When an individual with a background in engineering develops a passion for fly fishing, the world should rejoice. Great things happen when these two traits combine, and it is how many of the fly fishing reels we know and love today were initially developed. As fly fishing becomes more popular and technology becomes better and better, improvements to existing reels have been made, and today’s modern fly fishing reels are exceptionally advanced pieces of technology. We take a look at the development of fly reel technology over the years, that has helped the production of some of the top reels available today.
From humble beginnings
While the original fly fishing reel looked somewhat similar to the ones we use today, it was mechanically very different. These initial reels were designed primarily to hold line and counterbalance the weight of the rod when casting. As fly fishing was predominantly a freshwater activity to begin with, aspects of a fly reel such as drag were less important than they are today. Looking at a fly reel, it’s hard to see that much has changed from the original design patented by Charles F Orvis in 1874. This first reel featured the use of light materials for construction, as well as multiple perforated holes to keep weight down.
A majority of these early reels had the handle on the right side, instead of the left as it is commonly seen now (though most are interchangeable). What’s more, these reels generally didn’t have a drag system, simply a click/pawl mechanism designed to prevent the reel from overrunning as line was stripped from it. When a fish was hooked and running, the angler had to apply hand pressure to the rim of the revolving spool (referred to as “palming the rim”) in order to slow it down. Basically, this was a crude, simple drag system that could cause discomfort and injury to your hands if done improperly.
To where we are today
How Fly Fishing Reels are made
As fly fishing gained more and more traction, particularly in the salt, drag became more important. Click and pawl mechanisms were modified to offer a limited but useful range of adjustable drag settings, which was adequate for small fish but still not up to the challenge of slowing down a monster with fins. Further research and development brought about fly fishing reels with the sophisticated disc dray systems that we use today. These systems are still being improved constantly, with modifications to their range of settings, consistency, and resistance to high temperatures from drag friction.
Another area where fly fishing reels have seen a great deal of change is in arbor size. Initially, almost all reels were small in diameter, and those that were made larger were often too heavy to use. As lighter materials became popular for fly reel construction, the arbor size could be increased without compromising the weight of the reel. This meant that more line could be stored on the reel, and line memory was reduced, as well as facilitating faster retrieval. Today, large arbor reels are particularly important for saltwater fly fishing.
And into the future
Both fresh and saltwater fly fishing reels are still being improved today, and will likely be for years to come. Drag systems are being improved to become more and more sensitive, and automatically adjust to the amount of resistance that is suitable for the amount of tension being applied. In addition, lighter aluminum and alloys are always being sought after in order to cut down on the weight of these reels. When it comes specifically to saltwater fly fishing reels, corrosion is still a problem, particularly to the internal components of the reel. This is being countered by the development of completely sealed drag systems, as well as new anodizing techniques.
There is still a way to go before the “perfect” fly fishing reel is developed, but there are definitely enough reels of exceptional quality on the market already to keep even the fussiest fly angler happy.