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 ($20-$40)

Some flies take a few minutes to tie but many take several hours. If you’re relying on your own flies for fishing it may take you literal days of tying to get enough for one trip. Like many hobbies fly-tying requires a substantial time investment to get where you want to be. If you don’t’ have the time, store-bought flies work just fine.


There are several beginner flies that a 12-year-old could tie but fly-tying can also be complex and mentally-taxing. You may find a fly that’s perfect for your next fishing adventure but after three hours at the bench you’re nowhere close to finishing it and the trip’s tomorrow. The more practice you have the easier tying will be, but beginners can get frustrated on the complexity and headaches some flies require. Be prepared for a steep learning curve when learning to tie your own.

Resources for Tying Your Own Flies

Local Fly Shop

Many fly shops tie their own flies and give lessons. A local fly shop is more than a retail store, it’s a local fishing resource where you can learn about local fishing destinations, what the fish are doing, what’s best to target, and how to tie your own flies. Call your local shop to see what lessons they have and when. Most basic lessons cost just a few bucks with more advanced lessons costing more. The local fly shop is the best option for direct, hands-on learning.

Community Centers

Not many people realize their local community centers teach several hobby-oriented classes and could have free or cheap fly-tying lessons. If your community is close to fly-fishing spots look up their calendar and see if there are any fly-tying lessons.

Online Videos

You can use sites like YouTube to learn just about anything and that includes tying your own flies. There are many unique video channels that discuss the basics of gathering materials, getting your own setup, and how to execute a proper fly. YouTube is a great resource but there are several other online resources that teach at different paces or concentrate on specific types of flies. You simply need to find the instruction that works for you.

Tie Your Fly and Hit the Water

If you want to immerse yourself in the world of fly-fishing the most practical way to do it is by tying your own flies. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of tying your own and weigh it against your individual time and resources to figure out the best way to go. For many fly-fishers tying their own flies is the most authentic way to enjoy the sport.