How to Compare Fly-Fishing Reels

How to Compare Fly-Fishing Reels
In many ways, a fly-fishing reel is similar to a bicycle. A fly-fishing reel, regardless of type, size or construction, contains an arbor, which works similarly to a tire hub; a spool, which works similarly to a bike wheel; and a drag system, which works similarly to a braking system. When choosing a fly-fishing reel, a slow-but-steady approach is best. Understand the key components of a fly-fishing reel and know how each component affects the way you cast your line.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You’ll Need:
  • Fly-fishing reel manual or product feature brochure
Step 1
Compare the construction of the reel. When comparing aluminum fly-fishing reels, consider the finish. An aluminum fly-fishing reel without an anodized finish will corrode and weather if used for saltwater applications. Use uncoated reels only for freshwater fishing; when fly-fishing in saltwater, opt for the anodized aluminum finish.
Step 2
Compare arbor size, which is the spool's center and where fly line backing is attached. The larger the arbor the faster you can retrieve line and minimize slack, control drag-pressure and reduce tangles in your line. Choose a fly-fishing reel with a large arbor (as measured by circumference) if you require greater control over your line when reeling in a fish. Check the pricing for different diameters.
Step 3
Compare by type. Decide if you want a single-action, multiplier or automatic fly-fishing reel. A single-action reel features a spool and handle that attach directly to the spool and is more suited to novice. A multiplier reel features a gear system and offers faster line pick-up than a single-action reel. An automatic reel features a line retrieval lever, which permits fast line retrieval and greater casting control; some purists believe automatic reels take the guess work out of casting, though.
Step 4
Compare drag systems. Choose a spring-and-pawl, if price is a concern. Spring-and-pawl reels are more affordable and are easier for a novice to handle than the other drag systems. Check the attached knob, which increases and decreases drag tension for easy maneuverability. Choose this reel if you are primarily interested in light fishing, which would be akin to fishing for trout or panfish.
Step 5
Choose a caliper, if price and function are of concern. Considered the "middle" option of all the drag systems, caliper features a pad that presses against the braking system, which is located on the spool, and manipulates the speed at which the reel spool rotates. If you choose a reel with this drag system, you'll have to purchase a palm feature because it does not come with one.
Step 6
Choose a disc, if price is not an object. The most expensive of all three drag systems, a disc drag system features a large-diameter pad that presses against the reel spool's braking surface, which provides greater control of the reel and makes for a more efficient drag system. Choose this reel if you will be doing more heavy fishing, which will require a stronger drag system to reel in large fish.

Tips & Warnings

The drag system is responsible for the amount of friction that is applied to a fly-fishing reel's spool.

Article Written By Charlie Gaston

Charlie Gaston has written numerous instructional articles on topics ranging from business to communications and estate planning. Gaston holds a bachelor's degree in international business and a master's degree in communications. She is fluent in Spanish and has extensive travel experience.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.