Best Fly Reels
Criteria Used for Evaluation
In the case of the best fly reels, the weight refers to the weight of the line that it is designed to handle. In most cases, a reel that is rated 5/6 can handle a five-pound weight line or a six-pound weight line. Theoretically, it could handle a lighter weight line, but the performance would be less than desirable.
The size of the reel refers to the actual dimensions of the reel itself. This is important since the size of the reel is directly proportional to the size of the spool of the line that it can handle. The larger the reel, the more range you can potentially use while fishing.
One of the qualities that you’ll find in good fly reels is how many different weights and sizes can be accommodated in the fly reels depending on which type you purchase. Thankfully, most of the fly reels presented here provide many such options.
In the world of fly reels, there are two main types of construction. Fly reels are either machined out of a solid piece of metal, or die-cast and poured into a mold. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
A machined fly reel is often stronger and much more durable, but it is often quite heavy comparatively. A die-cast reel, on the other hand, is usually lightweight and made from durable aluminum, but they aren’t always as durable, especially when the smaller fishing gears and parts are taken into account.
Most of the fly reels that are on the market today have at least some portions of them that are die-cast- sometimes the frame, sometimes the whole body. This is done to save on overall mass and to make the fly reel lighter and more responsive.
The construction of the fly reel can also tell you quite a bit about the quality of the individual parts and gears that are contained within its mechanisms. Often a fly reel is more than just a place to put your spool of line. It consists of a series of fishing gears, discs, threads, and pulleys that allow you to control your fishing line to catch the next big one with relative ease.
We also looked into the Arbor size. The Arbor refers to space in the reel where the spool of the line sits, waiting to be unleashed or retrieved. In general terms, the larger the arbor, the more efficiently the line can be brought back or released in a cast. In some cases, the larger arbors can retrieve line at almost twice the rate of a standard size.
So the question arises then if the larger arbor provides for such superior retrieval and casting rates, why do some anglers still prefer the standard arbor sizes? Well, depending on how the fly reel is created, a larger arbor can have a few disadvantages. First, since the larger arbor is more significant in size, it takes up more room, leaving less room for the backing. This means that on a longer run, the backing of this type of fly reel may run out long before any advantage is seen. To prevent this, most large arbor fly reels have a larger overall diameter. This, in turn, may make them a bit too bulky overall or some tastes.
The drag of a fly reel refers to how well it can stop or slow down the fishing line, and therefore the fish at the other end of it. There are two central drag systems that are popular today. The first is a variant of the disc system. In this system, the line is squeezed between discs, and the resultant friction is used to stop it, much like the brake pad on your car squeeze against the rotors to slow your vehicle down to a stop. This is by far the most popular method of stopping the line. It’s quick, easy to apply, and often needs very little force.
The second type is one that is much less common. It is often referred to as “click and pawl drag” or sometimes “spring and pawl drag.” These systems often have a spring-loaded “pawl” that engages a small gear with teeth at the center of the spool. As the pawl and the teeth on the spool engage, the tension mounts, and the spool, and the line slows down to a crawl. As an aside, it is often this click and pawl system that provides the almost musical quality of clicks and whirs that so many fly fishermen fall in love with.
The disc system can often provide more consistent pressure, are usually heavier duty, and can be more easily adjusted than the click and pawl systems of yesterday. Not surprisingly most of the best fly reels use a disc system today.
For our purposes, the overall tolerance of a fly reel refers to its ability to handle the running line or shooting line getting caught between the spool and frame, or sometimes getting behind the spool. It is a measurement of how well all the gears, smaller parts, lines, and discs work together overall. A reel that has a greater tolerance often means that the line flows more easily, and is easier to control overall. One that has less tolerance, well, things may become more of a tangled mess.
Thankfully, most if not all of the fly reels presented here today have at least a decent tolerance, one that allows the fly fisherman to concentrate on the task at hand, not trying to untangle a mess of gears, springs and fishing line.
When looking at investing in a fly reel, do not always assume that the more expensive the fly reel, the more durable or better quality it will be – this is not necessarily the case all of the time.
The best thing to do when looking for a durable reel to last you years to come is to look at the construction materials and design, as well as consumer reviews to see how the reel has held up for others who have put them to the test. Do not solely be swayed by price as you may end up with an expensive fly reel that will not hold up; make an educated purchase, and research before buying.
Top 10 Picks
1. Orvis Clearwater Large
This first entry on our list of the best fly reels proves that you don’t always get what you pay for – sometimes you get so much more. Made from high-quality materials and featuring a larger than average arbor, this reel is a great choice for your general fly fishing needs.Read more
Weight and Size
This reel is designed to handle test lines of between four and six pounds and measures approximately 5 x 5 x 4 inches in size. It weighs respectful 14.2 ounces, but that weight doesn’t detract from the overall operation and ease of use.
This fly reel is made from die-cast aluminum and features the ability to either use a left-handed or right-handed retrieve, a stacked disc drag system, and a positive click drag knob system.
This fly reel features a sturdy stacked drag system and a positive click drag knob that provides fantastic overall control and braking ability, so your line goes where you want it to as you fight with your chosen fish.
As the name indicates, this reel features a reasonably large arbor size, which allows for excellent retrieval at respectable speeds overall.
If there was one drawback that we found was that to maintain a good tolerance between the different parts, this reel did need a bit of extra care. Regular cleaning and lubrication to keep things moving smoothly were found to be necessary. However, with a little bit of TLC, this reel is in it for the long haul.
Considering the ease of switching between right and left-handed retrieval, fantastic and smooth operation, and the precision drag operation, the Orvis Clearwater Large Arbor reel is an excellent choice.
2. Okuma Integrity
The second entry on our list is certainly a fly reel to contend with. Not only does it feature smooth reeling and a great drag system, but it also is extremely durable to boot.Read more
Weight and Size
This reel can certainly handle a wide range of line weights, from four to six up to eight or nine line-weight. It is also a reasonably large reel, being able to handle nearly 100 yards of line, so you’ll have plenty of room to let the fish run.
This reel is created with a die-cast aluminum frame with a machined stainless steel spool shaft for added durability. It also features a machined brass bushing drive, and a multi-disc cork drag system.
The drag mechanism of this reel features a roller bearing engagement system that allows for the drag system to operate in one direction, and the multi-disc cork working device makes quick, precise stops in line retrieval easy enough to do. However, it should be noted, that because of the multiple moving parts in the drag system itself, the reel has been known to seize up during more complicated runs.
Similar to the previous entry, the arbor size of this reel is abundant and relatively in charge. The retrieval of the line is fast and easy to do.
While the overall operation of this fly reel is quite proper, the tolerance between some of the different parts can be problematic at times, especially in the drag system. However, as a whole, the drag system is reliable. Paired with the die-cast aluminum frame, you can put your faith in this reel.
If you want a solid fly reel that will help you conquer your latest stream or lake, then the Integrity B Large Arbor Fly Reel is a great choice. While we would have liked to see a little bit more tolerance between the many working parts, and a less problematic drag system, for the money this is a respectable choice.
3. Redington Path
The Redington Path Fly fishing reels were introduced in 2015 and they’ve been taking the world of fly fishing by storm with good reason since then. Designed to make both casting and retrieval a breeze, this is one of the most popular fly reels on the market today.Read more
Weight and Size
This particular reel is designed to handle line weights of 7, 8 and 9, and measures approximately 5 inches by 5 inches by six inches in size. It is also one of the more lightweight options on the market today, weighing in at about 6.4 ounces.
This fly reel features an aluminum frame and spool that is die-cast and kept to the lightest weight possible. It also features a disc frag system, and can easily be switched between right and left-hand retrieval. It does, however, contain quite a few plastic gears and parts inside, which can wear out quickly with frequent use.
Like many of the fly reels on the market today, this one features a robust disc drag system that helps you to keep the fish from getting away from your net.
The arbor size is relatively abundant on this reel, which makes both casting and retrieval pretty easy overall.
Unlike some of the other reels on this list, the number of gears and moving parts is kept to a low number on the Redington Path Reel, so the overall tolerance between things is relatively high. It should be noted, however, that the interior plastic parts don’t always hold up to strenuous use.
If you enjoy fly fishing for trout, and you want a reel that will allow you the precision and control that such an endeavor demands, then the Redington Path Fly Reel certainly should be a the top of your list. Although the plastic gearing that was used to make a lighter reel may prove to be less than durable, the overall construction is still quite lovely.
4. Piscifun Platte
The fourth entry on our list of the best fly reels is tailor-made for those who want a reel that can take the right amount of abuse and still keep going. Designed to be nearly impervious to water, grit, grime, and sand, these reels are a great choice when your knee-deep in the water and muck, searching for that elusive catch that is trying to get away.Read more
Weight and Size
This reel is available in several different line weights, including those that can handle 3-4 line weight, 5-6 line weight, and 7-8 line weight. It also measures approximately 6 inches by 3.3 inches by 1.08 inches in size and has a backing capacity ranging between 50 and 150 yards depending on the line weight.
Unlike many of the fly reels on the market today that are die-cast through specific molds, this particular one is actually machined and features a completely sealed drag system that is kept watertight through the use of a series of embedded “O” rings that hold the gearing free of water, dirt, and grime. The reel itself is made from anodized 60601 T6 aluminum and features a quick release and relatively easy conversion from right to left-handed retrieval.
This drag system features a broader working base for the disc, which means that there is not only better heat distribution, but an angler can more easily make adjustments to keep the fish on the line in the heat of battle. Also, the drag features alternating stainless steel, Teflon, and carbon design to provide a great deal of drag strength when needed.
The arbor size is reasonably large, allowing for the quick returns and more natural adjustments that are so vital when fly fishing.
While the overall feel and function of the reel is pretty good, some found that there was a bit of tightness that interfered with the overall smoothness of the operation. However, the full metal frame provides great durability without adding weight to the reel. To make it even better, this reel comes with a lifetime warranty.
The Piscifun Platte Fly Reel is a true marvel of technology and design that can withstand quite a bit of abuse and still keep coming back for more. While the overall complicated design does lead to the potential for part failure, overall this fly reel is a good and solid choice.
5. Okuma SLV Diecast Aluminum
If your fly fishing style is more subdued and you’re looking for a fly reel that can easily handle lots of backing and line that are used to let a lake bass run, our fifth entry on this list may just be what you need.Read more
Weight and Size
This reel measures a bit smaller than others on this list, topping out at just below seven ounces and measuring four inches by three inches by four inches. It can, however, handle a wide range of line weights, ranging from 2/3 to 10/11.
The reel is made from lightweight aluminum that has been cast into a frame that is designed to produce rapid retrieval of the line possible, and also has a stainless steel shaft, one-way roller bearing, and a multiple disc cork drag system.
The drag consists of a series of cork and stainless steel discs that operate quite well when it comes to stopping the line quickly. However, it should be noted that the drag adjustment does have some plastic threads that can be become soon broken or frayed with too much use.
Considering the smaller size of the reel overall, the arbor size is remarkably large, which allows for quicker return overall.
The overall tolerance of this reel does leave a bit to be desired. In certain circumstances stripping out the line can become quite problematic, and the gearing has been known to seize when too much moisture is introduced into the mechanism.
We would have liked to see a bit more durability in this reel, especially with the plastic pieces in the drag and the tolerance. However, the reel is priced accordingly, so why not give it a shot and see what you think?
The Okuma SLV die-cast aluminum fly reel offers a no-nonsense reel that is perfect for a lazy day on the lake. While we would have like to see better overall tolerance and the fact that it can seize up when wet wasn’t a great thing, overall, this is a robust and dependable reel.
6. Ross Evolution LT
The Ross brand has been known for years in the fly fishing community as being one of the more dependable manufacturers of quality fly reels, and the Evolution is by far no stranger to that reputation.Read more
Weight and Size
This Ross Evolution LT Fly Reel is an updated version of the original. This particular reel has been fitted with an aluminum spool cap. It also has a durable aluminum drag knob and escapement cover. This is one of the lightest reels available today, weighing under 4-ounces and the measures 5 x 5 x 4”.
To balance out the weight of aluminum on this reel, ventilation has been added to the spool and frame. This means that just because metal has been added to this reel, it won't be weighed down.
For anglers who love a great design that has a lot of thought put into a reel's build, so much so that it could be called a piece of art, this reel is for you. However, it is also a reel that is highly functional.
The drag system on this reel is both precise and sensitive. It is capable of battling a large fish, but still, the lightest tippet is protected.
Along with all of the features mentioned above, this reel is designed with durability with a triple redundancy drag system, which offers three systems for backup, so that the reel remains intact in even the most demanding of circumstances.
This lightweight upgrade of a traditionally popular reel brings us a great combination of durability and sensitivity. A few things, like the drag knob and retrieval rate, could be improved, but we didn't see that as a reason to leave it off the list.
7. Redington Behemoth
Interested in expanding your fly fishing horizons beyond the lakes and rivers of the backcountry and trying your hand and the great seas? If so, you’ll need a reel that is strong enough to take on the challenge. Thankfully, the Redington Behemoth might just do the trick.Read more
Weight and Size
This reel can handle a few different line weights, depending on the model chosen, including 5/6, 7/8, 9/10 and 11/12. The overall size dimensions are a respectable 4 x 5 x 6 inches, and the weight is approximately 10.4 ounces.
This relatively large fly reel features a die-cast aluminum material and an interlocking arbor design with a super heavy-duty carbon fiber drag system. It also has more room for backing by making use of a deep V-spool design. And to top it all off, the handles are soft to the touch and are designed with the fisherman’s hands in mind.
This reel features one of the more powerful disc drag systems that we considered for this list, and it certainly shows in its performance. Not only is it easily adjusted with an oversized drag knob, but the whole system can easily convert between right and left-handed retrieval styles.
The arbor size is larger than the standard size, allowing for more rapid retrieval of the line and more accurate casting overall.
Perhaps the one area that needs improvement on this reel is the quality of construction in regards to the overall tolerance. There were quite a few instances where using an extra spool. If the spool is slightly larger or smaller than originally used, jams with the line are often more prevalent. On the other hand, the durability of the reel itself (die-cast construction) is expected to impress. For the most part, customers have been impressed, however, some have learned the hard way to not let the reel slip out of your hand.
If you’re looking for a larger fly reel that can certainly handle the big boys and give you the drag control you need to become the boss of the seas, the Redington Behemoth Fly Reel might be one to consider. While we were thrilled with the smooth drag and overall use, the allowable tolerances did leave a bit to be desired.
8. Waterworks Lamson
In the search for a dependable, yet affordable fly reel, many people have taken a look at the Waterworks Lamson Liquid Fly reel and stopped looking. Designed to help both the novice angler and the more experienced one to handle whatever the stream or river throws at you, these fly reels are tough and dependable.Read more
Weight and Size
This particular fly reel is available in several different line weights including 3 / 4 weight, 7/8 weight, and 9/10 weight as well. The dimensions are approximately five by five by four inches, and the weight comes in at about 16 ounces total.
One of the potential problems with die-cast construction is that there is a strong potential for the molds to be less than perfect. After all, they are most likely being made by human hands in some regard.
Overall we found the drag system on this fly reel to get the job done, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. It should be noted that the entire drag system was sealed from the outside, so things like grit and grime shouldn’t become too much of an issue.
For the most part, the arbor on this fly reel would probably fall into the medium category – more extensive than a standard, but not quite big enough to be given the “large” designation when compared to some of the others on the market today. However, no matter what you call the arbor size, it does the job well in retrieving and casting the line as needed.
Generally speaking, the tolerance on this fly reel is reasonably good, with very few reports of tangles or line snares while in use.
Customers have been impressed with the solid look and feel of this reel. There have been a few initial concerns will some pullback while reeling in, but over time it seems to smooth out.
While not the cream of the crop, these fly reels are certainly adequate for most fishing situations. They’re known for being assembled in the US, and for having durable and long-lasting mechanisms, especially when talking about freshwater fly fishing.
9. Piscifun Sword
Sometimes what you need in a fly reel is one that is affordable and can take a few knocks and licks while you’re learning the ropes. Of course, the Piscifun brand is well suited to do more than just this, but their Sword Fly Fishing Reel is a great way to have some fun and enjoy the challenge of the sport.Read more
Weight and Size
This fly reel is available in a variety of line weights, including those for 3 / 4, 5/6, 7/8 and 9/10, so pretty much all the bases usually used are covered. As far as the dimensions, these reels range in size between 4.1 x 2.9 x 0.83 inches and 6.7 x 4.05 x 1.07 inches.
This reel is machined using high-grade 6061-T6 aluminum material and then is cold-forged for increased strength and durability. The arbor itself is concave to improve the overall strength, and it’s relatively easy to convert from left to right-handed retrieve and vice versa.
For the most part, the disc drag system on this reel is sturdy and responsive, and the disc system operates quite well. However, there were numerous complaints about the drag system not having a whole lot of play or being less than user-friendly.
The arbor size of this fly reel falls squarely in the mid-range and offers a reasonably quick retrieval on the line when used correctly. Also, there is plenty of room for the needed backing on the reel itself as well.
The tolerance overall is reasonably good on this reel. While there were a few issues here and there with the spools becoming tangled when the drag system was engaged, for the most part, most people found the tolerances to be acceptable.
This CNC-machined reel is incredibly durable. It is an ideal fly reel for all conditions and is also resistant to corrosion. For its level of durability, it is still lightweight. It features smooth movements and a beautiful finish.
While we certainly would have liked to see a more user-friendly drag system that allowed for more play and control, overall this fly reel certainly got the job done in most fishing situations. If you’re looking for a durable choice that performs reasonably well, this is one to consider.
10. Sage 2200 Series
Truth be told, fly fishing can be an expensive hobby. But it doesn’t have to be. The trick is to find quality equipment at a reasonable cost. Thankfully the Sage 2200 series of fly reels helps you to do just that.Read more
Weight and Size
This budget-friendly fly reel is available for line weights ranging from 3 / 4 up to 9/10, so chances are you’ll be able to find the weight you need to fit your rod and line. The diameter ranges between 3.3 and 4.3 inches, so it is a little on the larger size, comparatively. And finally, the weight is just less than one pound.
This fly reel is created from die-cast aluminum that has been powder coated to help resist the wear and tear of use while fishing. The drag system handle is relatively abundant and easy to use, and switching between right and left-hand retrieval is a reasonably simple process. The one complaint that we saw was that the overall feel of the fly reel wasn’t that sturdy.
The drag system consists of a series of carbon discs that have a great balance between a quick arrest of the line and the slowing of the line that is sometimes needed. The drag knob is large and reasonably easy to operate, and the set numbers are marked on the knob itself. This makes it easy to set the drag and not worry about it again.
The arbor size is relatively large and allows for quick retrieval of nearly 100 yards of backing and line if needed.
The tolerance of the reel is adequate, but it’s certainly not anything to praise outlandishly. Changing the spools can be a bit problematic since you have to push from the back instead of pulling from the front as usual. However, there were only a few reports here and there of excessive tangling or problems with line memory.
As mentioned, the overall feel of the reel doesn't give us much confidence. It is a die-cast aluminum reel but it doesn't it seems a bit thin. Overall, it's a functional design with a large arbor and comes at a great price.
If you need a budget-friendly fly reel that can certainly perform very much like the more expensive brands, the Sage 2200 series is certainly worth a closer look. While we would have certainly liked to see a stronger quality construction, and a spool exchange system that was more user-friendly, for the most part, this is a great choice.
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