Fly reels

More than just a convenient way of storing your fly line, the right fly reel used in the right setting will increase your control over a struggling fish appreciably.

While all anglers agree that a casting reel must be properly designed if it is to work efficiently, many feel that the fly reel is a very unimportant tackle item. This may be because in fly fishing the reel has no influence on the cast, whereas in other modes of fishing the reel has a dominant effect on distance. But the fly reel is an item which warrants careful thought, because a fly reel often does more than a fixed-spool when playing a fish.

There are several reasons for this, and one is the faster runs made by game fish when compared with most coarse and saltwater species. Fly lines are thicker than monofilament so a fly reel empties quickly and as the line pile gets smaller so the spool turns faster. Under these cir-cumstances, if the spool is a poor fit within the reel frame it will jam and the fish will be lost.

Three basic types of fly reel

Fly reels fall into three basic categories: the single-action type where the drum moves one revolution for every turn of the handle (on a well-filled trout reel this recovers approximately 8in of line); the multiplier type where the drum performs perhaps two revolutions (thereby recovering approximately 16in of line) for every turn of the handle, and the clockwork or automatic type where the spool is driven by a spring. This spring winds itself up when you take line from the reel.

The basic function of any reel is to hold a sufficient quantity of line for the type of fishing being practised. Once that condition has been satisfied, reels become increasingly sophisticated. There are different methods of fly fishing and reel requirements will be different for each.

To illustrate this, imagine an angler fishing wet fly downstream on a small brook, where the trout average 8oz and where the record for the water is under lib. The angler makes short casts. He carries little slack in his hand and there is no need to give line when a fish is being played. Such a situation imposes minimal demands upon the reel.

A simple, single-action model will do all that is needed, for the reel does little beyond serving as a convenient line store. The multiplier and the automatic would also be suitable but in the situation described their more sophisticated features would not be used to full advantage and may be altogether unnecessary in this setting.

Problems on chalkstreams

Now let us imagine a different situation. Our angler is fishing a dry fly on a southern chalkstream. The distances he will cast will be greater and sometimes he will switch quickly from short to long. Because he is casting upstream he will often have a lot of slack line. The size of the fish varies from an average of lib, but there is a good chance of a three- or even a five-pounder. Due to the clear water a fine leader is used, so when a hooked fish makes long runs our angler sometimes has to follow. Again the single-action reel could deal with this but anglers find that in this setting the quicker recovery afforded by a multiplier is an advantage. Other anglers may find that an automatic reel gives them still more advantages, for the automatic recovers line even faster than a multiplier. Close control can be vital, particularly when you have to get up off your knees, quickly wind up the slack and then follow a big fish down the river.

Now visualize an angler wading the shore line of a large reservoir. He is casting about 25 yards and working his flies back by bunching the line in his left hand. When the flies are two-thirds of the way back a fish takes. The angler wants to get the fish under proper control as quickly as he can but has about 16 yards of slack line to deal with.

Again the single-action reel will cope but it will take so long to wind up the slack (over 60 turns) that some anglers ignore the reel completely and resort to stripping in the line to try to keep in touch with their fish. Many highly experienced anglers find this less than satisfactory, and again use either a multiplier or an automatic to wind up the slack to get them more quickly into tight-line control.

The reel’s important function

These examples show the very different settings which exist in trout fly fishing. There are lots of others, but those described show not only that the reel has an important function, but also how the requirements will vary.

The average single-action reel is around 3V&in in diameter. With the aim of getting the fastest possible recovery, the spool is sometimes so narrow that you cannot get your finger between the flanges to control the spool when the fish runs. This can be a problem and is something to watch out for. To overcome this the spool edge is sometimes swept up and over the outer edge of the reel frame. This ‘exposed rim’ makes a readily accessible braking surface but it is not without hazards.

The rim is vulnerable to bangs and knocks (aluminium is a soft material and dents easily). If the rim gets distorted it can bind on the frame and the reel will jam. Equally, the ‘wrap over’ flange is a trap for dirt and grit. One grain is enough to make the reel stick.

The design of the multiplying fly reel is virtually the same as the single-action, except that the handle is not fastened direct to the spool but is connected by a train of gears. These gears enable one turn of the handle to drive the spool round more than once.

Advantage of high gear-ratio

To get the quickest possible recovery a high gear ratio would seem to offer the best advantage, but beware of reels that are overgeared. The highest practicable ratio is less than 2:1, for when you go higher (faster) the gears work against the angler to such a degree that it becomes almost impossible to turn the handle.

Most single-action and multiplying fly reels have a permanent click-check to stop the spool overrunning. On the best reels the tension of this check is adjustable to suit the breaking strain of the leader being used. The adjustment is made either by a milled screw, an adjust-ment cam, or by moving the click 8 spring across an adjusting rack. ‘? Each method works equally well. Another feature found on better £ grade reels is the facility to change spools quickly, so affording the opportunity to switch lines (floating, sinking, and so on).

The automatic reel

The automatic reel has no handle and line is recovered by a spring. The spring is wound by the action of pulling line from the reel. When the angler wants to recover line he releases a trigger and the line is rapidly wound back (20 yards is rewound in approximately five seconds). Some anglers find the extra weight of the automatic a disadvantage, but the enthusiastic user will tell you that the greater control he has over hooked fish more than compensates for the extra weight.

Care is needed when purchasing an automatic as some of the reels available are too small and will barely handle the most popular size lines in use today. They accept a size 4 but will not handle a double taper 6 plus a reasonable quantity of backing. Again, make sure that you choose a reel with the facility to change the spool. This gives you all the advantages of having several reels when you want to switch from one type of line to another.

Any fly reel, whether it is a single-action, a multiplier or an automatic, should be fitted with a well-designed guard. Without this, the action of stripping out line will wear a groove in the reel frame.

There are so few moving parts in a fly reel that maintenance is hardly worth mentioning. An occasional spot of oil on the spool spindle takes care of the revolving parts and a liberal smear of grease on the check pawl is all that is needed. With the automatic, follow the maker’s instructions regarding oiling.

Beware of dismantling the re-wind mechanism because if the spring is disturbed getting it back can be tricky. It is advisable to leave it alone and let the maker’s own service centre check it over every two or three years.