In fly fishing, the rod is the rock star. It gets all the attention when you’re bragging about the big one from your last trip. On the other hand, reels are the unsung heroes. They’re the studio musicians to the rock star rods, always ready to back you up when you come calling. They’re the ones that make the sweet music (they really do – listen to a big fish running against one sometime), the ones that make catching big fish possible.
Like fly rods, fly reels all look pretty much the same – at first. But you need different reels for different situations. Salt vs. fresh water and fish size are the biggest factors in choosing one. Salt water demands corrosion resistance, fresh water, not so much. You can land a small fish without any help at all from the reel – just strip in the line with your hand. But fighting and landing a big fish requires a big reel with a smooth, sensitive drag system that still has the ability to stop a truck.
MORE GP FLY FISHING: Viewfinder: Off the Grid | Interview With Lefty Kreh | Why Fly Fish? An Essay
Abel Super 9/10N
Best Saltwater Reel: The Abel Super 9/10N, has a Portuguese cork Stop-a-Sub® drag – which should help you out when you tie into a 150 pound tarpon. Fishing in salt water means you need high performance and rust resistance. With the Super you get aerospace grade 6061-T651 anodized aluminum, Teflon sealed aircraft quality bearings, and that Stop-a-Sub® drag system. Ordering one is like ordering a car though. You can get ported or solid sides, have it set up for left or right hand retrieve (although it is reversible), and get it in any one of 43 different colors and patterns plus two versions of black.
Best Trout Reel: The Ross F1 is all about high-tech. It’s designed with a large arbor to help retrieve line faster. It’s got a huge carbon fiber drag system, sealed stainless steel ball bearings, and a proprietary clutch bearing that allows easy conversion between left and right retrieve. The whole drag system is sealed with ten separate o-rings. This means water can’t get in to affect drag performance. The use of carbon fiber throughout the reel makes it both strong and lightweight. In fact, this reel’s got about as much carbon fiber as a Formula One race car. Maybe that’s where it got its name.
Best Small Stream Reel: If the Ross is about high tech, the Hardy Lightweight is about elegant simplicity. The Lightweight has been in production with very few changes for over 50 years. As the name implies, this is a lightweight, light duty reel, made of high-grade anodized aluminum. Spools are easy to change if you need to switch lines. The Lightweight comes in four sizes and features a simple precision spring-and-pawl drag system that’s easily adjustable. And damn! They just plain look great on a 7-foot bamboo rod – perfect for chasing little brook trout in small wooded streams.
Best Vintage Reel: The Pflueger Medalist was discontinued a year or two ago, but we think it deserves a place in this list. It is quite possibly the most popular fly reel ever made. In production from 1929 to 2012, the reel reeks of old fashioned practicality — to say nothing of bullet-proof performance. Many an old-timer — including Lefty Kreh learned to fish with this reel, and many a kid found one under the tree on Christmas morning. If you roll traditional, search eBay and you’ll find plenty for less than $100.
Saracione Deluxe II Trout
Best Classic Reel: Any Saracione reel is a grail reel for a lot of guys who fish with bamboo rods. The Deluxe II Trout supports that reputation in spades. Inspired by the vomHofe reels of old and initially developed in 1991 for a customer who had several antique Paul Young Midge bamboo rods, the Deluxe II is available in four sizes to accommodate lines from 2wt to 7wt. To us, it looks like a time machine fully capable of transporting you to the backwoods spring creeks of Pennsylvania a hundred years ago.
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