Fly Fishing Reels, Fly Reel History, Modern Fly Reel Features

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Fly Reel Accessories
Fly Reel History

"Angler on a Wintry Lake," painted in 1195 by Ma Yuan, featuring the oldest known depiction of a fishing reel.

In the Volume I, of the two books set: Trout, Ernest Schwiebert discloses, that four thousand year old bronze fish hooks have been recovered in China. Also, writings from the same period describe fishing methods that incorporate the use of long, slender bamboo rods and silk lines. Also described is a fishing method using kingfisher feathers attached to a gold hook. Although a fly tied on the gold hook may be a loose interpretation. The language of the time leaves some doubt as to whether the feathers were attached to the line or the hook, but there is no doubt that Chinese people were fishing with gold hooks 4,000+ years ago. There is some compelling evidence that they have been fly fishing for nearly the same length of time.
Apparently a well-known painter from the 12th Century China, by the name of Ma Yuan (c.1160-1225), produced a work entitled Angler on a Wintery Lake, which depicts a fishing reel on a rod. It is considered to be the oldest known record of a fishing reel.
According to Wikipedia, Onesimus Ustonson, established his trading shop in 1761, in Redditch England, and is accredited with selling the first British fishing reels there. These reels had spools which were made from wood. Apparently, fly fishing was becoming very popular in England, just before our Revolutionary War.
George Snyder of Kentucky, is credited with developing the first American reel in 1810, a brass bait-caster. Charles F. Orvis, designed and patented his first American made fly reel in 1874. The side plates were formed from brass sheet, with solid brass pillars riveted to hold the reel together; later models were screwed together. The reel was mounted on top of the rod. The Orvis reel spawned a number of copy-cats. The most successful one appeared in 1930. It was called the Pfluegar Medalist, which became the Model "A" of American fly reels- a fly reel for the masses. This was the reel that soldiers returning from WWII used as they rejoined normal society. It was the fly reel of the 1950's through the 1970's. A Pflueger Medalist 1494 1/2 was the first decent fly reel I ever owned.

On the other side of the Pond, in jolly old England, the Hardy Brothers obtained a patent on a reel design made by a totally different process. These reels were machined from aluminum castings. They were smoother operating and longer lasting than their American counterparts. But they were far more expensive to produce. In England only rich people fished because they owned all the good water. In America, everyone could fish because most of the water was owned by the public. The inexpensive sheet-metal reels filled the American marketplace from 1930-1980. American anglers were more mobile, but had less money to spend than their European cousins.
English Hardy Reels are still in demand today. As a matter of fact, they are enjoying an up-surge in popularity, even against escalating competition from fine reels machined in other parts of the world. The American sheet-metal reels have basically disappeared, even though at certain points there were many more produced than machined reels. Now nearly all reels are machined from aircraft aluminum alloy bar-stock. This is because, most reels are made with computer driven metal shaping machines. These machines are very expensive to own, and demand considerable attention by highly trained, expensive people, but they are capable of manufacturing reels that are the best that have ever been produced, and they can produce them in high volume. Now only inexpensive reels are machined from aluminum castings. The best reels, even Hardy’s, are machined from bar-stock.

Modern Fly Reel Features

Let's face it; most reels will land a very large fish, if the angler has the skills and the luck to do so. The 100+-pound tarpon (above) was landed on a reel that weighs 5.9-ounces. How many large fish any reel is capable of landing, is based on a number of factors. In its most basic form, a fly fishing reel is a revolving drum to hold a line, which is attached to a mechanical device to put enough tension on the line to keep a fish under control. This mechanical devise also provides the capability to be attached to a fly fishing rod. Fly reels play little or no part in actually casting the line- such as spinning or casting reels do; in essence, fly reels are pretty simple.
Six ounce fly reels for trout fishing, don't need monster braking, or drag systems to control fish that rarely exceed four pounds. But, they need to operate very smoothly to protect fine tippets and tiny hooks. The bearing surfaces, that the reel spool runs on, have to be friction free. If however, that same reel is taken to a saltwater arena, the requirements of the reel can change dramatically.
A fly reel that weighs 5.9 ounces that can land a 100-pound tarpon has to be designed by someone who has a lot of experience, and that reel has to be made from very strong materials, and to exacting tolerances. Producing a reel of that size and weight, tough enough to land one 100-pound fish- is one benchmark. Building reels that are capable of this kind of performance, over and over again, brings the art of reel-making to a whole different level.

When you take a fly reel to the environment where fish live, chances are that it is going to spend some time under water, either accidently, or on purpose. From this standpoint, no environment is harder on reels than salmon/steelhead fishing. Steelhead just bite better when it is raining, and many return to big rivers where deep wading is necessary. Water (even freshwater) is an oxidant, which means it tends to permeate and breakdown anything it comes in contact with. Water also carries grit, which abrades metal surfaces. This abrasion happens most where metal surfaces bear on other metal surfaces. The more speed and pressure that are applied to these surfaces, the more they wear. Lubrication combats this wear. But, lubrication generally liquefies when mixed with water, and it disappears quickly. These types of reels require regular maintenance. It helps to have a Gilly to tend to your tackle- but most of us don't. All reels, which incorporate a click/pawl friction device, need regular cleaning and re-lubrication. Constant maintenances is also required for reels that have any kind of friction device that gets wet, especially ones that incorporate lubricated cork discs. Cork disc reels are superb for controlling large Ocean fish where the angler is fishing from a boat and the reel stays dry. They are not very reliable if they are getting dunked; hence, the remaining popularity of click/pawl reels with the salmon/steelhead crowd. Many anglers actually place their click/pawl type reels under water to increase drag friction while playing large fish.

American reel maker Abel, the foremost maker of cork-disk drag reels in the world, entered the click/pawl reel competition with their new Spey/Switch/Classic line of reels about three years ago. These Abel click/pawl reels are very traditional from a mechanical standpoint. The guts are nearly identical to Hardy reels made fifty years ago. The reels offer total reliability and give you the ability to customize your new Abel with dozens of color choices. These reels are very popular with local steelhead anglers.
Reels that incorporate a disc drag and/or ball bearings, need to be built in such a manner that no water gets inside this mechanism. The companies that have produced reels with reliable waterproof disc drags have come to the forefront in today's market. The best reels available today, use drag surfaces and bearings that are encapsulated inside a waterproof container. These types of reels are virtually maintenance free. The first of these reels to hit the market in any numbers were built by Waterworks Lamson in early 1990's. They became popular very quickly. Early models had problems with leakage because the "O" ring that formed the primary seal was also the spool retainer. The newest models of Lamson reels seem to be cured of defects, and are some of the most popular reels available today. Sage entered the market several years ago, with what may be the most reliable line of reels ever made. They were designed by aerospace engineer Jack Charlton, and incorporate waterproof drag systems that are beyond compare. These reels have been slow to gain popularity because of the stigma of being made off-shore. The same can be said of reels made by Loop. The two American winners, in the sealed-drag competition, are Nautilus and Hatch. Both companies are riding high in popularity.
Reels, that incorporate a disc drag and ball bearings encapsulated inside a waterproof container have become very popular, because they are virtually maintenance free. Reels such as: Hatch, Nautilus, Sage, Loop & Lamson are basically, fish and forget.

As with rods, and fly lines, anglers alive today are enjoying what has to be the Golden Age of fly reel development. If you can think it up, it is already out there. The choices are nearly beyond comprehension. How do we at The Fly Fishing Shop / FlyFishUSA make our choices of what we use and what we reliability. We are too mature to want to be always on the cutting edge with fly fishing tackle. We use and test lots of different tackle, but only sell stuff that is proven in the field.

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We have been in business since April 21, 1981.

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