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What’s the Best Fly Fishing Reel?

You can get away with low-quality equipment in some parts of fly fishing and it won’t make a big difference. You don’t have to have the best waders or fastest boat for a great day on the water – but you definitely need a good reel.

Your fly fishing reel is both the heart and guts of your fly fishing setup, so skimping is never a good idea. If you’re starting fly fishing or are ready to upgrade your setup, the world of fly fishing reels can be overwhelming but you don’t need to know every nook and facet that goes into reels for a good time fishing.

Let’s learn the basics of fly fishing reels including how to choose a great reel and ten of our favorite options broken up into three budget brackets to meet your needs and bottom line. When you know fly fishing reels, you’ll be able to choose the right match for your angling needs.

Fly Fishing Reel Basics

Construction of a Fly Fishing Reel

You don’t need to know every aspect of a fly fishing reel to have a good time but it’s smart to know the basic components of a fly fishing reel:

  • Frame – The foundation of the reel.

  • Inner and Outer Arbor – The spool rotates on the inner arbor which is backed by the outer arbor.

  • Foot – Attaches the fly reel to the rod

  • Spool – Holds the fly line.

  • Handle – What you use to reel in the line.

  • Spool Release – Releases the spool.

  • Drag – Located on both sides of the reel. Allows angler to adjust the line’s tension.

How to Choose a Fly Fishing Reel

Match the Catch

You want a reel that’ll be able to handle the weight and bulk of the backing you’ll be winding on it. Generally, the larger the fish you’re targeting, the larger the reel and arbor you’ll need. You’ll need to look to individual fishing reel guides or get the help of a fly-fishing expert to choose the right size reel for your unique fishing adventure.

Cast vs Machined

The two main types of fly reel construction are die-cast vs. machined. Cast reels are produced from a mold while machined reels are drilled out from a solid block of metal. There are high-quality cast models reels on the market, but machined reels are generally higher quality and last longer.

Freshwater vs Saltwater Fly Fishing Reels

Freshwater and saltwater fly fishing reels use the same basic components but there can be some differences in size. Most freshwater fisherman target smaller targets like trout that don’t take a large reel or backing to pull in a nice catch. Saltwater fisherman often target large and aggressive species like tarpon which require a heavy rod and reel.

Ten Great Fly Fishing Reels for Different Budgets

Now that you know more about different reels, you’re ready to try something out or upgrade your fly fishing adventure. Look over these 10 great options to find a reel that matches your needs and budget.

Starter Fly Fishing Reels (under $40)

Croch Aluminum Alloy Fly Fishing Reel ($20-$35)

It’s understandable you don’t want to sink a ton of money into your first fly fishing trip but buying cheap used equipment isn’t recommended. Instead, try a simple reel like the Croch Fly Fishing Reel. The aluminum alloy gets the job done for basic angling and if you find fly fishing isn’t your thing, you’re only out about $20 bucks.

M MaximumCatch Eco Fly Reel ($24.99-$39.99)

Do you want nothing more than a beginner reel that’ll give you some fun on random weekends? Check out the Eco Fly Reel from M MaximumCatch. There’s nothing fancy about the Eco Fly Reel but it’s got the right components to get you on the water and it comes with one-year warranty.

Sougayilang Large Arbor Fly Fishing Reel ($35-40)

Ready to take the plunge into fly fishing with a quality reel? The Sougayilang Large Arbor Reel is a great start. The large arbor and aluminum alloy frame are durable, corrosion resistant, and work for trout, bass, panfish, and more. This reel won’t last forever but is our favorite starter reel.

Intermediate Fly Fishing Reels ($50 – $150)

Okuma SLV Diecast Aluminum Fly Reel ($50-$75)

Okuma produces quality reels that are excellent for anglers that go more than once a month but aren’t on the water every day. The SLV is available in several sizes depending on which fish you plan on targeting. A great reel for the budget and one of the best overall reels on our list.

Piscifun Crest Fly Fishing Reel ($105)

If you’re ready for saltwater fly fishing action check out the Piscifun Crest. Fully sealed carbon drag system, large arbor, silent click and drag retrieval, and a lifetime warranty are just some of the benefits of this great reel.

Redington ZERO Fly Reel ($70-$110)

Redington is a well-known name in fly fishing and for good reason. The ZERO reel is a lightweight, die-cast reel that offers easier fishing with its large arbor and ergonomic handle. A durable clicker drag system and reasonable lightweight package make the ZERO reel one of the most popular reels on the market.

Redington BEHEMOTH Fly Reel ($85-$150)

The Redington ZERO is a great reel for many fish but you need the BEHEMOTH to tackle larger fish like tarpon and salmon. The BEHEMOTH bills itself with the most powerful drag in its class and the large arbor provides ease of handling. If you’re ready for beefy fish, you need this beefy reel.

Advanced Fly Fishing Reels ($95-$400)

Orvis Battenkill Fly Reel ($95-$150)

If you’re ready to step up your freshwater game but not ready for the plunge into ultra high-end models than the Orvis Battenkill is an ideal reel. The ultralightweight design and four-position drag system make for excellent fishing on a variety of species and you know you’re getting high quality when you purchase Orvis.

Sage Fly Fishing Spectrum Fly Reel ($150)

If you’re done with your beginner reel and ready for a high-quality reel choose the Spectrum Fly Reel by Sage. The reel comes armed with the Spectrum Family One Revolution sealed carbon drag system for some of the smoothest angling on the market.

Hardy Ultralite CADD Fly Fishing Reel ($150-$400)

Ready to get serious about fly fishing? It’s time for the Hardy UItralite CADD reel. Constructed from a proprietary titanium the CADD is ultra-light, ultra-strong, and comes stocked with an ultra-large arbor for the smoothest retrieval on the market. Retrieving fish is a pleasure with the Hardy Ultralite CADD.

Choosing the Best Fly Fishing Reel

The angling world is packed with dozens of different fly fish reels of different quality, price, and capabilities, but any fly fisher should find a great match from the stock above. Match the reel to what you’re fishing for, choose a middle ground between needs and budget, and have a great day on the water.