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The reel is the refining measure that changes a stick with string tied to it into a tool for successful fly-fishing. Not only does it store the line, but features like adjustable drag allow you to set the tension specifically for the leader you are using and the size of the fish you intend to catch. The drag also prevents the spool from letting out too much line, so that you retain complete control. If you want dependability, a quality reel will usually cost between one and two hundred dollars.

Single Action:

The single action fly reel is the most popular fly reel on the market today, mainly because of its easy handling and reliability. "Single action" is in reference to its ratio of one handle revolution to one spool revolution. The reel itself is not complicated; the spool is inserted into a cage containing a simple drag mechanism.

The reel can be easily removed from the rod and changed from right to left hand winding or switched with a different sized reel. The spools can also be changed for different fly lines. The single action reel is simple and light, easily changed or cleaned. It is susceptible to wear, so if you buy a cheaper model you may have to replace it occasionally.


The automatic fly reel uses a coiled spring system surrounding a center spindle. The spring is tightened by stripping the line or with a screw cap. When you want to retrieve your line, you press a trigger instead of turning the handle. This cuts down on time and work, but makes for a heavier reel with a limited line capacity. The spring tension makes fine drag almost impossible and spools are not interchangeable as in the single action reel.


The multiplying fly reel uses added gears on the single action reel to increase the speed at which line can be reeled in. It is useful for casting long distances, but is larger and heavier than the single action. Cheaper models have gears that sometimes bind up if sufficient tension is put on the line by a large or powerful fish.


Saltwater fly reels are built rugged to handle the extra strength of saltwater fish. Most are made of barstock aluminum with precise tolerances and have a sophisticated drag system using a pressure type to handle heat buildup. These extra touches make saltwater reels much more expensive than the simpler types; they often sell for three to four hundred dollars.