Originally Posted by cochise
Can anyone tell me why something as simple as a LA took so long to come about. Materials, engineering, intelligence? What turned the tide?
Under General Discussions there is a thread about LA reels for Spey rods which inspired me to broaden this issue here for the reel specialists. I invite and welcome historical observations to fill in or correct my memory but the first large, really by today's lexicon, "mid-arbor", reel I recall was Hardy's Prince (& Golden Prince) in the early 1980's. I bought one through a British catalog and found it innovative but too loud and soon retired it (banished it to a cardboard box somewhere). The first true large arbor reel that I encountered was the original Loop built, I believe, by Danielsson in Sweden. Truly an exaggerated large arbor it featured a terrible drag system that, when set, you reeled against with the same resistance as the outgoing force.
There was very slow acceptance of the large arbor concept by fly fishers because they appeared to be so much larger than their weight and line capacity where. Today a 4" diameter reel might be for a 4-weight but back in the day more likely a 9-weight. Visuals count a lot in our appropriately aesthetically rich sport but reel designers loved the large arbor concepts with good reason. Rods over the past two decades have gotten progressively lighter and to balance them correctly, lighter reels were called for. However, to make traditional reels lighter meant making them smaller and out of lighter materials and we wound up (to pick on one of my favorite reels of its time) with CFO III's being rated for and paired with #5 even 6-weight rods while holding 25 yards of Dacron. Really it was a 3-weight reel, I went to a CFO IV for 4-weight. A first generation Bauer was the first larger arbor and disc drag reel I ever seriously used trout fishing. Showing up with this thing on the Henry's Fork, my Western buddies thought my dark side, saltwater fly fishing had negatively effected me. Classic Hardy's still ruled the day but I was transformed; those big old bows came to net more quickly and photographed and released much greener with the use of a smooth actual drag vs. an overrun check and the larger arbor picked up line noticeably faster getting a big boy on the reel more quickly. I was not alone in this assessment and as the 90's moved toward a new century, large arbors proliferated as did usable drag designs, previously reserved for salmon and saltwater reels. Now for clarity's sake lets understand that to take a standard arbor reel like a CFO IV or Abel 3 or 4N and fill it to maximum capacity with backing you have effectively created a "large arbor" for the fly line to wrap around. You have the added weight of the backing but if the reel balances...so what? Marketing large arbor reels centers around the advantage of larger coils of line around the arbor to reduce line memory and promote more rapid pick-up of slack, both true enough if not entirely critical to fly fishing for trout. It is more relevant if you pursue false albacore or bonefish but a smooth, linear drag is most important for these powerful fly rod species. So the main advantage of a large arbor is the relationship between capacity and balancing weight; being larger in diameter more backing and line can be mounted on a lighter reel as the inside of the arbor has as little material in it as necessary to house the drag mechanism and preserve structural integrity. A secondary but not insignificant advantage is that this interior open space affords reel designers room for all manor of new drag designs like modules of stacked synthetic elements or out sized discs of conventional or exotic materials...give a designer space and he will figure out a good way to fill it. Also, give a designer a concept and he may strive to push its envelope. If a large arbor is good lets make it bigger and compensate for the lager diameters limiting line and backing capacity by making it wider. That solution, though popular for a while, is falling by the wayside as anglers, particularly in the salt, struggled to regain line uniformly and intuitively on spools in excess of an inch wide. The obvious solution; make the spool narrower but even larger and some are tapering the inside diameter of the spool's arbor to enhance backing capacity and uniform line retrieval.
So now I show up on the Fork with a Hardy, but it is an Ultralite DD which is outrageously large arbored, with stacked disc drag of carbon fiber elements, inwardly tapered spool and...no one says a word like, "is that from outer space?" They all have something like this too, I'm kind of disappointed.