I am a cheap bastard. Whether this condition is the natural by-product of a lifetime of lower-to-lowest middle-class purchasing power or an inherent part of my genetic makeup, I cannot say. All I know is I’ve never paid more than $200 for a rod or reel of any iteration (fly, baitcaster, spinning, whatever), and considering the current depressing arc of my income level, I probably never will.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that, like the vast majority of fly anglers, I mostly fish with tackle that falls somewhere in between bubble-pack garbage and high-end unobtanium: Good, stolid, affordable gear with a high value-to-performance ratio.
On paper, the Cheeky Tyro fits right into my financial and performance sweet spot. The Tyro 350, which is rated as a 5-6wt retails for $139. It’s a handsome reel that measures 3.5 inches in diameter, a little over an inch wide, and will allegedly hold 180 yards of 20lb backing with a 5wt line and 160 yards with a 6wt.
With a 6wt Rio Outbound Short line, I could fit about 150 yards of 20lb. Dacron backing on the large-arbor spool, so I have no reason to doubt Cheeky’s numbers on that.
The Tyro’s spool and frame, like many reels in this price range, are die-cast rather than machined. I own several die-cast reels and the level of general refinement runs the gamut from being reminiscent of the pot-metal die-cast toy cars I used to play with as a kid, all the way up to pretty damn good. The Tyro’s is pretty damn good, perhaps even really damn good.
Unlike many other reels in this price range, the Tyro’s drag knob, handle and reel seat are machined.
At 5.3 ounces, the Tyro 350 isn’t a super lightweight, but it’s not a pig, either. It balanced equally well on the ancient 8-foot All-Star 6wt that is my main river muddin’ fly rod, as well as a 9-foot 6wt St. Croix Imperial.
The Tyro’s drag is an unsealed carbon drag that Cheeky calls its Rev carbon stacked disc drag system.
Over the past month or so the Tyro 350 has traveled with me on trips to Wisconsin and Maryland, but the majority of its on-the-water time has come on the local farm ponds and rivers where I live. It’s been dropped in mud, silt, sand, cowshit, and gravel, gotten dunked too many times to count, slobbered on by several dogs, snotted on by one cow, been temporarily lost, and caught a number of bass, channel cats, and carp.
As noted, $139 is a solid deal for a reel of this quality. If you consider that you can get the Tyro as part of Cheeky's "Triple Play" (a package including a Tyro reel and 2 spare spools), the Tyro may be one of the most cost effective ways to build a quiver that covers a variety of rods and/or fishing styles.
The Tyro is relatively understated compared to many of the other reels in the Cheeky lineup, which in my book is a good thing. The porting doesn’t go wild, and the black die-cast spool and frame contrast nicely (or at least not outlandishly) with the gold reel foot, drag knob, and spool knob, which are all machined. The end result is an aesthetically pleasing reel that doesn’t go overboard with the styling.
General Fit and Finish
Simply put, it looks and feels like a very well-made reel. It doesn’t wobble where it’s not supposed to wobble, it doesn’t rattle where it’s not supposed to rattle, and the spool slides on and clicks into the frame with a nice, solid thunk. Switching from left to right-hand retrieve is the simple, standard flip of the roller bearing. The finish is durable and attractive.
While putting drag performance in both the “What Works” and “What Doesn’t” columns may seem a bit counter-intuitive, if not outright stupid, that’s pretty much how it played out. During my first few weeks with the Tyro, the drag performed flawlessly. Start-up inertia was light and consistent, and the drag was butter-smooth throughout its range without a hint of jerkiness or inconsistent pressure.
Cheeky Customer Service
It’s nice to know that– if you do need it–customer service is helpful, friendly, and quick. When I needed it (more on that later), Cheeky’s was.
What Doesn’t Work
I don’t know by what process the marketing team at Cheeky came up with the name Tyro, but if I’m going to shell out $139 for a fly reel, I damn sure don’t want it to be named after a semi-pejorative term for a beginner. Even if I am. Which I am. That would be like Beretta coming out with a budget-friendly field-grade shotgun, and then calling it the Nimrod.
The Silent Retrieve
If you’re one of those people who love the sound of silence while reeling, the Tyro will not disappoint. However, if – like me – you’d like a little auditory acknowledgement that something is indeed happening as you reel, know that the Tyro won’t provide it.
My last outing with the Tyro was on a small stream flowing through a nearby public hunting area, said stream consisting primarily of a mixture of fine sand, cowshit, and the accumulated silty muck of a century’s worth of agricultural run-off.
It’s a harsh and nasty environment for fishing tackle, but it’s also the closest running water I’ve got, so any reel I acquire eventually gets subjected to its hazards.
As noted, the Tyro doesn’t offer a sealed drag. If you’re not familiar with the concept of a sealed vs. unsealed drag, chances are you’ve guessed fairly accurately at what the difference is. Reels with sealed drags protect the innards of their drag packages from the outside world—mud, sand, salt and other such offenses—and require little to no maintenance. They also cost a lot more. Reels with unsealed drags let the outside in, and require rinsing, cleaning and, generally, more reasonable treatment.
Despite the fact that the Tyro had braved similar conditions for weeks without fail, performing in conditions I had no business asking it to, on this particular occasion I noticed the drag jerking as I stripped out line. I tried adjusting the drag. That didn’t work. I tried taking off the spool and putting it back on. That didn’t work, either. Eventually the drag adjustment simply stopped working altogether.
When I got home I took the reel apart and discovered that the disk that applies pressure to the spool when the drag knob is turned had somehow gotten twisted and jammed in its housing, resulting in uneven contact with the spool.
A quick call to Cheeky resulted in a pre-paid mailer, and the reel was sent off, repaired, and sent back within a matter of days. According to Cheeky, a small bit of debris had indeed somehow worked its way underneath the disc.
After getting the Tyro back I figured the only proper thing to do–this being a reel review–was to spool it up and take it back out to see if I could replicate the problem.
I couldn’t. A day spent in the filth and muck wet-wading up and down a sluggish, tepid prairie river tossing streamers and poppers past bored livestock resulted in zero drag issues, despite me trying extra hard to make it so, including deliberately dropping it in the mud, dunking it the river, and dragging it through the weeds.
So perhaps my drag issues with the Tyro were something of a freak occurrence? Or perhaps they were the result of me intentionally abusing a reel with an unsealed drag. However, the Tyro’s drag is not sealed, and if you consistently fish in filthy conditions, or if you’re prone to falling face-down in the muck, a reel with a sealed-drag system may be more your style (Cheeky's top-of-the-line 'Limitless' reel, for instance, takes normal sealing a step further with its gasket-sealed drag system). If, unlike me, you tend to take care of your reels or primarily fish clean, clear trout and steelhead waters, you likely need not bother.
Having said all that, if you’re looking for a well-made, well-designed reel with a superb drag for not a helluva lot of money, the Tyro is worth a long, hard look. It’s a damn nice reel that aims directly for the price/performance sweet spot that many of us are looking for, and in my opinion hits it squarely in the ten-ring.