Trout Talk

On cheesesteaks and fly reels

I’ve believed for a long time that, in the context of fly fishing for trout, a reel is basically just a place to hold your fly line. But I’m starting to rethink all of that. 

That’s kind of like saying that the roll on a Philadelphia cheesesteak is really just there to keep your fingers from getting greasy. Anyone who appreciates a genuine Philly cheesesteak knows that the difference between “kinda-sorta” and “the real deal” is often as simple as fresh Amoroso’s Italian bread.  I live in Colorado where the beef is prime, but being from Philly and ordering cheesesteaks in the Rockies is usually just brutal. 

Which leads me, naturally, back to fly fishing gear. 

Your fly rod is the meat and cheese. That’s the substance, the texture and the base flavor.   

Your fly line… well, that’s the sauce. Different sauces affect the overall flavor of the inside of the sandwich — they can make things spicy or mild, bold or blasé. You don’t want your sauce to overpower the meat and cheese, but you can make tastebuds dance if you choose the right sauce.  

Same with fly rods and lines — a great line can make almost any rod dance, even with just a little casting aplomb, while the most expensive newfangled rod in the world is a dud if you don’t string it up with a worthy line. That’s like driving a Maserati with lawn tractor tires. 

The reel — like the bun — literally holds everything together.  

Am I saying that you need an expensive fly reel with a fancy drag system when fishing for trout like you might when you’re pulling on mako sharks or tarpon? Absolutely not. 

But little things do matter. And I’m talking about factors like weight and balance, the ability to adjust drag during the fight, and most importantly “start-up smoothness.” Years ago, my buddy Tim Romano did “motorcycle reel tests” for Field & Stream magazine, where we tied fly lines to the back of a road bike and then hit the gas to see which reels peeled off smoothly and which ones hiccupped, choked and smoked.  

The bottom line is that it’s worth a little bit of thought, though not necessarily more money, to find a trout reel that enhances your overall fishing rig, holds all the pieces together, and brings out the best in everything… just like a quality roll for a Philly cheesesteak. 

Ask me to apply that analogy to tenkara fishing, and I have nothing. Maybe lettuce wraps? 

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By Kirk Deeter.