Spey reels - how much capacity is needed

Note: Rod size 14 foot 9 weight

In looking at spey size reels, what capacity is really needed.. I would be fishing water like the cowlitz river..

In looking at 8-10 weight reels , the common holding size I am seeing is 250 yards of 20lb test backing . Is that addequate for local steelhead and salmon?

11-12 size holds 225 yards of 30lb test. is this amount overkill or prefered?
And how common is it to use this size reel on a 9 wt rod.. I assume part of the answer will be "depending on reel weight" and is it balanced with rod

thanks, Ron on the Willapa


Active Member
I once had a steelhead run 13 miles on me. This is why I use a size 20 traditional on my 7 wt. I like 13 miles of backing.

Just kidding. Turn the fish. If your out 100yds of backing on a river fish... good luck.

Something to keep in mind (forgive me for stating the obvious) is that a spey line is both longer and thicker than a single hand line of the same weight. Although the 8-10wt reel holds a similar amount of backing as its 11-12wt counterpart, you'll most likely need to cut down on the backing to fit the line (if it fits at all). And as you mentioned before you need to consider whether or not the reel will balance your rod. I'd suggesting going larger.

BTW, since we're talking about reels now can I assume that you picked the rod already? What'd you get? :thumb:


Active Member

As has been mentioned, spey lines take up a lot of space on a reel. Not only are they thicker than single-hand lines, they have head lengths of 55', 65',
75', 85', 95' or 105', while single-hand lines have heads of 30' on standard WF lines or 60' on the salmon/steelhead lines. In addition, spey lines are between 120' and 150' long, whereas single-hand lines are 85' to 105' long. All this means a spey line needs a much bigger reel than a single-hand line of the same line wt designation.

The easy way to figure this is to up 2 line sized on the reel rating to get enough room to hold 100-200 yds of backing and a short to mid-belly (55'-65' belly) spey line. In other words, your 9 wt spey line will require a reel rated for a 10/11 line, provided you are going to use a short or mid-belly line, which are the line a beginning spey caster should be starting with.

Steve Buckner

Mother Nature's Son
As already addressed, the reel needs to have enough capacity to hold the long spey line. Those lines with long heads such as the SA XLT will eat up plenty of reel, while the other shorter headed lines won't eat up quite so much.

The next issue becomes that of balance. If the weight of the reel/line combination is not correct, the balance point of the rod is also not correct. The balance point should be somewhere near the top of the cork grip with the reel/line in place. Some take it a step further and will strip out the amount of line that will generally be thrown and then check the balance point from there. So, just like with your single handed rod, it's important to match the reel/line combination to balance the rod, otherwise you'll be fighting that imbalance each time you cast.

Many rod/reel/line manufacturers have suggestions on what works and what does not. When I was in the market for a new Bauer reel, I contacted them and asked them what lines they've used in conjunction with what rods to make sure I had a good match. I'd suggest either going through a fly shop to help and/or asking for some specific input to find out what rod/reels/lines have matched up well in terms of balance.

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