Fly Fishing Reels

Have you ever wondered what goes into producing the tackle and accessories we use today? Avid anglers and boaters often take for granted the tremendous effort required to design and manufacture the countless components that enhance our on the water experiences. Skilled craftsmen build many of these essential items right here in Florida. We wanted to learn more about these professionals and more about the products they specialize in, and we’re confident that you, too, will be fascinated with what we discover in our ongoing investigation.


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Photo: Nautilus Reels

While fly fishing is a great way to connect with trophy game fish, the act itself is more of an art form than a pastime. Once the passion for a precise presentation is in your blood, you won’t have it any other way. Fly anglers are elitists—they don’t need natural bait or plastic fakes to subdue keen-eyed predators. What they do need is specialized tackle to propel a fly and tame powerful adversaries. Although some anglers still live by the old school mentality where less is more, today’s manufacturers are looking to advanced designs with stronger and lighter materials across the board.

CNC machines have pinpoint accuracy, and the ability to fabricate complex shapes and angles in a single production run reduces tooling cost and labor.

We were recently given an exclusive behind the scenes look at one of the fly fishing industry’s most reputable and innovative reel manufacturers. Operating an immaculate machine shop in Miami, FL, Nautilus Reels strives to design and build the most innovative and performance-oriented fly fishing reels in the world. With aggressive styling and precision tooling, their reels are true works of art.

The process starts with a 12-foot section of 6061 extruded aluminum bar stock. An automated machine feeds the aluminum to a specialized saw where the aluminum is cut to pre-determined specifications (Image 1). Depending on the model and size of the desired reel, the spool and housing frame dimensions will vary greatly, so the aluminum discs are cut from bar stock of various diameters (Image 2).

Once the aluminum has been cut to size, the solid discs are lathed and milled to precise specifications. To maximize productivity and efficiency, Nautilus utilizes several CNC machines which are set up and pre-programmed to fabricate spools, housing frames, and small parts like spool shafts, drag knobs and hub plates. While CNC machines are equipped with a wide ranging tool magazine, it’s far more efficient to have multiple machines working at once than to constantly change tools and programming (Images 3 & 4). CNC machines have pinpoint accuracy, and the ability to fabricate complex shapes and angles in a single production run reduces tooling cost and labor. The benefits are twofold, including more affordable manufacturing as well as the ability to maintain perfect conformity throughout the entire manufacturing process (Images 5, 6, & 7).

Once the CNC machines have completed their programs, the spools, housing frames, and various small parts are carefully inspected to make sure the tolerances are within range (Image 8). The next step ensures a remarkable finish that’s devoid of any imperfections, although the machined parts take separate roads en route to perfection.

Small parts like drag knobs and spool shafts are sent directly to an automated de-burring machine, where the parts tumble with an abrasive media (Image 9). Utilizing a proprietary liquid mixed with silica media, the finished product gleams in a beautiful satin finish. The spools and housing frames eventually receive the same treatment, but first they are inspected by hand where any sharp corners and burrs are removed (Image 10). Due to their larger size the frames and spools can’t be tumbled like the small parts, so they are first placed in a housing to protect the parts from damage (Image 11). When the components are removed from the tumbler they are inspected once again to ensure a pristine finish before being placed on a shelf until it’s time for anodizing (Image 12).

Once parts have returned from anodizing they have to pass another quality inspection. Now it’s time for the Nautilus text and reel model to be laser engraved onto the housing frame (Image 13). Custom images and names can also be laser engraved.

Although these advanced reels feature sealed drag systems, titanium and stainless steel drag shafts, pre-stressed spring washers and industrial grade one-way clutches, the assembly process is rather simple (Image 14). The industrial grade one-way clutch and sealed drag system are two of the most important aspects (Image 15). Once assembly is complete, the reels go through one last quality inspection before being packaged and shipped off to anxious fishermen across the globe (Image 16). While the standard sliver/black/red trim is indeed eye-catching, Nautilus is fully capable of creating custom color combinations to suit your personal desires (Image 17 & 18).

While producing the highest-quality fly fishing reels on the planet is the main goal, Nautilus Reels is a firm believer in protecting our natural resources. Hand in hand with catch-and-release fly fishing, Nautilus recycles all scrap aluminum and utilizes high-efficiency water-based coolants for their CNC machines. They’ve also made a large step to reduce paper products by utilizing electronic invoicing, in addition to several other key aspects to reducing their overall carbon footprint.

Although the design crew at Nautilus could easily sit back, watch products fly off the shelves and still hold a firm grasp on the marketplace, they’re constantly innovating and tweaking their products. Two of the latest creations include LaserID™ line identification system and external backing markers. The innovative engineers etch a white spot on the back of each spool so you can write the line type and weight for that particular spool. Write it on with a permanent marker and wipe it off with alcohol when changing lines. The second innovation is a laser etched backing marker on the outside of the spool. Etched in 100-yard increments, these backing markers allow you to quickly judge how many yards of backing the fish has taken.

The intricate design of the frame and spool featured on Nautilus Reels requires precision tooling that results in a product that far surpasses customer expectations. While their designs are remarkably appealing, there’s a key performance benefit that goes along with the unique design. Because much of the spool and frame is machined out, a significant decrease in weight can be expected. While the FeatherWeight eXtreme series takes the cake in regards to ultra lightweight attributes, the new NV-G 9 tips the scale at only 8.3 oz. In addition, the unique design enables years of trouble free service in the harsh marine environment. The bottom line is that these reels are built to last. While typical fly reels feature closed frames that trap moisture and invite corrosion, the open design of Nautilus Reels allows your backing and fly line to air dry so water won’t sit on the spool.

Looking back, our investigation team learned a great deal about quality reel design during our visit to Nautilus. When it comes to successful fly fishing, absolutely nothing substitutes practice and time spent on the water. An advanced piece of equipment, like the Nautilus fly reels we saw come to fruition, simply put the finest tools in your hand and make the experience more enjoyable. Tight loops and may the wind and sun always be at your back.