggest and the most advanced ones. Professionals prefer the best large arbor fly reels for many reasons.
- They produce minimal line memory
- The rate at which they pick up loose lines is swift
- Also, the storage capacity is high
- Best for fishing bigger saltwater species such as salmon, redfish, etc.
- They are chunky and so a hassle to carry and transport
- They may be heavier if not correctly designed
As the name indicates, mid-range reels fall between large and standard arbor ones. They offer large arbor benefits without being too big. Most fly reels available in the market these days fall into this category.
- Line memory isn’t much
- Retrieval rates are middle of the road
- Storage capacity is sufficient too
- They are mid-range but not the best
The smallest arbor size is called the standard one. These are the primitive ones and are not very common nowadays.
- Best to carry around due to the small size
- They create the most coiling lines since they are tightly wrapped around the arbor.
- Pick-up rates are also not satisfactory.
- Storage capacity only suits small fish and water bodies
Which One Is The Best For You?
Again, the arbor síze relies on your needs. If you are hitting the ocean to catch a mighty steelhead, a standard arbor reel with limited storage capacity will rip you off your backing in no time. But such reels may be okay for a small pond or lake.
When you are beginning your journey into fly fishing, choosing the right gear may be overwhelming at first. The market is flooded with options, and there are a lot of terminologies and technicalities that an amateur needs to learn first. And I hope this guide will surely help with your important and necessary question; how to choose a fly reel?
In this guide on choosing a fly reel, I have covered the basics of the most underrated yet crucial part of your fishing gear. You can do your homework here and then visit your nearby fly shop to get a hands-on experience. Alternatively, surf the internet and find the right one for you!
I have elaborated more on the types of fly fishing reels in my blog. Check that out for detailed info.
The Wading Kit is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission, without any extra cost to you. Learn more.
Get reviews of the best 6 weight fly reels along with buying guide. From budget to midrange best 6 wt fly reels from top brands.
Wanna catch a trout on your 4 weight fly rod? Here are some best 4 weight fly reels that you can use. Budget 4 wt fly reels with a good drag
There are dozens of expensive fly fishing reels on the market. Here we have collected some of the most expensive fly reels in the world.
Cleaning saltwater fly reels is important to prolong fly reels life. Here we have discussed why maintaining saltwater fly reel is necessary
American companies make better fly fishing reels than competitors. Learn about top fly reels made in the USA and American fly reels brands
The best 5 wt fly reels are a freshwater angler’s best friends. 5 weight fly reels are right for trout and most freshwater species.