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Do you need a reel to fly fish? : Do you need a reel to fly fish?

Do You Need a Reel to Fly Fish?

Key Takeaways

  • A reel is necessary for fly fishing in certain situations, such as when targeting large fish, fishing in saltwater, or needing to make longer and faster runs.
  • Using a reel provides benefits such as fighting and landing large fish, mitigating human error, increased safety, smooth transition during the fight, optimal tension and control, durability and saltwater use, and an enhanced fishing experience.
  • However, there is an alternative technique called tenkara fishing that eliminates the need for a reel, using a long tenkara rod and a tight line to hook and catch fish. Tenkara fishing is simpler and more effective for smaller fish and fishing environments where long casting distances are not necessary.

When it comes to fly fishing, one of the most common questions that beginners ask is whether or not a reel is necessary. The answer to this question depends on several factors, including the type of fish you are targeting, the fishing environment, and personal preference. In this article, we will explore the benefits of using a reel for fly fishing, as well as the option of fishing without a reel using a technique called tenkara.

The Benefits of Using a Reel for Fly Fishing

Using a reel for fly fishing offers several advantages that can enhance your fishing experience:

  1. Fighting and Landing Large Fish: One of the primary reasons for using a reel is to fight and land large fish, especially in saltwater fly fishing. A reel allows you to apply steady pressure on the fish, making it easier to control and land.
  2. Mitigating Human Error: Using a reel helps to mitigate human error during the fight. It provides a consistent and steady pressure on the fish, preventing sudden jerks or slack in the line that can result from hand-stripping the line.
  3. Increased Safety: A reel adds an extra layer of safety by preventing the line from burning or getting tangled around your fingers. This is particularly important when dealing with powerful fish that can make sudden runs.
  4. Longer and Faster Runs: With a reel, you can allow the fish to make longer and faster runs without creating slack in the line. This gives you more control over the fight and reduces the risk of the fish escaping.
  5. Smooth Transition: Using a reel allows for a smooth transition from hand-stripping the line to reeling in the fish. This transition, also known as “clearing the line,” is a learned skill that can greatly improve your chances of successfully landing the fish.
  6. Optimal Tension and Control: A reel helps you properly set the drag, which determines the tension on the line. This is crucial for controlling the fish during the fight and preventing the line from breaking.
  7. Durability and Saltwater Use: Many fly fishing reels are designed to be sealed for saltwater use and are durable under harsh conditions. This makes them suitable for targeting saltwater gamefish.
  8. Enhanced Fishing Experience: Using a reel complements a good rod and enhances the overall fishing experience. It allows you to make longer casts, fight larger fish, and have greater control over your line.

Fly Fishing Without a Reel: Tenkara Fishing

While using a reel is the traditional approach to fly fishing, there is an alternative technique called tenkara fishing that eliminates the need for a reel. Tenkara originated in Japan and is primarily used to fish for trout and other freshwater fish in mountain streams.

Tenkara fishing relies on a long tenkara rod without a reel. The fishing line is tied directly to the tip of the rod, and anglers use a tight line to hook and catch fish. This technique is known for its simplicity and effectiveness.

Tenkara rods come in varying lengths and can be telescoped for easy transportation. The lines used in tenkara fishing are specially designed for casting near-weightless flies, and the type of line depends on personal preference. The size of the fly used in tenkara fishing is less important than the technique used.

While tenkara fishing may not offer the same versatility as traditional fly fishing with a reel, it provides a unique and enjoyable fishing experience. It is particularly well-suited for smaller fish and fishing environments where long casting distances are not necessary.


In conclusion, whether or not you need a reel to fly fish depends on various factors such as the size of the fish you are targeting and the fishing environment. For smaller fish or situations where the fish is unable to make far runs, using a reel may not be necessary. However, for larger species such as saltwater gamefish, using a reel is typically required to effectively fight and land the fish.

Ultimately, the decision to use a reel or fish without one comes down to personal preference and the type of fishing experience you are seeking. Both methods have their advantages and can be enjoyable in their own right. Whether you choose to use a reel or try out the tenkara technique, the most important thing is to have fun and appreciate the art of fly fishing.

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Q: What is fly fishing?

Fly fishing is a method of angling that uses a specialized type of fishing line and an artificial fly. It involves casting the fly using a fly rod and reel, with the goal of imitating natural insect prey to attract fish.

Q: Why do you need a reel in fly fishing?

The primary function of a reel in fly fishing is to store and manage the fly line. It allows for easy retrieval and control of the line during casting and while fighting a fish.

Q: Are there alternatives to using a traditional reel in fly fishing?

Yes, there are alternatives to using a traditional reel in fly fishing. One such method is the “Tenkara” technique, which doesn’t involve a reel. Additionally, there are other tools and methods available for line management, depending on personal preference and fishing conditions.

Q: When is a reel necessary in fly fishing?

The necessity of a reel in fly fishing depends on various factors. It is essential in scenarios where longer casts, precise line control, or fighting larger fish are involved. In situations where shorter casts and smaller fish are targeted, a reel may not be necessary.

Q: What are the pros and cons of using a reel in fly fishing?

Using a reel in fly fishing offers advantages such as increased casting distance, improved line control, and the ability to handle larger fish. However, it also has disadvantages, including added weight to the setup and potential maintenance requirements.

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