Fly fishing equipment: reels and accessories

There is cheap tackle and there is expensive tackle. Nowhere is this price range wider than in fly reels – from under £15 to several thousand. However, pretty well all – even the cheapest reels -should do the job.

A reservoir

A reel – an encumbrance on your rod -should be as small and light as possible, provided it can hold your line and backing without fouling the frame of the reel.

Fly lines are bulky. Reels are usually rated for the size of line they hold, but a low density floating line may be a size or two bulkier than an ordinary floater or a sinking line.

Spools can be narrow with a large diameter, or wide with a small diameter. The large diameter reels retrieve line quicker – each turn brings in more line – and the line is stored in looser coils, so it isn’t stiff and full of ‘memory’.

Giving out line

All reels have some form of brake or drag to stop the spool revolving freely. This prevents the spool from over-running as line is pulled off when you cast and when a fish runs. It also tires the fish. At its simplest, the drag is a spring-loaded pawl; at its most sophisticated it can be an adjustable thrust-bearing or disc brake. The value of such sophistication in trout fishing is debatable.

Retrieving line

Most British reels are simple winches. This has two advantages. First, there is little to go wrong in the reel itself, and second, an angler is in direct contact with the fish. The disadvantage is the slow speed of retrieve. It can take some time to wind loose line on to the reel. And two hands are needed to reel in the fish. In fact, you really need a third hand to hold the landing net. But there are ways round this.

Geared reels increase the speed of retrieve. Many Continental anglers use single-handed automatic reels which rewind by a clockwork spring or an electric motor. Inevitably, though, these reels are heavy.

A good compromise, rarely seen in Britain but found everywhere in Europe, is the semi-automatic. Line is wound on by pumping a lever with one finger of the rod hand. This reel is fast, very light and single-handed.

Other equipment

There is much innocent pleasure to be had in accumulating fishing tackle. But beware: when you buy yourself a super fly-fishing waistcoat with thirty-six pockets, you’ll find thirty-six things to fill them. It’s best to fish light.

Fly boxes Dry flies are best kept loose in small compartments to avoid distorting the hackles. If these compartments have separate lids a malicious wind cannot empty the whole box in one gust. Wet flies can be stuck into flat or ridged foam containers. Avoid using metal clips or springs: they can blunt the hook point. It is a good idea to have large boxes to stock and organize your collection and a small box for a working selection at the water.

Floatants Dry floatants come in aerosols, powders, liquids and grease. To carry less gear when fishing, soak the dry flies in a permanent floatant for a couple days. Then they’ll float all season long. Leaders can be treated to sink or float, to reduce their visibility or to keep a nymph just below the surface.

Clippers If your teeth won’t do, you’ll need something to trim excess nylon: small clips are safer than scissors, but it is easy to drop these. Attach them to your jacket on a spring-loaded reel. Always carry a small pair of side-cutting pliers. These can save a trip to the hospital if you get a fly embedded in some part of your anatomy. Push the barbed point through and out and snip it off: then withdraw the hook. You can also use the pliers to flatten hook barbs for catchand-release. A torch If you want to fish after dark or even into the dusk a small torch is invaluable. It can be clipped to the jacket, or you can hold it in your mouth to leave both hands free.

Nets To all but a boat fisherman a landing net is an inconvenience for most of the time. Occasionally it’s an essential item for the river fisherman. The best river nets have a rim of collapsing spring steel and are housed in a holster to keep them away from brambles and barbed wire. Stillwater nets should have long handles and a wide, fixed rim.

Thigh boots and chest waders. These are invaluable for the river fisherman. A wading angler can keep low and manoeuvre into the best positions to cast. Even ashore waders keep your legs dry from a dripping jacket and dew-covered foliage.

Whether you purchase chest or thigh waders depends on the depth of water you usually fish. The best investment in the long run is to get stocking waders of both sorts with separate wading boots. Underwater surfaces – rocks especially -can be very slippery: always buy either studded or felt-soled waders – or get a really good insurance policy. Sunglasses. These are eye-protectors first, fish-finders second. The lenses should be polarized to reduce reflected glare and as pale as possible to transmit maximum subsurface light.

Bags All this equipment must be carried in something. The traditional bag or creel is fine for the boat fisherman for whom weight is no object. For the river fisherman the modern fly fishing waistcoat can carry everything you need in the numerous pockets and D-rings. But as with the traditional bag, the weight is carried on your shoulders which can tire you during a long day’s fishing. A practical alternative is a fisherman’s ‘bum bag’ which is worn around the waist.

So when boat fishing on stillwaters, you can take a mountain of gear. When you are river fishing, however, remember that it’s best to carry as little equipment as possible – the minimalistic philosophy is of vital importance.