Very early in my flyfishing experience I had an automatic reel. Once, the rewind spring got overwound and locked up. Later, the end of the spring failed. Someone had given me that reel, and it was worth what I paid for it.
I wore out the drag on a Mitchell 300 spinning reel, but I have never had a hand crank fly reel fail, even fishing saltwater.
Two Cabelas reels had drag failure in the same week! Brought them back got two new ones free and no problems since. The store knew the problem because it had happened to many who had gotten this model and had the maker redo the drag on the ones that came out later.
Only other one was my old Landex AR jammed up but considering it's age and the ton of use I got from it can't really complain and I got it repaired!
"I was born to fish" Lee Wulff
"There's more B.S. in fly fishing then there is in a Kansas feedlot." Lefty Kreh
" It ain't over till it's over." Yogi Berra
"Your not old,you've simply acquired a patina." Swirlchaser
I was fishing a beloved Western spring creek with a brand new reel from a famous mail order company. It was machined from bar stock, hard anodized, with a drag suitable for a whale. But it began to make funky internal sounds. I joined up with my partner, sat on a nice soft, grassy bank and he said, "lets take a look at the insides of this thing". I removed the spool and BOING!, springs and little parts burst into the air with trajectories taking them higher than my shoulders and landed in the knee deep grass about us. My serious friend said, "Oh no, lets look for them!" "Don't waste your time", I replied, "we won't find them and even if we did, I am not fishing with this piece of JUNK again anyway". That reel is long out of production.
I was fishing a beloved Western river, a big river with big trout with a reel I had used for two seasons. I have three of this reel model in different sizes and have not only caught trout but bonefish and even a permit with them. They are not famous but I liked them and they are still in production under a different name than the ones I used. They are machined from bar stock, beautifully anodized in a couple different colors and have a drag designed to stop a submarine. The drag was an early innovation in utilizing booth sides of a sandwiched cork disc to double the sweep surface area and was semi-sealed; with the spool on it was "sealed". (This "with spool on it is sealed" passes for sealed in a few other popular current reels...these reels do NOT have sealed drags.) A trout was rising and pushing a good bit of water in the process. This is a big fish I was thinking. I finally executed a good presentation and the fish ate; a big rainbow leaped into the air and hit the water running...hard and fast. I raised the rod to reduce drag on the line pulled through the water, the reel made its usual sweet and low keyed song as it spun to the fish's run...until it came to a dead, submarine stopping, lock up and "ping", the fish was gone. #@%*&+, I said. I reeld my line back in and the reel felt normal. I then pulled on the line and it was locked up; I pulled again and it burst into free-spool! I took it apart and saw nothing amiss, it was clean and lubed. Wait one minuet I said to myself (my cork drag, draw-bar experience coming into focus), I'll bet the cork surface is glazed from lack of neatsfoot oil! Well, sure, you cant get to the cork! No way without a metal shop to disassemble this hub drag system. I set it to "Zero" worked the stainless washers aside from the cork as best I could, soaked it in neatsfoot oil, whipped away the considerable excess, worked the drag back and forth to distribute the rejuvenating fluid and VOILA, good as new!
This same reel features a spring-loaded, push-button spool release. A Montauk guide friend of mine had two of these reels on his boat and the spool release failed on them. He took considerable pleasure he told me, when I discussed my issue with this reel with him, in front of his clients, throwing them overboard!
Here is a friend, using one of my outfits in the Bahamas in 2003. While taking this photograph of him, he inadvertently dunked the reel in the brine. It continued to work fine and, back at camp, it was thoroughly hosed down. This reel was designed by and produced for a popular company who, today, continues to market a direct descendant of this reel. When I returned home and performed a thorough washing of all my tackle, this reel was not working. I didn't see anything wrong with it and returned it to the knowledgeable reel guy at this company's headquarters. He sent me this image along with the refurbished reel:
The stout drag assembly sat in a recess machined into the housing that saltwater could get into but not readily drain out of. Its caked residue rendered the reel inoperable. I was shown another reel recently returned from the Bahamas of a different but respected brand but, quite possibly, the same Korean manufacturer, with a similar salt-encrusted recess that not only gummed up the works but destroyed the $10 clutch bearing the thing relied upon.
To reiterate, and this is why I am so critical of reels, quality names and customer service do you little good when your reel fails while fishing. I have even had a leaf spring break in an English, Hardy-built CFO but, of course, there are two so I was able to perform an in the field repair! It is not but many reels are JUNK.
I'm not going to mention any names of reals I've had issues with since I'm still in the industry, personally I've only owned American or British made reels, with one exception. But I have fished some excellently made Korean and a few decent Chinese reels.
I had one failure when I dropped a drag gear into the Pere Marquette river (the reel gear was not locked into the reel so it could be flipped to reverse wind). While I found the gear almost 50 feet downstream, it was the size of a quarter, and was able to save the trip. While you could argue it was my fault no one should design a reel with critical parts that can fall out when you disengage the spool.
I had one series of Big Water reels from a famous and well respected American maker give me repeated failures when the "sealed" drag went into free spool when the spool got cold and wet, if you know how to steelhead fish in the MW without getting a reel cold and wet please let me know. I had one of the series that I sent back to the manufacturer twice, when the second reel failed they hit eBay. I wasn't alone, my fishing partner had one of the same reels go into free spool on a hot fish one 28 degree day himself. We both went to click and pawls for our steelheading after. I found out later it was common issue and why the reel was replaced. Ironically, a specimen of the same reel in a trout size held up on some fish way out of the trout size range and went above and beyond in service.
I had another heavy duty machined cork draw bar reel known for it's SW drag strength go into free spool repeatedly on a 50 degree day with light rain Salmon fishing. I considered that particular failure inexcusable and will never buy a reel from that company again. And a good friend of mine who has guided for over 40 years told me he's seen every cork drag reel on the market fail at some time or another in cold wet conditions.
I did have a failure with one high end click and pawl reel, it wasn't a British reel. It overran consistently on hot AK sized Rainbows with light tippets fishing the trophy water in Cherokee NC. Pretty reel, it went to Ebay as soon as I got home.
The reels I have never had any failures with fishing are these, Ross San Miguel, Gunnison, and Canyon (not Big Game), Hardy Gem II,Angel, Featherweight, JLH, St John, Bougle MK VI, IV, Perfect, St George, Zenith, and Marquis, Scientific Angler System, Winston Perfect (both made by Hardy), Penn International (a sleeper and a real tank in SW), Orvis DXR and Lamson Velocity (both made by Lamson), Bauer Rogue, Mackenzie, and Cortland Current/Sterling (a mid priced machined Cortland that I never took a return on). In fairness, I rep Cortland and Bauer now and did rep Hardy, but I do appreciate great products even if I don't sell them.
I've also never fished SW fish larger than Bonefish or Redfish, although I've fished and landed 40 lb plus GL Salmon, AK Silvers, Steelhead and Muskie on the Fresh side.
The way I see it Reel failures are caused by not really looking after or periodically checking & cleaning Reels especially before storage sometimes over run can occur & needs fixing.
If I drop a Reel & it gets any foreign matter in it I usually clean it straight away or if it's caked & I have a spare I change it.
Also after a Reel has a Swim I usually remove the Spool Check it Drain it if necessary then Dry it & continual to use it then when I get home I strip it & check it properly most times I then re/grease it.
I had a Pfleuger medalist fail on the first bonefish I ever hooked, and, amazingly, caught. The spring loaded drag button plowed a furrow into the nylon drag disk, putting the reel into near freespool, but not quite. It was also the biggest one I have ever caught.
I've had one reel fail. It's an Allen XL I picked up about 4 years ago. It performed beautifully and was my favorite reel until a couple years ago when it started randomly just go into free spool for a second or two. Then one day it just went into permanent free spool and I had to pull the reel from the starting line up.
I know I should contact Justin, but I just never seem to find the time. It's too bad, as I really liked the reel and would love to get it back on the water.
"Three-fourths of the Earth's surface is water, and one-fourth is land. It is quite clear that the good Lord intended us to spend triple the amount of time fishing as taking care of the lawn." ~Chuck Clark