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I like my reels to click

If you have read any of my previous posts to Epic Waters you know that I am a little “old School” when it comes to my equipment.  Especially, my reels.  For all of my freshwater fishing I use a click/pawl-drag reel.  My favorites are the old Orvis CFO reels (made by Hardy in the 70’s and early 80’s, by the way).  I also use a Bougle (Hardy made) reel and CFO VI’s for my two handed rods.  I also have two click and pawl Abel TR series reels that I got in the 90’s for trout fishing.  There is something magical about these click drags that put the icing on the cake when playing a fish.  The click is music; is Pink Floyd with larger trout; Led Zeplin with a steelhead.

My first fly reel was a Pflueger Medalist 1495.  I used it for everything from bass to steelhead.  It had a “modified-click” type drag.  I used that reel and other models of the Medalist, even for saltwater fly fishing for years.   From there I graduated to an Orvis CFO III and since then a CFO II, !V, V and VI. The old SA System reels (made by Hardy, also) of the early 80’s were also favorites of mine.  This accumulation of reels has occurred over a period of over forty years and except for a SA System 8 reel that I gave to a friend, I still have and use most of these reels.  They could have been made by Timex (“take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ or clickin’).  I checked today and they are all still sold today.  The SA System reel was and is the Hardy Marquis.  I write this post not to try to convince anyone to convert to the “old ways”, but I get quite a few comments about my reels when fishing and decided to discuss them.

What is it about the old style reel with a click and pawl drag?  For me it was the initial start-up alarm sound that gave an audio account of the strength, speed and spirit of the creature I was connected to, scorching line off of the reel.  I remember when I owned a fly shop in the 90’s, one of my employees said to me “You own a fly shop for shit’s sake; you need to get up to date with some new disc drag reels”.  I bought and used a few of the modern reels (this was in the mid-90’s), but I saw no advantage to the drag system and saw several disadvantages.

One;  there was no noise.  I know, I know, other anglers don’t necessarily appreciate the sound of a click drag, but to me it was the audio report of the fish I was playing.  You can tell a lot about the personality of the fish you have hooked by the sound and intensity of the musical click.  Is it a short spurt, sort of a drag race type of fish, or is it a head-shaking bulldog, or is it a thoroughbred race horse with endurance?  The silent disc drags just recorded line out-going almost silently (just a soft purr).  Sure it is smooth, with little or no initial start-up inertia, silent (perfect for late night poaching) but it lacks a personality.  There is no spirit within.  It just IS.  It adds no other reason for being except for gradually slowing down a fish’s forward motion.  There is even no reason to apply the long-lost skill of feathering the spool’s forward motion by applying microscopic pressure to out-going spool with your finger or palm.  It is a long-lost art. One learned only through experience.  Translate that last sentence to read loosing big fish to too much pressure applied to the revolving spool thus breaking the leader.  Too much is left to the automatic mechanical application of pressure of the disc drag.  It has taken the fresh-water angler out of the equation of actually participating in the playing of a fish to hand.  I can tell I just convinced some disc-drag reel users of the reasons for their wise choice of reels.

Two: the early disc drags had a bad habit of free-spooling when the disc got wet.  VERY IRRITATING!  Now they are water-proof, so that is not a problem anymore.

I have to admit, I do use disc drag reels for saltwater fishing but only after using different types of click drags for salt water fishes and finding them poorly designed for this type of fishing.  Plus the salt air and water played hell with the corrosion factor of fresh-water reels used in the salt environment; even with diligent fresh-water washing.  Disc drag reels are superior for salt fishes.  And I use them exclusively for salt water.

I know there is a whole generation of anglers out there who have never heard of nor used click drag reels.  I just feel bad that they didn’t have a chance to learn the art of feathering the spool to control the speed, and direction of a fish’s run.  It puts an angler more in control of the fish instead of relying on the reel to do everything.  I am not a gear snob.  I honestly don’t care what other anglers use for equipment.  I only care what I use.

The third something I did not care for the disc drag was that I have always believed that the fewer parts to a system, the fewer problems which can occur.  The click is so simple that there is hardly anything that can go wrong.  The disc drags have always included more parts and ways to fail.  And they did.  I have to admit that I have not investigated the newer reels.  But another belief I have is that “If it works, don’t fix it.”

I still like the sound of the famous Hardy click and pawls.  I don’t catch so many fish that it has become boring to me, so whenever I hear that purr/click of a Hardy drag, it is as exciting as the first time I ever heard it.

Remember my friend who told me to get with the modern reels?  I sent this to him before I posted it and this is what he had to say.  “Model T’s had a crank that started the engine of the car. It was kind of cool, ​because it let you feel the compression when you cranked her to life. You had a feeling of being one with your machine. And it also had fewer moving parts to break than the newer models”.  Funny guy, eh?   Actually, he was pretty much right on.


  1. Very true statement that is my biggest hate with fly reels of to day they just sound dead takes one of the greatest pleasure in fishing away the sound of fly reel singing when playing a fish the only modern fly reel that I use for salmon that got nice soundING drag is the fly reel nautilus spey and the loop classic the sound should reel be one of the main points when designing new fly reels.

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