Raspberryfisher's Blog

notes on fishing & travel

Fly Fishing Reels – IMHO – Post 1

with one comment

Wow – I seen a lot of emotional opinions on a few forum recently and as a result misinformation on fly-fishing reels, particularly those defending their choice of using traditional gear-pawl (g&p) (also called click and pawl) reels such as the old Hardy’s.

I think the charm with fishing the old reels, is just that, the charm with using old traditional reels, especially reels made with serious personal craftsmanship with agate guides et cetera, are just fine.  The often cited reason, is some like the loud sound they generate when line goes out.

I also like charm to – I will use traditional spey flies versus intruders or a wet-fly versus modern nymphing techniques – as I enjoy these techniques more.  So this is a function of preference and what I get joy from, but I will not argue that Czech nymphing is less efficient a upstream spider.

Nothing wrong with a g&p reel, but I have had issue with the false claims (facts) that been used on some forums and the lack of consideration of requirements (and weighing these requirements). I have made my counters, but rather than continue – month after month – post my thoughts here, plus provide greater details and supporting information.

False Claims Examples:

  • Disc Reels are subject to failure!  I fish now mostly disc-reels, and the two failures I have had where g&p reels – freezing up and the springs gave way!  In the former, it was cold (below freezing (steelhead conditions)) and in the later, the stress of the fish (smallmouth bass) fight caused the spring-pawl to give resulting in a free-spool.I have had no failures with a disc-reel to date, and if this is true, why does not g&p reels dominate the harshest fishing conditions available – saltwater fishing.So before I woud accept this claim, give me some substantial statistics that can be validated.
  • g&p is like a manual transmission in a car versus a disc reel is an automatic, with the implication is that manual car will provide you better performance.  This is used to justify the more complex handling in spool control a g&p reel, but this metaphor fails in that a manual transmission provides better performance, which is not true in this reel comparison.
    .I think a more accurate comparison would be a Triumph TR6 versus BMW M5 with paddle shifting option.  (Sidebar, I think I would prefer the old top cruising of a TR6, if I could afford keeping it maintained, than fast driving of the M5. Though, I am more likely to buy a Subaru that can get me into the backroads and hold my fishing rods).

So after fishing in fresh and salt-water, from trout to steelhead to bonefish, I have collected my fair share of rods and reels.  It is with this experience, and my engineering-analytical training, I present my opinions on reels.

First you need to start off with the requirements, and please recognize the importance of any requirement is dependent upon the application.

Drag – During the fight, I apply drag by the use of palming, this is where you use you hand (palm typically) to cup and provide resistance on the spool. You adjust the resistance in the fight by the pressure applied by hand on the spool at the moment.  The pressure is a function of how you interpret the situation at hand.

I do not recommend you adjust the resistance when the fish is on. Typically the adjustment is on the wrong side, time consuming and is a distraction from fighting the fish. The tools to land the fish is the rod and how you apply pressure – whether you are running up-down the bank to pulling high or to the side, et cetera.  The change in pressure from moment to moment is done by the palm that is “instanteous”. There is no single answer-technique, but the reel drag is not a critical component to fighting and landing the fish.

So the main purpose of the drag on a reel is to prevent the line to free-spool (no tangles), as line is pulled out.  The actual reel drag resistance should resemble the tippet, so if I am using a 6x tippet for trout the resistance is just light enough to prevent line to free-spool, but if I have a 12lb leader for a bonefish, it is set higher to hinder the fish.

If I was going after large saltwater fish where I am expecting a 20 minute fight, I might be wanting a drag that I can adjust in the fight.  I will make some more notes on this, when I review my Islander Anti-Reverse Reel.

Most modern reels provide for easy effective palming.

All g&p reels I have seen and used to date have an outer reel casing that prevents palming, and the answer to this from the traditionalist, get a reel with an opposing side plate and use your finger on the far side to apply pressure. This does work (this is where the manual transmission metaphor is misused) and you do adapt to it.  Otherwise the “saged” wisdom is you just hang on for dear-life.

I have sold off my g&p reels for where I believe I need to adjust pressure in the fight – salmon and steelhead fishing – as I prefer palming the reel – versus appling pressure with finger tips.   (in other words – tried it, not the best answer for me).

Now debunk a myth for sealed drag reels – no, a drag reel will not prevent you from being spooled (where a fish run is so long, and he-she takes it all).  Prevention of being spooled is a function of the length of backing, the river-flats, your fighting techniques and the fish.

There are other considerations to – some reels have poor (high) startup interia, which can result in a break-off and the range of drag settings available to you – but maybe this will be a post for another season.

Noise – Do you want loud audible feedback when the line is going out. Some g&p reels are loud, and people appreciate this feedback (Judy does).  Myself, I am using the pressure on the rod in one hand and the reel with the other hand on the reel to change what is done next.

Some really like the sound of g&p reels – ok!   I really do not care and if anything, prefer it low noise, so this is NOT a requirement for me.

Rate of Retrieve – For fish that make long runs, being able to recover line quickly will help you with landing the fish.

My first four steelhead (landed 2, broke off one at the net) were on g&p reels, and I learnt on that occasion speed of retrieval is important. Sealed drag reels were not readily available (if at all), and I moved to a large arbour reel – initially Danielsson-Loop 2W and 3W reel.

Though, I have had a recent return to a g&p reel for steelhead fishing to see if I was missing anything, I made a decision to keep to large arbour reels for steelhead, salmon and bonefish.

Weight – Do I want to balance the rod and reel for comfort in fishing.  Yes, specifically when I doing high rod techniques (french leader) or two-handed fishing.

The current trend in the machined sealed drag reels is to make them lighter, and for me, often too light for two-handed trods. This is not a trend that I am fond with.

Problem Free in Harsh Conditions – Salt and Freezing Conditions

Here sealed drag reels exceed!  Salt, sand and ice water are enemies for many g&p reels, and some dragged reels to!

User Maintenance – specifically, cleaning and line drying.  This is where the newer design reels exceed, but not all!

Cross-Function – can I set it up for trout, pike, bass, steelhead and saltwater? Slight nod to the new reels, as they are provide other features that can transfer to other fishing.

Is it easy to change a spool, or do I need tools and fear losing parts in the boat or on the bank.

Replacement Parts and Spool Changes in the Field – Some manufacturers change designs so frequently, getting an additional spool 3 years later is difficult and near impossible. It is nicer to change out a spool, than buy a new reel for every rod or application.

And can I change that reel in a moving boat, with cold fingers on a bank, et cetera, without tools!

Other – There are other considerations, but lets go through my critical review of the reels I use today, relative to the requirements.  I will not comment on the reels that I have walked away from, unless I have something positive to say.

Trout Reels – Traditional Fishing – I generally look to availability of spare spools that is easily changed out in the field as the primary requirement. This is in recognition that I have a large collection of rods for trout -from 2 to 6wt – in bamboo, graphite and fiberglass, and yet we only will line up 4 rods at any time for Judy and I. So having 4 reels, with spools for other setups, provides for the streamside flexibility we use.  So moving from floating to nymph to … becomes a simple change of spool rather than managing  large collection of reels.

We will also carry spools for on the bank changes.

The other elements of drag, rate of retrieval, operation in harsh conditions, et cetera are not major requirements for trout fishing. I rarely fish a trout river that support a 100′ run before I have likely lost the fish in rocks, trees, et cetera, so backing and rate of retrieval is not important – exception is when I am streamer fishing, but I cover this later.

And far as weight, a bare (no backing or line) weight of 4oz which usually do well, and the vast majority of trout reels fit within this restriction.

If you were fishing primarily with silk lines, you would want an open spool reel, such as the Nautilus FeatherWeight or a Ross Colorado LT, to allow for maximum air around the line, when it is on the reel.  But placing a new machined reel on with a “traditional” silk line on what is likely a traditional bamboo rod would require courage to allow function trump tradition.

If I was starting from scratch – assuming the reels are still in production – I would only buy the g&p Hardy Princesss or Lightweight LRH for all my single hand trout rods – from 2wt to 5wt.  Yes, I find the Hardy Princess is balanced on my 2wt 6′ rods, maybe not the lightest, but balanced (read LiteSpeed review).

Now Hardy makes many similar reels in smaller sizes, so if you want a light rod setup, you can use a smaller and similar reel, with less backing.

Lamson Waterworks LiteSpeed 1.5

Nice light reel, and if you are looking and needing a light reel, this and the old Waterworks Purist are excellent choices (I sold my Purist). I suspect with time, the plastic clicker will harden and facture.

This reel with backing and line weighs 4.7oz, versus the 5.7oz of the Hardy Princess. The difference is not substantial, but it is noticeable on a rod. Never-the-less, both reels balance on my shortest trout light rods, but this lighter reel is a nice thing, more than an absolute.  The key criteria is not being light, but balanced.

As noted though, any reel under 4oz empty should balance well on any typical trout rod.

waterworks_DSC0210Other comments, as it relates to traditional trout fishing (excluding long streamer fishing):

  • Drag:  B – Adjusting drag is ok, but I never need to do it. You can palm it.
  • Rate of Retrieve: A: Pickup is good and consistent, as it is a large arbour wide spool
  • Weight: A
  • Operation in Harsh Environment: C
  • User Maintenance-Cleaning: C, does not have an open spool base.
    • Plastic clicker is the expected weak link with age.
  • Cross-Functional Use: NR – it is just a trout reel.
  • Spool Availability: D, as Lamson updates their product line frequently. Change out is not as simple as with other reels to.

Lamson-Waterworks today is producing a Mark IV version that illustrates do not expect replacement spools to be available next year – as you do not know when they will refresh the product and break support, but they will.  The new design has one improvement that I see – an open spool base. Not as substantial as in other reels, but open never-the-less.

If you choose to buy a Waterworks reel, add in your budget for another spool or 2 to be purchase within the same season.

Scientific Anglers – System 2

These were the every-person reel. Durable, reliable, strong, and made for years. These were the benchmark for modern trout reels for everyone, but sadly gone, with the product line now focus on machined large arbour reels.


As illustrated, the smaller 56L house my trout lines, and use the larger reels for smallmouth bass, pike and will take it as a backup for saltwater – despite its poor rate of retrieve.

  • Drag: A, though palming is okay.
  • Rate of Retrieve: C.
  • Weight: C
  • Operation in Harsh Conditions: B+ and Durable
  • User Maintenance and Cleaning: B
  • Cross-Functional Use: NR – but given it was part of a larger family, it deserves a B.
  • Spool Availability: A for decades, until 3M stopped production. Now a C, when you look to EBay.

Do not buy the replacement Concept 2.

Hardy Princess

This has been my goto for the past decade for trout reels.  I am concern that Hardy will – like 3M (now Orvis) Scientific Angler – abandon this line (they have signal they are), but as they have made these reels for decades, finding a used reel will not be a challenge.

There are rumours, SA will move production back from Korea to England, but I see the supply chain empty of reels as I write this blog, hence my cautionary note.


  • Drag: C, The simple adjustment is useless but as it prevents line slip, it gets a pass.
  • Rate of Retrieve: C
  • Weight: B – Given it size, it is light.
  • Operation in Harsh Conditions: C
  • Maintenance and Cleaning: C
  • Cross-Functional Use: NR, but it is just a trout reel
  • Spool Availability: Gets an “A”, as it has been a product on the market for decades and SA has shown in the past it will maintain this product line when they move production facilities. If they have obsolete this product, I would degrade my rating to B (versus a D), given there is and will be many old reels and spools available.

All those C and 1 A, indicates this Hardy Reel is not a stellar reel in itself, but as it does all jobs needed and with its amble supply, makes this reel my winner.

In closing on trout reels, the reel is not a critical tool in your need to catch and land fish. The emphasis should be on hunting and presentation, which is a function of rod-line and skill.  In support of this, you are better to put your money in rod and lines, not reels. (unless this is your fancy). Find a reel that is under 4oz (empty) that has an abundance of spools that you can acquire with time.

Anyway, this is a long post, and I will defer the remaining reviews for my next posts/



Written by raspberryfisher

2017/05/20 at 00:09

Posted in Fly-Fishing

One Response

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  1. […] my last post I made a reference to an open spool base should be considered if you are using silk lines, if you […]

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