Review: Farlex S-Handle Fly Reel

If you keep up to speed with the articles we post, you’ll know that we’ve recently been testing the Farlex S-Handle fly reel. Fortunately for me, I have access to some great water in Northern England and Southern Scotland, and I have a job that allows a certain amount of flexibility when the fish are running. (I’m well aware that many salmon anglers can only get away for a week a year – if they’re lucky – whereas my proximity to the river means I can literally pop down for an hour here and there. When salmon fishing is hard, it’s really hard, and to me a week on the river in the wrong conditions can sometimes feel like punishment. An hour here or there, however, is ideal – at least, it has been over the last couple of weeks…)

As is so often the case when a river settles from a big flood, the fish were running, and I couldn’t wait for an opportunity to have a few casts. I was doubly excited – not only were the conditions looking ideal, but also I had the Farlex to try. I headed to my favourite section of my local River Tyne – once almost stripped of all its salmon by pollution – and waded out to the top of a long, fairly shallow pool.

I’d paired the Farlex S-Handle with a 15-foot Hardy spey rod and a 9-weight RIO AFS PowerSpey line – a lovely combination for covering bigger rivers. The top of the pool in question starts as a rushing shoot, then widens and calms into a large, steady glide. I normally fish the top section on a short line, sometimes ‘dibbling’ the fast water, then slowly increase my line length as I enter the pool proper. This time, when the first fish struck, I’d only just got a full line out. As you can see below, the Farlex began to sing.

You can see the complete video, and more like it, on Andy’s YouTube channel.

I know others like to hold the line and feel the fish pull, but I prefer not to – I just let the fish drag line straight off the reel (it may be all those years of trout fishing, but I’m afraid I might strike when I feel the line tighten in my fingers!). This time I had no such problem. My first impression of the Farlex was how loud it is. When you’re fishing a quiet pool with nothing but your thoughts for company, a violent pull on this reel is almost like a bomb going off. But what a gorgeous-sounding bomb! A take from an Atlantic salmon is heart-stopping enough, but this reel takes it to a whole new level. It’s such a great-sounding reel – definitely, in my view, one of its star qualities.

Click and pawl drag

The Farlex is what’s known as a “click and pawl” reel, which features a relatively straightforward form of drag. A metal lever pushes firmly against a gear cog, provide some resistance against the cog, and spool, turning freely. As the spool turns the lever bends, then ‘clicks’ into the next cog in the gear. This kind of drag can be adjusted to some extent by adding tension to the lever, although most anglers simply add pressure using the palm of their hand or fingers, which they hold against the spool as it revolves. Click and pawl reels are adequate for most types of fly fishing, except when you’re targeting very large, very fast, very hard-fighting fish that are likely to scream off on long, palm-burning, knuckle-wrapping runs (for these fish you ideally want a fly reel with a strong sealed drag). We use click and pawl reels for all of our trout and salmon fishing and they work fine. In the case of the Farlex, it’s the click and pawl that creates the wonderful sound.

Another thing to mention about the Farlex is the wonderful finish. Each reel is assembled, by hand, by the company owner and Farlex inventor, Tim Gelinas. As well as an accomplished engineer, Tim is a fanatical salmon and steelhead angler from the North West (USA) and he builds these reels with pure fishing passion. Everything fits together perfectly: the screw heads are wonderfully smooth, the action is pure and the whole reel screams quality.

We opted for the 4” raised pillar S-Handle reel in black and silver and Tim was good enough to add 200 yards of 30lb Cortland dacron backing before shipping it. (As you can see in our previous Farlex article, he also sent us a short video showing the newly built reel before he shipped it. A nice touch.) The raised pillar model takes more line but, at more than 15oz, is also quite a bit heavier than the 3.75″ model, which weighs less than 10oz. On a 15-foot rod it’s not a problem but on a shorter rod it might be advisable to go with the smaller reel.

One slight negative we found with the reel is the S-Handle itself. There’s a tiny gap between the reel and the handle and, as with all snags, the fly line occasionally wrapped itself around it. This happens, of course, with all reel handles, but due to the design of the S-Handle it’s a little more pronounced. Having said that, Tim has designed the handle such that, should the line wrap around the reel, it can be removed very quickly and easily with one hand (unlike some other reels of this style, which require two hands). It’s a minor detail and hasn’t made any difference to our fishing enjoyment, but if you do decide to order an S-Handle, this is something you might consider asking about. Alternatively you could opt for the Platewind option, which has no such issue.

22lb atlantic salmon

So far, we’ve landed 6 fish on the Farlex, including a fresh-run salmon of 22lbs, which you can see above. The reel has performed admirably and has definitely added to what has already been a rather enjoyable fortnight! Between the team here at Drowning Worms, we own a number of large fly reels, any of which work just fine for the Atlantic salmon fishing we do. But none of them puts a smile on our face quite like the Farlex does. They’re not cheap though. At between $800 and $1200, any one of the reels is going to make a significant dent in your wallet. But if you want to treat yourself to something truly unique and wonderfully special, this is a reel you will never stop enjoying. I found myself looking down at the reel repeatedly, just to admire the sheer beauty of it. And, as I say, when a fish grabs your fly, the orchestra starts to play. Wonderful.

Andy Blyth About Andy Blyth

Andy started fishing at an early age, under the watchful eye of father, Ian. Since his first ever salmon (a monstrous 28.5lb cock, which he landed on 12lb leader and a 10-foot rod!) he's been addicted.