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Because a fly fishing reel has no effect on your casting ability, it’s often considered the least influential part of a fly fishing set-up. However, selecting the right reel for your rod, your target species and your chosen fishing conditions is still important, and there are many different options to choose from. From large arbor reels with comprehensive drag systems for big-game fishing to die-cast aluminum reels designed to save the beginner fisherman money, this article looks at the leading choices across a rang of different categories.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Sage Spectrum Fly Fishing Reel
The Sage Spectrum Fly Fishing Reel is available in a range of sizes to suit 3/4-weight to 9/10-weight line. As its name suggests, it’s a versatile option well suited to a wide range of fly fishing situations, being both lightweight and exceptionally durable. The reel is crafted from fully machined aerospace grade aluminum and anodized for superior corrosion resistance. It’s also cold-forged for added strength. The reel’s large arbor offers a fast retrieval rate and reduced line memory in comparison with other standard or mid arbor reels, while the concave spool surface promises increased line capacity.
A highlight of this reel is its sealed carbon drag system. In addition to keeping out water, sand, grit and salt, the system offers smooth engagement and consistent pressure, allowing you to reel in reluctant fish without worrying about snapping your tippet. The start-up inertia is minimal. The anodized aluminum handle is designed for hours of comfortable use, while the reel itself can easily be converted from left to right-hand retrieve. Choose from four colors, including lime, platinum, blaze and black.
Best Budget: Piscifun Aoka Aluminum Fly Fishing Reel
Designed for those who want a decent quality reel without having to spend a fortune, the Piscifun Aoka Aluminum Fly Fishing Reel is a great budget pick. It features a machined frame and a dollar-saving die-cast spool. The mid arbor design gives a good retrieval rate and reduces line coil memory; while the cork/Teflon disc drag system boasts a one-way clutch bearing for smooth, immediate engagement. You can convert the reel from left to right-hand retrieve with ease, while the smart blue and black color scheme looks good on your rod. Your purchase includes a protective drawstring bag.
Best for Saltwater: Galvan Torque 5 Fly Reel
Built to withstand the demanding conditions of saltwater fly fishing, the large arbor Galvan Torque 5 Fly Reel is made from machined aircraft grade aluminum and tempered for extra strength. Its saltwater-safe spool and frame feature rounded rims that protect against impact; while the attractive cutout design helps to keep the reel light and give it an impressive strength-to-weight ratio. It’s also renowned for its incredibly low start-up inertia, which is one of the best on the market.
The reel’s compression disc drag system is also ideal for targeting larger saltwater species. Use the drag knob to make quick, precise adjustments in record time, enabling you to maintain an even pressure on the line throughout the fight. The ergonomic handle is easy to grab in a hurry, while the reel itself can be configured for left or right-hand retrieval. The Galvan Torque 5 is available in several colors on Amazon, including green, orange, black and blue.
Best Spey Reel: Orvis Battenkill Fly Fishing Spey Reel & Spool
Also made from 6061-T6 aircraft grade aluminum, the Orvis Battenkill Fly Fishing Spey Reel & Spool is specifically intended for spey casting in settings with insufficient space for a true back cast. It boasts an affordable price tag and an eye-catching black nickel finish. The mid arbor design offers better line capacity and a faster retrieval than standard arbor reels while remaining more compact than a large arbor reel.
There are two models available on Amazon: the Disc IV for line weights 7-9, and the Disc V for line weights 9-11. Whichever size you go for, your reel features a sealed drag system that helps to prevent corrosion and uses six interacting carbon and stainless drag surfaces to maintain perfect tension. The drag is also fully adjustable. Set the reel up for left or right-hand retrieval, and enjoy the comfort afforded by the ergonomic Delrin handle.
Best Lightweight: Ross Evolution LT Fly Reel
Available in a range of sizes to suit varying line weights, the smallest Ross Evolution LT Fly Reel (for 1/2-weight line) tips the scale at just 3.8 ounces. It is one of the lightest large arbor fly reels in its class and ideally suited to those that enjoy the challenge of fishing with ultra light tackle. The reel justifies its hefty price tag with its artful machining and the incredible durability of its aircraft grade aluminum construction.
Amazon reviewers also love its sensitive drag system, which is crafted from Teflon-impregnated Delrin and designed to protect the lightest tippets while fighting prize-winning fish. The reel is suitable for use in fresh and saltwater and comes in a range of colors, including black, green, grey mist and sunset orange. It can be converted for left or right-hand retrieval.
Best Cassette Reel: Orvis Clearwater Large Arbor Cassette
The Orvis Clearwater Large Arbor Cassette is a cast aluminum reel that uses interchangeable spools - giving you the freedom to swap line types and weights at a moment’s notice. It’s especially useful for competition anglers who may need to change lines in a hurry; or for traveling fishermen who want to minimize the weight of their kit.
The cassette system is also a good budget choice, allowing you to adapt a single reel for many different scenarios. This reel is especially good value, with an affordable price tag that includes two spare spools and a Cordura reel case. It weighs 6.9 ounces and features a stacked disc drag with a positive click knob that creates consistent tension every time. It can be converted for left or right-hand retrieval.
Best Drag System: Redington Behemoth Fly Reel
Those for whom power is a priority will love the Redington Behemoth Fly Reel. Its unique die-cast construction offers the performance of a machined spool for a fraction of the price of higher end reels. Its heavy duty carbon fiber drag system is the most potent in its class and is fully adjustable with the help of an oversized drag knob.
The reel’s large arbor design allows for impressive line capacity, while also reducing coil memory and increasing the speed of your retrieval. Choose from a range of sizes, from the smallest (sized for a 5-weight trout rod) to the largest (intended for big-game saltwater angling using a 12-weight line). Sleek color options include black, gunmetal and desert.
Best Combo: Wild Water 5/6 9’ Rod Fly Fishing Starter Package
The Wild Water Fly Fishing Starter Package includes everything a beginner fly fisherman needs for just under $100. It comes with a 9’ 5/6-weight four piece rod, with a medium flex and a cork grip. The large arbor reel is pre-installed with a 5-weight floating line, backing and a leader; and is made from die-cast aluminum. You’ll find nine flies suitable for small trout in the floating fly box, which has space for a total of 372 flies if you decide to add to your collection later on. Other included items range from a rod sock and case to a knot-tying tool and a detailed instruction manual.