Selecting a good reel for your Spey rod is relatively easy. Criteria to consider for a Spey reel include adequate line capacity, a solid drag mechanism, and a nice balance on your rod of choice.
What size reel do I need for a spey rod? Most Spey reels fall somewhere between a 9 weight reel and a 12 weight reel. The capacity of the reel is important due to the extra length and diameter of Spey lines and the necessary backing for salmon fishing. It is important not to employ a very lightweight reel because they often won’t balance out on a spey rod. It is typically better to have a slightly heavier reel than one that is too light. For 8, 9, and 10 weight rods look for a nice 12 weight reel (Dia.3 ¾” – 4”). A few manufacturers are now offering reels that are even larger for long belly lines on long rods but for all practical purposes these extra large reels are too large for most rods.
How important is a good drag? And what kind of drag is best suited for salmon fishing? It is important to have a good drag mechanism. By no means does this require that you have a saltwater compatible reel; you just need a reel with a reliable drag that can handle a hard run / not free spooling. Another important consideration is finding a reel with a drag mechanism that works well in cold weather. Some saltwater reels do not function properly in cold weather. The cork will freeze to the spool or the drag will vary as the temperature increases or decreases. It is best to look for a drag mechanism that is completely enclosed. Saracione, Danielsson, Hatch, Nautilus all make great disc drag reels that are completely enclosed and require little to no maintenance. Carbon fiber is a relatively new material on the market that several reel companies are incorporating into their drag systems. Carbon fiber is very reliable, disperses heat well and provides great sensitivity. You’ll be hard pressed to find a carbon fiber drag that experiences any slipping or free spooling with variable weather/wet conditions. Nothing hurts worse than showing up to the river, hooking a nice fish and losing that fish because your reel malfunctions.
What other aspects of selecting a salmon reel should be considered? Once you have selected a few reels that balance the rod, have adequate capacity, and a reliable drag, all you need to do is figure out which one looks and feels best. The criteria for determining this question is fairly subjective. Some people like a particular sound or no sound on the drag while others are looking for a particular finish or color. Personally I love my old noisy 4″ Hardy Perfect or Bougle reels – I find silent reels very dull and without any kind of soul. Every reel feels different in hand- the drag knob and the reel handle for instance. Ultimately, put the reel on your rod and take a hard look to make sure everything is in order. Hope you now have a more clear idea at this point of which reel is the right one for you.