Recycling 101

fishing reels

by Scott Sadil

I needed a couple of new reels. Or maybe need is a little too strong a word. Anyway, I was headed to Baja, to a part of the Sea of Cortez I wasn’t familiar with, at a time of year during which I hadn’t crossed the border in thirty-some years.

I wanted to come prepared.

But over the course of several recent Baja visits, I’d grown concerned as two of my stalwart reels showed serious signs of fatigue. I had no complaints; both reels had performed admirably in tough conditions against plenty of tough fish. 

Baja, the way I usually do it, is no place for delicate, finicky equipment; you hang out weeks at a time on empty, windswept beaches, with nothing between you and the sand and salt but the scrim of sweat seeping out of your pores, and even the priciest gear can go down fast if it needs to be coddled or babied or put down gently each night into a cozy bed.

The other thing worth noting is that good saltwater reels have never come cheap. No doubt bargain reels are out there, and there’s a chance they’ll actually hold up if, one, like many anglers who visit the salt infrequently, you rarely use them and, two, when you do put them to work, you don’t hook many good fish.

But that’s kind of a lousy combination of criteria.

Then again, as I’ve asked before in these Short Casts, what exactly is good enough?

saltwater fishing reels
Reels get wet.

Of course, nobody here wants to listen to somebody run the numbers on a cost analysis of a piece of fishing equipment. You get what you pay for?  Well, yes and no. But with my flight south rapidly approaching, I did the next best thing to blowing up my Mastercard, putting off today what would be no easier to deal with tomorrow.

I called my buddy, Jeff Cottrell.

Now, Jeff’s been in the game as long as I have: guide, shop owner, lodge manager, the works. And I also happen to know that, for all the usual reasons – location, age, health issues, family commitments – he hasn’t fished in the salt since we first met twenty-odd years ago.  He used to; he’s been everywhere; but not now.

So I know he’s got some reels stashed somewhere and that seems like such a waste.

There’s more to it than that.  Most every fly angler I know owns far more equipment than he or she can ever use.  It’s only logical: The deeper you get into any sport, the more sophisticated your tastes become and the greater your requirements – or occasionally you just want to treat yourself to some especially handsome piece of equipment, even if Old Betsy can still keep up with all the new kids on the water.

saltwater reels
Reels get sandy, too.

If a team of go-getters really wanted to do some good in their community, they’d hold an annual fly-fishing swap meet, let folks sell and pass along gear they’re never going to use again, giving newcomers, say, a chance to step into the sport without committing a few payments toward their child’s college tuition. Only short-sighted members of the industry would complain: Fly fishers are generally lifetime customers.  Once they enter the sport, they rarely leave.

The good news is, my buddy Jeff agrees, in principle, on selling to me.       

I didn’t expect him to bring any loved ones. He’s got an old XXXX8 (I really don’t want to name any names) he used to use for bonefish in Las Roques on his way home each year from guiding in Tierra del Fuego.  He says he wants to be buried with it. I get it. If I hadn’t had it stolen, that board Paul Gravelle shaped for me in 1978 at Jeffreys Bay, I’d sleep with it. 

As it is, I got two exceptional new-to-me saltwater reels. Wrote a check for one, said I’d buy the other, same price, if it does what it was designed to do.

A lot changes over the years. Yet quality saltwater reels, and other good pieces of fly fishing equipment, that did the job thirty years ago can still get the job done today. 

But what good are they stashed away in the dark?


Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil confesses to a fondness for recalling gear failures – when they happen to the other guy.