Selecting a Fly Reel
A fly reel in hot new colors consisting of the smoothest and strongest drag, can in some cases, make for the worst of casting combinations with your favorite rod. This week, I've had a couple friends ask for advice on purchasing a fly reel.
The first piece of advice I'd recommend is asking yourself the question of the purpose for purchasing a reel. Will you be primarily using it to seek panfish, bass and trout? Are you going to be hunting for powerful fish that reside in corrosive saltwater?
For the smaller species you can get away with saving some money and purchasing a reel to hold the best line you can buy. If fishing primarily in saltwater, you'll need to select one with protective material characteristics within the reel to resist degradation of the components. I have a couple freshwater reels that I use in estuaries (where freshwater rivers meet the sea). In this case, I make sure the reel is rinsed each and every time I go out and then wipe it down. When air drying the reel, separate the spool and allow to dry for 48 hours (if not fishing in between) before putting it away. This way, the backing that is tightly wound on top of itself can have the best chance of drying rather than building up mildew.
The most important advice I would offer is to take your time and find a reel that fits within your budget and balances perfectly with the rod and line. Yes, the line too. The rod, reel, and line should balance on your index finger as you grip the cork handle. In determining balance, the line should be strung through guides and extended beyond the tip for a distance of one rod's length.
So, with all the choices out there how do you start narrowing the options? Begin from the convenience of your computer. Research how much your rod weighs in ounces. Then, after determining what your options are for reels based on purpose and budget, look up the weight of each reel in ounces. Then you can use these values combined with the AFTM ratings on fly lines to calculate how well each of those reels match up to your rod.
To leverage the effectiveness of your reel in combination with rod and line, Joseph D. Cornwall explains in his article, A Question of Balance, how calculating 1.5 times the swing weight of the rod should equal the weight of a loaded reel. I have used this method in the past and found it to be a great way to begin shopping for a reel.
First, look up the weight of the first 30 feet of your line on the AFTM weight chart in ounces:
Click here for AFTM Fly Line Chart
Second, calculate the weight of the fly line that affects balancing of fly rod forward of reel:
Balancing weight of fly line on rod = (2 x rod length ft /30 ft) x AFTM 0z
Third, calculate Swing Weight of fly rod:
Swing Weight = Balancing weight of fly line on rod + Weight of fly rod in ounces
Finally, calculate weight of loaded fly reel to balance with rod and line:
Weight of loaded reel, line, and backing (oz) = 1.5 x swing weight of rod
This may seem at first a complicated process to begin selecting a fly reel, but it's a lot easier than beginning by trial and error and ending up making a regretful decision. After narrowing the field to a few reels, at minimum do a physical evaluation with rod in the store before purchasing. Some shops will have reels lined for casting evaluations. Take the time and make a well informed investment. You're making a purchase that will be with you for each and every cast you make on the water.
Spend as little as you possibly can and still satisfy the purpose of why you're buying a reel. Spend the money you save toward buying a quality fly line. A quality fly line can actually lengthen casting distance and reduce stress on your joints.
For more information on why the selection of a fly reel should be in balance with rod and line, click on the following article:
A Question of Balance, By Joseph D. Cornwall