Ranking The Best Fly Reels of 2023
Galvan Rush Light
Waterworks Lamson Liquid
Fly fishing requires skill, patience, and also a little bit of luck.
The skill piece of this does not just start when you are on the water. An angler’s “skill set” also involves knowing the right equipment for their needs because not all rods and reels are alike.
Getting the equipment and gear right can ultimately mean getting the big fish; you do not want to find yourself discovering you have the wrong equipment at the exact moment you have hooked “the big one.”
Whether you are angling for saltwater fish or exploring freshwaters in search of the perfect fly fishing adventure, you will need the reel that best suits your fishing style, your skillset, and of course, your budget.
We have rounded up the very best fly fishing reels to guide you in your decision making, but first, we will take a quick look at things you should consider while shopping for one.
The Best Fly Fishing Reels
These reels made our list for the best choices right now, with something for every type of angler and every budget.
How to Shop for the Perfect Fly Fishing Reel
If you want the best reel for all your fishing needs, you must consider a number of factors before purchasing one. Many an angler has experienced buyer’s remorse out on the water, discovering the gear purchased simply did not work for the type of fishing involved.
It is always a good idea for beginners to seek advice at their local fishing or tackle store. If you live near water, you also live near people who are experts when it comes to fishing in the area. Find them! These local experts may be able to save you time and frustration by steering you away from the wrong fishing equipment for your local waterways.
When it comes to fly fishing reels, you will find anglers have no lack of strong opinions. This is justifiable in that the reel plays an incredibly important role in your fly fishing success. Here are some of the things you need to consider when shopping for fly fishing reels:
For beginners, we should clarify one common point of confusion here. The weight does not refer to the number that pops up if the reel itself were placed on a scale; rather, it refers to the tackle the reel (and rod) are meant to handle.
The key to this part of the decision is a match between rod and reel: you would never want to pair a seven-weight rod and a five-weight reel. You will also want to match the weight of the line you use once you have chosen your fly fishing rod and reel.
The fly fishing reels you are shopping for will all be made of aluminum; however, there are two important subsets to consider within that body.
Machined bar-stock aluminum reels are created from a single piece of aluminum; die-cast aluminum reels, on the other hand, are created by pouring molten metal into molds.
While it probably seems like there would not be much of a difference between the two, the machined bar-stock aluminum reels have a competitive edge when it comes to quality. Anglers should go for the bar-stock aluminum reels whenever possible.
Like Goldilocks trying to find the porridge that was “just right,” hitting the sweet spot on price is important when it comes to reel shopping. Not every angler needs the most expensive reel on the market, and frankly, not every expensive reel outperforms every budget version.
Deciding how much you can spend on a fly fishing reel is personal to each angler’s budget, but we would just caution you should consider the time you spend fly fishing before you spend a great deal of money. A less expensive reel may suit your needs just fine if you are only occasionally out on the water.
On the flip side, if you fish several times a week, twelve months a year, it may be worth investing more in high-quality, long-lasting fishing gear.
Pro Tip on Reel Prices: Avoid fly fishing reels priced at $30 or less—they will likely fall apart quickly and be susceptible to rust and other damage.
The Size of the Arbor
As you shop for fly fishing reels, you may see them designated as “mid arbor” and “large arbor.” These designations describe the speed of the reels when taking in line: a large arbor reel is built to take in line up to three times faster than a traditional one.
The Direction (Right Handed vs Left Handed)
The reel itself is built to work for both right-handers and left-handers. You do not need to worry about specifying this when you purchase a reel. However, it does come into play with the fly fishing rod and reel setup. If you cast with your right hand, the reel will need to be facing the left. If you cast with your left hand, the reel must be positioned to face the right.
How Does the Drag System Work?
Another thing many fly fishing beginners will quickly learn when it comes to reels is the ins and outs of the drag system.
The drag system is located within the reel itself; this describes a mechanism used to slow the fish down. (And we should mention here, we say “fighting” a fish for a reason: it is hard work indeed! Watch this to learn more about fighting a big fish on a fly rod.)
The reel’s drag system will be one of three different varieties: a click-drag system, a disc-drag system, or a spring-and-pawl system.
The disc-drag reels are better for larger fish, and the click-drag mechanisms work well for smaller fish. The spring-and-pawl reel is becoming somewhat of a relic, as these are less common among newer reels.
Should I Buy a Kit Instead of an Individual Reel?
Some anglers, especially those new to fly fishing, opt to purchase an entire kit instead of an individual reel.
There are a number of good reasons to consider this:
- It will typically cost less to buy everything together versus the individual components (reel, rod, line, backing, and leader)
- You will eliminate the possibility of mismatched components that do not work together (i.e., you will not end up with the wrong rod and reel combo)
- It saves time for those overwhelmed by the need to choose all of these items separately
While this is a good option for beginners, more experienced anglers are likely to purchase reels independently. For example, they may need different reels for different types of fly fishing (saltwater versus freshwater) or match the different rods they own.