10 Best Fly Reels of 2024 (Reviewed & Compared)

This buyer's guide will show you which fly reel is best for you based on all of the most important factors like price, weight, drag, arbor-size and material.

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I’ve been fly fishing for more than 25 years, and in that time, I’ve purchased, fished, and tested countless fly reels. While I admit that a reel isn’t as important as the other gear in a kit, like rods, line, and flies, it’s still important to have a good reel to properly fight fish and safely land them.

Quick Answer: The Best Fly Reels of 2024:

Our team at Into Fly Fishing has personally tested many of the best fly reels on the market. Among us, we have over 100 years of fly fishing experience. We’ve put these reels through their paces and chosen our top fly reels in 2024 based on drag construction, weight, startup inertia, build quality, warranty, overall performance, and more.

Important Things To Consider When Choosing a Fly Reel

How We Test & Compare Fly Reels

Our team of professional fly fishing guides, casting instructors, and competition anglers have spent years testing fly reels.

We work directly with local fly shops and manufacturers to get our hands on as many reels as possible. This access gives us a unique perspective on the fly fishing industry, and we have tested more fly reels than a single angler could ever get their hands on in a lifetime.

We fish each reel extensively in various fishing conditions. We strive to test the limits of these reels and see their capabilities. Fighting fish, testing drag, and working the reel for multiple fishing trips is our goal.

We test and compare fly reels based mainly on the following criteria:

  • Drag Materials
  • Drag Strength
  • Build Quality
  • Startup Intertia (Drag Smoothness)
  • Line Retrieve Rate
  • Overall Weight
  • Reel Versatility
  • Overall Value
  • Warranty
  • Durability

After taking into consideration the above criteria, we then decide which reel is best for each intended fishing application.

Combining this with extensive research and notes from our team and from the reel manufacturers, we come up with our list of the best reels. We’ve done the testing, so you don’t have to.

The Best Fly Fishing Reels in 2024

Alright, let’s get started with this list. These are the top picks for the best fly reels of all time. Not all of these reels were manufactured in 2024 because, hey, sometimes the best fly reels in 2019 are still the best in 2024. What was great 10 years ago may still be great today. 

That’s why you’ll find that in this list of top 10 fly reels, there are some new models that came out in 2024 and also some older classics. Learn how we test & compare fly reels here.

Here it goes, the best fly reels 2024 has to offer.

1. Orvis Hydros (Best Overall)

  • Pros: Very durable, great value, saltwater sealed, everything you need in a reel
  • Cons: A little bit large & heavy for the line weights listed 

Alex, one of our team anglers and reviewers, has tested the Orvis Hydros fly reel extensively and compared it against numerous other reels in his arsenal. We’ve also compared it against the others on the list, and in late 2023, it won out for our top position because of its durability and value for money.

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The Orvis Hydros Reel line has evolved a lot over the years, and with each new iteration, the reel gets better and better, with a higher-performance build using a more lightweight and durable forged aluminum frame.

Orvis also improved upon their drag system with the latest model of Hydros Reels. Adding stronger stopping power, close to zero startup inertia, and a more ergonomic drag adjustment knob.

At around $250-$300, it’s not as good of an overall value as the much cheaper Redington Behemoth (listed below), but if you’re in the market for an upmarket reel, it’s worth every penny.

Keep in mind that the reel numbers change not with the newest iteration but with the line weight. So the Orvis Hydros V is not newer than the Hydros 1; it’s just smaller.

Orvis Hydros Line Weights:

  • Hydros I: 1-3 weight
  • Hydros II: 3-5 weight
  • Hydros III: 5-7 weight
  • Hydros IV: 7-9 weight
  • Hydros V: 9-11 weight

This reel is super durable. We’ve beat it up, and it’s stood the test of time.

Having fished it for 4 or 5 seasons, we know that this reel is going to last, and on top of that, it has an excellent sealed drag system, an easy-to-adjust drag knob, and it’s nice and light.

This image is of the author and pro fly fisher while testing & reviewing the Orvis Hydros fly reel
Alex Testing The Hydros V and Hydros III on The Water

Just be aware that even though Orvis claims that each version of this reel can span 3 different line weights (ie: 5-7 weight), the reel is a bit big for the lower weights of this category.

So if you buy the 5-7 weight reel, consider it good for your 6 and 7 weight rods. In reality, it’ll probably feel a bit chunky on a 5 weight.

Other than that, there’s not much bad to say about the Orvis Hydros V fly reel.

Why We Chose It

We chose the Orvis Hydros V as the best overall fly reel in 2024 after over 3 years of testing it in a lot of different fishing scenarios. After years of using this reel, we find it to be the most durable with the best drag and overall value out of all of the reels on this list.

Note on specs in this post: All of the weights, diameters, and spool capacities are for the 5wt versions of the reel unless otherwise stated.

Check out our full review of the Orvis Hydros.

Orvis Hydros V Specs & Info

Overall weight: 7.7 oz (9-11wt)Drag type: Sealed Carbon
Spool diameter: 4.25″ (9-11wt)Colors: Black, Silver, Ice Blue, Matte Olive
Material: Machined 6061 aluminumSizes available: 3/4wt-9/10wt
Spool capacity: 30-lb. Dacron / WF9: 250Made in: Korea
Arbor size: LargeWarranty: Lifetime ($30 Repair)


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Trouts Fly Fishing

2. Sage Spectrum LT (Runner Up)

  • Pros: Sealed Drag, Quality Components, Comfortable
  • Cons: Pricey for beginners, Not as High Quality as Other High-Performance Reels

Nick, an experienced angler and founder of Into Fly Fishing, tested the 4/5 weight Sage Spectrum LT reel on numerous occasions and compared it against other reels in the lineup. The reel has a high-quality carbon, sealed drag system that’s up for any challenge.

There’s no start-up inertia, and it immediately gives you faith that the reel can handle whatever you throw its way. Adding to the confidence is the fully machined 6061-T6 Aluminum bar stock.

It feels sturdier than the Sage Spectrum C and Max, and it’s definitely lighter. It feels nice in your hand, is beyond reliable, and you can get it to the exact settings you want. For around $400, you’re getting a solid reel and not spending as much as you would on other high-performance reels.

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Why We Chose It

We chose the Sage Spectrum LT as the runner-up because we still can’t get over how much we like the Orvis Hydros. The Spectrum feels great, but at almost double the price of the Orvis, we felt as if the Hydros still holds the top spot.

The Spectrum isn’t far behind because of how quality it feels and how well it performs.

Check out our full review of the Sage Spectrum LT.

Sage Spectrum LT Fly Reel Specs & Info

Overall weight: 4.25 oz (4-5wt)Drag type: Sealed Carbon
Spool diameter: 3.5″ (4-5wt)Colors: Black, Stealth, Silver, Pine, Ember, Teal
Material: Machined 6061 aluminumSizes available: 3/4wt-9/10wt
Spool capacity: 20-lb. Dacron / WF5: 100Made in: Korea
Arbor size: LargeWarranty: Lifetime ($30 Repair)

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3. Orvis Clearwater (Best Value)

  • Pros: Affordable, die-cast aluminum, smooth, stainless steel drag
  • Cons: Not fully machined, some competitor reels have better stopping power.

The Orvis Clearwater has long been considered a favorite for anglers of all skill levels. Danny, a long-time fly angler, has used the original Clearwater for years and recently tested the newer 5-weight model for a few months. For around $100, you won’t find a better deal.

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It pairs well with almost any rod, and it functions just as well as many other high-performance reels. The die-cast aluminum gives anglers faith that it’s built to last, and it has no hiccups that you’d find in other reels at similar prices.

It fights fish well, has great stopping power, and can be adjusted to the exact way you want. Plus, it’s extremely affordable and built by a company with a great reputation. Using it on the water reassured any doubts. It’s as smooth of a reel as you’ll find.

I’ve fished it all over the United States for trout, suckers, and carp, and it’s up for whatever challenge I throw its way. I’ve yet to find its limits.

Why We Chose It

We chose the Orvis Clearwater as our “Best Value” reel because of how well it functions despite its low price. The Orvis Clearwater setup has long been considered to be an underrated rig, and the Clearwater reel exceeds expectations.

It really was a no-brainer for us to choose the Clearwater. We’ve tested budget reels, high-performance reels, and everything in between. The Clearwater blew us out of the water.

Check out the full review of the Orvis Clearwater.

Orvis Clearwater Specs & Info

Overall weight: 5.5 oz (4/5 wt)Drag type: Stacked Disc
Spool diameter: 3.4″ (4/5 wt)Colors: Black
Material: Die-Cast aluminumSizes available: 4/5 wt-7/9 wt
Spool capacity: 20-lb. Dacron / WF5: 100Made in: Korea
Arbor size: LargeWarranty: Lifetime ($30 Repair)

4. Maxcatch Avid (Best Budget Fly Reel)

  • Pros: Med-arbor, good sound, amazing price
  • Cons: Sub-par drag adjustment, cast aluminum design

My Maxcatch Avid fly reel has lasted me through years of fishing and, while it’s a bit heavy, is a great quality reel. I’ve fished the Avid extensively, and it does the trick. No, it won’t compare to a $1000 reel, and it’s probably not the best fly fishing reel money can buy, but it doesn’t have to be at under $50!

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I have to say that this is probably one of the best fly fishing reels under $100…and it’s less than half of that price.

Fly reels in the Maxcatch line are surprisingly well-built for the money. I’m not saying they’re perfect, but when you’re looking for a budget reel or a budget fly fishing setup, you really can’t go wrong with the Maxcatch brand.

My Maxcatch reels have lasted me a long time and feel great. The Maxcatch Avid is the best of the bunch, especially considering that you can pick one up for less than the cost of a cheap dinner for two.

The main con about this reel is that the machining can sometimes be a bit misaligned, making the spool feel a bit wobbly. But honestly, for the price, you can’t really complain.

If you’re looking to get into fly fishing for the first time and don’t want to spend a lot of money on your kit, then get the Maxcatch Avid reel. It comes in 3-8 weight sizes.

Check out our full review of the Maxcatch Avid Fly Reel.

Why We Chose It

We chose the Maxcatch Avid as the best budget fly reel on this list because I’ve personally purchased dozens of reels in the sub-$100 range as backup reels for different fishing trips and the Maxcatch Avid is my favorite still. I’ve fished it for years, both in salt and fresh water, and it’s still going strong.

Maxcatch Avid Specs & Info

Overall weight: 4.5 oz (5/6 wt)Drag type: Stacked Carbon & Stainless Steel (Sealed)
Spool diameter: 3.35″ (5/6 wt)Colors: Black, Green, Silver, Blue
Material: Die-Cast AluminumSizes available: 1 wt-10 wt
Spool capacity: 20-lb. Dacron / WF5: 80 yardsMade in: China
Arbor size: MediumWarranty: 3-year warranty

My Redington Rise Reel with Pouch5. Redington Rise III (Best Midrange Fly Reel)

  • Pros: Large arbor, machined aluminum, fully sealed for salt water, great sound
  • Cons: Nothing at this price

The Redington Rise III reel has long been a top performer. I’ve just added it to this list of the best reels in 2024 because after fishing it extensively, the team agrees that it’s a top mid-range option thanks to its versatility, ergonomic design, and low startup inertia.

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Coming in at under $250, it’s actually still on the budget end of fly reels, but it’s not built like one. The most recent generation of the Redington Rise has a redesigned U-shaped arbor and a quick-release spool.

They built the reel with a carbon fiber disc drag system that’s incredibly powerful. 

Removing Redington Rise Spool From Reel

Like the Redington Behemoth, the drag on the Rise has a sealed drag system that’s powerful enough for bass and saltwater fly fishing in the larger weights. The reel knob and drag knob are both very ergonomic, and it feels comfortable in your hand. 

The Rise ships with a nice nylon reel case, and you can even put the case over the reel while it’s attached to the rod. I love these types of reel cases for this reason.

The retrieval rate is great with the Rise because the huge arbor means that you’ll get the fish in quickly without loading the spool up with too much backing.

Why We Chose It

We chose the Redington Rise fly reel as the best midrange reel because we’ve found that in this price range, it’s hard to beat the quality of this reel. Our team has fished the Rise extensively in Alaska, where conditions for a midrange reel are tough to say the least, and this thing has done the job every time.

Check out our full review of the Redington Rise reel.

Redington Rise Specs & Info

Overall weight: 4.6 oz (5-6 wt)Drag type: Carbon Fiber
Spool diameter: 3.6″ (5-6 wt)Colors: Black, Silver, Olive, Amber
Material: Machined 6061 aluminumSizes available: 3/4 wt-9/10 wt
Spool capacity: 20-lb. Dacron / WF5: 100Made in: Korea
Arbor size: LargeWarranty: Lifetime Warranty on Manufacturing Errors

6. Moonshine Creede (Best Retro Fly Reel)

  • Pros: Med-arbor, good looking, great value, machined aluminum design
  • Cons: Not “saltwater sealed” drag, heavy
Moonshine Rod Co. 3:4 Creede Reel featured

I’ve tested and reviewed the Moonshine Creede in many different weights on this blog and on our YouTube channel. I personally fished the 5/6 variation extensively both in Montana and back in Canada.

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This reel has a beautiful retro design. It’s very well-built, and I love the feel of the drag knob. The etched edges and large size make it easy to adjust even with one hand.

This reel came out in 2021, so when compared to other retro fly reels, it really has some of the top-quality parts that you’d expect from a fairly newly released reel, like a forged aluminum frame and a powerful carbon fiber disc drag.

moonshine creede fly reel review

Coming in at under $250, the Moonshine Creede is a great-value reel as well. It has plenty of pulling power in the drag, although I’d like to see it sealed for saltwater in later iterations so that we can use the larger weights as a decent crossover reel.

While Moonshine does specify the drag as fully sealed, they also admit that it’s not meant for saltwater, which is a bit of a bummer.

But that’s why I’ve listed it as the best freshwater reel on this list. When it comes to freshwater-specific retro-style reels, the Moonshine Creede is a great value and a great overall reel. 

Check out our full hands-on review of the Moonshine Creede 3/4 reel.

Why We Chose It

We chose the Moonshine Creede as the best retro reel because… well… look at this thing. We love the design of the full stock-forged aluminum frame with the moon cutout. Who doesn’t like the retro look of this fly fishing reel?

Moonshine Creede Specs & Info

Overall weight: 5.5 oz (3/4 wt)Drag type: Stacked Carbon & Stainless Steel
Spool diameter: 3.35″ (3/4 wt)Colors: Raven Copper & Raven Gunmental
Material: Machined 6061 aluminumSizes available: 3/4 wt- 7/8 wt
Spool capacity: 20-lb. Dacron / WF4: 140Made in: Korea
Arbor size: MediumWarranty: 1-year free manufacturing error warranty. Anything greater than 1 year is a $65 fee

7. Hardy Ultradisc (Best Trout)

  • Pros: Lightweight, durable, powerful drag.
  • Cons: Price
Photo of the Hardy Ultradisc Fly Reel

Why We Chose It

The reel boasts a powerful drag system m integrated with a lightweight frame, ideal for pursuing both large and small trout. Notably, its unregulated drag enables precise adjustments, a departure from Hardy’s prior models with fixed stops. Weighing a mere 3.8 ounces, one might anticipate a compromise in strength, yet the reel defies initial expectations. Additionally, anglers keen on euro nymphing will appreciate the thoughtfully designed frame that accommodates this specific angling style.

Hardy Ultradisc Fly Reel Specs & Info

Overall weight: 4.2 oz (5 wt)Drag type: Disc Drag
Spool diameter: 3.9″ (5 wt)Colors: Black, Gunmental
Material: 6061 Bar Stock AluminumSizes available: 3 wt- 10 wt
Spool capacity: 20-lb. Dacron / WF6: 80Made in: Korea
Arbor size: LargeWarranty: 5-year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship ($35 replacement fee)

8. Lamson Remix (Best Bass)

  • Pros: Hyper-light, beautiful design, durable, machined frame.
  • Cons: Not fully machined, some competitor reels have better stopping power.

Lamson has always made some great quality reels, and while some of the others in the line, like the Guru reels, could be a bit lighter, the Lamson Remix is their cream-of-the-crop ultra-lightweight fly reel with the highest retrieve rate.

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The beautiful-looking, extremely large arbor design makes this the ideal fly reel for saltwater fishing, but the Speedster is a very desirable reel for all water types.

Like with all Lamson reels (including the awesome Lamson Guru series), the Lamson Remix sounds amazing, with a loud, tinny purr for the peel-out and a satisfying reel-in click.

Even though the drag system isn’t the strongest aspect of this reel, the Remix remains a compelling choice for individuals in search of a freshwater reel for trout, bass, or similar species that will endure over time without breaking the bank.

Why We Chose It

We chose the Lamson Remix as our runner-up reel in 2024 because it’s such a great value reel. Lamson makes some of the best reels on the market, and this more budget-friendly option is a real standout in its class.

We’ve fished this thing extensively, and it’s been up to the task in every way. This is a sturdy, reasonably lightweight, and sexy-looking reel at a great price point.

Check out our full review of the Lamson Remix.

Lamson Remix Specs & Info

Overall weight: 5.49 oz (6-8 wt)Drag type: Sealed Teflon/Delrin Drag System
Spool diameter: 3.85″ (6-8 wt)Colors: Glacier, Smoke
Material: CNC Machined 6061 aluminumSizes available: 3 wt-9 wt
Spool capacity: 20-lb. Dacron / WF8: 200 ydsMade in: Korea
Arbor size: LargeWarranty: Lifetime Warranty on Manufacturing Errors

9. Shilton SL7 (Best Saltwater)

  • Pros: Durable, Reliable, Strong Drag, Light
  • Cons: Not a massive retrieval rate, sometimes hard to tell where you’re at in terms of drag

The Shilton SL7 is a perfect saltwater fly reel. James, a long-time fly fishing guide, has used the Shilton to fight GTs, marlin, sailfish, and roosterfish. He’s used it in saltwater situations for the past 6 years and put it through some serious strain. Despite the saltwater, sun, and pressure from the fish, it hasn’t failed him at any point.

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Yes, it’s a little heavier, but the fully-sealed drag, heavy-duty aluminum, and strong reel handle can take all the pressure you put on it. If you want a fly reel that has the potential to last you a lifetime, go with the Shilton.

It costs around $800, but you won’t ever have to question its effectiveness. It’s one of those reels that you’ll look at and think of dozens of experiences and fish you’ve caught with it.

Why We Chose It

We chose the Shilton SL7 because of its reliability. Saltwater fishing is filled with unknowns, and we have to be able to trust our gear. The SL7 has yet to fail James after 6 years, and we don’t anticipate it will any time soon.

So, if you want a GT, marlin, or sailfish on the fly, let the Shilton SL7 anchor your setup.

Check out our full review of the Shilton SL7.

Shilton SL7 Fly Reel Specs 7 Info

Overall weight: 10.2 oz (SL7)Drag type: Custom Processed Cork Disk Drag
Spool diameter: 4.3 in (SL7)Colors: Black, Blue, Turqoise, Burnt Gold, Red, Purple, Titanium
Material: High-Grade Machined aluminumSizes available: 6 wt – 16 wt
Spool capacity: 30-lb. Dacron / WF12: 380 ydsMade in: South Africa
Arbor size: LargeWarranty: Lifetime Manufacture Warranty

10. Redington Behemoth (Best Budget Saltwater)

  • Pros: Quick retrieve, good value, good sound, great drag
  • Cons: Die-cast aluminum, slightly loose drag knob
Redington Behemoth Fly Reel on a shop table inside

I know I listed die-cast aluminum construction as a con, but even though the Redington Behemoth reel is die-cast, it’s no slouch. There’s a reason that this reel isn’t machined. 

This is easily one of the best fly reels for the money, and it tops our list as the best fly fishing reel for the price.

When you look at the intertwined, twin-molded design, you’ll see that there’s no way you could machine this reel.

But that doesn’t mean it sacrifices quality. The unique design gives the reel an incredibly durable and long-lasting final product, as evident by its lifetime warranty.

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Redington is known for putting some of the most effective drag-systems in their reels, and the Behemoth is no different.

If you’re an angler into looking cool on the river, this beautiful reel comes in five colors: black, gunmetal grey, desert yellow, hunter orange, and OD green.

The one issue with this reel is that while it has some of the best drag mechanisms inside of it, the drag and spool knobs that you have to use on a daily basis do feel a bit wobbly and cheap. Despite this, the Behemoth is still one of the top-rated fly reels out there.

Redington Behemoth Fly Fishing Reel

The Behemoth will be a great reel for freshwater, but it’s best for saltwater and largemouth bass fishing. I’d go as far as to say that where value is concerned, the Redington Behemoth is likely one of the best fly reels of all time.

Another thing we love about the reel is the drag. We tested the Behemoth drag system against the other fly reels on this list, including reels famous for their drags like the Lamson Litespeed, and it has a stronger, easier to adjust, and smoother drag than those more expensive reels.

If you’re interested in this reel, be sure to check out our full, hands-on Redington Behemoth Review.

Why We Chose It

We chose the Redington Behemoth as the best value fly reel on this list because, after testing countless reels in the $100-$150 price range, we found that none had the incredible drag system, build quality, and versatility of the Behemoth fly reel.

Redington Behemoth Specs & Info

Overall weight: 7.5 oz (7/8 wt)Drag type: Carbon Fiber
Spool diameter: 4″ (7/8 wt)Colors: Black, Desert, Bronze, O.D. Green, Hunter Orange, Gunmental
Material: Die-Cast AluminumSizes available: 4/5wt-11/12wt
Spool capacity: 20-lb. Dacron / WF8: 200Made in: Korea
Arbor size: LargeWarranty: Lifetime Original Owner Manufacture Warranty

Top Recommended Fly Reels by Weight

For many anglers, you need that perfect reel to go with your favorite rod. Of course, if your favorite rod is a versatile 5-weight, then you’re going to need to shop for a 5-weight fly reel to ensure you have a properly balanced setup.

But not all reels are created equal in all weights. Sometimes a 3-weight version of the same reel is lighter, has better balance, or feels better in the hand. A perfect example of this is a lot of the budget reels and saltwater reels.

Best 4 weight arbor size Fly Reels

It might be great to have a budget freshwater reel in smaller weights, but if you’re putting strain on larger reels or corroding them in salt water, then you’ll probably be looking for a higher quality reel.

Here, I’ll list the best fly reels of each weight. Plus, I’ll link to each of our posts for that weight of fly reel, which includes a few reel options, including the best budget, midrange, top-end models, and more.

3 Weight

3-weight reels are perfect for smaller water situations. Whether you’re fishing small ponds or streams, fly fishing with a 3-weight reel is a blast. You feel the pressure of the fish but still have enough power to handle some of those larger surprises.

Lamson Remix

The Lamson Remix is ideal for small stream presentations and fighting whatever fish you find. Small bass, panfish, or trout are easily handled on this reputable reel. Plus, you won’t break the bank when purchasing it.

The 3-weight is set up to pair well with whatever 3-weight rod you have. Hike into the backcountry with it, and go after some of those native trout. They won’t stand a chance against the Lamson. At a fairly affordable price, you’ll get a fly reel that’s capable of just about everything.

Check Out Our 3 Weight Fly Reel Buyer’s Guide

4 Weight

A 4-weight reel gives you some freedom to take on a little larger water but doesn’t feel so clunky that you can’t get out on some of your smaller streams. It’s a nice mix for medium-sized rivers, ponds, streams, and lakes.

Orvis Hydros

The Orvis Hydros was voted our best reel of 2024 for a reason. It’s capable, fun, and can fight above its weight class.

The fully sealed drag system, smooth retrieve, and great sound make it the ideal choice. No matter where you’re fishing, you’ll feel prepared when using the Orvis Hydros.

Pair it with some weight-forward floating line, and you have a perfect dry fly setup. While the Hydros is available in several weights, the 4-weight is a great option because of its versatility and the fun you can have with it.

Check Out Our 4 Weight Fly Reel Buyer’s Guide

5 Weight

If you need versatility, a 5-weight reel should be your top choice. Take it to your local lake or large trout river, and you’ll have enough firepower. You might test its limits, but you’ll find that it can handle the majority of freshwater fish you find.

Hardy Ultradisc

Even the mention of the name Hardy should put a smile on your face. Although it’s on the lighter side, it has enough power to handle whatever you put in its path.

The drag system has everything you would want for fighting large carp or smaller trout. It’s easy to operate, and you have the confidence and reputation of the Hardy name on your side.

It’s a perfect reel for stealth missions or for spending time on the drift boat. It comes in various weights, but the 5-weight stands out for its power and lightweight.

Hardy Ultradisc

Check Out Our 5 Weight Fly Reel Buyer’s Guide

6 Weight

When you purchase a 6-weight reel, you want the confidence that it can withstand some serious power. Whether you’re taking it into some light saltwater situations or targeting heavy freshwater fish, it needs to be up for the challenge.

Sage Spectrum LT

Sage got on our list as the runner-up of the best fly reel of the year. It’s strong, has a fully sealed drag system, and is built to last.

Sage didn’t skimp with this reel, and you get your $400 worth of quality.

Take it to the flats or to your local carp pond, and you’ll see that it has the power you need. Put the drag system to the exact place you need and get to fishing. When you get a fish on the reel, you’ll see what it’s truly capable of doing.

Sage Spectrum LT

Check Out Our 6 Weight Fly Reel Buyer’s Guide

7 Weight

If you’re going to make the investment into 7 weight reel, you want it to handle some serious strain. Salmon, steelhead, saltwater fish, and large freshwater fish shouldn’t concern you. It’s a big reel that needs to keep you in the driver’s seat.

Shilton SL 7 Series

Shilton has a custom-made cork that can put nearly 13 pounds of resistance on a fish. So, you can take it to the saltwater and trust that it’ll give you a fighting chance.

The high-grade machined aluminum is corrosion-resistant and ready for whatever you put into its path.

It’s durable, easy to use in those high-pressure situations, and the maintenance required on it is next to nothing. You’ll keep whatever fish you find pinned until you get it to the net.

Shilton SL7

Check Out Our 7 Weight Fly Reel Buyer’s Guide

How to Choose the Best Fly Reel

When choosing a fly reel, weight is definitely the most important factor, but there are other factors to consider as well.

Not all of the best fly reels are expensive. While companies like Sage and Orvis tout themselves for using aviation-grade aluminum, proprietary drag mechanisms, and fast-retrieve technology, you really don’t have to spend a fortune to get a great fly fishing reel.

Just because a reel has a well-known brand name doesn’t automatically make it a top fly fishing reel.

Fly reels come in so many different forms, with different factors, weights, drag systems, sounds, and more.  For the best chance of landing that fighting brown on the river, a beautiful rainbow in your local lake, or that massive giant trevally at the beach, you’ll need to be prepared.

Here are a few things to consider when shopping for the perfect reel.

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The Price

This can be a major factor for many anglers. I’ve personally had expensive Sage reels that I loved and others that weren’t so great. I’ve used cheap fly reels that were total garbage and others that could compare to the best on the market.

Ultimately, you don’t want to purchase a reel that’s out of your budget. If you have the money to spend, and if the cheaper reels just don’t have the features you’re looking for, then it’s worth splurging.

But if you’re on a tight budget or you’re new to the sport, then consider something a bit cheaper to get started with. We have a full buyer’s guide on the best budget fly reels and the best fly reels for the money. The latter may not be the cheapest, but they’re of great value.

Quick tip: Shop for reels based on the size and features you need, not based on brand names and price.

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The Weight of the Fly Reel

The weight is the most important thing when you’re considering which is the best fly reel for your current setup. Fly reel weight doesn’t refer to the actual weight of the reel in ounces, but instead, it’s a way of categorizing your fly reel so that you can match it to your fly rod and fly line.

You would never want to have a 5-weight reel with a 7-weight rod. The reel and the rod should both be of the same weight, no matter what.

Fly Reel Weight

The larger the weight of the reel, the larger the tackle that it’s meant to handle. It would be hard to put a 7-weight fly line on a lower weight reel because they just aren’t built for it.

Just like you’d have a hard time casting an 8-weight line with a 3-weight rod, the kit just wouldn’t work properly.

Quick tip: You need to match your fly reel weight to the weight of both the line and the rod.

Recommended Fly Reels by Weight:

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Fly Reel Balance

This is a long-debated topic. Anglers have many ways of testing if their reel is balanced to their rod. The most common of which is placing your index finger above the cork handle of a fully set-up rod and seeing if the entire set-up balances horizontally when your reel is attached to the rod.

Unfortunately, these methods are usually flawed. The best way to tell if your reel will balance to your rod is to read reviews from anglers who have actually used the reels, or simply go out and fish with the setup yourself to see if it feels good in your hands.

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Startup Intertia

This is a pretty scientific aspect of shopping for a fly reel and one that you don’t have to go crazy trying to figure out. Basically, startup inertia is the force needed to pull the line off the reel (at any drag setting) when a fish first takes.

Most reel manufacturers brag about having “zero” or “close to zero” startup inertia. In real-life situations, this is referred to as a “smooth drag” by most anglers.

It simply means that when force is put on the end of your line, the drag does its job and releases with consistent pressure so that the fish on the end of your line doesn’t snap the line or break off the hook

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Right-Handed vs Left-Handed Reels

There aren’t actually any reels that are specifically created for right-handed or left-handed anglers. Instead, the way that the reel is facing the rod, the direction of the spool bearing, and the way that the line is spooled onto the reel decide which way it will be reeled in.

If you cast with your left hand, then you’ll want the reel to face to the right, and vice versa.

When you purchase a pre-spooled fly reel, make sure to request that it’s spooled for your preferred direction of casting. Fly reels are ambidextrous in that all of them can work for both lefties and righties, but you’ll need to set them up as such first.

When switching from a left-handed to a right-handed reel, you’ll also have to reverse the drag direction. Each reel has a specific way to do this, but usually, there’s a switch or you have to flip over the clutch bearing inside the reel; typically done in seconds and without any tools.

Quick tip: If you tell the fly shop or online store that you want the rod to be spooled left-handed, they’ll know what you mean.

Pre-Set Up Fly Fishing Kits

One of the best ways for beginners to purchase new fly reels is as part of an entire kit. Pretty much every fly shop and online store offers some kind of ready-to-go kit that you can purchase.

Not only are these usually a better deal than buying each item separately, but purchasing one ensures that the reel, rod, line, backing, and leader are all set up to properly match.

Fly Reel Held Out Over River

We have an entire guide on the best fly rod combos and kits, which includes important features to look out for, what a good outfit should include, and much more. Make sure you check it out before purchasing any fly rod and reel combos.

Quick tip: When purchasing a fly fishing outfit, make sure you tell the shop which hand you cast with.

The Sound

This may sound a bit ridiculous, but believe me, the clicking sound that a reel makes when being stripped out or reeled in can have a massive impact on the way you feel when retrieving a fish.

Not only are quiet reels hard to hear if you’re casting with a strike indicator and not paying attention, but they’re just not as fun. Unfortunately, most reel producers don’t disclose the sound of the reel on their sales pages, but don’t worry, I’ll include them in my reel selection in this post.

Two fly reels in grass by river

My last reel was an Orvis Encounter, which was a decent budget reel- except for the sound, which was too quiet.

Click here to listen to an ocean fly reel screaming and you’ll get the idea.

Quick tip: You want your reel to have a satisfying click that gets the blood pumping when you hear the fish take the fly.

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The Reel Material

Most fly fishing reels on the market today are made of machined bar-stock aluminum, which means that a machine carved the reel from a single solid piece of aluminum.

Die-cast aluminum reels, on the other hand, are die-cast, which means they’re made by pouring molten metal into molds.

Both reels can be very well-built and last for years, but the highest quality is definitely the more maintenance-free machined aluminum.

Quick tip: If you can afford a machined body reel, go for it.

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Arbor Size / Line Capacity

The concept of the fly reel’s arbor size is a relatively new one. Traditionally, all reels used a conventional spindle in the middle, where the line was spooled, but these days there are reels known as “mid-arbor” and “large-arbor. “

Basically, the larger the arbor, the larger the diameter of the center of the reel, which means it can take in line much faster. How much faster? With large arbor reels, you can retrieve line as much as three times faster than a conventional fly reel.

Unless you’re fly fishing in salt water or fly fishing for salmon, it’s unlikely that you’ll need a large arbor reel. These are the most popular for larger ocean fish because of the faster retrieval time and larger backing capacity.

That’s not to say that trout anglers can’t still use a large arbor reel, it’s just that they’re much more common in salt water.

Different Fly Reel Sizes Different Weight Class Reels

If you’re trout fishing, smaller traditional reels are perfect. They’re more lightweight, easier to cast, and very responsive.

These days, the compromise is the aforementioned mid-arbor, which gives all anglers a bit of added retrieve speed and load capacity without sacrificing agility and weight.

Quick tip: If you want the best of both worlds, go for the best mid-arbor reels.

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The Reel Drag System

The drag system within a reel is the mechanism the reel uses to slow down the fish so that you don’t end up peeling all of your line and backing from the reel and ultimately losing the fish.

A custom graphic of fly reel components made by IntoFlyFishing.com

The drag system inside the reel allows the angler to set a tighter or looser line peel (known as high or low drag).

Drag Types

Typically, fly fishing reels come with three types of drag systems: click-drag, disc drag, and spring-and-pawl.

Click drag and disc drag are both excellent systems and the spring-and-pawl system is the old-school way of slowing the reel with cogs. These types of reels are becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Basically, if you’re fishing for larger game, you’ll want a reel with the more modern disc drag system. For smaller fish, click-drag reels are still the favorite of many anglers.

Drag Materials

There are also three types of materials that fly reel manufacturers use to build their drag systems. Cork systems were once the most popular because of their low startup inertia, but these days synthetic materials like nylon, Delrin, Teflon, and other plastics, metals, and polymers are used in place of traditional cork.

Quick tip: Don’t set the drag higher than the breaking point of the tippet/line.

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Who Makes the Best Fly Reels?

Every angler has their favorite fly brand, and they tend to return to them for all of their fly fishing purchases, kind of like how there’s Ford people and Chevy people. But with reels, anglers often use whatever brand they felt like purchasing at the time.

But not all brands are created equal. Here are some of the most popular brands with links to their products on Amazon, in case you didn’t find the perfect reel already in this list.

Budget Fly Fishing Brands

Mid-Range Fly Fishing Brands

Top-End Fly Fishing Brands

Fly Reel FAQs

What is the best fly reel?

After years of extensive testing of over a hundred reels, we believe the Orvis Hydros is the best fly reel on the market.

Who makes the best fly reel on the market?

Based on overall value, warranty, build quality, and versatility, we believe Orvis makes the best reel on the market with their Orvis Hydros fly reel.

What size fly reel is the best for trout?

The 5-weight fly reel is the best overall size for trout. This will allow you to affectively fight and land trout anywhere from 2 pounds to 20 pounds. 1 to 3-weight reels are good for smaller species like brook trout, while a 5 to 6-weight is good for bigger rainbows. The 5-weight, however, is often considered the most versatile reel weight for trout fishing.

How much should I spend on a fly reel?

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good fly reel these days. You can spend as little as $50 and get a decent reel that will catch you fish. Fly reels in the $50-$150 range are often the best value. To avoid disappointment, I wouldn’t spend less than $30 on a fly reel.

How do you match a fly reel to a rod?

Both rods and reels are classified by “Weight”. You should always match the weight of your reel to the weight of your rod. For example, a 3-weight rod should be paired with a 3-weight reel. There are exceptions to this rule, but this is a basic guideline.

Should the fly line come from the top or bottom of the reel?

The bottom. When setting up a fly reel for either left or right-handed, you should make sure that the reel handle is on the side of the rod that you plan to reel with and that the line is always coming from the bottom of the reel.

Can fly reels get wet?

Absolutely. But be careful when using your fly reel in saltwater. Certain fly reels are suitable for saltwater, while others are not. If you get a freshwater reel wet with saltwater, it could corrode the drag system. Always rinse your gear off when using it in saltwater, and try to use saltwater-specific gear for any saltwater fly fishing.


In case you got this far and still haven’t been able to choose a reel, check out the table of contents to jump back up on the page.

Watch The Video

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In Conclusion

Whether you purchase your fly fishing rods and reels separately or you go for a full fly fishing outfit, you’ll need to consider many different factors when shopping for the best fly reel.

This article was meant to answer all of your questions about fly reels and list which ones are best for each situation. I hope you found it useful! If you did, please feel free to share it, and please comment below if you have any questions.

Happy casting!

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Nick Wharton is an expert fly fisherman who has been fishing since he was old enough to hold a rod. After switching to fly fishing at age 8, he never looked back. Today he writes for numerous websites and magazines about his fly fishing adventures around the world. Nick has had his writing and photography featured on Forbes, Lonely Planet, National Geographic Traveller and much more.

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