Updated: May 29, 2015

Fly Fishing Reel Reviews:

fishing net 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.

Best Fly Fishing Reel:

The Okuma Helios Fly Reels ($170-$180) get excellent reviews on Cabelas.com and anglers of all levels appreciate the quality craftsmanship that goes into an Okuma reel. The Helios Fly Reel has some of the latest technology but still delivers a fair price. Some of the main features include a maintenance free waterproof drag system, multi-disk cork and stainless drag washers, 2BB + 1RB stainless steel bearing drive system, precision machined stainless steel spool shafts, and a large arbor spool design. It's available in 5 sizes and perfect for even the most experienced fly fisherman. Owners say the Helios is "well ventilated, dependable, has powerful drag, good backing capacity, and a smooth feel". There is no guarantee you will catch more fish, but the Okuma gives you a fighting chance in a very demanding sport.

Beginner Fly Reel:

The Sage 1201 Fly Fishing Reel ($65) was listed in several reviews as a great beginners fly reel. You get a smooth operating disc drag reel that is priced very reasonably. Experts say this reel winds easy, drags smoothly, and the large drag knob makes for easy adjustments. The Sage 1201 features a quick release locking spool and it's guaranteed for life. Both the Sage 1201 and 1401 convert from right to left hand retrieve in seconds. Check with your local fishing supply store on which model best suits your style of fly fishing needs. We saw an Okuma SLV Fly Reel for less than $50 at a local sporting goods store and the guy in charge of the reels said the reel would serve any beginner well. The Sage reel website is at Sageflyfish.com.

Luxury Fly Reel:

Ross reels are perhaps the most expensive and luxurious fly fishing reels on the market. Ross combines technology with performance in their Evolution series to give all anglers something to aspire to. The Ross Evolution Fly Reels have new large arbors and the reels are both lightweight and durable. The Ross Evolution Reels go from 1-weight through 6-weight rods. The frames and spool are made from machine aluminum and the drag system is 'sensitive and precise'. They are saltwater approved and offer a smooth transition from line-in to drag engagement. Choose from black, blue or copper colors. Prices range from $265 to $345. If you go to the Ross reels website (they claim to be the #1 selling fly fishing reels in the USA), you will find a complete catalog with pictures and descriptions of their Cimarron, CLA, Rhythm, Evolution, and Momentum line of fly reels.


Value Fly Fishing Reel:

We listed Ross above in the luxury category for fly reels and they do make Flystart Fly Reels for those without the fat wallets that want a "good value" reel. The Flystart reel still gives you high quality features with some of the bells and whistles gone from the high end models. The corrosion resistant electrostatic coating will keep your reel in great shape. You can convert from right hand to left hand retrieve quickly and the exposed rim allows palming (for more advanced anglers).