To gain insight into the thought process that goes into today's popular fly reels, we questioned four designsers about the components of a quality reel. While many other reel manufacturers such as Islander, STH and Orvis produce top-quality reels, some utilize design teams that work together toward a community design. Space did not allow including every manufacturer.
Steve Abel - Abel Reels
Unlike many fly-reel designers, Steve Abel entered the business more than 15 years ago by making big reels capable of cranking in large offshore species. Over time, he offered smaller versions that retained the bigger reels' design elements. In effect, his trout reels are scaled-down versions of his largest offshore reel. "It doesn't work well in the other direction," he points out.
Input from fishermen has been critical to his designs over tbe years, and Abel himself is an avid angler. "The only way to truly test a reel is while fishing it," he says. This leads to simple things like the lack of an outgoing clicker. "I like to hear the line running out against the guides or the sound the line makes as it cuts through the water, and you can't hear that over a clicker," he says.
Like others, Abel sees a need for antireverse reels, especially for noviceanglers or those concerned about their fingers, like doctors. Beyond that, Abel cites no true advantage or disadvantage to an antireverse reel. He strongly believes in cork drags. "Cork is a simple, tried-and-true material. It's not the cheapest material, and it's not the most expensive, but it works well across the complete range of drag pressure. Some drag materials work great at low pressure, and some work great at high pressures, but cork works well across the spectrum. Most important, it has no start-up torque at any setting," he points out.
For durability, many consider Abel's black anodized finish to be one of the toughest. And for those with a flare for style, Abels are the only reels available in - literally - any color you want.
Jon Bauer - Bauer Reels
A relative new comer to the game of fly-reel design, Jon Bauer has been developing fly reels since 1994. He understands that compromise is required and that his job revolves around creating the "happiest package."
"When creating a reel you have to weigh each aspect against the others and figure out where the best solution lies," Bauer says. "For example, you want durability, but that implies additional weight. We kind of shoot for what will suit most users best."
Bauer also feels that direct-drive reels form the basis of the market because they are both simple and traditional. He doesn't discount antireverse reels, but doesn't see the need to produce one at this point.
As for his drags, Bauer prefers more surface area and less pressure to achieve the desired braking pressure. After testing different drag materials extensively, he concluded that both cork and synthetic drags tend to slip and decided on a combination of the two.
Jack Charlton - Charlton Reels
"I agree with Trey Combs that the three most important elements of fly-reel design are drag, drag, and drag," says Jack Charlton.
"Salt water is one of the harshest environments on earth, and a reel needs to be able to work consistently in those conditions and withstand them not only outside, but in," he says. "The tolerances between many of the parts in our reels are limited to several thousands of an inch, meaning that if sand and dirt got into the housing somehow, it still couldn't get through."
Charlton also believes strongly in sealed reels and housings, which eliminate contamination and preserve the drag washers, especially porous ones like cork and carbon fiber weaves. "If a piece of sand or grit gets into an exposed cork drag washer, it turns it into a scouring pad and can grind the anodization off the reel." Although he began designing drags with cork washers, he stopped using them because he felt they didn't generate the stopping power he wanted and because it had low heat tolerance.
Charlton doesn't like the idea of palming a reel and feels that the drag should handle stopping the fish. "The drag control needs to be easy to get to and easy to adjust," he says. On Charlton reels, the drag adjustment, a large palmable plate, sits opposite the spool. The wheel has a definite start and stop in one rotation, which means anglers can set and mark precise drag positions that can be returned to again and again.
Ted Juracsik - Tibor and Billy Pate Reels
Ted Juacsik has been designing fly reels for almost 30 years and has kept the same desing goal all along - simplicity. He feels strongly that the simpler the reel, the better, and only half jokes that ultimately he'd like to design a reel with no parts. His reasoning is straightforward: The fewer parts, the less there is to break. "You' have to remember that a fly reel is just a place to hold the line off the deck," Juacsik says. "It shouldn't be complicated."
As for reel construction, he has no problems lightening up his spools with holes on the outside, though he dislikes them on the frame and the frame side of the spool. "Holes in the frame expose it to dirt and contaminants that can clog it up. I prefer not to open my reels to potential problems," he says. Juracsik also keeps lightness and durability squarely in mind. "You want them all to be in corrosion-resistant, and you have to remember the guy is going to have this reel for a lifetime. You want it to look good as well as perform well." Juracsik says that cork makes the finest drag washer material.