Fly fishing is not like the smartphone industry. You don’t always need to have the latest stuff to be successful and keep pace with the times. Most fly anglers are perfectly happy with the fly reels they purchased upon a friend’s recommendations years ago.
So instead of providing you with the best fly reels of 2021, we’ve compiled a list of what we believe to be the all-time greats. After all, if you’re going to spend your money on something, don’t you want to splurge your hard-earned cash on the ‘best ever’ instead of the ‘best in 2021?’
In this review, we’ve included models like the Orvis Battenkill and Piscifun Platte. Both have been going strong for decades. But we’ve also mixed in a few latest fly reels as well, like the Sougayilang, Sage ESN and Orvis Battenkill, which we believe have the potential to become instant classics.
Fly Reels Comparison Chart
Tips for Buying a Fly Reel
- Arbor Size
Arbor size tells you the distance between the fly reel’s center spindle and the spool base. Fly reels are available in three arbor sizes: standard, mid, and large. Models with a standard size arbor are generally best for trout fishing, as they offer a low line retrieval rate, forcing you to fish with less line out.
Fly reels with a large arbor, meanwhile, are for serious fly anglers. They give you a more substantial frame, have huge space between the spool base and the spindle, and let you retrieve your line quickly. You can count on them to hold more backing than standard or mid arbor reels.
The highest quality fly reels are machined aluminum. They have an oxidized outer layer that makes them resistant to rust from the elements, helping them last for years. However, machined aluminum reels are also the most expensive. But if you can afford them, there’s no reason not to buy them.
- Drag System
Drag system deserves your attention if you do saltwater fishing. That’s because in trout fishing the fish won’t pull much line off the reel. It’s only in saltwater fishing – where the heavy fish are trying to run away from you – where the drag system’s mettle is tested. Go for disc drag as it helps you tire the fish quickly while also keeping itself from breaking off.
Best Fly Reels
1. Sage Spectrum C
✅ Competitively priced
✅ Eye-catching design
✅ Fully-sealed drag system
✅ Comes with a lifetime warranty
⛔ Can’t stand up to bigger, heavier fish
The Sage Spectrum C is affordable yet formidable. The grey color scheme we ordered makes this fly reel pretty slick, with the black accents adding to its stealthiness. The handle’s shape and size are standard, meaning you won’t face any discomfort holding it.
Its spool runs freely enough for when you need to “slap” it when quick line retrieval may be required. The fully-sealed carbon SCS system ensures that the pressure remains smooth as you pull of the line. This reel also offers a max drag of about 2lbs of pressure – enough for trout fishing.
The knob offers 18 different adjustment settings and ensures soft clicking through all of them. Just like the retrieve, drag clicks, too, are smooth. You can achieve full range of drag in less than one full revolution, making the Spectrum C easy to use.
Construction & Design:
The Sage Spectrum C is a die-cast fly reel. It features a carbon fiber drag system which offered a maximum of 2lbs of drag during our testing. The drag system is fully sealed so as to prevent the ingress of elements that may interfere with its working.
2. Redington BEHEMOTH
✅ Ultra-powerful drag
✅ Ergonomics are on point
✅ Has low line memory
✅ Offers quick retrieval
⛔ A bit bulky
The Redington Behemoth offers good value in a budget. Its sealed carbon fiber disc drag may not be able to help you catch bigger fish in saltwater conditions. But it’s good enough for trout fishing. The drag system’s large arbor has increased the retrieval rate while reducing line memory.
The reel’s availability in five sizes makes it suitable for rods between 4 and 12 weight. All the models have enough backing capacity for heavy freshwater use. The reel’s chunky width – measuring 1.4 inches – means you can use it with wide diameter floating lines, too.
Ergonomics is top-notch with the deep V-spool and the twin molded handles. Redington has also thrown in a nylon reel case in the package. You may want to use the case for storage. Its thick outer layer will protect the reel against elements like dirt, sand and water.
Construction & Design:
The Redington Behemoth is made of unmachined die-cast aluminum. Its extra-deep V-spool has increased this model’s backing capacity. A chunky width – measuring 1.4 inches – helps it provide good grip, even when you’ve wet hands.
3. Orvis Battenkill
✅ Classic design
✅ High-pitched clicking noise
✅ Can be adjusted for left- and right-handed use
⛔ Noisy disc drag
The Orvis Battenkill has been going strong for six decades now. Named after the river that flows into its manufacturer’s HQ in Vermont, this model offers a 4-position click-and-pawl drag system. One that ensures you always get a constant drag. This, as you might guess, helps it keep overruns at bay.
Its availability in five different sizes – 1-3wt; 3-5wt; 5-7wt; 7-9wt; 9-11wt – means you can count on this reel for a wide variety of applications. The first three sizes look the same, but the last two have opted for a solid side plate over one that’s drilled out. This helps keep their weights down.
A narrow spool ensures you have to deal with less line slacking, and you can easily adjust this reel for left- as well as right-hand retrieve. Plus, it has that noisy high-pitched click which most experienced anglers love to have in their fly reels.
Construction & Design:
The Orvis Battenkill is made of machined, bar-stock aluminum. It has a narrow spool to minimize line stacking on retrieve and has been given a black/nickel coating. One that has made the reel stylish but has also made its exterior susceptible to showing scratches more than others.
4. Waterworks-Lamson Liquid
✅ Competitive asking price
✅ High-quality drag system
✅ Smooth adjustment dial
⛔ Might have durability issues
The Waterworks-Lamson Liquid is the true definition of a workhorse. Its Torrington roller clutch provides quick torque transmission, but not at the cost of backlash or line and leader damage. A sealed conical drag is sturdy enough to prevent the line from snapping when you’re playing a heavy fish.
What’s more, the drag system’s ‘infinite’ adjustment range means it won’t click when turned, making this reel a must-have for anglers who like to keep things quiet on the sea. The adjustment dial is smooth enough to provide just the right amount of tension while you’re setting it.
Construction & Design:
The Waterworks-Lamson Liquid fly reel’s body is made of ‘pressure-cast aluminum’. This means that the aluminum was liquefied before injected into a mold to give it its current shape. The entire arrangement keeps costs low, but a polyurethane finish still manages to add durability.
5. Sage ESN Euro Czech
✅ Comes with three counterweights
✅ Sealed carbon drag offers smooth startup
✅ Helps pick up line fast
Multiple features set the Sage ESN Euro Czech apart from its competitors. Foremost among them is its KonneticHD technology. This technology has made the ESN lightweight and gentle on your arms and hands. Next come the hard-chrome, single foot plated guides which allow for greater flexibility.
This model’s down locking reel set is way down towards your bet, helping it balance out your entire fishing set-up with ease. Its rod is very delicate, but not at the cost of blank recovery or speed. In fact, it won’t be wrong to state that it has got the fight required to haul in some heavy fish.
On top of everything else, this fly reel comes with a lifetime warranty. Should anything happen to the reel, blank, or rod due to manufacturer’s defect, Sage will repair or replace it for free. Keep in mind, though, that this offer is only valid for original buyers. If you’ve bought the ESN second hand, you won’t get it.
Construction & Design
The Sage ESN Euro Czech is built from T6061 bar stock aluminum. It is available in two colors (black and chipotle) and multiple sizes. An ultra-thin, closed frame design and tight tolerances makes sure to prevent leader or mono line from slipping under the frame and entangling around the drag.
6. Pflueger Automatic
✅ One-handed operation
✅ Folds compact for easy storage
✅ Lets you reel in line easily
⛔ Heavier than most manual reels
The Pflueger fly reel’s automatic operation helps with line control by making it a cinch to recover line. You can also count on this model to help you pick up line fast when moving from one water body to the other. Both these features make it a must-have for situations that require ultra-quick retrieval.
Despite the fact that Pflueger Automatic is made of lightweight aluminum, you won’t have to worry about durability. Know why? It comes with a hefty multi-year warranty. Plus, the presence of the fold down trigger means it folds compact for easy storage.
Construction & Design:
The Pflueger Automatic Fly reel has an aluminum-alloy frame and spool. The main spring, line guard and foot, however, are made of stainless steel. This means that you can be more assured of the durability of the last three than that of the frame or the spool.
7. Piscifun Sword
✅ Offers super-smooth drag
✅ Corrosion-resistant surface
✅ Ultra-durable construction
✅ Provides you with a quiet retrieve
⛔ Drag adjustment isn’t sealed and can be difficult to handle due to its complexity
The Piscifun Sword has an iodized outer surface that helps it resist corrosion. A steel drag system works in tandem with the one-way clutch bearing to provide you with a quick drag reaction. Its CNC-machined construction has made it resistant to impacts while also keeping the weight down.
Its mid-size arbor has managed to kill two birds with one stone. The arbor’s thoughtful design ensures the amount of wear on your line remains minimal, whereas its medium size has also equipped this fly reel with great retrieval capabilities. Plus, this model is warrantied for three years.
Aside from that, this model’s steel drag system (with one-way clutch bearing) and multi-disc cork provide you with an ultra-smooth drag. One that cannot be any more accurate and offers a silent line retrieval.
Construction & Design
The Piscifun Sword is made of precision-machined 6061-T6 aluminum alloy. This material is known for its excellent corrosion resistance and medium fatigue strength. Its massive strength has helped it find audience among the aerospace, ship building, and trucking industries.
8. M MAXIMUMCATCH Maxcatch
✅ Comes pre-spooled
✅ Lightweight construction
✅ Large arbor design ensures rapid line retrieval
✅ Available in a wide range of colors
⛔ Fit and finish aren’t perfect (some semi-sharp edges)
The M MAXIMUMCATCH Maxcatch comes pre-spooled to save your time when it arrives at your doorstep. It’s available in far more colors than any other model in this review. An all-aluminum construction deserves credit for keeping it lightweight, while a large arbor design let you retrieve your line quickly.
A rugged disc drag has what it takes to put life-ending pressure on your catch. It also features a solid, smooth drag, with every click of the knob bringing about a gradual change in tension. There won’t be any sudden jump from minimal drag to max drag with one or two clicks.
Construction & Design:
The Maxcatch fly fishing reel features an all-aluminum construction. You read that right. The entire reel, alongside the drag, spool and even the bearings inside are made of the same material. It features a large arbor design which is preferred by the pros because of its ability to help you retrieve line quickly.
9. Piscifun Platte
✅ Fewer line snags
✅ Lifetime warranty
✅ Ambidextrous handle
✅ Large arbor design for quick line retrieval
The Piscifun Platte fly fishing reel is available in four sizes and three colors, helping it serve the needs of a wide array of audiences. Its sealed disc-drag system gives you all the power you need to haul in catch while keeping outdoor elements like dirt and dust out.
A machined aluminum construction means you shouldn’t have any doubts about this product’s durability. You won’t be dealing with many line snags with this model, thanks to its low-profile drag adjustment knob which stays out of the way when it’s not needed.
Just like other Piscifun fly reels, the Platte is also backed by a lifetime warranty. Unlike most of them, though, it hasn’t managed to keep its weight down. At 6.2 ounces, your arms and hands will feel it’s holding something with this reel in your wrists.
Construction & Design:
The Piscifun Platte has CNC-machined aluminum alloy frame and spool. Its ball bearings are made of stainless steel, whereas the drag system is a combination of stainless steel and carbon. A large arbor design with an ambidextrous handle means you won’t face many issues in using it.
✅ Smooth line release
✅ Lets you control line resistance
✅ Highly durable and rigid
✅ Five-year warranty
⛔ No instructions on how to reverse drag for LG Vs RH wind
The Sougayilang fly reel has what it takes to compete with competitors costing three times as much. Its large arbor design reduces line memory while also ensuring a speedier retrieve. A clicker drag system makes gradual changes in the tension, giving you full control over its functioning.
This model’s exterior is anodized, tempered and cold forged for protection against corrosion and impacts. Its interior, especially the fiber-composite drag system, is sealed against the ingress of elements. And the knurled metal screw caps make it a cinch to change the retrieve among both hands.
Construction & Design:
Both the frame as well as the spool of this fly reel are made of CNC-machined 6061-T6 aluminum alloy. The carbon drag system, meanwhile, has fiber-composite construction.
Fly Fishing Reel Buying Guide
Figuring out which fly reel you need is just like other reels. It’s mostly about context. You need to ask yourself the “where’s” the “how’s” and the “why’s”, etc. Let’s take a look at some of the variables you should keep in mind when buying a fly reel.
The Top 7 Factors to Consider If You Want to Buy the Best Fly Reel
Fly reels are easy to differentiate because they only have a few parts that make up the reel. The different fly reels on the market are mostly different because of their design. The differences among reels relate to the following aspects of their design:
The retrieval system is built to gather the line when you are bringing back in the fish after it’s been hooked.3 different types of design allow the retrieval to work in fly fishing:
Single action reels
The basic system that performs by turning the handle which rotates the spool. One turn equals one rotation.
These do things differently, depending on how you have your gear ratio- these reels can turn different at rotations, 1 or 2, etc. and not just one like a single-action reel.
Automatic retrieval reels
In contrast to the other 2 systems, automatic reels create tension with a spring device that you enable. They store tension as the line is fed out. When you decide to retrieve the line, the safety latch releases by a trigger. This allows the spool to spin back very quickly which pulls in the line from the water. For basic fly fishing and for beginners to go with a single-action reel, it’s more than fine. It’s the best way to start with fly fishing due to its simple ease of use and low learning curve.
The arbor of the reel is the wheel that stores the line.
- Small arbors, physically speaking, are less than large arbors and cost less as well.
- It makes better sense to use a small arbor for most fishing scenarios due to the cost and weight differences. It will help you reduce fatigue if you plan to be out fishing all day.
- If you are looking to angle the big, aggressive fish, you will need a large arbor; since it can store much more line compared to a small arbor.
- Mid arbor sizes offer most of the benefits of the large arbor without all the weight and size.
Line Weight and Spool Size
Line weight is related to spool size and arbors. You need to figure out what type of spool, arbor, and fish you will be looking to catch to decide on line weight.
- Heavy line use – Larger arbors are the solution
- Lightweight lines are better served using a small arbor.
- Spool size does change if you use a small arbor, but because the larger arbor can handle more weight and line, it has more leeway.
- Spool size helps the drag system work smoothly, which reduces the possibility of a big fish snapping and breaking your line.
Like all other reels, the drag operates to reduce the speed of the line and to have the reel make a full stop when the bait has been taken. A drag system that is high performing is critical to any reel and fly reel fishing is no different.
- High-performance drag systems ensure you get a lot of life out of your equipment by controlling the operation of your line and making sure it runs as smooth as possible.
- Drag systems that are cheap, with low-quality parts allow fish to snap the line if it doesn’t restrict it enough when the fish makes a run
Fly reels have one of two different drag systems:
- Click and Pawl: Have a spring geared tension system to activate the drag.
- Pressed discs/Disc-Brake: Disc brakes, not a spring gear, create tension to stop the line.
The 2 drag systems both are adequate and work as they should. The disc-brake system does, however, provide more options for drag.
The Weight of the Reel:
Lighter is better. Most people want light devices when they must carry them around all day. This makes for a nice, fatigue-free day of fishing.
- A critical thing to remember when considering weight is that it’s vital that the size and weight of each part matches each other
- Don’t match an ultralight reel with a heavy rod or vice versa. Make sure that it’s even balanced throughout the equipment
- For example, you want to ensure that your whole rod, reel, and the line is correctly matched. If your line is a 5-weight line, you need to use a rod + reel in the 4 to the 6-weight range for optimum performance and to make sure there are no balance issues.
Construction of the Reel:
They are designed and constructed in 3 different ways:
More reels that are targeted towards the price-sensitive crowd are made with metal stamping. The reel is heavier, less strong, and not as durable. You kind of get what you pay for.
Reels that are mid-tier but made with a stronger die cast manufacturing process which makes the reel rugged and more durable than ones created in cheap construction.
The best reels are machined steel. It’s a computer-guided precise design and is the only reel type that can be anodized for extra strength.
The Finish of the Reel:
- Most reels come in black or natural chrome, they do come in different colors.
- Matte finishes won’t reflect onto the water- while natural chrome ones might. Some have indicated that you won’t scare face with a matte finish because there is no glare onto the water.
Choosing a Fly Reel for Bass Fishing in 4 Steps
Bass is a strong fish species and you will need a good fly reel with a quality design. Here are few tips and things to look out for when picking the right fly reel for the might bass!
- You will need a durable, heavy-duty reel for the strong bass – Make sure you get one that is CNC machine printed with an anodized coating for added durability.
- Look for a good drag system with all-aluminum construction. You want to make sure that it offers both fly reel drag systems for added versatility.
- All internal components covered and shielded to protect from salt waters and grime.
- Look for a large-arbor to make sure you have lots of room to lay line and retrieve quickly when reeling in the big bass fish since they tend to make a run for it once they bite.
Variables to Consider for Fly Fishing Equipment
There are other variables to consider when approaching the topic of which fly reel to buy.
What kind of fish are you targeting?
Think about your target species and get to know a bit about them. For example, if you want to catch lake trout, you may need a reel with a large arbor and lots of lines, as they are usually in deeper waters and make a run for it once they are hooked on the bait.
Some fly reels work better and are more optimal for certain water environments. An example would be if you enjoy ocean fishing or other salty waters, get a reel that is durable against the saltwater and corrosion. If you will be walking through a lot of bush to get to the water source or through mud and different terrain, you will not want a heavy reel and rod combo.
If you are just starting out, stick to simpler designs and don’t go heavy duty and spend a lot of money on something you might not use. Get to know the basics and work your way up.
How to Decide Fly Reel Size – What Works Best?
There is no exact science for when you need to select the proper reel size that you need. There are a few considerations to make during the selection process that will help eliminate factors that you don’t need to think about.
3 Tips for Choosing the Right Size Fly Fishing Reel
What rod’s line weight?
- There is no one size fits all for this virtually all fly reel manufacturers design reels for specific line weights. The logic behind this is that when the line’s weight increases so do the diameter. A thicker line takes up more space on the reel. And the thicker a fly line is, the more space it occupies on the reel.
- Rest assured that most manufacturers make reels that can accommodate a big range of line weights- so you probably won’t pick the wrong one if you target it down enough.
How many backings do you need?
- Beginners are not aware that fly line by itself is not a complete system. Most fly lines are shipped with a standard length of 90 feet. It’s more than enough to get your feet wet, as they say when angling for great fish.
- The correct amount of backing needed is based on the size and strength of the fish you want to catch.
Reel size and rod balance:
- It’s critical that you consider both when buying a reel. You do not want to buy a reel that is heavy with a lighter rod and vice versa. It will throw your fishing balance off and create bottleneck issues as you go along.
How to Pick a Saltwater Fly Reel
Like other reels, fly reel fishing in saltwater environments has certain characteristics that make it suited for the corrosive, salty terrain.
Let’s take a look at some factors to look out for when selecting the best saltwater fly reel for yourself!
5 Key Factors for Choosing the Right Saltwater Fly Reel
- When it comes to deciding on your saltwater fly fishing reel, you need a reel that can handle the harsh elements of the ocean, namely saltwater.
- Saltwater fly reels consist of aluminum. While it will not rust, aluminum can corrode over time if not taken care of properly (rinse it off after each use, etc.)
- Look for saltwater reels that have a fully sealed body and bearings. This will make sure that no saltwater can get into the inner workings of your reel, making it very resistant to getting damaged.
- A reel made out of anodized steel is mandatory.
- The reason why is that the anodization process provides the metal with a durable and corrosive-resistant coating. This process will ensure that the reel will not warp or bend when angling for those big, aggressive fish.
- You want a drag that’s sealed and protected from the elements.
- You want to use a disk drag system for saltwater as it offers more resistance.
- Choose a large arbor when you saltwater fish with a fly reel since it increases your retrieval rate and makes it easier to fish and it saves you time.
- Lighter is better – You want a CNC machined saltwater fly reel that will handle the big task of those large saltwater fish while not being too heavy.
Fly Fishing for Beginners: Tips for Choosing Equipment
Are you new to fly fishing and not sure what fishing equipment you need? Great! Let’s get some of those questions answered. A newcomer to any sport has a lot of questions and everything seems a bit too much.
We can break it down a bit so that fly reel fishing and the equipment needed makes a bit more sense for beginners.
Basics For Your Fly Fishing Tackle Box
Choosing a line:
Think quality here. A good fly line is critical to great fly reel fishing. You don’t know it yet but a good quality line affects everything from how the line sinks, floats and even how it loads in your rod the proper way. Spend some extra money on the good stuff.
Choosing a reel:
Get yourself a quality reel that is machined printed with CNC anodized coating for added protection. Don’t go for the cheaper ones made from inferior materials even though the cheaper pricing is tempting.
Choosing a Fly rod:
You need a rod that is versatile and can withstand a lot of pressure from big saltwater fish. Choose a light yet durable rod made of quality materials.
*Tip: Make sure the reel and rod are matched appropriately (don’t have a light rod with a heavy reel and vice versa) so that the balance of the equipment is right. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the fish you want to catch the heavier your rod needs to be.
There are many different types of fly’s to use and it’s really dependent on what type of fish you want to catch. Do some research into what species of fish like which type of flies and buy the appropriate ones.
Pick the best leading fly reel brands on the market:
The top fly reel brands on the market currently are Orvis, Hardy, Lamson, Douglas, and Redington. Look to these market winners when selecting your new reel.
Benefits & Drawbacks of Fly Reel Fishing
Like with all things, there are distinct advantages and some disadvantages when using fly reels
Let’s look at some and see which ones could be relevant for you:
Benefits of Fly Reel Fishing:
- You can cast a super long distance with the super-lightweight flies. Unlike other reels, and using the weight of the lure to cast, fly fishing uses the weight of the fly line. This makes it possible to cast long distance using very small flies like midges.
- It’s all in the presentation. With fly reel fishing, you can cast the fly more delicately and quietly than can with a spinning reel using a lure. Actually, if done right, you can drop the fly right on top of the fish without scaring them off. With spin fishing, it’s not possible to cast the lure and not make any type of noise or water splashes.
- Flies used with fly reel fishing are typically much cheaper than to buy lures. Look to spend double or triple with low-quality lures when using spinning reels.
Drawbacks of Fly Reel Fishing:
- Room needed to cast your fly – You need a lot of open space free of trees, bushes, etc. so that your fly doesn’t get caught in anything.
- Fly reel casting takes more skill and time to master. It’s not as simple as pressing a button on a spin cast reel.
- Can be a lot of work in certain settings and different fishing environments.
- Fly reel fishing can be much more expensive than other reels. Everything from the reel to the line is more money than traditional spinner reels. Make sure to also check out our spinning reel buyer guide.
- Q: What are the main factors I should be looking for in Fly Reel?
A: Some key factors that should be looked at when deciding on a fly reel should be reel materials ( what type of manufacturing process was used ), reel weight, if the rod and reel are the appropriate weight, what type of line you need for the arbor size and what type of drag system does the reel have.
- Q: What’s the difference between a fly reel and a spinning reel?
A: Good question. It’s mostly about intent. Fly fishing is about fooling a fish with a fly that is made up of different materials. It’s more relaxed and some anglers have said “natural “way to fish. It does require a bit more challenge than a typical spinning experience but again it’s all about intent. Fishing with spinner reels is more or less meant to catch a lot of fish. It’s more versatile than fly fishing and has more option with baits and lures, etc. In short, the difference lay mostly where the intent of the angler is. Also, check out our choices for the best spincast reels out there.
- Q: What type of fish can I catch with a fly reel?
A: Fly fishing is best known for catching trout or salmon, but it is also used for a wide variety of other fish that includes including bass, pike, panfish, and carp.
- Q: How are saltwater fly reels different from other saltwater reels?
A: There isn’t much of a difference, all reels made for saltwater conditions should have (and most do) shielded parts that won’t allow salt to get inside the components and are made with corrosion resistant metals to ensure durability and longevity. Don’t forget to check the baitcasting reel reviews before making your decision.
- Q: Do fly reels need any special considerations with maintenance?
A: No, like other reels, just rinse them off after each use to make sure they don’t corrode or get worn down
Like all other reels out there, fly reels have distinct characteristics and benefits that anglers should be aware of. One of the great aspects of fishing with a fly reel is the great casting distances possible with the right gear. You can get a lot of distance between you and the potential fish that will be attracted to the fly you cast out there.
When going through the fly reel reviews, pay attention to some fundamental things that you want to ensure your reel has. The best fly fishing reels on the market have strong anodized surfaces, CNC machined parts for durability and strength with a powerful drag system. These are critical to making sure your fishing trip is a success for years to come.
Furthermore, if you are fishing in saltwater that you purchase a reel that has shielded components that will protect it from the harsh salty environment.