Reel Features


Let's identify the various fly reel features and terminology in an effort to determine whether or not they are important to your kind of fly fishing.  As is elsewhere emphasized time and again throughout the School's Courses, the place to start in evaluating your specific needs for reel features is to ask yourself, "What am I going to be fishing for?"

To go directly to a description of a specific feature and why/when it is needed, click the text below, or read through the table.

adjustable drag l anodized l anti-reverse l big game l cartridge spool l cast reel l counter weight l direct drive l disc drag l double click l exposed rim l high speed retrieve l machined reel l removable spool l reversible retrieve l single click l  spool capacity l spool diameter l spool width l wide arbor

For purposes of instruction, the table below suggests what types of fishing require, or are best suited to, the various reel features.  It is a rather generalized, simplified outline, but it will give you a good basis from which to further explore and experience your particular fly fishing needs.


What does it do?

When is this feature needed?

"adjustable drag" enables you to increase or decrease the drag by turning a knob on the frame of the reel generally speaking, helpful when fighting fish you have to "play from the reel"
"anodized" the finishing process which coats reels to resist corrosion mandatory if you fish in saltwater; and helpful everywhere
"anti-reverse" keeps the reel handle from spinning as the spool spins (at up to 12,000 rpm); hence it doesn't bang your knuckles
(as opposed to "direct drive" reels)
for fighting very large fish or those that have power (something like a Bonefish, Tarpon, etc.)
"big game reel" this is a generic term for larger, beefier reels designed for bigger fish when fishing for larger species
"cartridge spool" newer style of plastic interchangeable spool that is less expensive than a metal spool (extra cartridges cost $12-$30) encourages the use of multiple lines with the same reel as the cost for the cartridges are not prohibitive
"cast reel" a reel that is made by casting individual parts from a mold & assembling together
(as opposed to being "machined")
perfectly adequate for all but the most demanding fly fishing
"counter weight" "counters" the effect of a rapidly rotating spool handle to provide added stability nice feature, but not really important until fish are consistently big enough to take line from your reel
"direct drive" reel style with the handle connected directly to the spool providing a 1:1 retrieval; the spool rotates one full turn for each turn of the handle (as opposed to "anti-reverse" reels) this is the most popular & commonly used, suitable for all but the largest fish
"disc drag" drag system which uses a compression/disc mechanism to aid in slowing outgoing line very helpful for fish that will regularly require you to fight them from the reel
"double click" drag system which uses a two-pawl drag mechanism a bit stronger drag than single pawl, but still designed for smaller fish
"exposed rim" allows you to "palm" the smooth edge of the spool for added drag nice feature to have on any reel, but not actually used until a fish is big enough to "get into your backing"
"high speed retrieve"
greater than 1:1 line retrieval rate (up to 1:2 ratio), gives faster line-in for each turn of the handle (as opposed to "direct drive" reels) when fishing for large fish known to take lots of line which requires rapid retrieval to the reel in order to control them
"machined reel" a reel that is made by stamping it out of a single piece of metal
(as opposed to parts being "cast")
this is another "nice-to-have", but not necessary to reliable reel performance; mostly a quality/price issue
"removable spool" allows you to easily remove the spool from the reel frame (extra spools might cost up to $100 or more) common feature; good to have so you can use a variety of lines with one reel (e.g., switch from a spool loaded with floating line to one with a sinking line)
"reversible retrieve" allows you to alter/change the spool so you can reel from either side of the frame common feature; helpful if you change your mind about which hand you use to "reel the reel"
"single click" drag system which uses a single-pawl drag mechanism adequate for smaller fish, such as trout or panfish, that pull little, if any, line from the reel
"spool capacity" the amount of line (fly line & backing) a spool will hold relates directly to the rod to which it will balance just be sure you match the reel's line capacity with the fly rod & the type of fishing you will be doing
"spool diameter" critical measurement to consider to be sure it matches with the intended use of your rod most "everyday" spools will be 3" to 3 1/2" wide; "big game"/saltwater reels are as wide as 4 1/2"
"spool width" "standard" reels are 11/16" to 1" diameter "wide arbor" reels are up to 1 1/2" spool width
"wide/large arbor spool" more surface area results in a slower line-out speed & faster line-in speed (higher retrieve ratio) and more consistent drag pressure for fighting very large fish or those that have power (something like a Bonefish, Tarpon, etc.)

Next, let's take a closer look at the various drag systems available in fly reels: