How to Buy a Fly Reel

by Mike Hogue


Customers always amaze me in different ways. I suppose that is why I enjoy working with them. Recently I had some very unusal questions about reels. I had some even more interesting questions about applications and choices in selecting a reel.

To become better consumers I always think that information is the best way to go, learn what is that you want, identify the features that are important, set a budget and then find what is that you are looking for. This is the ideal way to buy something whether you are shopping for an SUV or a new fly reel. You need to identify what is you are fishing for, the size of the tackle and then look at how much you want to spend.

A couple of things generally hold true in fly reels. Usually, in FRESHWATER fishing the fly reel is just a place to hold a line. If you learn how to strip line and how to control the line you can usually land most kinds of fish. This is true whether you are using a hand made $500 reel or a reel that was purchased at a garage sale. All these assumptions get thrown out the door when you try to land a big fish, you are fishing saltwater or salmon/steelheading ( fish that run ) or where you are playing larger fish on very light tippets or perhaps you are spey casting. Most of these situations require specialized tackle and reels.

One rule to keep in mind is if it is a big fish, you need big tackle. One customer was prepared to shell out almost $5000 to go tarpon fishing and wanted to use a $25 reel. This person set himself up to ruin a once in a lifetime trip by using inferior tackle for that application. It would alot like trying to use a Volkswagon Beetle to haul gravel for a new interstate highway. You might get there, but the trip wouldn't be too pleasant.

Lets take a look at some of the reel's functions and features. A few of these you might know about and some you may not have considered before.

Fly reels are generally made of aluminum. Cheaper reels are made from castings, while more expensive reels are bar stock that are hand turned on lathes. Usually pressed cast reels are cheaper due to labor costs when compared to a bar stock reel. It is also believed that bar stock reels are more durable and stronger than reels which have been pressed. Pressed reels are mostly painted, while bar stock is anodized which fuses the color to the metal in a heat process.

A reel is connected to the seat with a long sanded metal object called the reel feet. The feet slide into bands or clips called a reel seat. We are lucky that all of the folks that make reels a few years ago agreed on one standard in which seats on rods will accept any reel. This standard was agreed to by AFTMA ( which is the American Fly Tackle Manufacturer's Association ). For those that remember this the old Pfuleggers almost never fit anything, you had to file the feet to get them to fit into a seat. What totally sucked is you shelled out for a very high dollar reel, you might have had to file it to get it onto your rig. Be forwarned, if you buy reels made more than 10 years ago, it might fit on a seat or might not.

A reel has a handle of course which is used to turn the spool. There are several creative designs but most are screwed into the spool, some are machined and attached to the face. Usually in fly tackle we have only one handle, although some designs have two knobs. A handle should be secure, not wiggle and be solidly attached. I have seen a few that barely get the job done. Some have knobs that spin freely, while the handle itself is stationary. Most are metal although some have wood or plastic inserts.

A spool is the part of the reel that holds the line. Attached to the outside of the spool is a small weight that is called a counter balance. This acts as balance so that the spool spins freely and true. In most modern reels, the counter balance is decoration but in older reels, if the weight wasn't there it didn't turn true. This is primarily due to the weight and size of the reel. Think of the counter balance like the weights on your tires.

Spools generally have exposed rims, this is called the palming rim. If you are playing a fish you can cup your hand on the outside of the rim and slow the fish or play it with a palming rim. If you are playing a fish on light tackle with light tippets, this often is a better choice because it doesn't stress the tip of your rod as much or risk breaking the tip of the rod. It also can help you from breaking off the fish when using light tippets.

The arbor is the center of the reel. A large arbor has a large inside center while a regular arbor has a smaller inside center post. Usually large arbor reels are heavier while a small arbor reel is lighter. The main advantage here is that a large arbor makes the line pick up faster and creates less coils in the line. If you don't use alot of backing when spooling the line, you will pack it in tightly creating lots of coils. When you cast this out, it will cork screw and spin almost any fly into a doughnut. This one reason for using backing or also to increase the size of the reel as you up the size of the line. If you have a small arbor with little backing, don't leave the reel in hot trunk of your car or you are likely to make permenant sets and coils into the line.

Drags are the part of the reel that creates pressure and prevents the line from free spooling or back lashing. If you remember the old bait casters, these babies free spooled and back lashed to beat the band. You spent half you time cutting, yanking and ripping out line which is why you didn't get much fishing done. The drag is created in several ways: spring /pawl or disc drag. Click drags are springs that mostly put pressure against a gear and keep it from free spooling. It doesn't create alot of pressure on the line and mostly is an anti-back lash thing. These reels are noisy for instance the old Hardy reels sounded like a cat wrapped up in a paper bag. Disc drags are either pads or gears. In a pad system the the drag has a caliper like the breaks on a car, the caliper clamps against a disc and as the pressure increases, the clamp tightens. A gear systems uses bearings and gears and a one way clip that controls the amount of pressure against the gears. As the pressure increases, the force increases.

A couple of ideas: Always hand wind line. One brillant idea a few years ago was to use gel spun spider wire for backing. Great idea. The theory was that you could put fine line on any reel and use that reel for saltwater or salmon fishing since the spider wire was about 25% the size of the standard backing. Just pack that baby full. Trouble was that when folks machine wound spider wire either: 1) they couldn't get it back on the reel after the line played out ( because it was packed too tight) or 2) it exploded spools since the line was packed on so densely. A fair amount of this stuff was Kevelar and it saws guides right in half when the backing ran quickly against a guide. Not sure what spider wire is good for, but you can keep it. It is not environmentally friendly and takes about 50 years to break down. I strongly recommend boycotting this stuff.

Don't pack a flyline on really tightly. If you put say a 6 weight on a 3 weight rig, you create loads of coils. If you must do this, go buy a double taper line, cut it in half, attach that and create a micro shooting head. You can save the back half and use that later. I know of one person that did this sort of system on a 2-3 weight for midge fishing to get more backing. He cut the DT in half and then spooled on more backing, this way if you got a big fish on that was going to run, you could still use light tackle. Great idea for steelheading, with a six weight with a large arbor reel.

If you are buying a spey line, and spey rod, get a spey reel. That stuff is like fettuccine. It is wide and thick, the line is extra long in length and you need a ton of backing. The basic rig looks more or less like a can of pork and beans. If you try to put the line on a standard reel, it will take about 10 yards of backing if you can fit the line on the reel at all.


Great new Reels:

TICA Flymaster Bar Stock Fly Reels

This is one of the hottest new reels on the market. TICA reels are machined out of solid bar stock using the latest CNC machinery. Each TICA reel features Unique ported balanced spools, Laser etched lettering, Line out click alarm, Precision disc drag system with 4 precision ball bearings, Quick release spools, Easily converts right-left hand wind, Wooden handle knob. Free neoprene reel cover. Silver only, I year warranty. This is one of the best reels I have seen at the best price.


Model Line Wt Oz Price

S103S 3-4 4 $80.00

S105S 4-5 4.3 $85.00

S107S 6-7 5 $90.00

These are awesome!


Okuma reels:Whether you are a newcomer to the sport or a seasoned pro, looking for something new, these are an incredible reel at an unbelievable price! Okuma Reels are die cast aluminum. Each reel is brushed smooth and finished with a corrosion resistant classic black enamel. This reel is ideal for bass, bluegills, trout ( all kinds ) and in the larger sizes it can be used for smaller saltwater and salmon fishing. Each has a disk drag, counter balance, palming rim and comes with a 1 year warranty.



Model WT Line Backing Price Spool Price   

S-4/5 5.3 3,4,5 110yd/20lb $45 $20

S-5/6 5.3 5,6,7 125yd/20lb $48 $20

S-7/8 5.3 7,8,9 150yd/20lb $50 $25

S-8/9 5.7 8,9,10 175yd/20lb $55 $25

S-10/11 6 10, 11 200yd/20lb $60 $25


Aurora Fly Reels by Elite Products WOW!!!!!!!!!!! Awesome Buy!

After 7 years, Elite reels is getting out of business. I have been able to gobble up some of the old stock at great prices. I also dropped the price. This is your last chance to get a nice reel at a great price.


Elite Andros Reel: Disc Drag, Counter balance, 3 point needle bearing drag, machined reel foot, reel bag and lifetime warranty. Size 7-8-9 ONLY. Ideal for saltwater, steelhead, BIG bass or pike. Holds 200 yards, 20 lb backing plus WF-8-F line. Nowhere can you find a saltwater/pike reel at this price! WAS $120 NOW $60.00

A few left: Elite Housatonic Reel: Disc Drag, Counter balance, reel bag . Size 4-5 ONLY. $50.00



Badger Creek Reel Deal: Buy any Ultra IV SA flyline ( DT, or WF or Bass ect) and get free backing and knots. Reels will be rigged with loops and ready to fish. Lines are $54. No charge for the backing and rigging. Some places charge $15 for knots/rigging and $25 for backing!!!!!!


WOW! Check out these Prices!

Targus Leaders: Targus 2 Pack 9ft Leaders: 0x to 7x: $4.00 Targus 2 Pack 7 1/2 ft Leaders: 3x to 7x: $4.00

Targus Premium Tippet Material

Premium Mono Tippet: Great tippet material at a great price. Soft, supple and strong, you will love this tippet. 0x to 7x: $3.50

Targus Fluorcarbon Tippet Material: Fluorcarbon gives extra strength and reduces light refraction allowing you to use a heavier weight. 0x to 7x: $8.50


New Stuff:

Exxxxxxxtra Long Peack Herl: This is the super size peacock herl. Average length is about 10" which is more than 3 times the standard size. Use for the backs of saltwater flies, pike flies. $3.50

Salmon Chum/Flesh Zonker strips: If you are headed to Alaska, YOU HAVE to buy some of this. The base is orange/chum flesh colored and the tips are white. It you look sideways, you see a chum bottom and white top. Ideal for those monster rainbows that feed on salmon flesh. This is an exculsive product and very cool. $3.50 a pack

Chinese Cashimer Goat: Natural streamer hair about 3-4" long. Ideal for streamers. It has a translucent effect and is a soft hair. Colors: Olive, Blue, White, Gray, Flo Yelow, Yellow, Orange, Purple. $3.50

Saltwater Yak: You wanted polar bear, this is as close as you get without going to the North Pole. Translucent and long! About 12". Use for pike, hair wings and salmon flies. Make some really cool long deep minows. White, Gray, Black, Olive, Chartreuse: $5.50

Caribou: Nice patches that pack tightly. Makes one of the best mouse patterns around. Light gray patches. Used by Royce Dam for his mouse. $2.50

Bleached Moose Mane: This is a white, cream and burnt brown material. About 2-3" long. Use for winding on bodies, extended body flies, coffin flies. Wrap as a quill type product. Makes nice horns on flies. $2.50

Ruffed Grouse Tails: I found a stack of these. Use as a sub for pheasant tail. Use for caddis wings or as some fibers on throats of wets. $3.50 for full clump. Gray or brown.

Chukar Flanks: These are the same as Red Legged Partridge. Very pretty. Mix of tan/cream/gray/brown. Pack of feathers: $2.50

Terra Tool Wallet: Tanned Water Buffalo leather case, folds over with vel-cro to hold flat tools. $17.00

Terra Vise Extender: Use to save your back. Puts vise down and away from desk. Compare to other tools from Spendzetti at over $40 ! My price: $12.

Cane Handle Bodkin. I picked up a few of these. Nice tip sections of bamboo rods, cut sanded and varnished with bodkin needle attached. One of a kind, limited supply: $5.00 each

A.R.E. Vise: This is an updated version of the old Price vise. Has a small wheel to turn vise, comes with quick release jaws, base, c-clamp and bobbin rest. Very easy to use. $89.95

Box O Tick Tack Cases: This is a clear box with a mess of those tick tack boxes inside . ( Sorry I ate the candy). Actually these are small snap lids on a clear box that more or less looks like a tick tack box. Use for beads, hooks eyes. About 20-30 boxes inside one larger box. $9.00

Mike's Round Box: These are a doughnut shape with 8 individual compartements. Use for beads, eyes, hooks. $3.50

More colors of CDC: I added some more CDC. Standard stuff. Hot Orange, Chartreuse. Choose from either puffs or standard. $1.50 a pack.

Clear Blue Ice Meiho Fly Box: Very hot box. Looks like an I- Mac computer, transparent clear blue. has a gasket. Inside has snap lids, holds midges, small dries plus larger area. $15.50

Chartreuse Meiho Box. Smaller cousin of the one above with a smoked gray inside window. Hot green outside. Great camo for those glitter glow in the dark bass boats. Very nice. $8.50

Ice Wing Fiber: Gees this is confusing. Ice wing fiber is the ice dubbing in hanks. 8" hanks of one the hottest materials. UV fibers with a nice texture. Colors: Black, Chartreuse, Light Olive, Minnow Blue, Peacock, Pearl Green, Pearl Red, Pearl UV, Pink Pearl, Silver. $2.50

Crystal Antron Chenille: Mix of brite antron and crystal mylar flecks, woven into a chenille. Colors: Med Brown, Red, Flo Orange, Chartreuse, Tan, Gray, Purple. White, Black, Olive. $2.25


Wow! I am famous again! Be sure to catch my latest article in the newest issue of Fly Fishing and Tying Journal. I tell you how to make flies using those annoying Fed Ex shipping giffy bags. I have a big roll of tyvek house wrap ( maybe about 90 yards) and I will part with some if you mention this in an order and actually buy something.


Finn Raccon Pieces: Small or Broken tails, each has stripes with a black bar. Ideal for hair wings, streamers or clouser minnows. Colors: Purple, Orange, Blue, Green, Gray dyed over natural. $2.00

Arctic Runner ( AKA Icelandic Horse).Dick Talleur loves this! Very nice hair which is about 1 1/2" Long. Colors: White, Dark Gray, Chestnut, Chartreuse. WAS $4.00, NOW $2.00

Small Muskrats: These are what they call a grade 3-4. Small hides, tanned, no holes. Will still tie a ton Adams and dries. WAS $8.00, NOW $6.00!

Hebert ( AKA THE Catskill neck) Dry Necks: Buy a dry fly neck and get a FREE hen neck. Great combo. Buy one get something else for free! Pro Grade necks. These are for tying larger dries in say 8-18. Hackles are great for Catskill/PA flies. Colors: Sandy Cahill dun, Dark brown Dun. Grizzly Variant ( not a true grizzly, more like dun/cream grizzly), black, brown. $20 for both. Comparable value is over $30!!!! ( The free neck is a choice of my colors, in most cases you get the same color.) Not available at Some-more-orvis or at the mega Cabella's near you. WOW!

Whiting's Hebert Dry Saddles. Buy a Hebert rooster saddle and get a free hen saddle. These are long full hackles of 12-14" long. Bronze grade. Most similar to the Metz micro barbs. Ties 10-14. Ideal for Catskill flies and dries. Nice colors: Dark Brown dun, Black, Grizzly dun variant, Cahill sandy dun, Brown. Awesome stuff. My cat Teddy loves this. I had a sample he destroyed. I came home and found about 10,000 feathers in my suit case and no leather. Laura and I are still looking for the patch. Comparable value is $25 or more. $16 each. WOW!

Coq-de-Leon tail packs: These were $9 each now $7.50. Choose from brown, black, dun variant, light or dark pardo. Use for tails, spinners, or caddis wings. Ideal for use with CDC. Very nice. $7.50 each

Whiting Hackle Packs: ( this size and color only) Badger dyed dun, size 14. Dun with a black center. Makes nice hackle for red quills ect. Was $9.50 NOW $4.50



New Books:

Spey Flies and How to Tie Them by Bob Veverka. This is beautiful book which balances tales of history with detailed, step-by-step, photo-by-photo tying instructions for 3 kinds of patterns-Spey, Dee, & eagle. Many patterns in full color. $39.95 HB

Spring Creeks By Mike Lawson. A complete look at fly fishing spring creeks and tail waters utilizing a lifetime of on-the-stream experience. Mike illustrates the most effective patterns and techniques to imitate mayflies, caddis flies, midge, crane flies and terrestrials-- based upon his personal observation and tying experience. Practical and proven advice on locating, stalking, playing, & landing trout. $59.95 HB

Trout Hunter By Renee Harrop: No this is not the complete instructions for the old drinking game, Beer Hunter. Okay. This one we used to do in college, modeled after the Robert Dinnero ( don't blame me for spelling I am not Italian ) movie Deer Hunter. You shake up a beer and put it back in the six pack rings. Your buddies choose beers and then open them right below their noses, the one that blows up is the Beer Hunter. This is a very serious book about the style and techniques from one of America's greatest fly tyers : Renee Harrop. This describes in depth how, where and when to fish the flies he designed. Very nice pictures. $40, Hardback.

Two Centuries of Soft Hackle Flies; A Survey of the Literature Complete with Original Patterns by Sylvester Nemes. 1747-Present, from the first mention of the red spinner mayfly pattern, & ending with John Reid's 1971 Clyde-Style Flies. Covers some of the most radical trout fly designs from Scotland's Clyde River. The many soft-hackled flies of the past are sure to inspire today's fly tier. EXCELLENT! $34.95 HB

Tying Emergers: A Complete Guide by Leeson & Schollmeyer. Two of fly-fishing's most well respected writers collaborate once again, this time discussing emergers. This book shows you how, including: emerger design and materials, basic tying techniques, many specialized tying techniques, fly patterns, and more. Very cool. I like this book alot. $45.00 PB

Tying Small Flies by Ed Engle. Learn to imitate midges' trailing shucks & drowned adults, tie tiny parachutes & white winged Tricos, & create patterns that mimic micro caddis & micro scuds. Covers small fly history, tying tools, the materials you'll need to begin tying & fishing techniques. $34.95 HB

Trout of the World by James Prosek. Trout of North America, in the 1st Ed, is a hot collector's item! On E bay a first ed is worth some big $$$$$. If you missed that one , Prosek is back and has dedicated his unique painting talent to bringing to life trout from around the world. 100 full color paintings, some come with a free poster. $32.50 HB

I overbought a bunch of books on Alaska, if you are going to Alaska this year and want to buy some books, I will make you one heck of a deal. Email me. I will take 35% off the list for the whole works. Must buy the entire lot.



Badger Creek Fly Tying Open House

Badger Creek Fly Tying will be having a free open house. Events include: Free casting lessons, fly tying demos by Fishy Fullum and Bill Skilton. Bruce Hollowich from Heritage Rods will be giving free casting lessons. Free snacks and free drawings for those that attend. Items to be given away will include a free Heritage Rod, Whiting Hackle, boxes of flies and more.

Date: Saturday May 15th, 9-4pm, 622 W. Dryden Road, Freeville, NY.

Must be present to register for any drawings. I will annouce winners via the e-newsletter and send stuff directly to you if you aren't present at time of drawings.

Come and see the ONLY independently owned fly shop in the greater Ithaca area.

For more info, contact Mike Hogue @ 607-347-4946

To get there: Take 13 from either Cortland or Ithaca, come to the intersection of Hanshaw Road and RT 13. Turn North on Hanshaw ( this is a left FROM Ithaca, Right from Cortland)/drive by 84 Lumber. Go about 3 miles to a T in the road. Turn right. Go 3/4 mile. Look for a Brown Octagon House, we are the next place. Olive house with red shutters. Barn is in the back. If you go to far you will cross Sheldon Road and see an old town meeting hall.

We ask that you please park at the church/meeting hall in an orderly fashion

and walk down the street.


As usual if you wished to be removed for any reason Contact: Mike Hogue, Badger Creek Fly Tying, 622 West Dryden Road, Freeville, NY 13068. 607-347-4946. Email:, Web Site:


For more Info Contact:

Mike Hogue / Badger Creek Fly Tying / 622 West Dryden Road, Freeville, NY 13068

Phone: 607-347-4946