What is the Airflo Switch Black fly reel?
The Airflo Switch Black is a no-frills fly reel with a die-cast aluminium construction. It has a simple design, unfussy looks, and reasonable build quality and comes with five cassette spools and a padded reel case. It's probably one of the most widely used fly reels in the UK, especially among competition fly fishers.
Until recently, it sat in the Airflo Switch range alongside the Airflo Switch Pro. This reel shared the same overall design, and the same cassette spools, but was made from lighter, stronger, and more expensive CNC aluminium. The more expensive Switch Pro has now been discontinued.
What sizes are available?
The Switch Black is firmly aimed at stillwater trout fly fishers and comes in two sizes: a smaller 4/6 model for lines from #4 to #6, and the larger 7/9 model I have, for lines from #7 to #9.
They're not super light reels, but neither are they particularly heavy. The 4/6 model weighs in at around 179g, while the larger Switch Black 7/9 weighs around 208g. This is lighter than the Greys GTS 500 and GTS 700 fly reels that launched around the same time as the Airflo Switch Black.
How do you change the spool?
With a regular fly reel, the spool is made from aluminium and can cost almost as much as the reel itself. However, with cassette fly reels, you get cheaper plastic cassette spools supplied with the reel.
The main point of the Airflo Switch Black fly reels is that they have quick-change cassette spools. You get five spools with the reel, allowing you to carry a floater, intermediate, slow sink, fast sink, and midge tip line with you and change the spool over to switch the line in less than a minute.
There's a simple switch on the face of the reel to activate the spool release. Once the front is free, you can just pull off the spool and swap it over. There are a couple of bumps you need to line up, and it can be a little fiddly to reassemble and require some persuasion to align, but it's still pretty simple.
Can you buy additional spools?
Yes, you can buy extra cassette spools for the Airflo Switch for around £10 each. If you're a competition fly angler and need to carry more than five lines with you, you may as well just get two Switch Blacks to give you ten spools, plus a spare reel to use. For an extra £20-30, you get the benefit of an extra reel.
Do they hold a lot of line?
Yep, for their size, the line capacities on these are pretty decent. My 7/9 Airflo Switch has various long or large-headed lines fitted and there's still tons of room for more.
What is the quality like?
I was pleasantly surprised with the quality. There's a reasonable drag (should you ever need it), a simple handle, a tough frame and a relatively strong foot. The reels have a smooth, hard finish and matt black paint and a fairly understated design. The back of the reel looks better than the front, but most people want function over form with one of these workhorses.
What's it like to use?
If you've ever been to a fly fishing competition, especially a loch style one, you'll likely have seen a lot of people using the Airflo Switch Black, or the smarter Switch Pro. It's probably the most widely used fly reel on the competition circuit.
Competition fly fishers want a solid reel that works well, allows them to quickly change their lines and lets them carry 5-10 lines on separate spools without needing to spend a fortune buying expensive spools. For a couple of hundred quid, they can get a few Airflo Switch reels and have everything they need.
The reels work well. I've got a couple of the smaller 4/6 models and a larger 7/9 for use when I'm loch style fly fishing. Line capacities are great (you could easily fit a 7 line on the 4/6 reel), the drag is effective and not too clicky, and the retrieve is smooth.
They're not too heavy, fairly robust and inexpensive to purchase. The low price also means that you're not going to get too upset when they inevitably get scuffed and scratched by "boat rash" when used repeatedly for loch style fishing.
The minor downside is that removing and reattaching spools does require some brute force. If you have weak frozen fingers forget it. There's a bit of lubricant on the centre of the reel to help this, but a bit more wiggle room would be useful to make switching spools a bit easier.
How much do they cost?
The Airflo Switch Black fly reel can be picked up for under £100, including five plastic cassette spools and a padded carrying case. That's really good value for money so it's no surprise that these are as widely used as they are.