Saturday, July 7, 2012

Favorite Smallmouth Bass Fly Reels

On my previous post I covered the characteristics of what I feel are the best fly rods for smallmouth bass.  This post I will do the same thing for reels.  You can find a reel to fit any budget, so we will address the things we like to see in a reel as well as the things we feel indicate a person makes way too much money.

That Thing That Holds Fly Line
The size of the reel really depends on the weight and balance of the rod.  Some light-weight rods require light reels to prevent the rod from being back heavy, or the opposite when a tip heavy rod needs a heavier reel to prevent wrist fatique.

As you may have already read in my last post, I am a vintage fiberglass guy.  Fiberglass is typically heavier than graphite, so you rarely see contemporary reels in my arsenal.  Part of it has to do with the weight of my fly rods, but the real reason I have less expensive reels is because I'm a 4 star cheapskate when it comes to reels.  Don't get me wrong, I'll spend $100 on a reel, but I'll admit now that $100 is my absolute ceiling.

To me a fly reel holds line.  Now I understand a disc drag system and large arbor are wonderful features, but I have yet to fight a fish off of my reel.  Maybe I need to fish more or something....  In my quest to justify spending more money on reels (believe me - I tried to convince myself that I needed a very expensive reel more than once) I have read the same thing from the pros - reels hold line!  Here is a quote from Tim Holschlag:
"What about reels for smallies?  Fly industry honchos groan when I say this, but it's true: a bass reel is primarily a place to store line when you're not using it.  A fancy reel with super-smooth drag (and mega price tag) just isn't needed.  The bass clan, no matter their size, make strong, but very short runs.  That's one reason I seldom play smallmouth off the reel.  When I'm fishing from a boat, I may not even reel up my loose line for hours, but leave it on the deck or in a stripping basket where it's instantly ready for another cast."
Vrooom....The Automatic Fly Reel
Like many of you I grew up using automatic fly reels.  When you are young you don't care about things like balance and weight, you just grab the rig and start casting.  Automatic fly reels are great for kids because they have all those moving parts and it has a trigger for God's sake!  My 11 year old can care less about fly fishing, but that automatic fly reel is a real attention grabber.  I can't tell you how many times I'll look over and see him staring at the reel, watching line suck in while his popper floats down stream.

The South Bend Oren-O-Matic
 Fly Box Hero, Dick Gross sent me a South Bend Oren-O-Matic reel a few years back and it is a very cool.  I just had my youngest son out casting today and it really helps him manage line and hold his attention.  As a kid I remember casting in tall weeds and grasses, the automatic reel kept always kept my line away from my feet and free of debris.  Anything I can get that will make my kids love the sport is welcome!  I have a few rods that balance out nicely with the South Bend 1140 and at $25 on Ebay you can't go wrong!

Does this mean automatic fly reels are for kids?  Nope....I found a series of high tech automatic fly reels that cost big bucks.  Behold, the Vivarelli Lever Action Fly Reel!  I have not actually seen a Vivarelli, but they look like they would be lighter than the old school models.  Truth be told, I don't use automatic reels much anymore, but I felt they should be addressed.  Go ahead and roll your eyes, but it is nice to see the evolution of an American classic - the automatic fly reel.

Vivarelli Lever Action Reel

Automatic fly reels are neat if you have a rod that requires a heavy reel to balance it out.  I'm sure an old automatic fly reel would be a wonderful mate to a vintage Heddon glass rod.  For now I'm going to stick with my old school clicker reels because they have fewer moving parts.  When I'm on the water I don't want to worry about springs etc.  It is nice to zip up the line quickly with a pull of the trigger though....just ask my son!

The Pflueger Medalist
Pflueger Medalist fly reels are built like brick sh#% houses.  The mechanism itself is very basic and they balance out a fly rod nicely  The picture below shows a Pflueger Medalist paired with a Silaflex fiberglass rod. Beautiful isn't it?

Pflueger 1495 - Photo by Joe Cornwall
Pflueger Medalists come in all sorts of sizes and weights.  You can even upgrade your Pflueger with aftermarket parts from

The Bronson Royalist
One of my favorite reels for smallmouth fishing is the Bronson Royalist.  This is another very simple fly reel with very few parts.  The Royalist is a dream on a 6wt rod.

Bronson in Red

The Royalist is by far my favorite reel for rods up to 6-7wt.  Anything more than that and I switch over to Pflueger options.

The Lawson Lauertian
Here is a very cool little vintage reel that is perfect for your shorter rods.  I have two of the and they work great on my 6' Canoes cannons.  This is a very simple reel that was manufactured in Canada in the 1940's.

The Lawson Laurentian Still Kickin' After 70 Years.
The Lawson Laurentian is a very specialized little reel.  Don't even think of putting this on a 6wt, you run out of room quickly even with small amounts of backing.

Okay....Enough of my Vintage Stuff
Here is my favorite reel for contemporary rods, the Lamson Konic.  This reel has all of the bells and whistles, disc drag, light weight frame, large arbor....and the price is just right!  I got my Lamson Konic used for $50 and it was basically brand new.  Keep your eyes open and you'll find one for a song.

Lamson Konic - Best Deal Out Their
This post is not meant to aggravate you if you are a reel guy. I love the look of a beautiful Ross or Hardy reel and I wish I could afford one.  The reels in this post are MY favorites and I have found them to be solid performers.  Good luck to all of you out there and I hope you latch into a lunker soon.


  1. Thanks for sharing this info---Have you tried the free spool form Gloomis? It picks up the line really fast with just a spin of the reel face

  2. Hi Bill-

    I haven't seen the Loomis Venture reel until about 2 minutes ago....looks like a winner! The price is right too.

    Here is a link for all of you in the market for a new reel.



  3. G loomis discontinued the Venture line. You can still get them on ebay and a few shops have old stock. In my opinion, there is no better reel for the money both in function and aesthetically. I started using the original adventure model about 10 years ago, and that reel still works perfectly. I own all 3 models now for my rods, run a 3wt, a 5wt and the 7 for 8 and 10wt lines.

  4. the new fangled automatic reel is actually termed "semi automatic" by the marketers.

    i own a vivarelli goldstar. everyone rolls their eyes at it, until they try it. it takes all the benefits of the spring wound ones, and not a single downside.

    except the cost. its stupid expensive. i got a deal, and i'd kill for another. it won't happen at $500, though.

    i also own re-treev-it and fly champs, which were post war American jobs you can get on ebay for under $20. these are, frankly, perfect for kids because they're fun to play with but can't destory a tip like the spring jobs.

    they also don't run as smoothly as the vivarelli.

    allow me to be self-promoting...
    the re-treev-it:
    the goldstar:
    and not an auto, but the infinitly adjustable medalist drag:

    (probably not considered family fare reading)

  5. Thanks for the information gfen.

    Happy Holidays!


  6. Nice post. I read total Post. It’s really nice. Thank you for sharing.........

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