January 24, 2000


The past few years has seen an invasion of large arbor fly reels on the American market. This movement, in part, has been influenced by Jon Bauer, a premium fly reel manufacturer residing in Salinas, California. Bauer introduced, what was to become, the most affordable, machined, American made, cork drag, large arbor fly reel (in the Loop tradition), and captured the imagination of anglers world wide. Since then, many manufacturers have joined the fray and introduced similar versions at attractive price points.

There has been much debate about the virtues of this style of reel. Some anglers call them trendy, pricey and, nothing more than 8 weight reels accompanied by 5 weight lines with added backing. Nothing could be father from the truth. Chances are these flyfisherman have never experienced or understood the true benefits these reels offer over their conventional cousins.

Using the argument stated above, the rationale would be to obtain an 8 weight conventional reel, load it with 400 yards/20lb backing and 5 weight fly line, and, viola, you have what amounts to a 5 weight large arbor reel. Wrong! While it is true the added backing would increase the arbor diameter, the added bulk, weight (conventional reel + 400 yards/20lb backing, wet!) and cost (100 yards/20lb backing = $7.75 X 4 =$31) is not consistent with the precepts of large arbor technology.

And now to the advantages:

Drag pressure: A conventionally spooled reel has a dramatic 300-400% increase in drag pressure once you get deep into backing. I’m not going to engage the physics of this point, but only state that drag resistance is the distance from the point that the line exits the spool, to the center of the spindle. With a conventional reel, this distance is being rapidly influenced the deeper you get into backing, which, in turn, increases the pressure required to dispense line off the spool. This is fact.

Line handling: This point should be obvious. Every fly line has some memory. Buy storing line on a larger diameter spool, fly line memory will be greatly reduced.

Lower RPM’s: Another obvious point. Due to the fact that large arbor reels revolve at a much lower RPM rate, palming control is greatly enhanced. Combine lower RPM’s with consistent reel drag pressure and you have a combination that offers the most effective method for dealing with hard-running fish.

Line retrieval: I have to admit that this is the feature I most enjoy. Line retrieval rate can be enhanced by as much as 2-3 times that of conventional reels. You can get a fish "on the reel" quicker, or "stay up" with a fish that bolts toward the boat much more effectively with a large arbor reel.

So what are the disadvantages? Get over some funky designs and frankly, there are none. Large arbor reels are now manufactured at every price point to compliment even the lightest of fly rods. In the year 2000 we anticipate over one half of all reel sales to be of the large arbor variety. That, in itself, is testimony to consumer knowledge and acceptance of this revolution.

We thank Jon Bauer for some of the technical information in this article.

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