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: Compare The Best Fly Reels
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 2022 based on drag construction, weight, startup inertia, build quality, warranty, overall performance and more.
Important Things To Consider When Choosing a Fly Reel
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The Best Fly Fishing Reels in 2022
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 2022 because, hey, sometimes the best fly reels in 2019 are still the best in 2022. 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 2022 and also some older classics. Learn how we test & compare fly reels here.
Here it goes, the best fly reels 2022 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 have 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 2022 it won out our top position because of its durability and value for money.
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 numbers of the reel 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 thing is super durable. We’ve beat this reel 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.
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.
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 2022 after over 2 years of testing it in a lot of different fishing scenarios. After years 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.
Orvis Hydros V Specs & Info
2. Lamson Speedster S – Runner-up
- Pros: Hyper-light, beautiful design, durable, machined
- Cons: High price
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, Speedster S is their cream-of-the-crop ultra-lightweight fly reel with the highest retrieve rate.
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 Speedster sounds amazing, with a loud, tinny purr for the peel out and a satisfying reel-in click.
Taking in an incredible 9.64 inches of line per turn, it’s also one of the largest arbor reels on this list, meaning that you’ll get the fish in the net faster than with pretty much any other reel on the market.
If you’re willing to spend $450 on a fly reel, then you’re probably not the type of angler who’s looking to cheap out on your gear. The Lamson Speedster S is worth the money for sure, thanks to its futuristic, high-quality design, functional fast retrieve, excellent seal drag system, and high-quality material.
Why We Chose It
We chose the Lamson Speedster S as the second-best reel in 2022 because of its great retrieve rate, excellent build quality, and beautiful aestetics. It comes second only because of its high price tag and because overall we feel the Hydros is a more versatile option.
Lamson Speedster S Specs & Info
3. Redington Behemoth – Best Value Fly Reel
- Pros: Quick retrieve, good value, good sound, great drag
- Cons: Die-cast aluminum, slightly loose drag knob
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.
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.
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 we’ve tested countless reels in the $100-$150 price range and none of them have the incredible drag system, build quality, and versatility of the Behemoth fly reel.
Redington Behemoth Specs & Info
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!
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 and they feel great. The Maxcatch Avid is the best of the bunch, especially considering that you can pick one up for under less than the cost of a cheap dinner for two.
The main con about this reel is that the machining can be a bit misaligned sometimes, 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 you 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
5. 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 2022 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.
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.
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 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.
Redington Rise Specs & Info
6. Sage Thermo – Best New Fly Reel (New 2022)
- Pros: Best sound, machined ultra-high quality aluminum, great value
- Cons: A bit heavy
The Thermo is Sage’s newest big game reel, and it’s blowing their previous reels out of the water.
Sage doesn’t actually have the best track record when it comes to saltwater reels, however. I mean, I’ve owned plenty of Sage reels and they always make a great product, but their big game reels (like the previous 6000 and 8000) were never their top performers, until the Thermo.
This reel is a great value, especially considering it has the Sage logo on it. This new reel is redesigned from the ground up with the specific purpose of targeting huge game like tarpon and GT.
The drag on the Thermo can pull about 16 lbs, which is comparable to some other great reels like the Mako 9600. You’ll be able to access every pound of this drag thanks to the hard stop on the easy-to-set, numbered, oversized, click-drag knob.
This reel only comes in two sizes, the 10/12 and the 12/16. The 10/12 is great for tarpon and GT, while the 12/16 is good for tuna, billfish, and other larger game.
The ergonomics of this reel are what sets it apart from other saltwater reels. There’s a large handle to quickly grasp the knob when big game start peeling out, and what you’ll immediately notice is the enormous drag knob. This is probably the biggest drag knob of any reel you’ll find on the market.
One main thing I’m not crazy about when it comes to the Sage Thermo reel (aside from the $700 price tag) is the weight. This reel is a bit heavier than other reels in this price range like the Hatch 9+ and the Nautilis GTX.
We’ll have a full hands-on review for the Sage Thermo fly reel coming soon. This is definitely one of the best fly reels 2022 offered in terms of new releases.
Why We Chose It
We chose the Sage Thermo as the best new fly reel in 2022 because the Thermo is an absolute beast. It can handle anything you throw at it, its backed by Sage’s legendary warranty and its one of the best saltwater reels as well. If only it didn’t more than the average rod.
Sage Thermo Specs & Info
7. Lamson Litespeed – Best Trout Fly Reel
- Pros: Great drag system, good for salt and fresh water
- Cons: High price, not the best-looking design
It’s really not a big surprise that another Lamson reel shows up in this lineup. They’ve been consistently building some of the best reels on the market for years now, and the G5 is the best of the bunch.
In 2015, Trident Fly Fishing did a pretty extensive scientific analysis of 25 different 5-weight fly reels, and they chose the Lamson Light Speed IV as their clear winner.
At that time, I agreed with the overall analysis, as the Lamson Light Speed IV is a great reel. Lamson has since released the Light Speed G5 fly reel, which I think takes the new trophy home as the best trout fly reel on the market.
It has all the pros of the Light Speed IV, including the light, strong design, huge arbor size, and smooth drag, but it has a cleaner finish and higher quality 6061 bar stock aluminum material, which means that it’s corrosion-resistant even after being scratched and dinged.
It may not look as sexy as some of the other reels on the market, but the G5 gets the job done better than all others. When you’re looking for the best fly fishing reel for trout, you probably aren’t too worried about looks anyway.
Like with most Lamson reels, the G5 comes with a super-strong Teflon/Delrin alloy proprietary conical drag system. This system is notoriously lightweight and powerful, and Lamson continues to top other reel-makers when it comes to their drag systems.
If you’re looking for the best trout fly reel, look no farther than the Lamson Litespeed G5.
Check out our Lamson Litespeed G5 review.
Why We Chose It
We chose the Lamson Litespeed G5 as the best trout reel this year because it’s been our workhorse on trout rivers for years. The team has tested this reel on everything from small brookies to big rainbows and we love the way it handles those fish, especially the lighter 3+ weights.
Lamson Litespeed G5 Specs & Info
8. Snowbee Spectre Cassette (Best Cassette Reel)
- Pros: Best drag in class, large arbor that’s good for bass
- Cons: Not the best sound, cassettes not marked for direction
This was actually the first cassette reel I ever ordered and having fished this reel for more than 2 years now and probably hundreds of hours on the water with it, I can’t believe I hadn’t picked one of these up before.
The cassettes are so convenient. You can quickly snap them in and out, which makes changing from a floating to a sinking line a breeze. But the best part? Each cassette is only $11!
As you know if you’ve purchased as many fly reels as I have, the spare spools for a fly reel can cost nearly as much as the reel itself, with some sporting a $300+ price tag.
Snowbee recognized this issue and created their own cassette-style fly reel with cheap replacement spools.
One thing I wish the manufacturer did was better label the cassettes themselves so that you know which way to put the line on and which way they snap into the reel. My first time spooling it I spooled the cassette backward.
Just make sure you point the little plastic notches in towards the base of the reel when spooling and you’ll be fine.
Why We Chose It
We chose the Snowbee Spectre as the best cassette reel because it has all of the great features of the regular Spectre reel that we love (strong drag, ergonomics, forged build), but with the convenience and economy of cheaper replacement cassette spools.
Snowbee Spectre Cassette Specs & Info
9. Moonshine Creede – Best Retro Fly Reel
- Pros: Med-arbor, good looking, great value, machined aluminum design
- Cons: Not “saltwater sealed” drag, heavy
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 just 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 newly released reel, like a forged aluminum frame and a powerful carbon fiber disc drag.
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 salt water 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
10. Nautilus CCF X2 – Best Saltwater Fly Reel
- Pros: Great ergonomics, quick line retrieve
- Cons: A bit heavy
Finally, a Nautilus fly reel makes the list, with the CCF X2 coming in as our pick for the best saltwater fly reel on the market.
The reel has an incredibly powerful drag system that maxes out at an impressive 15.6 lbs.
Even though there are other reels on this list that have a sealed drag system that are good for saltwater, the Nautilus CCF X2 is on another level for saltwater fishing.
The titanium coating means this bad boy can handle the corrosive nature of saltwater, but mostly it’s the drag that makes this the best saltwater reel.
With incredible pulling force, in my opinion, the carbon fiber and cork drag system on the Nautilus CCF X2 reels are the most powerful saltwater drags on the market.
Unlike most other Nautilis reels, this one actually has a great sound to it. With a line retrieve rate of 9.9” per turn, you’ll be pulling in a lot of line while listening to the CCF X2 purr.
The only cons to this reel are that it’s quite heavy and a bit expensive.
Why We Chose It
We chose the Nautilus CCF X2 as the best saltwater fly reel because it’s truly top in its class for drag power, durability, and overall build quality in a saltwater reel. If you’ve got the money to spend, this reel is an absolute beast.
Nautilus CCF X2 Specs & Info
|Top||Best Overall||Orvis Hydros Reels||Buy Now|
|Top Top Top Top Top Top Top||Runner-Up||Lamson Speedster S||Buy Now|
|Top Top Top Top Top Top||Best Value||Redington Behemoth||Buy Now|
|Top Top Top Top Top||Best Budget||Maxcatch Avid||Buy Now|
|Top||Best Midrange||Redington Rise||Buy Now|
|Top||Best Trout||Lamson Litespeed||Buy Now|
|Best Cassette||Snowbee Spectre Cassette||Buy Now|
|Top Top Top Top Top Top||Best Bass||Orvis Hydros||Buy Now|
|Top||Best Outfit||Sage Trout LL||Buy Now|
How We Test & Compare Fly Reels
Our team of professional fly fishing guides, casting instructors and competition anglers have spent years testing multiple fly reels.
We work directly with some 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 took each reel out on the water, not just for a day, but for at least a few weeks, with most of the reels on this list being fished and tested by our team for years.
We test and compare fly reels based mainly on the following criteria:
- Drag Strength
- Drag Materials
- Startup Intertia (Drag Smoothness)
- Line Retrieve Rate
- Overall Weight
- Build Quality
- Reel Versatility
- Overall Value
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.
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.
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.
Best used for small trout species, small creeks, and nymphing, the 3 weight is many anglers’ favorite rod weight because of its light presentation of small flies and the sensitivity of the rod blanks, which allow you to feel every tug and turn of the fish.
Perfect for small rivers and streams and for tossing tiny nymphs to awaiting trout, the Redington Zero 2/3 is an affordable and well-built reel. Redington has long made some of the top budget-friendly fly reels on the market, and the Zero in the 3-weight is one of their best offerings.
Still a great line weight for small nymphs and backwoods streams, the 4 weight is getting big enough to target slightly larger trout and to toss larger terrestrial flies with more ease.
Galvan Torque T4
You just can’t go wrong with this beautiful reel. It’s a self-lubricating, almost frictionless, maintenance-free reel with pretty much no start-up inertia to speak of.
It looks and feels great, and even though the Torque series makes great reels of many weights (the T8 is also one of my favorites), the T4 just feels the best out of all of them.
The most versatile rod and reel weight of all, the 5 weight is small enough to use tiny nymphs in a clinch, while big enough to land much larger fish species. If you’re looking to only have one rod and reel in your kit, make it a 5 weight.
For the price, you can’t beat the Redington Behemoth 4/5. In the 5 weight category, this isn’t just our favorite reel, it’s also the best reel you can get for the money.
Yes, the design is cast iron, but the way they’ve interwoven the material really makes this rod sturdy and strong. At 5 weight, you’re starting to get big enough that you’ll need some torque on that drag, and the Behemoth has the strongest drag in its class.
That’s why this reel appears as my favorite reel in a few different weights. Catch a big 5 pound trout on this reel, and when you hear the drag and feel the smoothness of the reel, you’ll want to catch all future fish on it.
As I said earlier, this is likely one of the best fly reels of all time.
Getting into the spectrum of small saltwater species and even river salmon, the 6 weight is for those who are targeting larger species but still want the ability to cast in mid-sized rivers to mid-sized trout without having the setup overpower them.
Hardy Ultralight ASR
The Hardy Ultralight ASR 5/6 is Dallas’s favorite 6-weight fly reel. He’s one of our professional anglers, and he’s gotten plenty of use out of it. I currently don’t have a 6-weight in my kit, but Dallas does, and after trying many reels in this category, he still stands by Hardy’s ASR offering.
The reel comes in 4-11 weight, and the 6 weight really stands out, although you’d be happy with the Ultralight in any weight.
It might not be as affordable as the Behemoth, but it’s still a great value reel with a strong disc drag system and a smooth feel in hand.
I’ve had my share of 7 weights in my day, and it’s a great rod size for those who want to target both saltwater and freshwater fish. Get a reel with a sealed drag in this weight so you can do both without harming the reel from salt corrosion.
Orvis Hydros SL
I mentioned that you want a reel that’s salt water ready in the 7 weight category. To me, the Orvis Hydros SL 7/8 is the best one on the market, especially considering the high-value, mid-range price tag.
This is surprisingly the first Orvis reel to appear on this list of the best fly reels by weight, but they really do make some incredible reels.
Dallas listed the Orvis Clearwater as his favorite 7 weight in this class (as you’ll see if you click the buyer’s guide link below), but I had to disagree with him on this one.
I think it’s worth the extra money to get the Hydros SL for the added quality of the reel. The sealed carbon drag is far superior to the Clearwater, especially for saltwater fly fishing.
How to Choose the Best Fly Reel
There are a few things you need to keep in mind when choosing a fly reel. The weight is definitely the most important, 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 known brand name, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s 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.
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.
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.
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:
- Best 2 Weight Fly Reels
- Best 3 Weight Fly Reels
- Best 4 Weight Fly Reels
- Best 5 Weight Fly Reels
- Best 6 Weight Fly Reels
- Best 7 Weight Fly Reels
- Best 8 Weight Fly Reels
- Best 9 Weight Fly Reels
- Best 10 Weight Fly Reels
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 horizontal when your reel is attached to the rod.
Unfortunately, these methods are usually flawed. The best way to tell if your reel is going to balance to your rod is to read reviews from anglers who have actually used the reels, or simply go out and fish it yourself to see if the entire setup feels good in your hands.
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.
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 on the rod, the direction of the spool bearing, and the way that the line is spooled onto the reel, decides 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 vise 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.
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.
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.
My last reel was an Orvis Encounter, and it was a decent budget reel…except for the sound. It 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.
The Reel Material
Most of the fly fishing reels that you’ll find on the market today are made of machined bar-stock aluminum, which means that the reel was carved down from a single solid piece of aluminum by a machine.
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 without a doubt, the highest quality is the more maintenance-free machined aluminum.
Quick tip: If you can afford a machined body reel, go for it.
Arbor Size / Line Capacity
The arbor size of a fly reel is a relatively new concept. Back in the day, all reels used a conventional spindle in the middle which is where the line would be spooled onto, 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 retrieve 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.
If you’re trout fishing, smaller traditional reels will be perfect for you. 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.
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.
The drag system inside the reel allows the angler to set a tighter or looser line peel (known as high or low drag).
Typically, fly fishing reels come with three types of drag system: click drag, disc drag, and spring-and-pawl.
Click drag and disc drag are both are 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 to have the more modern disc drag system in your reel. For smaller fish, click drag reels are still the favorite of many anglers.
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.
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
- Redington Fly Reels
Top-End Fly Fishing Brands
- Ross Reels
Fly Reel FAQs
After years of extensive testing of over a hundred reels, we believe the Orvis Hydros is 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 plan to reel with, and that the line is always coming from the bottom of the reel.
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.
Table of Contents
- The Best Fly Fishing Reels in 2022
- 1. Orvis Hydros – Best Overall
- 2. Lamson Speedster S – Runner-up
- 3. Redington Behemoth – Best Value Fly Reel
- 4. Maxcatch Avid – Best Budget Fly Reel
- 5. Redington Rise III – Best Midrange Fly Reel
- 6. Sage Thermo – Best New Fly Reel (New 2022)
- 7. Lamson Litespeed – Best Trout Fly Reel
- 8. Snowbee Spectre Cassette (Best Cassette Reel)
- 9. Moonshine Creede – Best Retro Fly Reel
- 10. Nautilus CCF X2 – Best Saltwater Fly Reel
- Compare Prices
- Fly Reels
- How We Test & Compare Fly Reels
- Top Recommended Fly Reels by Weight
- How to Choose the Best Fly Reel
- Who Makes the Best Fly Reels?
- Fly Reel FAQs
- Watch the Video
- In Conclusion
Watch the Video
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.