Many years ago, I inquired of Rim Chung, “What about a reel, do you have any suggestions?” I had seen that he was fishing with a small Marryat Classic or CMR 7 (their smallest, lightest-weight and finest sized reel), of which he owns more of than any other reel.
Twenty some years ago, he answered, “The best reel that I have found for the price is this one,” he said as he pointed to the Marryat CMR 7. “It’s light weight, made with precision-tolerances in Japan, and balances well on my light rod. It has an ultra-fine drag settings which allow you to use 7X tippet without breaking it, as a result of the reel’s fine action. But many companies now make beautiful reels. Some reels are very light weight, but it only have a click drag system. I prefer a fine disk drag adjustment. You are only limited by your pocketbook and your personal preference. Choose one rationally. The light weight and drag system of a reel should be your paramount concern.”
Most of my fishing life, I’ve heard other fly fishers tell new-comers that “fly reels just hold the line.” I have collected several of the Marryat Classic CMR 7’s and 7A’s, to which I believe there are none finer for ultra-light weight fishing and the drag is important, contrary to public opinion and the advice of many veterans. In addition, the silent drag is a benefit when fishing on crowded streams, so as not be screaming to others, “I have a fish on.”
However, other students of Rim’s have since discovered that back when only bamboo rods were available, Rim’s first ultra-light weight reel was a Hardy Featherweight (I am sure the name alone was a selling point to Rim in those days where ultra-light was nearly unheard of) and favored it for that reason alone. I have followed this line of quizical experimentation that Rim also shares, and I simply do not like the loud click drag it offers with minimal adjustments for the fine tension variations needed on larger fish versus smaller fish. Rim said the same. Rim later purchased several Hardy Flyweights, which were even lighter in weight, but didn’t offer any drag adjustment whatsoever. However, the new Hardy DX Large Arbor is a decent reel for the money, but is slightly lacking in the range of fine drag adjustments (it works well enough, but you are wishing you could turn the knob a micrometer and you can’t get it to adjust that finely, it’s often slightly too heavy of a drag or slightly too fine).
Fast forward to 2019, and one of his pupil’s Ferenc Horvath, strongly prefers the Hatch Gen 2, in size 3, which Rim agrees is an excellent top of the line reel with a fine range of drag, suitable for small tippets. Rim owns a Hatch Gen 2, 3 Plus, which he calls the top of the line for tells. About ten years ago, before Hatch was launched, Ferenc used to be a big fan of the Tibor Spring Creek CL (which is also a pretty reel, has a fine drag, and Rim owns several of these as well). Somehow it was never my favorite, being much heavier than the CMRs, it just doesn’t balance as well on the light rods.
I have also experimented with the Abel light-weight reels and those of Sage (as has Rim), but not some all of the most recent versions. The Abels did not seem to have as fine of an adjustment at the lower ends of the drag settings and the Sage reels just seemed too light, even when paired with their 0-weight rods, so as to balance out the set up. However, the new Sage reels are much better and Rim has several, as manufacturers seem to be taking more notice of the fine drag issues.
But there are so many new light weight reels on the market, including several lessor-known brands, that it is difficult to say with any authority which is the best value, best balance for your rod, or the best match for your style of fishing. Rim has never been one to focus on equipment itself, as the key to catching fish.
Since Rim doesn’t really speak with particularity of favorite gear, as he likes many of them for different reasons, I can only tell you what works best for me, given my experience with a fair amount of testing. In doing so, I am reminded of when I asked Nick Sawyer, the grandson of the late Frank Sawyer and legendary inventor of the Pheasant Tail fly what rod he preferred most of his grandfather’s and he replied something along the lines of, “I don’t know the brand or weight, I’ll have to see if it is written some where on it, I simply enjoy it the most of those I had available to me.” Perhaps, Rim has fallen into the same category of a lack of definitive response in a day and age when we are looking for Google to give us a one word answer to our problems in life, without having to fully explore all of the current options on the market for ourselves. So as Rim initially said, “I think the best advice is find the one that suits you best.”
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