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Fly Reels – Cast Vs Machined – Pros And Cons

There is a big difference between die cast fly reels and machined fly reels. This difference is what separates cheaper reels from expensive reels. Cast reels are made by molten aluminum poured into a mold. These reels are less durable, but they are generally decent. Machined reels are carved from solid bar stock aluminum – they are much stronger and more structurally sound.

Most beginners starting out will be just fine with a cast reel. However, experienced anglers tend to buy machined reels. Machined reels can last for a lifetime, and they are really hard to break.

This article will cover the pros and cons of each, and will hopefully guide your decision. There are so many reels on the market nowadays, and it can get confusing.

Cast reels can be looked down upon, but there are some great ones available. These days, it is hard to buy a “bad” fly reel, as long as you do some research, or visit your local fly shop and ask questions.

Cast Fly Reels

Cast fly reels are the cheaper category of reels. With these reels, molten aluminum is poured into a reel mold, which then hardens into the final reel. This is a cheaper process that is more accessible for most reel companies. Cast reels start at about $80. They can get up to around $200, depending on the brand and quality.

My favorite cast fly reel is the Sage Spectrum C. It is extremely well built, and features a machined drag knob and a machined reel handle. As far as cast reels go, the Spectrum C is one of the highest quality models. It is a top seller at most fly shops, and it also comes with a lifetime warranty. You can read our article on it here.

Pros Of Cast Fly Reels

  • Cast reels are much more affordable
  • They can still have very good drag systems
  • Some come with a lifetime warranty
  • More accesible for beginner anglers

Cons Of Cast Fly Reels

  • Less durable
  • If you drop them, they tend to crack or shatter
  • They usually don’t last a long time

Common reel makers that offer cast reels are : Waterworks Lamson, Sage, Redington, and Temple Fork Outfitters.

Machined Fly Reels

Machined fly reels are the more expensive category of reels. With these reels, manufacturers start with solid sticks of bar stock aluminum. This is usually high-quality, aircraft-grade aluminum. From here, the stick is cut into smaller “pucks”. These pucks are then professionally machined into the final reel – in other words, “carved”. Since these reels are carved from solid stock, they are much stronger than cast reels. The structural integrity is just a whole lot better. They can take a lot of abuse, and if you drop them – they are usually ok. Quality machined reels start at about $250, but they can go for over $1000 – depending on the company and finishes available.

Pros Of Machined Fly Reels

  • Extremely durable
  • Usually comes with a lifetime warranty
  • Drag systems are usually better
  • Anodized finishes

Cons Of Machined Fly Reels

  • Much more expensive

The best known machined reel makers are : Ross, Abel, Waterworks Lamson, Sage, Nautilus, Orvis, and Tibor.

Pricing Fly Reels/ Your Budget

Most of your initial budget should go to your fly rod. Beginners will notice a big difference with a nicer, USA made fly rod. If you are a trout fisher, the reel is less important. This is because trout don’t run like saltwater fish, so we don’t need an overly engineered reel.

Getting a cheaper, cast reel as your first reel is usually ok. You can always upgrade the reel later, as you commit more to fly fishing.

Machined reels are for folks who are willing to spend more, and probably don’t have a tight budget. Experienced anglers can really appreciate a machined reel. They are a tool that will last a lifetime, and can even be handed down through generations.

If you have $200 or less to spend on a fly reel, you should stick with the cast reel category. If you’re looking to spend over $200 on a fly reel, then you can start thinking about machined reels.

Conclusion

Although I will never find reels as important as fly rods, they are still an essential tool. All of my reels are machined, because I value the quality, and I want them to last a lifetime. With this being said, I also fly fish 100+ days a year. If you are a casual angler or weekend warrior, a cast reel is probably fine! Just be careful and try not to drop it. When cast reels are dropped, they can get badly damaged.

Another piece of advice is to look into warranties. The most respected reel brands will offer a lifetime warranty on their reels. For a small fee, they will fix anything that goes wrong with the reel. I highly recommend getting a reel with a lifetime warranty, it can really save the day.