Spey rods garner all the attention when it comes to gear, but we get just as many questions about the right reel, and what budget reels are available for a new spey set-up. We posted some information on our current Spey rod lineup the other day, and I thought we should add some information on reels for those rods. Or any rods.
SPEY REEL BASICS
First off, you need to get the right size reel. The general rule is to go up 1 reel size, which often equates to 2 line sizes in Spey sized reels. In other words, you generally don’t use a 6 weight reel on a 6 weight spey rod, you use an 8. For example, I use a Hatch 7plus (7/8/9) on my 6 weight Spey rod and a Hatch 5plus (5/6/7) on my 4 weight outfit. So, for a 4 weight, we use a #6 reel, for a 6 weight a #8, and so on. The only weird one is the 5 weight spey. There really are not a lot of #7 reels out there, so you usually need to find a big #6. Most 8 weight reels are little big and heavy for a nice light 5 weight spey.
The move to short shooting heads have lessened the importance of reel capacity, but it still is something to consider. If you’re going to rig a shooting head system or “switch” style line like a Wulff Ambush, you don’t need to worry too much about extra capacity. Most models should hold more than enough backing along with your shooting line and head. Using Hatch as an example again, if a reel manufacturer offers reels in “mid-arbor” and “large-arbor”, get the mid. It will be a deeper spool with more capacity.
If you are planning on rigging up with a mid or long-belly line, then you do need to consider the capacity of the reel. These lines are long and thick, and can take up a tremendous amount of space. If you’re planning on fishing for Steelhead on rivers like the Dean or Thompson – where fish can go well into your backing – then you should take careful consideration of your reels capacity, and in some cases you may end up 2 reels sizes above your rod weight (10 weight reel on a #7, for example).
Speaking of weight, a few years ago there was a big push to use extra heavy reels on Spey rods. The reason for this was to properly balance long rods (13′-15′), as well as helping create a “fulcrum” for a push-pull style stroke. Some reel companies even produced beastly “under machined” reels, or additional weights that could be added! I never bought into this, and I don’t think very many other anglers are still using overweight reels. This was definitely born from over-analysis. And as rods get shorter and shorter each year, balance becomes less of an issue.
Underhanded scnadi-style casters (like me) don’t want a heavy reel, they want it light. Or just regular reel weight reel. And if you make a large investment in an 8 weight Hatch, Abel or Nautilus, you are likely thinking that you can use it on a Bonefish trip as well. And you don’t want it heavy for that. So if you “hear” that you’re supposed to get a super heavy reel, just ignore it.
THE BEAUTY OF TROUTSPEY
You can use any old trout reel! If you’re rigging up a 3 or 4 weight spey rod, you’ll simply use the same 5 or 6 weight reel you already use for trout fishing. You probably have an extra laying around. And if not you have all the choices in the world, as nearly every fly reel made is made in a 5/6 model. A Galvan Torque would make an excellent troutspey reel! When I rigged up my new 4 weight ECHO TR, I spooled up some 50 lb. OPST Lazer shooting line right onto my Hatch 5 plus with no backing. Perfect. Having said that, most of the reels listed below are for larger 6 weight and up spey outfits.
We like to stress that there are some great budget spey rods out there, and thankfully there are also a couple of great budget reels for them. Unsurprisingly, our two best selling spey reels are produced by the same two companies that make our best selling budget spey rods. ECHO and Orvis.
ECHO ION $79-99
That’s not a typo. Yes, you can buy a big fly reel with a consistent, smooth and reliable drag for less than $100 dollars. We’ve been using and selling these reels for years, and I don’t recall seeing one fail. They get dinged up. The paint chips off if you bang them around the drift boat. They’re not the prettiest things out there. But they can fight. I see a lot of these that look abused, and I think that tells you who buys them. People who fish.
The ION has proven itself all over the spey world… AK,BC, winter fish, summer fish. It works and is used by many guides who appreciate the combo of reliability and price. And the larger sizes really are designed as Spey reels, the sizing is perfect. We sell tons of the 6/7 and 7/9 sizes. They are perfect for 90% of the rods that leave the shop. The 6/7 is also a great single handed streamer fishing reel. These reels have a very strong drag, and they are even used for King Salmon fishing in Alaska. No-brainer.
ORVIS BATTENKILL SPEY $139-149
Orvis introduced this reel a couple of years ago, and it immediately caught the eye of myself, and many other old Hardy users. It has a big, beefy click and pawl drag. 90’s technology. 1890’s. I love it and it’s loudness. Not all click/pawl drags have enough power to slow down a big, wild Steelhead, but this one does. The appearance is wide and blocky with a solid backplate. It really doesn’t look much like the wimpy little single handed versions.
The Battenkill Spey will cost you less than $150, seems pretty tough thus far, and has big capacity like reels from 3 decades ago. The strong click drag also means that reeling in your line is less smooth than with a disc-drag reel. If you’re one of those people who like to slap-spin their line in, you won’t like this one. We also wish it came in a III.5 for our 3/4/5 weight rigs. The existing III is most definitely a single handed reel. the IV is perfect for your 6 or 7 weight rig, and the size V is one of the best deals in a fully dedicated Steelhead reel at 8/9 or even 10 weights. Does anyone use those anymore?
HATCH FINNATIC $500-750
In my opinion Hatch Reels are the absolute perfect Spey Reel. They lean slightly to the heavier side, which is good. They’re built like a tank, which I appreciate as I often throw my rod on the bank or in the river when landing a Steelhead or trout. And there is something about the drag that is perfect for fishing a swung fly. I swing with the line directly off the reel (no loop, thats for Kooks!), and I rely on the drag to aid in hook setting. In other words, I swing with a fairly tight drag. I want that fish to have to pull to get those first few turns off the reel, and the setting on my Hatches seems so perfect at that point in the drag (1/3rd-ish?). I sometimes end up turning the drag down after a fish is on, and I like the big drag knob with very grippy ribs when I’m wearing gloves.
The Hatch sizes and availability of deeper Mid-arbor spools are also ideal for Spey rods. I have several 7plus reels (mid-arbor) that I use on 6, 7, and even 8 weight Spey rods, and when I head to the tropics they end up on 7, 8, and 9 weight Bonefish, Redfish and Permit rods. Now that I actually own – and am not just playing with – smaller 3 and 4 weight two-handers, the Hatch 5plus is turing into the reel I’m using most often. And it’s perfect as well.
Obviously, Hatch reels are not inexpensive, but most anglers who come in our shop are aware off them and know that they are considered one of the best reels on the market. If you’re looking for a high end reel, there is no better option for your spey setup.
ABEL CLASSIC $450-500
Here’s some more “clickers”, this time the Classic series from Abel. These unheralded reels – many anglers are not aware of them – are super cool in our book. Heavy duty click drags that remind me of my old Hardy St. John’s make some crazy racket when you’re hooked up, and will not overrun on a wild Coastal fish. Many clickers will. We carry a few of these sometimes. In other words we don’t always have them in stock. They’re expensive for a clicker at $480-500, but they’re inexpensive for an Abel. You’re definitely getting Abel quality and finish here, just with a simpler and louder drag.
There are only 3 sizes, the Classic, Switch and Spey. I would use the Classic on a 3, 4 maybe 5 weight two-hander. The Switch I would use on a 5, 6 maybe 7 weight spey, and the Spey on anything bigger. We like them with the solid face on the spool (you can get them ported as well), and you can order custom artwork as well. This raises the cost considerably.
If you like click & pawl reels, these are the best ones I’ve seen that are still being made. The drag is heavy, almost “rough”, but that’s how you want it when a Click & Pawl meets a big fish. As far as the cost goes, handle one for a while and you’ll really appreciate that Abel finish and craftsmanship.
NAUTILUS CCF-X2 $435-525
Nautilus is a big name in the salt, and getting bigger in spey. This is the model I would choose and it would probably be a dedicated Steelhead Reel rather than something I’d use on a lighter troutspey rig. The drag in the CCF-X2 is much larger, stronger and smoother than the FWX drag most trout anglers are familiar with. These are nice big reels with a fast rate of retrieve. This isn’t something we have loads of experience with compared to the FWX, but the few we’ve sold have received excellent reviews.
I think this would be an ideal reel for a lighter shorter rod like a 7126-4 METHOD. Nautilus reels are pretty light in weight, and you wouldn’t want to hang it on the end of a big old and slow 15 footer. Might have some balance issues there. But on a shorter, lighter, quicker rod it should balance well and give you some serious drag. It comes in 6/8 and 8/10 models. We recommend the 6/8 for 6 and 7 weight outfits, and the 8/10 for your winter Steelhead stick (8). Smaller models are not available.
ABEL SUPER SERIES
The Abel Super Series is legendary. When it comes to technology, most anglers either love or hate the cork drag system. It does require some occasional maintenance, but work great. Maybe not my first choice in really cold conditions. Like you’re reel is freezing up conditions. But most of the time it is an excellent performer, and you got to go with some rad paint job. Tribal Raven just screams Steelhead. So does the Steelhead skin.
The Super series are a bit narrower than many of the newer Large-arbor reels, and that’s ok. Keeps your line from stacking on one side or the other. Craftsmanship and performance are awesome, but you know your getting this for the paint job. Don’t be embarrassed by that. The finishes on the Super Series are incredibly cool. How about some Dancing Bears on your new 6 weight switch rod?