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Saltwater Fly Reels 101 With Ian Davis

Posted by Ian Davis on May 30, 2017 2:49:12 PM

 

SALTWATER REELS

Yellow Dog’s Ian Davis recently wrote up a piece for Outdoor Empire, talking about his favorite saltwater reels and the reasons why a quality reel will more than pay for itself. Here’s what he had to say: 

What fly reel are you using?

The evolution of the saltwater reel has been impressive over the past decade. I come from a retail background when saltwater reels were heavy, cumbersome, and failed often after extensive use. I’m also kinda hard on gear, hence my nickname the “Doctor of Destruction” from my Breckenridge Outfitters days. If you traveled to the salt without a backup reel “back in the day” your trip could be ruined due to failed parts. The brand of reel that has stood out to me personally are Hatch Reels.

Ian Davis with large permit in the Bahamas.

I will never forget when they first entered the fly-fishing scene at the Denver Fly Fishing Show in 2005. The economy was in the tank, the industry was flat, and no other reel company came out with a high end product. No matter how nice the guys behind the Hatch booth were, I thought there was no way they would survive the cutthroat retail business in a struggling economy. I had just sold my fly shop in Colorado, and was full time with Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures.

My first task at Yellow Dog was to create a Bahamas program, so I spent months visiting the islands where I had learned to saltwater fly fish. John and Danny from Hatch asked me to test some of their reels, since I would be in the field for extended periods of time. I was happy to help since they were such good people. That following year I fished the Bahamas extensively, explored Belize and the Yucatan, so the eight-weight reel Hatch loaned me got pretty worked over. To really test the reel I never once cleaned it in fresh water (sorry John and Danny). Saltwater is very corrosive, so besides a few rainstorms the reel was given a severe punishment. To my amazement the reel never failed. All other reels I had previously fished in the salt would of never made it without constant cleaning and oiling. 

Hatch fly reel rigged for marlin.

I used the Hatch for many years and it never once needed to be refurbished. The crank knob seal did stick after a few years, but a little scrubbing with a toothbrush and some oil it worked fine. Hatch has solved that issue. I ended up giving the reel to a guide in Cuba and have since seen it in his guide boat, and still working perfectly! I was 100% completely wrong about my initial impression of Hatch Reels back in 2005. It is the only reel I have fished for the past decade. I fully stand behind the reels, leader and tippets, pliers, nippers, and new fly lines. We even have loaner reels from Hatch and rods from Thomas and Thomas and Winston for our Yellow Dog clients. This equipment is constantly in the field and gets pounded. The Hatch reels stand up to this constant use in the saltwater.

Bonefish caught while fly fishing in the Bahamas.


What are the most important steps to advise other fly anglers when choosing a saltwater fly reel?

There are many determining factors when entering a retail environment to purchase a new fly reel. First of all, always try to purchase products MADE IN THE USA from your local specialty fly shop. Let’s keep our hard-earned money in the USA, so your fellow Americans can be successful as well. I fully realize this is almost impossible nowadays, so when you can, buy USA.

The most important trait I look for in a saltwater reel is a sealed drag system to keep out sand, salt, and debris from the intricate internal machinery that allows you to fight the powerful saltwater game fish. It is vital to our fisheries to land fish quickly, so a safe release is ensured. A smooth and powerful drag is the single most important aspect to landing more fish, and in a shorter amount of time. Your reel will get dunked, banged around, and exposed to the harsh elements when saltwater fishing, so having an enclosed, sealed drag system will prevent 90% of the issues reels face in the salt.

Fly fishing in the Bahamas.

Then the reel should have no parts that can fall off when removing the spool from the frame. Oftentimes, you need to find the end of your leader (if it is buried with in the fly line), or the fly line tangles, so being able to quickly remote the spool is paramount.  Dropping some tiny screw in a boat or the ocean is not good. I love the fact that the reel foot on all Hatch Reels is machined into the frame of the reel. That additional step in the machining process is rare today. The screws that attach the reel foot to the frame typically stay tight, but when they loosen over many years of hard use (and they will), it will drive you crazy. You tighten the screws, they eventually strip, and then your reel clicks and shits every time you cast or reel. Yes, you can send the reel back to the manufacture to have the screws replaced, but that is a hassle. I prefer hassle free fishing. 

Maybe the most important improvement to fly reels in the past 20 years is the introduction of the large arbor. This enables anglers to retrieve line around three times faster. This might not make a difference on a brook trout in Maine, but on a bonefish that decides to run directly at you, it makes a huge difference to keep the line tight. The larger circumference also reduces line memory, so line tangles much less. You still must stretch your line, to erase the it’s memory after your reel has been stored for an extended period of time, but it is much easier.

Guides looking at flies while fishing in the Bahamas.

Having a lightweight reel is a challenge in the salt, since you need durability and strength. Lugging around a behemoth of a reel is tiring when wade fishing the endless flats of our favorite destinations. Hatch has a state-of-the-art machine facility in California and they have created a reel that is ultra-light, yet very strong. Then there are the aesthetics of a reel. I shoot tons of photos for Yellow Dog. Having a cool looking reel is like having a gold medal or first place trophy in the photo. Anglers taking pics of important fish always include the reel. This is to prove it was caught on a fly, so why not have a sexy reel to enhance the photo. Hatch accomplishes all of these important details of a saltwater reel, so you will have a career of hassle-free fishing.  

Aerial view of fishing in Bahamas.

Topics: Fly Fishing Gear