If a fly rod is just an extension of your arm, shouldn’t you get a fly reel that acts in the same way?
Many people think that it is okay when purchasing their fishing gear to go all out in spending money on a great fly rod, but then pinch pennies on other gear.
While getting a great fly rod is extremely important (seriously, we wrote a whole article on it here), purchasing the right fly reel to match the strength and flexibility of your fly rod is equally as pivotal in securing great catches.
Top 4 Best Fly Fishing Reels (Summary)
For more detailed and complete product reviews on benefits and features, keep reading.
How to Choose the Best Fly Reel
When looking to purchase a fly reel, it is important to first keep two factors in mind:
- Fly reels should objectively function well (aka don’t buy a cheap-o reel because you found it for $10 at a thrift store).
- Fly reels should subjectively function well with your personal fly rod.
So how do you make sure that a fly reel is paired well with a fly rod?
First, you want to make sure that the weights of both the rod and the reel match together. For example, you wouldn’t want to pair a 4-wt trout fishing rod with a 7 or 8-wt reel that is meant to handle tackling larger trout and bass.
Second, you want to make sure the fly reel is paired with your fly rod in the correct position. If you cast right-handed you’ll most likely want to purchase a left-facing reel, as right-handed casters usually retrieve line with their left hand.
For these reasons, many fly rods are sold in bundles that include the fly rod, the fly reel, and the fly line altogether. Purchasing one of these bundles is a great idea for beginners and those who may not know how to pair rods and reels together, as everything already comes prepared to work together.
However, for those looking to customize their fishing setup and ultimately keep improving their fishing style long into the life of the rod and reel, we recommend purchasing fly rods and fly reels separately.
When deciding upon which fly reel works best for you, there are a few things to consider. Start up inertia, reel weight, and the drag system are all pivotal features which to measure a fly reel by.
Start up inertia is the resistance to movement that occurs the moment when a fish starts to take the line. Because things that are at rest tend to stay at rest, the reel does not perfectly start rotating at top speed once the line is taken. Start up inertia measures the drag that occurs until the reel is spinning smoothly at top speed – in terms of a car, start up inertia basically measures the time it takes from the line to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour. Reels with a low start up inertia will also have less stopping power, so it is important to get a reel that is balanced in these two categories.
The movement toward purchasing the lightest fly rods is in full swing. While it is a huge trend that may seem meaningless, it is backed by physics. Each cast you make, your arms will have to lift each ounce of the rod. The heavier your rod, the more work your arms will be doing by the end of the day. In order to save strength for more casting, rods have gotten lighter and lighter. In cohesion with this principle, reels need to become lighter to match the rods. It is important to first check the weight of your fly rod and see if the reel you are looking at balances it in weight.
The drag system is the resistance put upon the spool to prevent the line from being stripped away when a fish takes the line. Light drag systems put little drag on the reel spool, and when a fish begins to take the line, the line will put no pressure on the fish, making it difficult to reel in. Alternatively, high drag systems will put too much pressure on the spool, potentially snapping the leader or tippet.
5 Best Fly Fishing Reels – Reviews and Guide
1. Hardy Duchess – Best Classic Reel
Hardy has a long reputation for high-quality angling equipment had have earned a place on the rods of many professional fishermen for longer than most companies have been making reels. Their materials are high quality and the machining process leaves a clean, smooth finish that makes their reels a pleasure to use with a styling that harkens back to the classic period of Angling.
This specific reel is a very exciting example of what makes fly fishing such an amazing and fun sport. Everything about it harkens back to the days of simple reels that were made to last. Rather than a standard mass-produced reel, these are all still handmade. Sure, that makes them more expensive but the quality is unparalleled.
The Duchess is made from high-quality aluminum that is machined for great strength and durability. The arbor is a great size being right in the middle of too small and too large. The reel handle is a solid wood that has a very comfortable feel and adds just a little touch of class. Everything is reversable for either right or left-handed use.
If you want a classically styled reel that will last a lifetime, this heritage edition of one of Hardy’s classic designs is a knockout. The reel is outstanding, high quality, and will last multiple lifetimes. This reel is a top pick for a reason, I would use it for any fishing short of the largest lakes and salt water.
- Classic look
- Highly respected name
- Lifetime durability
- Low weight
- Quite expensive
- Smaller line capacity
2. Douglas Argus Rex – Best Bang for your Buck
Rounding out the big names in fishing, we have to get one in from Douglas. If you are the type of person who loves high quality without spending a fortune, it’s time to check out Douglas and their wide range of angling equipment. The Argus Rex is their basic fly-reel which is anything but basic.
While this reel falls short of the weight of the Lamson reel, it still weighs in at only 8 ounces but makes up for the difference by adding durability. This reel was bred for the eastern Salmon runs and was designed to take some abuse. This is a solid reel and will last a lifetime or more.
The click check drag is a more traditional system that has been tried and true for decades. It may not hold up as long as some of the more modern methods but it’s far stronger and more reliable. The Arbor is large enough to handle a lot of line for big water and the reel handle is the same over-molded rubber that performs well on most all modern reel.
If you are looking for pure value, the Douglas is a strong contender. There are numerous pros that use their gear in tournaments and will testify to their hard use quality. The attention to detail on this reel is astounding, buy this reel in confidence that you have something that will last!
- Quite durable
- Good line capacity
- Not an attractive reel
- Somewhat heavy
3. Orvis Mirage – Best Saltwater Specific Reel
If you like the modern look, you will love this new Orvis reel. Orvis is no newcomer on the fly-fishing market has consistently produced some of the best reels on the market. But they aren’t all looks, there is plenty of quality to back up those vibrant hues. If you are on a budget, these reels are sure to delight.
This reel is a technological marvel with full aluminum spool and frame, titanium shaft, and sealed carbon and steel drag that will laugh at even the largest fish out there. It is even mil-spec hard coat anodized! Under any normal conditions, you couldn’t manage to damage this reel even if you tried. Truly an amazing reel!
Really, this reel has a lot of revolutionary features. The drag is a fine example where they opted for the latest technology that is durable while having a lot of holding power. The reel is reversible with a very comfortable over molded handle and comes with a spool that is very nicely sized for longer running saltwater fish.
If you are the adventurous type who likes to try new things and have a little modern flash, there are few reels that will equal the Mirage in price and quality. As always, Orvis has done an outstanding job in a market that has so many tried and true brands.