We expect a lot from our fly reels. We want them to be durable, provide smooth drag (no matter what the conditions), and to look good all while doing so. The pursuit within fly fishing puts us in locations, environments, and weather situations which demand a lot from our gear. When it comes to our fly reels, some are asked to do different tasks. It might be targeting trout in small free flowing spring creeks, tailing bonefish and permit on a tropical flat or striped bass off the rocky coast, salmon and trout in cold rivers, tarpon from the bow of a flats boat, or even shark and tuna in the bluewater. But, the reel which takes the most abuse and is asked to be the most "well rounded" is the 8-10wt sized fly reel. Here is why I think this...
Where machining and anodization really matters
When you are browsing fly fishing reels, there's usually the debate between "fully machined and anodized" vs. "dye-cast/powder coated." These two represent the process in the manufacturing which dictate how the metal was shaped/formed as well as the final "seal" over the metal. Plastic reels are available, but most fly reels these days are made out of metal (usually aluminum). When a reel is "cast" it is created from molten metal which is shaped from a mold. Casting provides a quicker and cheaper process for the manufacturer so you mostly find the lower priced reels made by casts. Further, the result is generally a heavier fly reel (compared to machined) and also a lesser overall build quality. These cast reels are mostly powder coated to protect the metal as well. Machined reels, on the other hand, are built from a single block of metal. Especially with the ability to use CNC machines (Computer Numerical Control), machined fly reels can be built lighter with much tighter tolerances and simply have a better overall build quality. They can also be anodized much easier. You usually see this noted as Type 2, etc. This final process of powder coating vs anodizing can be a big deal. Anodizing is an electrochemical process which essentially creates a finish/coating that is highly corrosion resistant. Powder coating on the other hand is not nearly as durable or corrosion resistant.
So how does this relate more to the 8wt fly reel? Well, the 8wt reel sees the most saltwater. By this I mean that this sized reel (8-10wt rods) is what anglers who are doing a lot of saltwater wading are using. Bonefish on the flats, striped bass off the beaches and rocks, snook in the rolling waves along the beach, redfish in the flood tide marshes...these fishing situations are exposing that reel to a lot of saltwater. The reels are being submerged regularly, splashed by waves, bounced off the rocks, dropped in the sand, etc. This can really test the coating and quality of the reel. The powder coating option simply starts to break down very quickly and does not provide a long lasting corrosion resistant reel. I took a die-cast/powder coated reel out for a season of striped bass fishing here in Maine (beaches and rocks) and the reel showed spots of corrosion within a few months. I even rinsed it regularly.
For a majority of trout anglers, the need for a quality drag system is not required. Lots of trout fly anglers refer to their reels as "line holders" because they strip in their fish. The percentage of anglers using their drags while fishing for trout is much less than those catching larger species. Plus, the class of fish usually targeted with 8-10wt rods can also be tippet sensitive. We might need to go to lighter tippet for those spooky bonefish and permit or those wily Atlantic salmon. We not only need drag on our 8-10wt rods, but we want low startup inertia and smooth drag quality so we can protect that tippet and not lose fish. This drag also needs to perform flawlessly in all conditions. No matter if it's 100 degrees, covered in ice in 10 degree weather, or having just been sitting in the sand, we expect that drag to sing smoothly when called on.
(photo: Mitchell Powers)
We carry our 8-10wt rods everywhere. We put them on the back of bikes to get to those hard to reach spots, toss them in the back of the truck, bang them off the barnacle covered rocks regularly along the New England coast, sit them in the sand while unhooking/releasing a fish, sometimes fish them for days in the salt without rinsing them off...these reels see a lot. Additionally, they are fished a lot. There are some anglers who are fishing in these situations almost everyday during the season. That's a lot of fishing which requires hardy gear.
What About Bigger Reels?
When you first hook into a tarpon, you want to have the best drag possible. That 11/12wt rod and reel will be put to the test! Yes, we expect a lot from our larger saltwater and big game reels. But most of these species are fished from a boat like tarpon, tuna, shark, etc. This means that they are not subject to the conditions/saltwater/situations as much as their smaller cousins. In the case of Giant Trevally, this is a unique case and the percentage of anglers who are targeting GTs is much less than bonefish, striped bass, redfish, snook, etc. So pound for pound, the 8wt reels are getting the brunt of the abuse.
Words + Photos: Josh Thelin (except where noted)