Getting into fly fishing can be a daunting task, never mind looking for the best budget fly reels suited to your needs. One of the options is to go for a complete fly fishing outfit or combo (see our 10 Best Fly Rod Combos).
But, if you’re like me, I would want more control over what I’m buying.
This guide will assist you in choosing the best budget fly reel. I still make use of some of the budget fly fishing reels that I bought 8 years ago. It goes to show that if you buy correct, you’ll only buy once.
Similarly, if you’re buying fly fishing gifts for a friend or a loved one, you want to make sure that they don’t have to take it in for repairs after just a few uses.
If you’re looking shopping for fly reels, have a look at our Guide To The Best Fly Reels Overall to ensure you get the best reel possible.
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5 Best Budget Fly Reels
The guide is split into two main sections. Firstly we cover 5 of the top budget reels for fly fishing on the market today. Secondly, we have a look at features you need to look at when considering a budget fly reel.
Whether you’re planning on fishing the quiet rivers of Iiowa, Minnesota and South Dakota, or the large lakes of Wyoming and Montana, you’ll want a fly reel that can stand up to the task, while not costing too much.
- Drag System: Disc drag
- Models: 5 models suitable from a 1 weight to an 8 weight
- Claimed Weight (suitable 6 weight): 5.64 ounces
- Backing Capacity (suitable 6 weight): 60 yards of 20lb Dacron
- Width (6 weight): 1.02 inch
- Outer Diameter (6 weight): 3.35 inch
- Pros: Low price
- Cons: Durability is a question, heavyweight and low backing capacity
The Maxcatch Eco offers incredible value for money as it is incredibly cheap. Its frame is constructed using the die-cast method, and then polished. The reel is finished in either a silver, black, or rainbow trout finish.
I would opt for either the silver or black as the rainbow trout finish looks more like an 80’s disco outfit than a real trout.
This reel is perfect for the beginner or someone that mostly uses their reel as a line carrier. It has ample stopping power for most freshwater species.
The backing capacity is 60 yards for an equivalent 6 weight model – which is fine for normal freshwater species.
I would recommend this reel to a newcomer to the sport or someone that only fishes a couple of times a season.
- Drag System: Disc drag
- Models: 2 models available. The LA II for 4 – 6 weights and the LA IV for 7 to 9 weights.
- Claimed Weight (suitable 6 weight): 5.4 ounces
- Backing Capacity (suitable 6 weight): 75 yards of 20lb Dacron
- Width (6 weight): not disclosed
- Outer Diameter (6 weight) 3.5 inch
- Pros: Good value for money
- Cons: Heavyweight
The Orvis Clearwater is die-cast constructed and finished with a matte grey powder coat finish. It has a large arbor and good backing carrying capacity.
Although, as indicated by Orvis, it is capable of balancing a 9 weight rod, if you’re hooking this reel up to your best saltwater rod, I would not recommend exposing the reel itself to excessive saltwater use.
The drag is strong and more than ample for most freshwater species.
This is an excellent budget fly reel that will serve you, dependably, for years.
Orvis also offers this reel in their Clearwater Combo, which includes the Clearwater rod, backing and fly line and is one of our favorite full fly fishing combos on the market today.
Also don’t miss our full hands-on Orvis Clearwater Review.
- Drag System: Disc drag
- Models: 3 models available. The 300 for lines 2 to 4 weight, the 350 for 5 to 6 weights, and the 375 for 7 and 8 weights
- Claimed Weight (suitable 6 weight): 4.4 ounces
- Backing Capacity (suitable 6 weight): not disclosed
- Width (6 weight): 0.9 inch
- Outer Diameter (6 weight): 3.5 inch
- Pros: Comes preloaded with backing, fly line, and tapered leader, lightweight
- Cons: Nothing
According to me, Cheeky has hit a home run with the Cheeky Preload. For $99 you get a very lightweight reel pre-loaded (hence the name) with backing, fly line, and a tapered leader.
Pop this onto a suitable rod and you’re good to go.
The reel is manufactured making use of the die-cast process but then finished off by popping it into a CNC machine. The result is a low-cost lightweight reel.
As with most reels in this price range, it offers a stacked disc drag system. It provides ample stopping power and does so quite smoothly.
If you are new to fly fishing, or never heard about Cheeky fly reels before, I would just like to mention that despite its quirky name, it’s a budget to mid-ranged fly reel brand that you can take seriously.
- Drag System: carbon fiber disc
- Models: 5 models available. There’s Behemoth that covers from 4 to 12 weight applications
- Claimed weight (suitable 6 weight): 5.7 ounces
- Backing capacity (suitable 6 weight): 125 yards
- Width (6 weight): not disclosed
- Outer diameter (6 weight): 3.6 inch
- Pros: Great value for money, strong drag
- Cons: Heavy
For the beginner saltwater angler that is looking for the best high-value, low-cost reel, the Redington Behemoth has you covered.
The reel is available in 5 sizes, from a 4/5 weight model to an 11/12 beast. For more individuality, it also comes in black, gunmetal, desert, O.D. Green, and hunter orange colors.
Made out of die-cast aluminum, you’ll find that for the size it is slightly heavier than most other reels. But for the price and performance, the weight penalty is negligible.
On some of the reels that I have tested the drag knob and reel handle felt a little wobbly.
- Drag System: Sealed carbon fiber disc drag
- Models: 4 models available, covering 3 to 10 weight outfits
- Claimed weight (suitable 6 weight): 4 7/8 ounces
- Backing capacity (suitable 6 weight): 100 yards
- Width (6 weight): 1 5/16 inches
- Outer diameter (6 weight): 3 5/8 inches
The Spectrum C is Sage’s budget fly reel. Obviously the name does come at a certain premium, but I strongly feel that the product itself is really good value for money.
Sage has also been in the business for a long time, and will probably still be in the future. That gives you peace of mind should anything have to be repaired or serviced in the future.
The reel has a die-cast construction, machine-finished (CNC), and comes in either a black or grey powder-coated finish. A sealed carbon disc drag system rounds off this value package.
If you want a budget reel that will last many years, this is a very good option.
What Makes A Good Budget Fly Reel?
Selecting a budget fly reel is completely different from selecting, for instance, a premium fly reel. In most cases, choosing a good value for money reel is harder to do, because you don’t have the luxury of only looking at features and top specs.
You have to balance it all with the weight (or thickness) of your wallet.
Below I have gone through some considerations that will assist you when looking for the best budget fly fishing reels.
The first place to start a budget fly reel discussion will, naturally, be price. With that, I would like to ask the rhetoric question: “What does a budget fly reel cost?”
That may differ between all of us. My gauge for this category are reels that cost less than $150. For reals over the $150 start moving into the mid-range category and when you get to about $500, you’re looking at premium stuff.
My advice to you when going out to buy a budget fly reel (or any gear for that matter), decide for yourself what budget means and what you are willing to spend. In our list above we looked at reels below $150.
Most of the reels in this price range will either be plastic (some of the really cheap ones still are) or die-cast.
Die-cast is when a metal alloy is melted and then cast into a mold. It’s a much cheaper process than straight CNC and they can mix in less pricey materials. The result is, usually, a stiff heavier reel.
Be careful of letting it fall, though, as most cast products tend to be more brittle than forged or machined units.
In this price range, most reels will also have a powder coat finish, especially when they are colored.
For small fish applications and small streams consider a clicker reel. They don’t offer high drag capabilities, but in these scenarios, it’s not necessary. The reel is basically a line holder that ensures you do not get an overwind.
A clicker drag system is very reliable, so you’ll have a budget reel that can provide you with many years of service.
The drag will mostly be sealed to some degree. Although, I must urge you not to expose reels in this price range to excessive saltwater.
With the construction taken into account, most of the budget fly reels won’t be very light. This might not necessarily be a bad thing.
Chances are that if you are looking for a budget fly reel, you’re planning to strap it onto a budget fly rod or pack it away in your fly fishing vest, your fly fishing pack or into the pocket in your waders.
More important than specific weight, is the total balance of the rod, reel, and line combination. So instead of looking at weight, think of how the reel will suite and balance the intended rod.
A large arbor fly reel assists with two issues. The first is that it reduces, to some degree, the amount of memory that your fly line obtains while stored on your reel. Obviously, this is also dependent on the quality of the fly line that you are using.
But, in general, the larger the arbor, the fewer issues you’ll have with line memory.
A larger arbor also assists to pick up line faster when you are reeling in. I’ve seen many fish lost due to low line tension when the fisherman can’t reel fast enough.
In my opinion, buy the largest arbor you can find suitable for your rod.
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Concluding The Best Budget Fly Reels
Somewhere in your fly fishing career, you will look at buying a budget-friendly fly reel. Whether it’s for a backup setup or to get your significant other to join you on the water – choosing the best budget fly reel is essential.
I hope that this guide assisted you, or at least, pointed you in a helpful direction. Please let me know what your experiences are.
Until next time.
Some images in this post are courtesy of Shutterstock.
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