Parts of a Fly Reel

There are numerous parts of a fly reel to notice and in the following article we will cover exactly what they are and the role they play in the construction of this fly reel.

Although it is true that in light fly-fishing the reel plays a secondary role to such an extent that many anglers consider it little more than the container of the line -and in fact, in ancient times no reel was used- this is not totally accurate and the reel fulfills other additional functions: it plays an important role in the balance of the equipment, it allows the fish to be stopped, either with the brake, it may have incorporated or by means of the technique known as “palming”.

As the size and strength of the fish increase, the reel acquires such importance that, thanks to the technological level reached and the current rods, we have been given the possibility of facing species that we could only dream about in the past.

Fly reels are manufactured using everything from high-impact plastics to graphite, copper, aluminum, steel, to aircraft and space technology materials.

Prices, of course, are according to material, design, and brand. Without dwelling on historical details, (if you are interested, you may consult the corresponding chapter in the section “The History of Fly Fishing”) let us go directly to the current reels.

However, when buying a reel, it is very important that you know what rods it can be used for, as well as the amount of backing that will need to be added for a given type of line.

If you don’t find the specifications printed on the reel, check the manual or the documentation that comes with it and in the worst case, ask the seller.

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Parts of a Fly Reel – Explanation

The parts shown above, although from a specific reel, with some details of more or less, all the reels present these parts.

The reel body, containing the braking mechanism and its adjustment knob, also supports the reel, which is the part where the backing and line are wound. The spool has the knob attached and sometimes, and very desirable, a balance weight.

Almost all reels have a mechanism so that the body and the reel can be easily disengaged using the reel lock, which speeds up the line change. So, when you buy a reel, you can buy as many additional reels as you have line types (of the right number or numbers for that reel) to deal with the different fishing situations you might encounter. And don’t forget that this means considerable savings.

A few years ago, so-called “cartridge reels” appeared. These reels, instead of having a reel with a built-in knob, have a special reel, the cartridge, to which a “lid” with the knob is added. This makes them even more economical because instead of buying the complete coil to change the line, cartridges are bought at very low prices.

Reel types and brakes

As you can imagine, there are a range of types of reels, but for practical purposes, the reels are

  • Single-acting
  • Adjustable brake
  • Anti-reverse
  • Automatic.


The simpler single-acting reels have a mechanism consisting of gear and a cushioning needle, which prevents the reel from turning inertially and the line from becoming entangled.

The following are simple reels that allow a slight variation in needle tension on the gear: The adjusting knob, by means of an eccentric, tightens a spring that in turn presses the needle.

In the figure on the right, a spring brake mechanism is shown (touched up in green). Depending on the hand that recovers, one of the needles deactivates, turning it so that it does not touch the gear of the bobbin.

This brake system has very little power, but enough for most light-medium fishing applications. The price is therefore relatively low.

Adjustable brake

The interesting thing here is that the brake should only act when the line is pulled out by the fish during the fight. When retrieving (winding) the line, the mechanism only prevents the reel from turning freely to avoid the above-mentioned problem.

This type of brake is suitable for situations ranging from light to medium-strong fishing. According to the size and strength of the fish to be caught, the power of the brake should be increased.

When choosing a reel, check the type of brake it is equipped with; remember that for light fishing it is not necessary to have a powerful brake, but for general purposes, that is, for intermediate number rods, a reel with an adjustable brake is the best option.


Anti-reverse reels have a mechanism that prevents the knob from turning along with the reel -like spinning and bait cast- when the line is running due to the action of the fish in its attempt to escape. Due to its high cost, its application in fly-fishing is limited to the sea fishing of large species, but even so, they have not achieved a very popular place among anglers.

Also of recent appearance, the “turbine brake” reels have begun to gain ground in the market. This innovative mechanism consists of a turbine that spins inside a tank containing a variable viscosity oil, which automatically adjusts the brake as the reel’s speed increases. Cortland was the first manufacturer to introduce them, but now several manufacturers include them in their price lists.


Finally, the automatic reels, which do not have a retrieval knob but a release lever and a system of springs and springs that pick up the line, are not on the list of favorites either and we mention them here only as a “general culture” fact.

Other details

Nowadays, choosing a reel is not an easy task, as a number of factors have to be considered. Here is a short guide to choosing a reel

As we talked about, the first thing is to select the appropriate reel for the rod or rods where it is intended to be installed.

The second determining factor is the price and I will only add to that, what I always say: buy the best reel that your budget allows.

Parts of a Fly ReelMaterial

High impact plastic reels are generally a bad investment, even if the price paid is very small, as they are practically disposable.

Graphite is a good choice when the budget matters and you want to fish small and medium species; don’t give them too heavy a burden or treat them roughly. They require little maintenance, especially frequent cleaning and greasing of the brake mechanism, whatever it is since sand and soil are abrasive and graphite is not very resistant to this. You must also be careful not to hit them badly: a severe fall and goodbye to the reel. Their advantages: they are light, economical and generally give very good service. Disadvantages: They last relatively little.

Now, aluminum reels, especially if it is a good alloy, are in general terms the best investment, given their durability, especially if they are given proper periodic maintenance. Prices range from moderate to exorbitant.

Reels of mixed materials, for example, graphite-aluminum, give good results for fishing in intermediate conditions.

Reels made of steel, copper and other metals are undoubtedly durable, but their weight prevents easy rolling of the equipment.

A small tip: the aluminum reels, in order to withstand the marine environment, must be tropicalized or at least very well anodized and after each use, they must be washed with abundant clear water and dried perfectly.

A good reel should have the following characteristics:

  • Make sure the coil shaft is not too thin.
  • The coil must not be too narrow.
  • It should have an exposed edge.
  • It must have an adequate number of ventilation holes. In the same way, the diameter of the holes must be proportionate.
  • The brake mechanism, whatever the system, must be strong and of a size proportional to the reel.

The Axis

A reel with a very thin spool has several disadvantages:

1) it will require more backing to balance the equipment but this will cause the full line to reach almost to the edge, which can damage it if it rubs against the supports.
2) If not so much backing is placed, then the line will form small curls that are difficult to break.
3) Many turns will be required to recover, especially if the whole line and/or part of the backing is removed.

Currently, the trend in reel design is to make the shaft as large as possible by making it wider. These reels are called “Large Arbor”.

Coil Width

A reel whose spool is too narrow must have edges with an excessive diameter, i.e. it will be over-dimensioned for a given line number. As mentioned in the previous section, the modern trend is to make wider reels, with very wide axles.

Exposed edge

If a reel has an exposed edge, it can be braked with the palm of the hand or with a finger; this technique is called “palming” and is very suitable in various circumstances, as the hand is the best automatic brake that can exist: the tension can be adjusted almost instantaneously. But to be really effective, you have to practice it.

Ventilation holes

To date, I have not seen any modern reel that doesn’t have these holes, (many old reels didn’t have them). The ventilation holes also serve to lighten the reel. It is necessary to pay attention that these holes are sufficient in quantity, well-distributed and of adequate size.

The Brakes

As noted above, the brake can range from a simple mechanism to prevent the reel from turning freely, to a true braking system, whatever mechanism the reel is equipped with, it should be solid and proportional to its size. Some time ago, I was given a set of three reels of identical design, but of different sizes.

Parts of a Fly Reel

The design of these reels complies with all the above-mentioned factors, except for the latter: they are all equipped with an identical mechanism, the same size needle, and tension spring; logically, only the diameter of the gear is different. The mechanism works wonderfully on the 5/6 reel but on the 3/4 reel it is very “powerful” while on the 8/9 reel it is “loose”.

Also, the adjusting cam has no stops so the knob turns and turns; it has no indication of which way to tighten, which coupled with the above failure, makes it quite difficult to adjust. The good thing is that, since it has an exposed edge, I adjust the brakes to the minimum and use my little finger to stop it when necessary.

Look at all the details of the finish, check the coil lock carefully: that it is easy to operate and that it really is a “lock”. And finally, look at what kind of design the body has, if it is totally closed or if it only has open supports. If this is the case, be careful, because when the body is not closed, the line can get stuck between the coil and some support.