How to choose a fly reel?

How to choose a fly reel?

How to choose a reel?

Beginners in fly fishing you will often hear that the choice of a reel is not very important because it is "just a supply of line". It is true that at the beginning the choice of the reel is less critical than that of a rod and a well adapted line. Some characteristics are nevertheless essential and should not be neglected even for a first purchase. Then depending on your practices, your tastes and your budget, the choice of more specialized reels should also be based on understanding a few points.

The main characteristics

We are going to detail the different parameters that go into the reasoned choice of a reel.

The capacity

The reel is used to hold the line. It must therefore be of suitable capacity for this. Nothing is more annoying than a line getting stuck in an undersized reel. It is necessary to take into account the place for the silk, the backing and the leader knowing that:

  • A reel indicated 5/6 is generally intended to contain a WF6 artificial line and a certain amount of backing, sometimes also indicated (for example 100m of 20lb backing). It can always be used for a smaller fly line (WF3 for example) and possibly for a slightly larger fly line (WF7 for example) by reducing the length of the backing or its diameter.
  • A DT line is bulkier than a WF line, so don't put yourself at the upper limit of the reel's capacity if you're using this type of line. Also beware of special profiles that are sometimes very bulky in certain brands.
  • If you do not put backing or little, it is often possible and interesting to take a reel of a smaller size for example 2/3 reel to put a WF4 alone)
  • Similarly, if you use a natural line, less voluminous than a synthetic line, it is possible to take a reel of a smaller size.

Weight and Balance (PTE)

At the risk of clashing with certain conceptions, it seems to me that the weight always benefits from being minimized. In effect :

  • The fisherman's arm carries this weight all day. This is even more the case when fishing with an outstretched arm, such as in fast waters “under the rod” or sometimes as a nymph.
  • When casting, the rapid impulse to be given in a short time requires all the less muscular force as the weight (in fact the moment of inertia) of the rod/reel assembly is lower.

Of course this weight influences another parameter which is important for many fly fishers, namely the static balance of the mounted rod/reel assembly. We are talking about the PTE (total weight at equilibrium) which is the weight of the reel+backing+line assembly allowing the assembly to remain naturally horizontal in balance when placed on the point where you normally position the middle of your hand. Poor balance can quickly tire the muscles of the wrist which will struggle to hold the rod in the desired position.

The interest of a good balance is felt especially when the rod is held horizontally: it is therefore a particularly important parameter for fishing where the rod is kept in this position for a long time compared to the time spent. to launch: fishing under the rod or in a reservoir/lake in particular.

If you have a light and relatively short rod, a light reel brings both weight gain and good balance.

On the other hand, for heavier, long or less balanced rods, it is then necessary to choose between a low reel weight and a good balance with a heavier reel. The indications given above provide you with the first elements for this choice according to your type of fishing.

The diameter

The inner diameter of the spool on which the silk will wind is important:

  • For manual reels (the most widespread): it conditions the speed of retrieval of the line. The larger this diameter, the faster the silk will be recovered, which is a guarantee of efficiency. On a large diameter, the variation in this speed will be less between the start (-line fully extended) and the end of recovery. This also allows a more constant action of the brake and therefore a better adjustment of it.
  • In addition, a large diameter limits the degradation of lines which remain permanently on the reel: the line will have less tendency to corkscrew.
  • Note, however, that if the crank is used to fight a fish, this large diameter requires (a little) more force.
  • And of course the weight of the reel increases with the diameter.

Overall, most anglers favor a large reel size: " large harbor ".

Large harbor reel

A wide harbor narrow spool reel: Devaux D917

On a reel with a small diameter and a large capacity, a large quantity of backing is often added for the sole purpose of increasing this diameter, to the detriment of weight (and drying time, etc.). alternatively offers large harbor adapters for certain reels such as the Vivarelli.

The type of reel

The reels are classified in the first place by their method of recovery of the line:

  • Manual reel : largely the most widespread. A crank is attached to the spool and allows the silk to be brought back by simple manual throwing. 1 turn of the crank brings back 1 turn of silk.
  • Semi-automatic reel : these reels are equipped with a gear activated by a handle or trigger. Here too, it allows you to bring back a fairly large length of line by pressing the trigger. The typical model is the very famous Vivarelli very appreciated by some for fishing in the river and in particular in fast waters or in nymph on the line.

Reel Franco Vivarelli

Franco Vivarelli semi-automatic reel

  • Multiplied reel : quite rare, this type of reel makes it possible, thanks to a gear, to bring back more than 1 turn of line in a single turn of the handle.

Devaux Orok reel

Geared reel Devaux Orok

  • Automatic reel: these reels are equipped with a spring which allows “automatic” rewinding of a long line by simply pressing the trigger. These historical reels like the well-known Cordel are only used by very few fishermen today. They are notably too heavy to properly balance modern and relatively brutal carbon rods.

The brake

Most reels are equipped with a brake (adjustable or not) which increases the force necessary for the rotation of the reel and therefore makes its rotation slower with effort given on the silk by the fish or the fisherman who comes out of the silk. .

Contrary to what some imagine, the first function of the brake is not to fight against the fish but to avoid the runaway of the reel when the line comes out, a source of knots. To do this, a simple brake may suffice as on the "ratchet" reel or a simple ratchet limits the runaway with a characteristic noise.

When the reel is equipped with a real brake, a fine and progressive adjustment is very useful to be able to limit this runaway while not requiring a major effort to get the line out. If this is not the case, it is better to take out the necessary line and hold it by hand or in a throwing basket.

The second function of the brake is to contain the rushes of a fish while preserving the leader. Here again the quality of the drag is its fineness of adjustment and its progressiveness which will allow an adjustment adapted to the leader used and not to the size of the fish sought!

It should be noted that this second function will only be useful for those who struggle with a fish using the handle of the reel: many anglers work the fish by holding the line directly in their hand and in this case obviously the brake cannot play its role.

Finally the power of the drag, often put forward, must above all correspond to the size of the leader used so that the adjustment is fine but relevant: adjust in steps of 2kg a very powerful drag to fish trout on 10/100 of 1kg resistance makes little sense and will not help get the fish out of your life!

The ease of being able to adjust the brake in fishing action can also be important: a slightly prominent wheel of good size facilitates this.

In summary :

  • If you are fishing for small fish (trout < 30cm) and/or struggling by holding the line directly: a simple anti-runaway brake (pawl) or a very progressive brake with fairly low force is sufficient.
  • If you're fishing big and struggling with a reel, a good quality drag that's finely adjustable and progressive in the power range corresponding to the rigs you're using will be invaluable.


Different materials are used for reels, the most common being plastic or graphite resins and aluminium:

  • Plastic resins and graphites : often used for the most economical reels (but not only) this material allows manufacturing by inexpensive molding. It can also offer good lightness at a lower cost as well as natural anti-corrosion. Its robustness and resistance is dependent on the type of resin, the design of the reel and the use made. We can note the Vivarelli in graphite resin whose longevity is well established.

    • Aluminum : Aluminum is currently the standard material for reels. It offers lightness and durability as well as a beautiful aesthetic. There are two types of production:
      Machined (or CNC) : the reel is machined by a numerically controlled machine from a block of aluminium. This construction gives the greatest robustness.
    • Cast: Aluminum powder is cast. This less expensive but less robust construction is also on the way to becoming used on more high-end aluminum reels because it allows designs that cannot be machined, are aesthetic and light.

      • Carbon fibre : it is beginning to be used on certain reels as a partial replacement for aluminium. Weight gain is the main objective as well as a new aesthetic.

      Corrosion resistance and sealing

      If plastic resins are naturally insensitive to corrosion, this is not the case with aluminium. An anti-corrosion treatment (anodizing) is therefore useful and essential for reels used at sea.

      Similarly, the bearing and brake mechanisms are sensitive to corrosion and their sealing is also very useful to prolong their longevity, especially if you are fishing at sea.

      Direction of the reel and reversibility

      The direction of the reel or more precisely the position to the right or left of the crank is important for many anglers who have a preference and habit for a given position.

      There is no absolute rule in this area even if for a right-handed person the crank position on the left is the most common. It avoids having to change the cane hand between throwing and retrieving and in principle allows you to benefit from the best dexterity of the right hand to handle the cane. Obviously to reverse for a left-hander.

      Many reels are reversible and allow you to simply reverse this direction.

      The little details

      Other points are normally less important but may be of importance.


      Coil width and shape

      Without being of the same importance as the diameter of the spool, its width and its shape also condition the pleasure and the performance: a narrow spool with a V-shape facilitates a good rewinding of the line compared to a wide spool and the profile standard in U.

      The crank

      The crank should be long enough to be comfortable to use without becoming awkward. It should preferably rotate freely relative to the spool.

      The colour

      Your choice of course, but in some fine peaches a discreet color without excessive metallic reflections will avoid any risk of scaring the fish. Matte black is perfect for this.

      The beginner's choice

      The beginner in fly fishing generally begins learning to cast with a 9 foot rod of 5/6 fly line. The capacity of the reel will therefore be for this size of line without the need for a lot of room for the backing (useless for a beginner except perhaps in a tank). A simple manual reel will be very suitable, ensuring correct quality (avoiding, for example, problems of blocking the line, which are very annoying), reasonable weight and ensuring correct balance of the rod. The choice between a graphite, cast aluminum and machined aluminum reel will depend on the budget, knowing that it is more relevant for a beginner to put a little more budget in a good quality rod that can support their progression beyond the first ones. months than in the reel.

      The most important points by type of fishing

      This table summarizes the most important parameters according to the use (which does not mean that the others are not of interest but just that they are less essential):



      wire nymph




























      Brake progressivity






      brake power






      Corrosion resistance and sealing






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