Fly Reels for Stripers and Other Gamefish

Fly reels are very simple devices, and choosing a fly reel for striped bass and other species is not difficult. There are some great choices to fit every budget.

My first striper fly reel was the venerable Pflueger Medalist Fly Reel. The model 1495 is a great reel and less than $25! I recommend the 1500 series for another 6 or so bucks which is more flexible and better for bigger fish, but it doesn't appear to be made anymore. The Pflueger Trion series is a great replacement although a bit more expensive.

I also own and have fished extensively with the Scientific Angler System 2 Fly Reel, about $150 to $190 depending on the model. You can't go wrong with these fly reels! Great reels, great deals.

Let's step back. A fly reel is very different from a non fly fishing reel. A fly reel serves only two purposes.
 

1) A fly reel holds the line. This is its primary purpose.

2) Most fly reels also have a breaking device called a "drag" so when a fish is pulling hard enough to potentially break the line, it pulls line out under pressure instead, tiring the fish instead of letting it break off.

Unlike a non fly fishing fishing reel, you don't cast the line off the reel. Instead, you manually pull line off the reel (called "stripping") before casting. Similarly, when you retrieve the line you don't reel it in; you manually pull it or "strip" it in.

Also with a fly reel, when line is being pulled off the reel, for example by a fish that's trying to escape, the reel spool and handle rotates. When you've hooked a big fish and it runs, get your hand and fingers out of the way! Note that if the fly reel doesn't have a built in drag or you want to apply a little more drag, you can simply press on the edge of the reel spool as it spins. You typically do this with your palm, or sometimes even your belly, and it's known as "palming" the reel.  (There are also "anti reverse" reels but they're not as common.)

Another difference from a non fly fishing reel is which hand you use to retrieve. With a non flyfishing reel you use your weakest hand to retrieve, and your strongest hand to hold the rod. So a right handed fisherman holds the rod with their right hand and retrieves with their left hand. Most fly fishermen reverse this, so a right handed fly fisherman would retrieve with their right hand and a left handed fly fisherman would retrieve with their left hand. This is because fly reels don't have gears, and retrieving line, especially when fighting a good fish, requires strength and endurance. Fly reels come in either right hand or left hand retrieve, although many modern fly reels are convertible.

A recent development in fly reels is "large arbors" fly reels. They been around for a few years, and with a large arbor, or diameter of the fly reel spool, more line is retrieved with each revolution. This is not very important for stripers at all, but for fish that run long and fast like tuna and marlin, is wonderful. Less reeling, less of your hand cramping (and it may), etc. I don't own any large arbor reels, but may eventually.

What's the difference between a good $30 fly reel, like a Pflueger Medalist Fly Reel or an expensive fly reel like the $500 Abel Fly Reel I'm currently using? Really a couple of things: expensive fly reels tend to be lighter, which can matter when you're casting for hours, and they have smoother drags. That's about it, other than maybe aesthetics and bragging rights. A decent inexpensive fly reel, and an extra spool for quick line changes or perhaps two inexpensive fly reels instead are all you need to start, and maybe all you'll even need for fish like striped bass, bluefish, weakfish, etc.

And that's all there is to it!

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