Updated: December 2017
Fly Fishing Reel Reviews:Fishing is a fun pastime to do with friends and your kids, but fly fishing is another sport altogether. Fly fishing takes a lot more skill (in our opinion at least) and many anglers describe it as 'part science and part art'. The bait you use when fly fishing will always make a difference, but your technique is just as important. A quality fly fishing reel will also play a key role in your success on the water. Ultimately you want to buy a fly reel that fits your fishing style and find one that is suited to the type of fish you are looking to catch. I've had many friends over the years who took up fly fishing after trying it just once and they have tried to get me to go on many a fly fishing trip. I recently looked into buying a fly fishing reel and rod guided by the advice of experts and friends. You can see the buying guide and selection criteria down below along with reviews of some products.
Firstly, fly reels are constructed of aluminum or graphite. The vast majority are made with aluminum (cast or machined), although graphite fly fishing reels are lighter and less expensive. When you buy an aluminum fly reel that will be used in saltwater, make sure the finish on the reel is anodized. This type of finish will help resist the corrosive elements involved with salt water and the salty air. The line capacity of a fly reel really comes down to the size of the 'arbor'. The arbor on a fly reel is pretty much in the middle of the spool you tie the fly line backing. Most fly fishing reels are sold with larger arbors these days since they offer several advantages over smaller ones. You get faster line retrieval, improved line handling, and more consistent drag pressure control. As for line weight, it all depends on what type of fish you are going after. Small fish like trout will take a much lighter line weight than heavier fish like pike. All the experts we talked with said make sure your line weight matches up with your rod and reel. For example, a seven-weight reel needs to go with a seven-weight rod. You need a balanced system to become an effective fly fisherman and for accurate casting. Next, you need to consider which type of reel you will use - multiplier, single-action, or automatic. Beginners do best with single-action reels because they are the easiest to use. Single-action reels are also the most common type on the market so you shouldn't have a hard time finding one. Unlike multiplier and automatic reels, a single-action reel has the handle attach to the spool instead of to a gear system. The multiplier reel does attach to a gear system which gives you the benefit of faster line pick-up. An automatic fly reel is more of a luxury than a necessity. When you flick a lever, the automatic reel will bring in the line for you. Most hard core fly fisherman tend to stay away from this type of reel as they prefer to retrieve lines manually. Lastly, drag systems are incredibly important on any fly reel. A good drag system will give you the friction you need when casting or "playing a fish". There are 3 drag systems to choose from - caliper, disc, or spring-and-pawl. The spring and pawl system is the cheapest and the easiest to use, we saw this type referred to as the 'click and pawl' and the 'ratchet and pawl' as well. If you are going after smaller trout or panfish, go with this drag system. In order to create drag, a spring pushes the pawl into a gear on the reel spool. Although not recommended, you can use a spring-and-pawl drag system while trying to catch larger fish, but be warned that you will need to use a 'palming' technique with the reel. For a step up in both performance and price, look into the caliper drag system. You may have heard of a caliper on your cars brake system. A caliper drag system works similarly to your car. The caliper pad creates friction (drag) by pushing on the braking surface of the spool. Luxury fly reels that are quite expensive have the disc drag system. A disc drag reel is best for taking on larger and more powerful fish. The consistent drag pressure and extra control from a disc drag system (compared to the caliper and spring-and-pawl) will give you a fighting chance with big fish. Pre-packaged combos of reels and rods are a great way to go for beginners with limited experience on how to match up the proper reel and rod. The top brands for fly fishing reels are Abel, Bauer, Cabela's, Cortland, Echo, G. Loomis, Galvan, Lamson, Okuma, Redington, Ross, Sage, Scientific Angler, Tibor, and Van Staal. Prices range from $50 all the way up to $500+. We went online to find reviews of the newest and most popular fly fishing reels. Online stores like Cabelas.com, Basspro.com, Flyfishingoutfitters.com, and Flyfishusa.com all carry excellent inventories of the leading brands. You can read fly fishing reel reviews at Flyfishinginsider.com, Outdoorreview.com, and Activeangler.com. You can browse the top selling fly fishing reels here.