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Anatomy of a Fly Fisherman Part 2: The Fly Reel

My first fly reel

Fly fishing reels come in a staggering variety and are often the most expensive piece of fishing gear that you will ever purchase. A good reel will outlast many rods and with careful maintenance will serve you well for years to come. There are two main types of reels: manual and Automatic. Most fly fishermen wouldn't even bring up the Automatic type of reel but as I'm very partial to this kind, I will. It's the type I learned with and still prefer to this day.

Early fly reels often had no "drag" (brake to keep the fish from swimming away) to stop the fish you had to apply hand pressure to the spool of the reel referred to as "palming the rim". Today, however, most reels have sophisticated disc type drag systems with increased adjustment range and resistance to high temps during braking. Automatic fly reels have a spring-loaded mechanism that pulls the line in by pressing a lever. Popularity of this type of reel peaked in the 1960's and have since been outsold many times over by the manual type because of their limited line capacity and size to weight ratio. As I stated before my first fly reel was this type, and I still hold it near and dear to my heart. I love how slight pressure with my pinky sends the line zipping into the reel which makes setting the hook in a fish on a long cast that much easier. Fighting the fish is always more intriguing with this type also, as you have to keep constant pressure on the lever to retrieve the line while literally pulling the fish in with your other hand. Small brook trout out of backcountry streams almost literally fly from of the water into your hand with the push of a button!

As with other types of fishing, reeling is done with your dominant hand and by tradition fly reels come set up to retrieve with the right hand. If conversion is possible the manufacturer will send instructions for conversion to left hand retrieve if so desired. This can usually be done with nothing but a small screwdriver. I'm a lefty so nearly every fishing reel I use must convert to lefty, when I converted my last reel it was a matter of pulling a small retaining clip and reversing a small gear. Fly-fishing tradition has usually dictated cranking the reel with the hand used to do the fly-casting. However, this requires switching hands with the rod. Using one hand to cast and fight the fish with and the other to operate the reel has more advantages than the traditional switching-hands method. I can't imagine doing it any other way. This traditional method to me seems maddening.

Once your reel is ready and set up for the hand of your choosing attach the reel to the reel seat on the butt section and tighten it accordingly. Make sure the fly reel is hanging below the rod and the handle is on the correct side, also the line guard should face up.

Now that we have the rod and reel assembled you would think that we are nearly ready to hit the water.


We've only just begun our journey. Next we will explore the complex world of fly line. And be sure to "like" HighlandFrog's Facebook page to be notified about future articles and updates!

Tight Lines, Friends!


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