Tips For Buying Used Fly Reels;


Staff member
Aug 18, 2009
Near Wasilla Alaska,
I copied this from a thread I posted to the North American Forums and thought it could be helpful here. Members are encouraged to see what is mentioned and post things that should be part of the topic.

We may tend to think of a fly reel as a pretty simple device and basically they are. This is especially true when we consider the complexities in mechanics of say a level-wind Bait Caster or a good spinning reel either of which may involve ball bearings and gears to produce retrieve ratios.

Your basic Trout or Bass sized fly reel is in comparison quite the simple affair. Most are what manufacturers call single action reels with the largest differences being the way that drag resistance is achieved. I'll tell you what I know about the basic types of reels and what to watch out for and will expect others to add to this thread with more points for consideration in due time.

Single Action Click reels

The 'Clicker or Spring & Pawl single action fly reel. Many makers have sold these and below are the things I've learned to beware of.

> Cosmetics: Look for reels that are not covered with scuffs and nicks especially on the rims of the spool and frame. A reel that has been abused is worth very little and you should make it your business to know what mint condition specimens of the same reel sell for both new or used.

> The Foot: Especially with vintage reels look for pictures of the reel foot to be sure it is in no way damaged or loose.

> Loose Spindle: The spindle is that shaft which the spool on a click & pawl reel slides onto and locks.

> Locking System: On almost every clicker I ever saw the spool is held onto the spindle and into the frame by way of a small spring activated lever or button. Be sure to inquire whether the reel spool attaches and detaches correctly.

> Free Motion: Be sure the reel you are about to purchase has no wobble as the spool turns and that it does not contact the frame in any way when turned.

> Interior View: Look for sellers who provide pictures of the inside of the reel frame showing the drag springs - gears (if applicable) and the triangular shaped steel pawls. Look to see if any grease is present indicating the reel is lubricated.

> Right or Left Hand: Be sure the reel you are considering can be used with either right or left hand retrieve.

> Stickers: When looking at vintage reels like Orvis CFO series - Battenkill series or Hardy Lightweight or Marquis (to name a few) beware of those who's previous owners placed a Line Type sticker on the back plate of the reel. What these cause is a permanent blemish on the reel. Here's how; the sticker blocks UV radiation and ozone fading to the reels finish. After 5 or 10 or more years the finish under the sticker will be in 'New' condition while the rest of the reel will be faded with the patina of normal aging. This will get on your last nerve believe me, especially if you paid $100 or more for the reel. No Stickers!

> Worse than stickers is Engraving or any other personalized markings on a reel. While this will not affect operation if you ever chose to resell you may find the market lacking for Joe Smiths reel. I have seen mint reels, reels of otherwise high value ruined by someone engraving their name onto the metal somewhere. Avoid these.

> Drag Range: Ask your seller whether there is a noticeable difference between full on & full off when the reel is turned in reverse as this will indicate whether the drag springs are worn out or not.

Modern Disc Drag Reels

The modern sealed drag reels seem to be trouble free to a great extent so your first concerns will be cosmetic and cost related.

> Research your choice, with the internet at your disposal you have few excuses for why you don't know the basics. Know what they cost new and search the auctions to find what they are selling for pre owned.

> Vintage: Know the age of the model you may buy, older reels are fine but find out whether parts are available prior to falling in love with a vintage reel.

> Cork Drags: With some reels the drag surfaces are not sealed and can require treatment with lubricants. No big deal if you are keen with your tackle but be aware of them.

> Cosmetics: Same as with the clickers, a reel that is covered with scuffs and or nicks is showing you that is has been abused and you may want to pass on these. Nicks on the spool rims may indicate reels that have been dropped, this can lead to spools being bent ever so slightly.

> Spool Removal: It is generally best to receive a reel that has owners instructions with. This demonstrates that the seller took care of the reel. If there are no papers (be sure you ask) then look on line for a schematic for the reel before buying. Knowing how a reel works prior to receiving it is a plus.

> Free Motion: Some modern large arbor reels have very little resistance when the spool is turned in the retrieve direction. What this causes with some reels to do is for the spool to actually turn and wind in line while the rod & reel are in motion while casting. While this is not the end of the world I find it to be a distraction I do not want. If this sounds like something you'll want to avoid it may be best to ask forum members about reel choices prior to buying.

> The reel case! Don't forget to look for a storage case in an online listing. If you are looking at vintage most cases had zippers, be sure to know that the zippers work properly and that the cases are not torn or stained badly. Newer protective cases are usually neoprene but are still worth around 14.99 or more if you end up needing to buy one and there's always that pesky postage fee........... A reel without case needs to be priced accordingly so be sure not sorry, some of the old Hardy cases can cost you $35.00 if you want the original kit.

Other members more knowledgeable than I will be adding their own tips below, be sure to browse through all replies so you are as well informed as possible before you hit the Buy It Now or begin Bidding on a fly reel.

> When it comes to asking questions of the sellers you may benefit by avoiding sellers who reply that they know nothing about the reel. Unless the reel is obviously new and a real deal it may be best to find sellers who are knowledgeable of what they are offering.

Take it away folks.


Horses for courses is an often used phrase but apt, I view all fishing tackle as disposable, even though some of my gear is decades old, I know what my gear is like, I know how well I look after it, with second hand rods/reels or any other bit of kit there are no guarantees, no matter how good it seems.
I don't get gooey eyed over kit except where it has precious memories which relevant to me and no one else.
Bought a lovely little reel from China a couple of moths ago for £20, I know that if it gives up the ghost I can replace it without breaking the bank and I know that any fault is likely to be mine.


Well-known member
Mar 21, 2008
End float is important to me, it’s the first thing I check on any reel.
By end float I mean if you hold the reel cage with one hand and the spool with the other you shouldn’t get any free play when pulling back and forward.
Old Hardy and Orvis reels can suffer from it as can may others, Pfleuger was notorious for it in the Trion models.
Some times it can be adjusted but not always.
Sloppy fit puts me right off.