The Incredible Exploding Line Holder

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Louis Cahill Photography

Louis Cahill Photography

By Louis Cahill

Is a fly reel more than a line holder?

I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “A fly reel is just a line holder.” I have certainly heard it plenty, and I have a visceral reaction, similar to nails on a chalk board, every time. It is a great way to tell everyone that you’ve never caught a fish over twelve inches. Even in trout fishing the fly reel is an important piece of equipment and choosing one is an important choice.

For any fish big enough that you can’t lift it by the tippet, a reel with a good drag is key for wearing fish down effectively and landing them quickly, which is better for the fish and increases your chance of landing it. It is important to understand that a “good drag” is not simply one which is powerful. It is usually more important that the drag is smooth with little startup inertia. This protects your tippet and keeps a consistent, safe pressure on the fish.

Of course, the more powerful the fish, the more important the reel is. When you start fishing in saltwater, the reel becomes crucial. Not only are the fish much stronger, but the conditions are brutal on gear, making failure much more likely. I tell anglers all the time that it’s better to come to the salt with a cheap rod and expensive reel than the other way round.

No matter how many times I say this there will still be folks who don’t believe me.

One of them came on my Bonefish School in January. A great guy who I have known for several years. He had bought a large trout reel on sale at Cabela’s and asked me what I thought about using it for bonefish.

“It’ll explode,” I told him.

He decided to try it anyway, and brought it to South Andros. Honestly, I had completely forgotten the conversation and didn’t remember I said it would explode. He reminded me of it on the first day of fishing, when the reel actually exploded on a running fish. Literally flew into pieces. I hate that he lost a reel, but I have to admit it was satisfying that he remembered my prediction.

he is a lucky fellow, who learns from others mistakes. Take my advice. If you are shopping for a reel, regardless of species, buy the best you can afford. It really is cheaper to buy once. If you are taking up saltwater fly fishing, believe me, the reel is the most important part of your setup. Invest in a quality reel. My friend has a very nice Nautilus now. He’s done playing with explosives.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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4 thoughts on “The Incredible Exploding Line Holder

  1. I can confirm the reel did explode, I was said gentleman’s fishing partner that day and he was less worried about the fish and more worried about the I told you so from Louis… it was classic.

  2. Man… so true.. I’ve been fishing the salt for 3-4 years now and I up until this summer I was still a skeptic on the whole reel debate. In fresh water, I’ve caught brownies that go 25+ inches and never had one take me into the backing. Anyway I reached out to Louis for some rod advice a few years ago and got the best reel I could afford at the time.. I’ve got the Tibor Signature reels on both of my salt water sticks. 7/8 and 9/10…This summer I had a fish take me 100 yards into my backing before I looked up . A huge bone….. The drag was on and just WOW… I guarantee that if I’d gone cheap, the thing would’ve exploded!!!

    Spend money once of good gear, that will last. its worth it in the long run…

  3. I’ve done some salt water fly fishing, but I’m a trout guy at heart. Even though I Fish in MA and VT, we get into some big fish – not Steelhead, Trout. Ever since I started I’ve used Abel & Tiber disc drags and recently started using Galvan’s – love the Galvans, love the price. I have never, ever had a reel problem, even with fish up to 24” (and a couple bigger). These fish take line quickly and if you have 5-6X tippet on, one “stutter” and you’re screwed. Do yourself a favor – spend the money. You’re buying the reel for that challenging fish, not “the usual suspects…”

  4. I would love to hear some advice more concrete than “buy the best you can afford.” I’m sure that different grades/prices of reel will have different performance drawbacks. How cheap are the exploding reels? <$200? How cheap are the reels that might stutter or have too low of startup inertia such that you'll consistently lose fish? $200-$300? What are the breakover prices where you start to overcome common drawbacks of cheaper reels? And, are there lower-cost reels that you would recommend? Sorry, lots of questions, but the article begs questions. 🙂

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