Did you know that fly fishing saves lives beyond landing a big fish in your pan for dinner? The activity provides many health benefits as it engages your mental and physical faculties and allows you to declutter the mind as you work in some exercise hours. Any fly fisherman who has been in the water for a while will tell you that your fly fishing gear does half the work for you. If you optimize your tackle selection, the experience will be truly therapeutic.
This article analyzes the best fly reels you can get on the market in this day and age and the latest advancements in their design and production. We will break down the components of a quality reel and show you the role they play such that by the end of the article, you will have sufficient information to walk into a fly shop and come out with a great reel with futuristic relevance.
Best Fly Reels – Winners
Check out our quick recommendations here, or keep scrolling for detailed reviews:
Best Overall Fly Fishing Reels
1. Waterworks Lamson Guru S
Sizes available: 1/2/3, 4/5/6, 6/7/8, 8/9/10
Reel diameter: 3.2, 3.55, 3.97, 4.11”
Width of spool: 0.9, 1.0, 1.13, 1.23”
Weight: 3.73, 4.41, 5.04, 5.83oz.
Colors: Artic, Blaze, O.G
Construction type: Machined aluminum and stainless steel
- Type II anodized finish for corrosion resistance
- Lightweight large arbor fly reel
- Curved cross-section
- Sealed drag system
- Users have reported nothing negative
The narrow width and large arbor of this lightweight reel make line distribution and retrieval easy. Thanks to consistent porting throughout the reel, it accommodates your line and backing without adding weight to the rod. These ports ensure your backing is dry as they let the water escape and expose the line to dry.
Its machined aluminum and anodized construction retains the toughness of the aluminum. It adds an extra protective layer against corrosion to make this reel as impressive for saltwater fishing as it is in freshwater. The sealed conical drag system is also saltwater ready.
Its machine-cut smooth design is also functional with integrated counterbalance imparts and a curved cross-section enhancing structural stability.
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Best Budget Fly Wheel
2. Redington Behemoth Fly Wheel
Sizes available: 4/5, 5/6, 7/8, 9/10, 11/12
Reel diameter: Undisclosed
Width of spool: 2”
Weight: 5.7, 7.5, 10.8, 11.4oz.
Colors: Black, Desert, Gunmetal, Hunter Orange, O.D Green
Construction type: Un-machinable die-cast
- Affordable price
- Strong adjustable carbon fiber drag
- Can be adjusted between left and right hand retrieve
- Large arbor V-spool reduces line memory
The Redington Behemoth has the strongest adjustable carbon fiber drag in its class, with an easily accessible drag knob. It has been forged through a unique un-machinable die-cast construction, leaving it with an impressive strength to weight ratio. In addition, it comes with twin molded soft-touch ergonomic handles that are easily convertible between left and right hand retrieve.
Its durable interlocking large arbor spool design with a V-spool creates a sufficient line capacity with minimal memory stress. The high line pickup rate will have you effortlessly cutting those slacks with the confidence of its backing capacity. It comes with a nylon reel case for easy transportation and is one of the best price offerings on the market.
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Best Lightweight Fly Reel
3. Orvis Mirage LT Fly Reel
Sizes available: 1/2/3, 3/4/5, 5/6/7, 6/7/9
Reel diameter: 3.1, 3.4, 3.7, 4”
Width of spool: 1.5”
Weight: 4.1, 4.3, 4.5, 5oz.
Colors: Olive, Midnight
Construction type: Machined aluminum
- Machinized aluminum
- Anodized against corrosion
- Large arbor design increases retrieve rate
- Skeletal lightweight construction
They are made of the lightest, tough 6061 T6 bar stock aluminum, Type II that has been anodized to fight corrosion. They have a large arbor design which increases their retrieval speed while minimizing line tangles. In addition, the skeletal construction reduces the weight further. This reduced weight and width allow the reel to balance with lighter rods.
They come with a sealed carbon and stainless steel drag system, which requires no maintenance and will not be damaged by saltwater conditions. The drag is smooth from the beginning to the end and is not subjected to startup inertia. It is adjusted from zero to maximum with a single knob rotation.
Each reel comes with a low profile counterweight which will balance the fly fishing rod without blocking your fingers or interfering with fly lines. The quick-release spool can be easily converted from left to right hand retrieve.
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Best Saltwater Fly Reel
4. Orvis Hydros SL
Sizes available: 1/2/3, 3/4/5, 5/6/7, 7/8/9, 9/10/11
Reel diameter: 3.1, 3.4, 3.7, 4.0, 4.25”
Width of spool: 1.2”
Weight: 4.7, 5.0, 5.5, 6.6, 7.7oz.
Colors: Matte black, Matte silver
Construction type: Stainless steel
- Narrow spool minimizes line stacking
- Accessible easy to use drag knob
- Sealed clutch and drag
- Anodized finish for protection against corrosion
The machined reel has a sleek matte type II anodized finish for maintaining good looks in harsh saltwater. It has a fully sealed drag with stacked carbon and stainless steel washers. The clutch bearing is also sealed in this model, making it your perfect saltwater fly reel. The knob that adjusts the drag is easily accessible on top of the reel, and you can turn the drag from zero to maximum with one rotation. The smooth drag has no noticeable startup inertia.
Their large arbor size balances with a lightweight fly fishing rod better but retains the quick line retrieval rates while reducing line coiling. The spool is easy to release, and the handle is easily interchangeable between left and right-hand usage. The reel foot has been rounded off so you can mount your leader on it, protect your tippet and manage your tackle when you are not casting.
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Best Fly Reel for Trout
5. Redington RISE Fly Fishing Reel
Sizes available: 3/4, 5/6, 7/8, 9/10
Reel diameter: Undisclosed
Width of spool: Undisclosed
Weight: 4, 4.6, 5.5, 6.3oz.
Colors: Black, Amber, Olive, Silver, Rose Gold
Construction type: CNC machined
- Large arbor for quick recovery
- Smooth carbon fiber drag system
- Easily accessible drag handle
- Quick-release ambidextrous spool
Thanks to a skeletal frame that has been CNC machined from 6061-T6 aluminum, the ultra-lightweight construction makes this your perfect trout reel. It will balance on a light rod, ensuring it doesn’t wear out the fly angler on a long fishing day. Its U-shaped large arbor facilitates quick retrieval, so various angling techniques can be applied to entice your steelhead.
It has a compact carbon fiber drag system with a smooth fish stopping torque that gives you control over different trout species. This control is enhanced further by twin-modeled soft-touch handles, an oversized drag knob, and a quick-release spool that can be switched between left-handling and right-handling instantaneously. The package includes a nylon case to facilitate the reels’ transportation.
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Fly Reel Buying Guide
The Rod and Reel Need to Be Balanced
Finding the perfect balance will influence how successful your casts will be and the amount of fatigue you will feel afterward. Unfortunately, the perfect balance point is an elusive theory that anglers have discussed for years without reaching a universally acceptable conclusion.
However, the first thing you should do is make sure the recommended fly rod, reel, and line weights match. Then you should consider how you fish; your comfortable angling position given the rod’s grip.
A common test anglers do is balance the rod on a finger at the point where you naturally hold the handle with the reel mounted to see if it will remain horizontal. The reasoning behind this is that you will not have to keep balancing the rod as you cast or reel in your fish, and you can focus on the task at hand.
The challenge is these experiments are done with an empty reel, while the truth is it will be filled with fly line and backing when you are out fishing. The weight of the reel will constantly be changing as it spools and unspools. It is a good place to start, though, as it will give an approximate indication. A top-heavy or bottom-heavy fly reel combo will have you holding the rod at an awkward angle.
You should investigate both the material and construction process to determine the quality of your fly reel and its projected durability. At the entry level, we have plastic fly reels. Plastic is lightweight, and because it is inexpensive to produce, it is also cheap and can be afforded on a tight budget.
It, however, has the lowest impact resistance and is susceptible to wear and tear through warping, heat damage, and degradation by saltwater chemicals. It is followed by resin, whose fly reels are also available at lower prices but are not as lightweight, so they don’t balance well. They are not very strong and may break if dropped on the rocks.
Then we have composite fly reels, which are usually an infusion of graphite fiber into plastic, resin, and other materials. They are usually injected or pressed into a mold to make a tougher, lightweight, and inexpensive material. They are usually grainy and not very aesthetically appealing but are resistant to impact and scratches.
Going up the scale, we have molded aluminum which is more aesthetically appealing and expensive but not tougher than composite material. It is made by pouring molten aluminum into a predesigned mold. These reels are more impact-resistant than plastic, strong, lightweight, and dependable.
Die-cast aluminum is not saltwater friendly as it can’t be anodized. It can only be treated by powder coating or painted to resist the corrosive impact. Their reels are heavier than machined reels and have less tolerance. The modern versions have some machined parts, which make them lighter and stronger. Some are even pressure molded to make them sturdier than average.
At the apex of the spectrum are the machined aluminum fly reels. These are sculpted from solid aircraft-grade aluminum by Computerized Numerical Control(CNC) machines. This allows them a very diverse range of designs.
The process retains the chemical construction of metal, holding on to the molecular strength and light weight of aluminum. They can even be anodized, meaning chemically coated to resist scratching and saltwater damage. In addition, colors can be infused at the anodization point for a better finish.
Some high-end reels have been subjected to different combinations of these processes, making them extra tough and durable. However, they come at a premium, and you should weigh the benefits against what you have to spend. Don’t invest in expensive reels without confirming the quality you are purchasing.
The drag is the braking system used on fly reels to moderate spool rotation so you can apply pressure to the fish on the line. It also prevents the spool from letting loose completely, leading to backlashes and tangles that a fly angler refers to as bird’s nests.
Modern fly reels produce up to 30 lbs. of drag pressure, but you should consider whether you will need all of that drag with your target fish. Constant application of maximum drag can be strenuous to you and your reel.
The other aspect to consider is the type of drag system. Fly reels have two main drag systems; the spring-and-pawl and the disc drag. The spring-and-pawl applies gears within the reel to release the line at a constant pace, sufficient for trout and other panfish.
The disc drag uses pads inside the reel that are adjusted to increase or reduce the pressure applied against the spool, which in turn increases or reduces tension on the line. This mechanism produces more adjustment levels and allows better customization.
They also have smooth starts and can maintain a consistent drag throughout the struggle with the fish. Lastly, they are capable of producing more power than click-and-pawl drags.
There are two types of disc drags, the more common drawbar disc drag and the sealed disc drag. Most drawbar disc drags use cork as a drag material because it has a smooth startup, unlike plastics and polymers. They compress and rebound progressively, producing a smooth drag. They are also excellent at dispersing heat which is important considering the system is friction-based.
They, however, need to be lubricated and therefore can’t be sealed completely. This exposes them to water and debris contamination. Your options are to wash them thoroughly after every outing or avoid saltwater completely.
Disc drags can be saltwater tuned by having them in a fully concealed housing mounted on the reel. This brings us to the sealed drum disk drags. They are protected from water, salt and sand through full concealment or using rubber gaskets to specifically seal the washers.
Because the washers are inaccessible, they will be made of synthetic materials which don’t require servicing. Sealed drum drag systems will function differently depending on the quality and quantity of these materials.
This video on how to set the drag on a fly reel will give you an insight into how these systems are applied:
Fly Reel Arbor Size
The arbor is the innermost part of the spool where you first tie your backing. Traditional spools had small arbors averaging about 0.5 inches in diameter. This has changed over the years, and modern reels have larger arbors, the new average coming to 2.75 inches.
The bigger arbors have necessitated bigger reel sizes because space is lost in the middle of the spool. Maintaining the reel size reduces line holding capacity, and you will need to work with less backing. Always ensure to compare the reel size and the arbor size when estimating line capacity.
While small arbor reels are less bulky and probably lighter due to lower material input, there are many reasons anglers have resorted to a large arbor reel. Due to a bigger circumference, they facilitate faster retrieval with less effort. They will serve you better when you have a long cast, and you need to quickly strip in the slack.
The hastened retrieval protects the fish from exhaustion, increasing survival chances when you return them into the water. Large arbors also protect your lines. The bigger center spool enables a gentler curl that any quality line will recover from, resulting in less memory damage in the reel. The lack of memory and fast retrieval rate minimize tangles and knots.
Arbor size also affects drag consistency; the drag pressure is constant when the spool is full of line because it spins easily and evenly. However, as more fly line is stripped, the circumference narrows towards the spool’s core, increasing drag pressure.
This difference is more pronounced in small arbor spools because of the rapid change in diameter. This is why small arbor fly reels are nowadays only used by nostalgic anglers and professionals who know how to manipulate the drag as the fly line spools and unspools.