Top Rated Fly Fishing Reels – Reviews and Comparison

Fly Fishing Reels

Comprehensive Anglers Buying Guide

Choosing a reel is no less important for a fisherman than choosing a fishing line or fishing rod. Modern fly reels are more than just line holders. The correct reel will help balance the fly rod, perform smoothly, and most importantly, help you land that big fish. Everyone knows that only a good and smooth reel can provide a good catch, so we have collected some tips for you that will help you decide on the choice of a reel.


The 7 Factors to Consider if You Want to Buy

Fly reels are easy to differentiate because they only have a few parts that make up the reel. The different fly reels on the market are mostly different because of their design. The differences among reels relate to the following aspects of their design.

Retrieval System

The retrieval system is built to gather the line when you are bringing it back in the fish after it’s been hooked. 3 different types of design allow the retrieval to work in fly fishing:

  • Single action reels. The basic system performs by turning the handle that rotates the spool. One turn equals one rotation.
  • Multiplying reels. These do things differently, depending on how you have your gear ratio- these reels can turn different at rotations, 1 or 2, etc., and not just one like a single-action reel.
  • Automatic retrieval reels. In contrast to the other 2 systems, automatic reels create tension with a spring device that you enable. They store tension as the line is fed out. When you decide to retrieve the line, the safety latch releases by a trigger. This allows the spool to spin back very quickly which pulls in the line from the water. For basic fly fishing and for beginners to go with a single-action reel, it’s more than fine. It’s the best way to start with fly fishing due to its simple ease of use and low learning curve.

Arbor Size

Arbor refers to the cylinder at the center of the reel that the backing and fly line is wound around.  Most modern reels feature some type of large arbor as they retrieve line faster and create less ‘memory’ in the line and leader. If you are chasing warm water or saltwater species, pick a reel with a larger arbor as this will aid in smooth runs as well as retrieving a lot of lines quickly when the fish turns and runs back at you.

Small arbors, physically speaking, are less than large arbors and cost less as well. It makes better sense to use a small arbor for most fishing scenarios due to the cost and weight differences. It will help you reduce fatigue if you plan to be out fishing all day. If you are looking to angle the big, aggressive fish, you will need a large arbor; since it can store much more line compared to a small arbor. Mid arbor sizes offer most of the benefits of the large arbor without all the weight and size.

Line Weight and Spool Size

Line weight is related to spool size and arbors. You need to figure out what type of spool, arbor, and fish you will be looking to catch to decide on line weight:

  • Heavy line use – Larger arbors are the solution
  • Lightweight lines are better served using a small arbor.
  • Spool size does change if you use a small arbor, but because the larger arbor can handle more weight and line, it has more leeway.
  • Spool size helps the drag system work smoothly, which reduces the possibility of a big fish snapping and breaking your line.

Drag System

Like all other reels, the drag operates to reduce the speed of the line and to have the reel make a full stop when the bait has been taken. A drag system that is high performing is critical to any reel and fly reel fishing is no different:

  • High-performance drag systems ensure you get a lot of life out of your equipment by controlling the operation of your line and making sure it runs as smoothly as possible.
  • A cheap drag system, with low-quality parts, allows fish to snap the line if it doesn’t restrict it enough when the fish makes a run.

Drag is one of the most important features of the fly reel. The drag provides the braking power to stop a big fish from pulling all of the lines off of the reel. There are two main systems on the market: click and pawl, and disc drag.

The traditional style is click-and-pawl and offers less adjustability and stopping power than a disc drag system. Because of this, the click-and-pawl is a great system if you are on a budget or chasing smaller fish such as sunfish or small trout. Disc drag provides the smoothest and most efficient drag system. It is a great choice for stopping large game fish, or when you need to smoothly stop a large trout on a light tippet.

The Weight of the Reel

Like rods, reels are often rated by weight or size.  When choosing a new reel, you need to choose the right weight for your fishing rod for a good balance. So, if you’re fishing a 7-weight trout rod, you’ll want to pair it with a 7-weight reel. Other things to consider when looking at reel size are the type of line you will be using and backing capacity. Most reels can handle 2 to 3 sizes of line. For example, a size 3.5 Lamson reel will handle a 7, 8, or 9wt line.

Freshwater reels are oversized to accommodate larger shooting head fly lines, while saltwater reels often feature more backing capacity as those fish are prone to long runs. Lighter is better. Most people want light devices when they must carry them around all day. This makes for a nice, fatigue-free day of fishing:

  • A critical thing to remember when considering weight is that it’s vital that the size and weight of each part match each other.
  • Don’t match an ultralight reel with a heavy rod or vice versa. Make sure that it’s even balanced throughout the equipment.
  • For example, you want to ensure that your whole rod, reel, and line is correctly matched. If your line is a 5-weight line, you need to use a rod + reel in the 4 to the 6-weight range for optimum performance and to make sure there are no balance issues.

Construction of the Reel

We think that there are only two ways to make fly reels: pre-cast and machined. In pre-cast coils used liquid metal, which is poured into a special form. They are heavier but less durable than machined coils. If you are going to fly fishing, this type of coil is perfect for you. Processed coils are made from a whole piece of metal by long milling. This process makes the coil lighter and more durable. Processed coils will not lose their properties throughout life. But this type of coil is much more expensive than pre-cast reels.

But some argue that they are designed and constructed in 3 different ways:

  • Cheap Construction: More reels that are targeted towards the price-sensitive crowd are made with metal stamping. The reel is heavier, less strong, and not as durable. You kind of get what you pay for.
  • Good Construction: Reels that are mid-tier but made with a stronger die cast manufacturing process which makes the reel rugged and more durable than ones created in cheap construction.
  • Best Construction: The best reels are machined steel. It’s a computer-guided precise design and is the only reel type that can be anodized for extra strength.

The Finish of the Reel

 Most reels come in black or natural chrome, they do come in different colors:

  • Matte finishes won’t reflect onto the water- while natural chrome ones might. Some have indicated that you won’t scare face with a matte finish because there is no glare on the water.
  • An anodized finish will stand up to saltwater, which is very corrosive, and this is essential if you’re planning on fishing in the ocean.

Choosing a Fly Reel for Bass Fishing in 4 Steps

Bass is a strong fish species and you will need a good fly reel with a quality design. Here are few tips and things to look out for when picking the right fly reel for the might bass:

  • You will need a durable, heavy-duty reel for the strong bass – Make sure you get one that is CNC machine printed with an anodized coating for added durability.
  • Look for a good drag system with an all-aluminum construction. You want to make sure that it offers both fly reel drag systems for added versatility.
  • All internal components are covered and shielded to protect from salt waters and grime.
  • Look for a large-arbor to make sure you have lots of room to lay line and retrieve quickly when reeling in the big bass fish since they tend to make a run for it once they bite.

Variables to Consider for Fly Fishing Equipment

There are other variables to consider when approaching the topic of which fly reel to buy. What kind of fish are you targeting? Think about your target species and get to know a bit about them. For example, if you want to catch lake trout, you may need a reel with a large arbor and lots of lines, as they are usually in deeper waters, and make a run for it once they are hooked on the bait.

Location. Some fly reels work better and are more optimal for certain water environments. An example would be if you enjoy ocean fishing or other salty waters, get a reel that is durable against saltwater and corrosion. If you will be walking through a lot of bush to get to the water source or through mud and different terrain, you will not want a heavy reel and rod combo.

Experience. If you are just starting out, stick to simpler designs and don’t go heavy-duty, and spend a lot of money on something you might not use. Get to know the basics and work your way up.

Redington Reels Behemoth

How to Decide Fly Reel Size?

There is no exact science for when you need to select the proper reel size that you need. There are a few considerations to make during the selection process that will help eliminate factors that you don’t need to think about.

3 Tips for Choosing the Right Size Fly Fishing Reel

What rod’s line weight? There is no one size fits all for this virtually all fly reel manufacturers design reels for specific line weights. The logic behind this is that when the line’s weight increases so do the diameter. A thicker line takes up more space on the reel:

  • And the thicker a fly line is, the more space it occupies on the reel. Rest assured that most manufacturers make reels that can accommodate a big range of line weights- so you probably won’t pick the wrong one if you target it down enough.
  • How many backings do you need? Beginners are not aware that the fly line by itself is not a complete system. Most fly lines are shipped with a standard length of 90 feet. It’s more than enough to get your feet wet, as they say when angling for great fish. The correct amount of backing needed is based on the size and strength of the fish you want to catch.
  • Reel size and rod balance: It’s critical that you consider both when buying a reel. You do not want to buy a reel that is heavy with a lighter rod and vice versa. It will throw your fishing balance off and create bottleneck issues as you go along.

How to Pick a Saltwater Fly Reel

Like other reels, fly reel fishing in saltwater environments has certain characteristics that make it suited for the corrosive, salty terrain. Let’s take a look at some factors to look out for when selecting the best saltwater fly reel for yourself!

The 5 Key Factors for Choosing the Right Saltwater Fly Reel

Corrosion Resistant

When it comes to deciding on your saltwater fly fishing reel, you need a reel that can handle the harsh elements of the ocean, namely saltwater. Saltwater fly reels consist of aluminum. While it will not rust, aluminum can corrode over time if not taken care of properly (rinse it off after each use, etc.). Look for saltwater reels that have a fully sealed body and bearings. This will make sure that no saltwater can get into the inner workings of your reel, making it very resistant to getting damaged.

Frame Strength

A reel made out of anodized steel is mandatory. The reason why is that the anodization process provides the metal with a durable and corrosive-resistant coating. This process will ensure that the reel will not warp or bend when angling for those big, aggressive fish.


You want a drag that’s sealed and protected from the elements. You want to use a disk drag system for saltwater as it offers more resistance.

Arbor Size

Choose a large arbor when you saltwater fish with a fly reel since it increases your retrieval rate and makes it easier to fish and it saves you time.


Lighter is better – You want a CNC machined saltwater fly reel that will handle the big task of those large saltwater fish while not being too heavy.


Fly Fishing for Beginners: Tips for Choosing Equipment

Are you new to fly fishing and not sure what fishing equipment you need? Great! Let’s get some of those questions answered. A newcomer to any sport has a lot of questions and everything seems a bit too much. We can break it down a bit so that fly reel fishing and the equipment needed make a bit more sense for beginners. Basics For Your Fly Fishing Tackle Box:

  • Choosing a line: Think quality here. A good fly line is critical to great fly reel fishing. You don’t know it yet but a good quality line affects everything from how the line sinks, floats, and even how it loads in your rod the proper way. Spend some extra money on the good stuff.
  • Choosing a reel: Get yourself a quality reel that is machined printed with CNC anodized coating for added protection. Don’t go for the cheaper ones made from inferior materials even though the cheaper pricing is tempting.
  • Choosing a Fly rod: You need a rod that is versatile and can withstand a lot of pressure from big saltwater fish. Choose a light yet durable rod made of quality materials.
  • Tip: Make sure the reel and rod are matched appropriately (don’t have a light rod with a heavy reel and vice versa) so that the balance of the equipment is right. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the fish you want to catch the heavier your rod needs to be.
  • Choosing flies: There are many different types of flies to use and it’s really dependent on what type of fish you want to catch. Do some research into what species of fish like which type of flies and buy the appropriate ones.
  • Pick the best leading fly reel brands on the market: The top fly reel brands on the market currently are Orvis, Hardy, Lamson, Douglas, and Redington. Look to these market winners when selecting your new reel.

Benefits & Drawbacks of Fly Reel Fishing

Like with all things, there are distinct advantages and some disadvantages when using fly reels. Let’s look at some and see which ones could be relevant for you:

Benefits of Fly Reel Fishing:

  • You can cast a super long distance with the super-lightweight flies. Unlike other reels, and using the weight of the lure to cast, fly fishing uses the weight of the fly line. This makes it possible to cast long distances using very small flies like midges.
  • It’s all in the presentation. With fly reel fishing, you can cast the fly more delicately and quietly than can with a spinning reel using a lure. Actually, if done right, you can drop the fly right on top of the fish without scaring them off. With spin fishing, it’s not possible to cast the lure and not make any type of noise or water splashes.
  • Flies used with fly reel fishing are typically much cheaper than buy lures. Look to spend double or triple with low-quality lures when using spinning reels.

Drawbacks of Fly Reel Fishing:

Room needed to cast your fly – you need a lot of open space free of trees, bushes, etc. so that your fly doesn’t get caught in anything:

  • Fly reel casting takes more skill and time to master. It’s not as simple as pressing a button on a spin-cast reel.
  • It can be a lot of work in certain settings and different fishing environments.
  • Fly reel fishing can be much more expensive than other reels. Everything from the reel to the line is more money than traditional spinner reels. Make sure to also check out our spinning reel buyer guide.

Piscifun Fly Fishing Reel

Our Final Recommendations

We’ve used and reviewed dozens of different types of fly reel over the years and each has its own pros and cons. It also depends on your budget and whether you’ll need to buy lots of spools. For most beginners who are fishing on small still waters for trout, we’d recommend going with a die-cast aluminum reel. There are loads on the market and most of them are very good. There are also some surprisingly good budget reels available on Amazon, too.

High end. If you’ve got a higher budget, you might want to go with a bar-stock aluminum fly reel. They won’t catch you any more fish, but they are better made, more hard-wearing, and look and feel a lot nicer in the hand. If you’re a river angler, the Orvis Battenkill is a nice lightweight reel perfect for smaller rods. We also loved the now discontinued Orvis Access.

Mid-range. The mid-range is dominated by die-cast aluminum reels, which is what we tend to use for most of our fishing. We really like the Loop Multi, Guideline Favo, and Sage 2200 series. These are all really stylish reels, have great drag systems, and have proven reliable and well-made.

Budget. Budget fly reels also tend to use die-cast construction, but you’ll generally find them fitted with cheaper plastic cassette spools. Again, these are fine for most fishing, though they’re typically quite large and heavy, so are only suited to higher line weight fly rods.

Tags: #how to set up a fly fishing rod and reel / #fly fishing rod and reel / #fly fishing reel / #saltwater fly fishing reel / #fly fishing rod and reel combo /#fly fishing reel setup / #how to change a fly fishing reel from right to left-handed
Sergio Smirnoff
Sergio Smirnoff
Professional fisherman with 40+ years of experience.
Fishing and the ocean is a passion of my life. I am passionate about all kinds of sea fishing: fishing from the shore (spinning, float, baitcasting), from a boat, and spearfishing day and night.

I live in Tenerife (Canary Islands) for the last 10+ years and share my daily fishing experiences on my website. Many years of personal experience as a fisherman and the vast experience of my friends allow me to write professionally on any fishing topics (from choosing a flashlight and equipment to deep-sea fishing).

All of my advice is based on practical real-world experience and will be useful to both novice anglers and professionals. Read more about the author.

Affiliate Disclosure: sometimes gets paid for listings, through sponsors or affiliate programs like Amazon, Ebay, Cabelas, Bass Pro Shop, Shimano, Daiwa, Rapala, Renn, Okuma, KastKing, etс. Clicking a link helps keep free, at no extra cost to you!

About the author: Each article is verified by the fishing expert Sergio Smirnoff. The articles are written by professional and amateur fishermen with 20+ years of fishing experience.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency. The articles are for informational purposes only, share your opinions in the comments and join the fishing discussions, let's share our fishing experiences together!

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Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson
7 months ago

I see your serious approach. Fly fishing is considered ultra-perfect for pro fishermen. The most technically challenging way to catch fish. It’s not an easy skill to master. That is why equipment and gear are expensive and of high quality. You can not save money, it is not the case. A good backpack is a must in addition to the reel. The fisherman must be mobile and his hands-free, plus a quick change of bait. You have the right reels for the job. This kind of hobby requires an investment of money. Thanks again for your texts.

Product Name
fly fishing reels
7 months ago

However, the author tried very hard to print as much as possible. For those who are getting acquainted for the first time, this is simply recommended. I am writing this review from the bottom of my heart. A man wants to be read and respected. But the fisherman with experience has little information. Classic phrases can not catch people like me. It’s all laid out in the boxes, but there’s no zest. Try to write more about yourself and your experiences. Dry text is not always happy. Thank you for your persistence. A lot is presented here.

Product Name
fly fishing reels