Carp on the fly can certainly be some of the most fun you can have with a fly rod in your hands. These golden bonefish offer a fun challenge on the fly rod, they pull hard, and they’re in nearly every state or province in North America. Because carp are capable of powerful, sudden runs, having a solid, dependable reel is an absolute necessity if you plan on bringing one into your net.
With so many reels on the market, how do you select the best one for your target species? Well, first you need to consider the size rod you’ll be using and the size of fish you’ll be chasing. Depending on where you’re hunting them, Carp can be found in various sizes weighing anywhere from 5 lbs to 40 lbs. For smaller carp, a 5 WT rod will do just fine, but if you’re chasing the larger of the species, you’ll likely be using heavier rods in the 8-10 range. Simply put, there isn’t one rod/reel combo to rule them all. But one thing is certain, regardless of the size reel you’ll be using, there are a few aspects that are crucial to consider.
A large reel arbor is key for a few reasons, #1 – the backing capacity, you want to have the most amount possible. If you fish in a creek or small pond you might able to chase it down and follow the fish. If you’re in a large river or lake you will be wishing you had all the backing possible, as they just keep going once hooked. The other benefit to having a large arbor and 250 yards of backing is retrieval speed, having maximum line pick up is important, as they can come straight at you or turn on a dime, having quick line pick-up will help you gain the most ground during the battle and stay in the game.
Having a strong drag, or having infinite adjustments is also key, it will let you put the heat on the fish to keep it out of the log jam or slow it down as they head out the open water or downstream in a big river. These fish are strong and not until you hook one do you truly know the power. I have burnt out reels drag, more than once. They can pull…hard. If your fish are not the monsters and a fine tippet is required to get them to eat, then a smooth start-up is what you’re looking for, not necessarily the strongest drag. A reel with both is even better. Check out this Mad River Outfitters video on how to pick the best reel for your angling situation.
For instance, a reel’s warranty or repair time may be important to you to avoid losing time on the water. Most manufacturers offer a life-time warranty, the key to that is the turn-around time to get the repair done and the associated cost.
Another thing most people don’t think about is the physical weight of the reel. Many new reels entering the market emphasize “the-lighter-the-better,” but this might not always be the case. A heavier reel may be needed to help balance your rod or if you spend more time in a creek dead-drifting nymphs under indicators, it will help your fore-arm. If you fish flats style it may not be as important, but a well-balanced rig will assist your casting and your arms will thank you.
Having a spare spool available for your reel is always a bonus, I always have at least one, sometimes two depending on what and where I’m fishing. If you need a different line to get deep, change presentations or have problems with backing. It’s always a good idea to carry a spare.
Last but not least, the most important factor is the durability of the reel. Can it hold up to the sand, rocks or trees where you are fishing? Can it handle a few bumps and bruises you will encounter during the pursuit of carp, and still keep performing? Does the reel have bright colors or is it metallic and polished? If so, make sure you pay attention to the sun. More than one person that I introduced to carp has been busted by light reflecting off their reel. For maximum stealth, your reel should be a natural color or non-metallic to blend in with the surroundings above the water’s surface.
Saltwater reels are usually more durable and meet the needs of the carper, especially the larger Great Lakes carp. My ultimate dream carp reel is definitely the Abel Super Series or SDS in their carp flank finish by artist Derek DeYoung.
With so many reels to choose, no matter what the size of carp you target pick one that feels great on your rod, fits your budget, and has some of the above features to help land your first carp on the fly.