Reel stories (part 4)

So, how do you go about choosing a reel?
Cost - As I have said in my previous posts, I don't like to spend a lot of money on equipment. 
However, reels are the heirlooms of fly fishing. Many people believe the rods, especially bamboo rods, are timeless artifacts that fishermen pass down through the generations.
I believe it is the reel that is our legacy. As a result, I look for reels that are simple, well constructed and bullet proof. My USA-made Pfluegers fit this discription and I know they will last several lifetimes with simple oiling and washing. Other reels I have used that fit the description were Sage, Tieton, Hardy and Okuma. All these companies make good reels that simple and strong and will last a lifetime or two with normal care. However the costs vary considerably. 
I don't like spending more than $50 on a reel and I know I can always find a Pflueger for $50 or less on Ebay. For those who need to have new reels, the Okuma Sierra (which is a nice simple reel with a good drag) is the only reel available for less than $50. 
I have recently tried a graphite reel and noticed that several companies are introducing these "beginnger or back up" reels. Originally I snubbed my nose at the "plastic reels" but recently have started taking a closer look. Of course since they are not made of metal, I am less likely to consider them heirloom reels, but they seem cabable of meeting the frugal test. Although if you want to buy American made, you will not find any new reels in this price range. 
Reels in the $100 range are available from Ross, Sage, Okuma, Loop, and any number of companies. These are basic beginner reels and you would not go wrong with almost any of the reputable companies. I would primarily pay close attention to the drag and how well it works. 
Once you get above $100, you are out of the frugal zone. Although I was given a Hardy Angel (I actually never used it but I did trade it for a Temple Fork Spey Rod, Tieton Reel and line). The Hardy was a piece of art and something I would never use. The Teiton worked great and handled several salmon while in Alaska. However, I was able to sell it and buy two Pflueger 1498's, extra spools and put some money in my boat account. Remember also that if you fish for several different species and various conditions, you are liekly to need at least one extra spool and likely another reel altogether. 
The bottom line still comes down to budget and need. If you need two reels (one for salmon and another for trout), but can only afford one, you will sacrifice on both ends because of the difference in size and quality of the reels needed to handle these fish. 
If you only need one and believe you will get into another type of fishing later on, buy the best you can afford. And if you have to choose between spending money on a reel vs a line, go frugal on the reel and cheap on the line. Other resources

Reel stories (part 3)

So, how do you go about choosing a reel? 

Simple. Need/Use=Cost

Need - what do you need? If you are learning to fly fish you need a reel that is appropriate for the fishing you want to do. Simple? Not really. I fish in the Northwest. That means I fish for steelhead in the winter, spring, summer and fall, trout in the spring, summer and fall (and occasionally the winter), and salmon in the fall. That means one reel will never do it. 

When I bought my first outfit, after taking a 10-year break from fishing, I bought a used 1494 1/2 Pflueger and an extra spool. I loaded up one spool with 6 weight floating line and the other spool with a sink-tip 7 weight line. I also bought a store-brand 9-foot graphite 6/7 weight rod. The whole set-up cost me about $150 back in 1990 and I spent at least $80 on the lines. When I added waders, boots, fly boxes, vest, glasses, etc., the total came to more than $300. And I was frugal back then too, but a little younger and more at risk to impulse purchases. 

I caught plenty of trout that year and discovered the obsession of steelhead. That day is well marked in my mental filing cabinet - a beautiful early-morning trout fishing trip interrupted when the pool I was fishing exploded in silver, my reel screamed, the steelhead raced downriver and I enjoyed a 20-minute adrenaline rush, even though I lost the fish within 5 minutes of fighting it.

None of my gear failed, I just happened to be fishing a muddler minnow with 4-pound tippet. Four months later, I would use the same rod and reel and the sink-tip to land my first steelhead in the same pool but at winter flows instead of summer. The fish was a nice 8-pound hen and the fight lasted close to 20 minutes (I still enjoy a bit of adrenalin as I write about it), and the equipment did it's job. 

I still have a Pflueger 1494 1/2 reel, in fact three of them. And I have added two 1495 1/2 reels for steelhead and two 1498 reels for salmon (all used USA made reels from before 1980). 

To be continued... 

Reel stories (part 2)


Those reels were responsible for a lot of excellent fishing, primarily in fresh water, but also some in the salt. Anyone who has experienced the raw power of a big fish on a fly rod, understands the importance of a good reel. Because fly reels only turn one direction at a time, if something goes wrong, the fight is over and frustration, and exaggerated fish stories, begin.

In most situations, even the best fisherman rarely fight fish that would push an average reel to its limits. There lies the problem. Many people can buy an inexpensive or average reel, beat it up or and never realize the value of a quality reel until they get into the fish-of-a-lifetime. Just this past summer I witnessed one of these situations while fishing for steelhead. As three of were fishing, my friend, fresh off a trip to Alaska fighting silver salmon, hooked into a steelie and just as the reel whine started to peak,it ended abruptly with a "snap" as the fish continued freely downstream with his fly.

As we kindly kidded him about the quality of local fish, he said "I hadn't got into a fish like that for a long time." He had, as was expected, a good reel and one that had landed many salmon up north, but in this case the fish got farther into his line than previous fish and the tangle caused the line the snap. About 30 or 40 minutes later he was back in the water and better prepared. The point of my story is that even with a good reel in the hands of an experienced fisherman, things can go wrong. The odds get worse if you choose a cheap reel.

To be continued

Reel stories (part 1)

After posting the first entries on Frugal Fly Fishing, I emailed a couple buddies to get feedback. They responded pretty quick. After pointing out the typos and such, my buddy Pete made a comment about reels. He is the best fly fisherman I know and a genius fly tyer. His fishing exploits include trips to classic rivers in the west, east, south, north and a trip to fabled Christmas Island for bone fish and travail.

It was from this experience that he pointed out, "though I tend to deviate somewhat from your uber-frugal philosophy... when you've got a 30" bone fish tearing out 200 yards at the blink of an eye, the importance of a reel goes way beyond just holding line:)."

 I agree.

Although I believe in being frugal, being frugal also means being smart. I have owned a variety of frugally-priced reels and caught many fish on them. However, I know that being frugal means choosing the right tool for the job. I have always bought the best basic reel I could afford and have been give some real gems as gifts. In the past 30 years, I have used reels by Sage, STS, Diawa, Okuma and Tieton. Someone even gave me a Hardy Angel. Some of my reels were beautifully crafted machinery, but most were simply good solid reels.  

to be continued...

Thanksgiving Sturgeon

Fishing for the ancient sturgeon creates mixed feelings for me. For the past couple years I have spent many hours heaving lead and bait, hoping to finally land a fish between the magical keeper marks of 42 and 60 inches. Although I have landed several small fish, called shakers, I have yet to mark one on my sturgeon tag. Thanksgiving Day changed that. Or so I think.

After taking Nomad 2 (my money-making boat), I anchored up is some medium current above a likely hole. on the Willamette. After dropping my 16-ounces of lead and whole herring, it bounced along the bottom until finally finding a holding spot. Within 10 minutes the rod tip gave a customary bounce and soon I was on a good fish. After about 10 minutes, I boated a great looking sturgeon. I quickly put it up against my measuring it and and checked the length. He was longer than the yard stick but I wasn't certain it was 6 inches longer. No matter, I thought, I caught one so there should be more about the same size in the hole. It was a good thought. Two hours later and I was still waiting for another bite. Three hours later and I was in another hole. Four hours later, I was back at the dock with only the one fish for the day. Should have measured it a little closer.

Motor back, I continued to wonder if I would actually keep a sturgeon between those magical numbers. A 42-inch fish is at least 12 years old if it's a male and closer to 15 if it's a female. Although I continue to fish for sturgeon, I have yet to know if I will actually keep one. So what does this have to do with frugal fly fishing? Well not much outside the musing I go through as a fisherman. As a fly fisherman, choosing, cutting and threading bait seems out of character, but I have yet to try flies for these bottom feeders. in the meantime, I plan on spending time on the river, bouncing lead and bait. It also gives me the opportunity to stay connected to other aspects of fishing and spending time with family as I did a few days later when my father and brother joined me on the river where we spend a nice morning catching shakers.

What is Frugal Fly Fishing?

I started fly fishing in my early teens. I lived in a small town in Oregon and grew up fishing and hunting with my family. I am not sure what caused me to switch from bait fishing to fly fishing, but the transition wasn't easy because money was a luxury. I remember my first fly rod - a Berkeley 8-foot, 7-weight and my first line - a level 7 weight. I also remember no matter what I did, I was never able to cast that level line like the guys in the fishing magazines.

In time, and with money from my paper route, and doing odd jobs (including the ever-popular lawn mowing and weeding), I was able to buy a double taper line and a Pflueger Medalist reel. My grandfather, knowing that I was interested in fly fishing, gave me his old Union Hardware bamboo fly rod. After adding a few cheap flies, a metal Perrine fly box and a vest, I was on the water feeling like Lee Wulff. Within a couple years, I taught myself to tie flies and even had a little business selling flies at the local sporting goods store. During my transition to fly fishing, the main lesson I learned was that fly fishing did not take a lot of money, but did take some skill, patience, an appreciation of nature and an understanding of what fishing gear worked and what fishing gear simply looked good.