Stillwater anglers who own a single reel and line are rare. Boat anglers, and in particular competition boat anglers, use a wide variety of lines, often in a single day.

Interchangeable spools make swapping lines simple but purchasing spare spools for conventional reels when you have upwards of 20 fly-lines can prove very expensive. Enter the cassette reel, a metal reel with removable, inexpensive, lightweight plastic cassettes.

Cassettes make it easy and cost effective to assemble a system of lines to meet any occasion.

The test intended to look at 11 7/8-weight reels, this size being the most versatile for stillwater use. Owing to supply chain issues, two reels were supplied in different sizes, one 8/10 and one 5/6. They are both usually available in a 7/8 model.

There are ten cassette reels and one that has two conventional spare spools.

All the reels convert from left- to right-hand wind and all have disc drags adjusted by rear mounted knobs.

Three reels are fully machined, anodised, bar-stock aluminium, the rest are die-cast aluminium with a painted or coated finish. Five reels have spool-release catches, four have captive-screw release mechanisms and one has a friction-fit, pull-off release.

An ideal cassette reel should feature:
■ Inexpensive cassettes.
■ Fast cassette exchange.
■ Positive retention of the cassette.
■ Durability to withstand repeated disassembly.
■ A large arbor for fast line retrieve.
■ Lightness is less important because 7/8 reels are commonly used with 9ft 6in–10ft rods.


Airflo Switch 7/9 


Airflo Switch 7/9

Line rating 7/9  Weight 7.32oz  Diameter 3.8in  Capacity WF8+150  Other sizes available 4/6  Cassette exchange time 14 seconds  Additional cassette £9.99

A diecast aluminium reel with a matt black finish. The Switch is quite a heavy reel but has excellent line capacity. Cassette changes are moderately fast, with the spool secured by a traditional catch that’s quick to release. The O-ring retained spool firmly clicks into place but requires two thumbs to press it free. Cassette location is easy, just align the holes in the spool and cassette and press until it clicks. The drag knob rotates through 1.75 turns to provide a smooth progressive drag with more power than you will ever need. It has click stops that make repeat settings easy. The big plus point is that the reel comes with four spare cassettes, the most in the test. A well-made, high-capacity reel, supplied in a good case. With five cassettes it represents excellent value for money.

Contact Airflo  Tel 01874 618 510  Web


Greys Fin 7/8 


Greys Fin 7/8 cassette

Line rating 7/8  Weight 7.80oz  Diameter 4.1in  Capacity WF8+55  Other sizes available 5/6, 9/10   Cassette exchange time 20 seconds  Additional cassette £10.59

Injection moulded in aluminium with machine finishing and a matt black surface, this is a very well finished reel. It is the heaviest 7/8 reel in the test but has a large-diameter spool and good line capacity. The spool is retained by a captive screw and the cassette locks firmly on to the O-ring but does so only in one position. The alignment mark on the cassette is not very obvious, and this makes cassette exchange slow. A drag knob without click stops rotates through 360 degrees and the drag is smooth and powerful. Supplied in a quality case with two dark grey spare cassettes, this reel is solidly constructed, and the generous spool diameter gives a fast line retrieve.

Contact Greys Fishing  Tel 01665 602 771  Web


Hardy Ultradisc Cassette 7000 


Hardy Ultradisc Cassette 7000

Line rating 7/8  Weight 6.60oz  Diameter 4.3in  Capacity WF8+55  Other sizes available 4/5, 6/7, 9/10  Cassette exchange time 14 seconds  Additional cassette £21.99

Machined from bar-stock aluminium and anodised in gunmetal-silver, this large-diameter reel weighs only 6.6oz. The 4lb drag is very smooth, the knob rotating through a ¾ turn. The screw-retained spool and cassette quickly aligns with three tabs fitting into grooves on the spool. Hardy’s CLS system has a rotating plastic ring that locks the cassette to the spool. An O-ring prevents the spool rattling, but the CLS locking ring also retains the cassette without the O-ring should it fail. This, along with the durability of the frame, makes this the most reliable reel in the test. It’s also the most expensive reel tested, but is ideal for heavy use where reel failure is not an option. Includes a neoprene case, two spare cassettes and a tippet retainer on the spool counterweight.

Contact Hardy Fishing  Tel 01665 602 771  Web


JMC K10 K7 


JMC K10 K7 cassette reel

Line rating 6/9  Weight 6.15oz  Diameter 3.7in  Capacity WF7+55  Other sizes available 3/6  Cassette exchange time 12 seconds  Additional cassette £10.54

A matt black diecast aluminium reel with an acceptable quality of finish. The lightest 7/8 reel in the test with a moderate diameter, the K10 has the lowest line capacity. It would struggle to take a WF8 with enough backing to be usable. The spool is catch-retained which, combined with a cassette that is easily aligned, makes fast cassette exchanges possible. The spool catch lever, made of thin metal, was uncomfortable to use. As supplied, the O-ring was unlubricated and pulled off the spool during cassette exchanges. Applying a small amount of silicone grease rectified the problem. The strong, smooth, click-stop drag is adjusted by a knob rotating through 1.75 turns. Two spare cassettes are supplied in a nylon reel case.

Contact Glasgow Angling Centre  Tel 0141 212 8880  Web


Lamson Liquid -9+ 


Lamson Liquid -9+ cassette reel

Line rating 8/10  Weight 7.25oz  Diameter 4.4in Capacity WF10+250(30lb)  Other sizes available 4/5, 6/7, 9/10  Spool exchange time <4 seconds  Spare spool £69.99 ( -7+ model is £199, spools £59.99)

Another way to approach the spare spool issue: a diecast, partially machined, aluminium reel with two spare spools, not cassettes. If you only need three lines, this is an elegant solution, cheaper than buying a reel and two spools, and a free case included. The matt silver-grey spools are a push-fit and can be changed rapidly. The drag knob rotates through two turns to produce a very adjustable, smooth, strong drag. As an 8/10 reel, it has a huge line capacity. The -7+ model (unavailable for this test) takes a WF8+200 yards of 20lb backing, is 3.8in diameter and weighs 5.20oz, a very light, high-capacity reel. If you don’t carry many lines, this reel is a great option, but when you add further spare spools, the cost escalates rapidly.

Contact Flyfish Europe  Tel n/a  Web


Leeda Profil LA Cassette 5/6 


Leeda Profil LA Cassette 5/6

Line rating 5/6  Weight 5.56oz  Diameter 3.4in  Capacity WF5+110  Other sizes available 7/8  Cassette exchange time 10 seconds  Additional cassette £4.99

A diecast aluminium reel with a matt black finish, the Leeda is small, befitting a 5/6, but surprisingly heavy. A catch-retained spool aligns easily with the O-ring retained cassette, resulting in fast exchanges. While the drag functions well enough, the knob rotates through one turn before any drag is applied, a further turn of adjustment is then available. There is a small brass shim on the reel shaft to eliminate spool end float. It is free to move on the shaft and could easily be lost. There is no case supplied with the reel and two spare cassettes. Given its remarkable price, this would be a great first reel, with the reservation that the 5/6 might be too heavy for short rods. Assuming the 7/8 is similarly constructed, it is likely to be heavy, but this matters less when used with longer seven- or eight-weight rods.

Contact Leeda  Tel n/a  Web


Orvis Clearwater Large-Arbor Cassette 


Orvis Clearwater Large-Arbor Cassette

Line rating 6/8  Weight 6.90oz  Diameter 3.7in  Capacity WF7+110  Other sizes available none   Cassette exchange time 7 seconds  Additional cassette £9.95

A matt dark-grey reel made from diecast aluminium, the Clearwater has a good line capacity for its diameter. It is supplied in a strong case with two spare cassettes. An O-ring holds the cassettes on the catch-retained spool, and they are quickly changed due to simple positive alignment. On the sample supplied, the O-ring barely provided enough friction to stop the spool from shifting and rubbing on the frame. The strong and finely adjustable drag is excellent with the click-stop knob rotating through 2.4 turns. The reel is well-made, with easy-to-change, cost-effective cassettes. If spool retention was addressed with a larger-diameter O-ring, it would do better.

Contact Orvis UK  Tel 0333 400 4188  Web


Snowbee Prestige Gold Cassette 


Snowbee Prestige Gold Cassette

Line rating 7/8  Weight 5.56oz  Diameter 3.7in  Capacity WF8+110  Other sizes available 5/6  Cassette exchange time 15 seconds  Additional cassette £9

A fully machined, champagne-gold anodised reel made from bar-stock aluminium, this was the lightest 7/8 reel tested. Its 3.7in diameter cassette has a high line capacity and aligns easily with the screw-retained spool. The cassette is firmly retained on the spool by an O-ring. A click-stop knurled knob rotates through 1.5 turns, accurately adjusting the smooth, strong drag. The high-quality gold finish and clear cassettes combine to make this reel hard to recognise as a cassette model from a distance. This reel, with its lightness and excellent machining quality, would be a fine choice for those who prefer a more traditional-looking reel. It would partner 9ft rods well. It is supplied with a bag and three spare cassettes.

Contact Snowbee  Tel 01752 334 933  Web


Stillwater C90 Cassette 


Stillwater C90 Cassette

Line rating 7/8  Weight 7.00oz  Diameter 4.2in  Capacity WF7+120  Other sizes available 5/6  Cassette exchange time 14 seconds  Additional cassette £4

A diecast aluminium matt black reel, supplied in a bag with two spare cassettes. This is a large-diameter reel capable of retrieving line quickly. The spool is screw-retained, while the cassette is secured with an O-ring. Spool and frame are generally well machined, but there is a little excessive clearance between the lower frame bar and the spool rim that may allow a fly-line into the gap. The drag knob rotates through 1.25 turns to adjust a smooth progressive drag. For the price, equal lowest in the test, and the very low cost of the spare cassettes, this is a good reel, albeit that one minor point let it down.

Contact Glasgow Angling Centre  Tel 0141 212 8880  Web


Vision XLV Stillmaniac 


Vision XLV Stillmaniac cassette reel

Line rating 7/8  Weight 6.30oz  Diameter 4.3in  Capacity WF8+143  Other sizes available none  Cassette exchange time 16 seconds  Additional cassette £29.99 (pack of two)

A lightweight, large-diameter reel beautifully machined from bar-stock aluminium, anodised blue-grey with orange accents. Supplied in a case with two spare cassettes. The drag is the best in test with the range of adjustment perfect. The spool is catch-retained, and the cassette O-ring is compressed by a rotating locking ring, creating a very secure fit and compensating for wear. This system does not retain the cassette should the O-ring fail, when the cassette can disengage from the spool lugs. Cassette alignment is difficult. Of the 20 lugs on the cassette rim, one has a hard-to-see “flat” that must sit opposite the spool handle. Highlighting the area with paint is  something the manufacturer should have done. A fine, stylish, durable reel, but lacking the convenience and reliability of the Hardy CLS system.

Contact Guide Flyfishing  Tel 01977 681 300  Web


Wychwood Truefly SLA 


Wychwood Truefly SLA

Line rating 7/8  Weight 6.35oz  Diameter 4.1in  Capacity WF8+100  Other sizes available 5/6   Cassette exchange time 14 seconds  Additional cassette £14.99

Available in a silver or champagne finish, this well-made, diecast aluminium reel is supplied in an EVA case with two spare cassettes. A captive screw retains the spool, and the cassette is secured with an O-ring. In the sample tested, the O-ring did not possess sufficient friction to secure the cassette, which rattled and rubbed on the frame. A slightly thicker O-ring would solve this issue. The strong drag is good with 1.5 turns of the accurate click-stop knob. Assembly is simple, thanks to painted alignment dots on frame and cassette. The captive screw locks with only ¾ of a turn, giving minimal engagement with the threads on the reel shaft. This could affect long-term durability. A well-packaged, good-looking reel with an effective drag system unfortunately let down by its cassette-retention mechanism.

Contact Leeda  Tel n/a  Web


It’s all about the “O”
My overriding concern is that the O-ring system used by most manufacturers is not wholly reliable and that replacement O-rings should be freely available or supplied with reels. Some O-rings were a better fit than others and therefore reliability and ease of use compromised some reels’ functionality and longevity. The Hardy, not wholly reliant on its O-ring, was therefore my first choice.
Making it all work
How to get the best out of a cassette reel system
■ If you are likely to use many lines, I recommend you buy a bulk reel of 20lb Dacron backing. A 3,000m-5,000m spool will be much cheaper than buying many small individual spools.
■ Avoid line retainers. Hair bands and straps will blow away on a boat.
■ Mark the cassettes and reel to simplify cassette alignment and fit.
■ Label spools with line type and use a labelling machine to mark their place in your bag/box.
■ Use a bag with dividers or firm foam to hold them in place. This way the spool will remain next to its label. Don’t use cases with pre-cut cubed foam, it’s not durable enough to withstand repeated spool removal. Remember to leave an empty spot for the cassette you will be removing and using.
■ The ultimate solution is a waterproof hard case with custom laser-cut foam. Expensive, but excellent protection for a £1,000-plus investment in lines, cassettes and backing.
■ Buy at least two reels. Having lots of cassettes won’t be much use if the reel fails. It also allows you to set up more than one rod.
■ Carry spare O-rings (it would be nice if manufacturers supplied spare O-rings with their reels) and keep them lubricated with silicone grease.