put on site 10/25/01

Reel Seats


article and images by Bill Byrd.

You may think that I have lost my mind writing a short article about reel seats. After all what could be important about reel seats -- right? Everything, when things go wrong as you are fishing.

I believe that in the simple act of fly fishing a small, not-so-obvious problem can become a great concern. Case in point. I recently received a brand new ultralight rod that I was really interested in owning and fishing. I had already fished a demo model and based on that experience, got one. I received my new rod, and with customary enthusiasm, I put everything on hold and went fishing. Hey, keep your priorities straight!

I attached one of my favorite ultralight reels, lined the rod, and I was fishing. After a few casts, I realized that my reel had loosened up, and was flopping around in the reel seat. I tightened the front band, and continued to meet fat fish after fish. Then a particularly strong fat fish slammed my fly, and when I raised my rod, my reel fell out of the reel seat onto the floor of my boat.

"XZAY&&&$%#@!" I said. Then I picked up my reel, got the jumble of line off my boat's floor, jammed the reel back into the reel seat, and played the fish quickly so I could release it. My mid-day fun was becoming somewhat aggravating. The reel just didn't want to stay in the reel seat.

Notice in the image (RIGHT) that the bottom two rods have cork ring reel seats, and so does the rod on top. Rods 2 and 3 on bottom have a flat reel seat, while rod 1 on top has a reel seat that is rounded to perfectly match the curvature of the reel foot. Aesthetically that is NICE -- functionally a tight fit is required or it just doesn't work. With the nicely curved reel seat on rod 1, the reel foot wants to rotate to one side or the other in the act of constantly casting. Having a flat plane for your reel's flat foot to rest on, or edges for your reel foot to lock against, keeps your reel from sliding side to side on your rod's handle. If you would rather fish than play with gear, this is important!

OK, why should this be of concern to you? If you have had a problem similar to mine, first note how geometrically your reel fits your rod's reel seat. The thickness, angle of rise, and curve on reel feet varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. This greatly impacts how your reel fits your rod's reel seat, and rod manufacturers can't create a reel seat that perfectly fits all reel feet! Next examine your reel seat to be sure that there is an edge or flat area to check the side to side motion of your reel. The rings normally are round and will conform to the roundness of your reel foot, and the round lower section of your handle. If the top is also rounded, you may have a REEL problem.

My solution: I shipped my new rod back to the manufacturer to have the reel seat adjusted. I described the reels that I will normally use on that rod and they made adjustments for me. Now my reels fit fine and stay in place. The aestheticically curved reel seat will work if your reel fits the reel seat contours properly. There are still some reels that may not fit perfectly. One reel manufacturer has made reels with very thin reel feet, so to snug them into a normal rod's reel seat a thin strip of cork or other material may be slipped under the reel foot as your reel is slipped into the rod's reel seat. Another reason for using a thin liner under your reel foot is to keep from marring the beautiful wood used on some reel seats. This will give a snug fit and protect the beauty of your reel seat.

An additional solution is to coat your reel foot with wax, push a tiny amount of epoxy up into the cap on downlocking reel seats, then push your reel foot into the cap until the epoxy starts to set. Withdraw your reel foot and you have custom fit your reel foot in your reel seat. The wax should keep your reel foot clean. If you try this it may keep other reels from fitting, so be careful!

If you feel adventurous, don't just round the top of your reel seat to make it look better, or you may be creating just this sort of problem.


While I wrote this article several years back, I stand by every word of it today. In fact in 2011 I had 6 rods with cork and ring reel seats rebuilt with uplocking reel seats. On some I had handles lengthened. The effect - the rods fished like brand new rods! Nothing like a great fit with your rod. -- Bill Byrd