Although it may not be the most exciting purchase, fly reels are a vital part of an angler’s success. A great reel that does well under the pressure of a giant fish is something that many covet.
There are plenty of great fly reel choices on the market, but there are some that stand out over others. In this article, we’ll walk you through some important knowledge before making a purchase. We’ve also selected six of our favorite reels, keeping in mind value, angling-type, and skill level.
Types of Fly Reels
Before we get any further, let's learn more about fly reels so you can make a well-informed purchase.
There are two major drag systems that fly reels are categorized under; disc-drag and spring and pawl. Spring and pawl was the first popularized drag system, and although it’s tougher to find today, it’s still a great option for fly reels. It uses an internal gearing system to release line steadily.
Disc-Drag is a much more popular choice nowadays. It works the same way brakes work in a car. It includes an adjustable brake pad in the reel that can put more or less tension on the line, allowing the angler to halt the fly line.
Single action, multiplying fly reel, and automatic fly reel are the three most common retrieval mechanisms you’ll see in your local sporting goods store.
Multiplying fly reels use a gear line retrieve in order to pull in a fly quickly. They are nearly obsolete now, as many anglers find them awkward and confusing to use.
Automatic fly reels utilize a coil system to pull in line, sprung by a lever.
Single action reels are the most common and widely used. A handle on the side of the reel rotates, pulling in the fishing line on a spool.
How to Choose a Fly Reel
Durable: A great fly reel should be made with high-quality materials that are waterproof and tough against harsh weather conditions. Because you’ll be using your reel outside near bodies of water, there’s a good chance that it will get wet. For this reason, you’ll want to make sure that your reel is made with a rust-resistant material.
Mechanics: Although it really is personal preference, there are some reel systems that are easier to use than others. A single-retrieve fly reel is the simplest to learn and the most common, making it an easy recommendation. The drag system is also super important to the value of the reel; make sure that the drag system on your potential purchase is high-quality, as it can easily make or break the quality of your reel.
Weight: It’s very, very important that the weight of your fly line matches the weight of your reel. This must also mesh well with the size of the reel. It should be able to accommodate the fly line as well as backing for the rod you’re fishing with.
Review of the Best Fly Reels
Most fly reels are great in one or two ways, but some reels are great all around! The following selection is a comprehensive list of some of our absolute favorites in several different categories.
Best Fly Reel:
Redington Behemoth Fly Reel
The best overall fly reel goes to Redington’s Behemoth Fly Reel. The Behemoth earns its dramatic title from being a super-tough, durable reel that uses die-cast construction to make for an all-around heavy duty tool.
This reel is designed to look wicked cool, with several different color choices available depending on your personal style. But its design isn’t just for looks; it was made this way to add more room for backing. Reddington also claims that the large arbor-style design, “speeds retrieve and reduces line memory.”
This particular line of reel comes in several different sizes depending on your rod size, ranging from 4/5 to 11/12. Each size has different weight/yardage capabilities; for example, the 4/5 weight offers 20 pounds of torque and can hold up to 125 yards of line.
Perhaps the most appealing part of this reel, however, is its drag system. Redington makes big claims about the Behemoth’s drag system, and luckily, the reel lives up to it. It utilizes a durable carbon fiber drag system which earns points in strength and reliability when it comes to fights with big and small fish alike.
Overall, recommending the Behemoth is an easy choice to make. It’s obviously a high-quality tool and the drag system cannot be beaten. This line of reels can work for a wide range of anglers, no matter if you’re taking it on the ocean or to your favorite hometown lake.
The main downside to this reel is its physical weight. Along with heavy-duty materials comes a little extra bulk, which may be inconvenient to some anglers who hike or backpack often with their fishing gear. But for the value of the Behemoth, some extra weight is easy to forgive.
Best Saltwater Fly Reel:
Piscifun Sword Fly Fishing Reel
For a saltwater angler who needs a great, entry-level reel, the Piscifun Sword Fly Reel just might do the trick. Piscifun is known for creating affordable, middle-ground quality reels that are well-suited for beginners; the Sword line is no different.
This particular line offers four different sizes of reel, ranging from 5/6 to 9/10. The reels feature the common and popular mid-arbor design, which offers a good amount of line capacity while still being lightweight. Piscifun uses high-quality aluminum in their design of the Sword line, which is strengthened and made rigid by cold forging and tempering.
These reels use the standard disc-drag system that many other reels on the market utilize. It uses cork and stainless steel washers, which they claim makes it “butter smooth.” While this isn’t necessarily the most accurate statement, as some users say it can be a little jerky at times, the drag is strong and works well overall.
The company offers the reel in several different colors, ranging from a basic black all the way to baby pink, offering a great deal of personalization in an otherwise basic-looking reel design.
Although this may not be the most high-end reel on the market, these Piscifun Sword Fly Reels do their job well and are a great value overall. There are definitely reels on the market that can provide a better drag system, as this one tends not to be super smooth and the adjustment lever isn’t ideal, but the reel is made with quality materials that are made to last, which is a huge plus.
Best Fly Reel for the Money:
M MAXIMUMCATCH Maxcatch ECO
Don’t be fooled by the persistent claim that you need to spend a fortune to get a great, functional reel. The Maxcatch ECO fly reel is a testament to the idea that some affordable reels work just as well as those at a higher price point. This line features three different sizes of reel, from a 3/4 to a 7/8 weight in three different styles.
Despite its low price, the ECO line doesn’t lack in quality materials. Like many expensive reels, these are created with high-quality aluminum and stainless steel for strength and rigidity. The reels feature a large arbor design and die-casting retrieval which allows for a fast and fairly smooth line retrieval.
With a one-way bearing, the reel comes designed for left-hand retrieval, but can easily be switched back and forth.
If you’re a beginner looking for your first reel to test out, or if you need a backup reel to bring along on your fishing excursions, consider the ECO line from Maxcatch. While it doesn’t have the greatest drag capabilities, it’s by far, one of the best quality cheap reels on the market. Its aluminum construction keeps it weather-resistant and strong. It is sure to last for quite some time as long as it gets cleaned and maintained regularly.
Best Fly Reel Under $200:
Redington RISE Fly Fishing Reel
As it is a leader in quality, high-performance reels, it won’t be a surprise to many anglers that Redington has appeared on the list again. The RISE line from Redington is another well-made, well-designed set of reels that won’t break the bank.
It features a U-shaped, large arbor that is stylish and well-built. The design may look a little more open than other reels; the generous porting keeps the reel lightweight, as some users had complained about the weight of previous lines.
The reel has a compact carbon fiber drag system which is known to be smooth and quick. The line comes in four different colors, but all feature the same stylish design. An added perk to the RISE line is the twin molded, soft-touch handles, which keep an angler’s hands comfortable through a long day of fishing. It also features an oversized drag handle designed to keep the reel super easy to use.
The Rise line from Reddington is yet another great choice for anglers of all skill levels looking for a high-quality, durable reel. Objectively, the best part of this reel is the drag capabilities. Although some could find fault in the brake adjustments and the overall strength of the drag, this won’t be an issue for most anglers. The number one praise of this reel is the smoothness of the drag and its ability to stop on a dime.
As always, this line from Reddington also features a very beautiful (and functional!) design that will work well for all. An added plus is that it’s much more lightweight from Reddington lines that have come before.
Best Fly Fishing Reel for Trout:
M MAXIMUMCATCH Tino Fly Fishing Reel
Another affordable reel line from Maximumcatch, the Tino reels are especially well-suited for trout fishing. While this line is slightly more expensive than the aforementioned ECO line from Maxcatch, they still come at an exceptional price compared to other high-end reels on the market.
This particular reel comes in a 5/6 weight size. Like the other Maxcatch reels, the Tino reel features all-aluminum construction. It has a large arbor-style design and die-casting, which allow for rapid reel retrieval.
The drag system included in this reel is the Teflon disc-drag system, which Maxcatch claims “puts serious pressure on fish.” It’s created with all stainless steel and has a one-way clutch system, which allows the user to adjust the drag quickly.
The reel comes pre-spooled with WF5F fly line, backing line, and tapered leader. It comes with a left-hand retrieval, but it can easily be switched back and forth.
This is another great choice for beginners or those not looking to spend a large sum of money on a backup (or primary) reel. Although this particular reel isn’t as durable as some other reels available and the line it comes with may not be the line you’d like to use, this reel comes at a great value and has some awesome attributes that make it a great purchase.
Best Click and Pawl Fly Reel:
Redington Zero Fly Reel
As always, the Redington reels, including this Zero fly reel, are designed beautifully. Redington calls this line “zero” because it is super-lightweight. This is thanks to the design of the reel, which features a simple and clean aluminum-built body with large porting gaps. The line comes in a couple different colors featuring natural shades and some more artistic ones, like the creamy orange color called “dreamsicle.”
The Zero line is constructed with a die-cast retrieval method that Reddington says cannot be replicated by CNC-machining. The drag is new to the company, it is a click-drag system which is spring loaded.
It’s a large arbor design and currently, has two options for sizing, a 4/5 weight and a 2/3 weight. Each reel features ergonomic, twin-molded handles which are comfortable enough for an angler to use for hours at a time.
Lightweight, affordable, and stylish, Reddington has made another incredible line of reels that are great for a variety of anglers. Some users have found issue with the noise that the drag system creates, but other than that, the click-drag system is an interesting take that has great results.
How to Clean Fly Reels
Keeping your fly reel tidy is an underrated, important aspect of maintaining the longevity of the reel. In general, you should adhere to the following steps every once in a while to keep your reel in tip top shape.
- Fill your sink or a small bucket with warm, soapy water. Ensure that your reels are free of all fishing line before washing them.
- Take the reel apart entirely and submerge each section in the soapy water. Acquire an old toothbrush or other small brush and use it to scrub off any residual dust, dirt, grime, or rust.
- When finished cleaning, use a rag to dry off the individual sections completely.
It can be tough to know how to take your reel apart and put it back together again. The following video gives a better picture of disassembling and assembling your fly reel.
While there is debate over the most important part of your fishing rod, there is no doubt that a reel plays a vital role in bringing in catches, and therefore, it’s very important to get one that will do its job properly. Whether you choose a reel from our list or decide to go for something different, remember the key aspects of all great fly reels, and you’ll be on your way to your next big catch. Happy fishing!