Cheeky made a “splash” when it jumped into the ultra-competitive reel market a number of years ago with colorful, fairly-priced, utilitarian models that carved a niche where most fly industry insiders wondered if there was even a niche to be had. After all, for a while there, it seemed like anyone with access to a metal machining shop and an interest in fly fishing could build a pretty compelling reel.
Thing is, Cheeky was based in Massachusetts, when everyone thought the center of the fly-fishing universe was Bozeman, MT (which is still very much open to discussion). The company didn’t hide its penchant for the salt and striped bass fishing in particular, so it jumped right in with the big boys where things like disc drags really mattered. And they did it in a way that proved you didn’t need to spend several hundred dollars to fish with a perfectly capable, functional saltwater reel. And now, they’re not only still hanging around, they’ve also made a reel that I think puts them in the big leagues for keeps.
The “Spray” is Cheeky’s newest, premium reel, though it costs considerably less ($400) than other premium disc-drag reels. I’ve fished the smallest version, the 350, on trout rivers, very late in the Rocky Mountain season. The 350 is the trout-sized model.
The startup smoothness is fine. There’s one, tiny micro-bump between where you left your last crank of the reel and where the drag engages after the fish takes the fly and starts the run. Most people won’t even notice, it’s pretty nominal and the drag–a fully-sealed gasket system–is quite smooth. That you will notice.
It’s a light reel, crafted of aluminum and ported both in frame and spool. I wouldn’t call it dainty though. I’d try not to drop in on the rocks as I fished, but if that happened, I wouldn’t automatically think I just ruined my reel, which is the concern I have with many reels that are ultra-ported, and look like metallic spider webs, presumably just to keep them light.
One of the main “hooks” of the Spray is the contrast of colors to be had between spool and frame: blue on gold, orange on silver, and so forth.
But to me, the really appealing attributes are the tiny details that show the reel was designed by people who care about the little things when it comes to fishing–the stem of the reel foot is rounded, for example. Why does that matter? If you wrap your leader/tippet around the reel foot, do you want it pulled taut around on a hard edge that crimps, creates memory or chafing on the leader, or one that is rounded and smooth? And then there’s a drilled-in hook holder hole, so if your rod doesn’t have a hook keep, and you don’t want to hang your fly in the rod guide, you can stick it on the reel. It’s a nice detail.
The counterbalance on the spool, opposite the handle, is ergonomic and fairly flush, so it balances the rotation, without knocking knuckles or catching loose fly line.
The arbor is large (it holds a lot of backing with the line), the drag adjustment is easy and accessible and all it takes to pop the spool is a few easy twists of a screw that remains attached when the spool disengages. The drag is sealed, so it’s impervious to grit and gunk; so too are the tolerances tight, which also keeps things running smoothly, even if they get a bit muddy.
For $400, which is what you’d pay for some fancy, dressed-up click pawls, it’s a pretty fair deal.