The Best Fly Reels 2019

Arbor Size

Piscifun Sword
Piscifun Sword

The size of a reel’s arbor, the large “wheel” that holds the line, alters the performance of the rod in some ways. Generally speaking, small arbors are both lighter and less expensive than large arbors are.

Accordingly, it makes sense to opt for a small arbor unless necessary. After all, it is easier to wield a light rod than it is to swing a heavy rod all day. So a smaller and lighter arbor can help you stay sharp and fresh during extended fishing sessions.

If you are targeting a fish famous for making long runs, you’ll need a reel that can hold a lot of line.

When all other things are equal, a larger arbor will collect line more quickly than an identical-but-smaller arbor will, making it even more valuable when targeting a lake trout, bonefish and other species that can strip line fast enough to make your reel cry out in anguish.

Here is a great demonstration of the size difference between large and small arbor reel:

Line Weight and Spool Size

Similarly, you’ll need to consider the fly line weight you intend to use when selecting an arbor size. Anglers using heavy lines will need larger arbors than those using thinner, lightweight lines and backing.

Another important but often forgotten consideration is that the effective spool size does not change very much when you use a large arbor reel, as it does when you use a small arbor reel.

Spool size consistency helps the drag system operate more smoothly, which makes it less likely that the fish will snap the line.


 – Jason ( Trout Nut ) gives his one piece of advice for choosing a trout reel.

Drag System

The drag system works to slow down, and eventually stop, the reel’s spinning when a fish takes off with your lure.

A smooth drag system is one of the most important considerations in reel selection as it can make all the differences between the fish of a lifetime breaking off your tippet, and disappearing into the depths and hauling in a trophy.

Smooth drag systems protect your gear by slowly and smoothly applying tension to the line. Jerky, poorly designed drag mechanisms may not slow the fish’s progress enough or they may lock tight, allowing the fish to break the line.

Click-and-pawl vs Disc-brake

Orvis CFO drag system
Orvis CFO

Most modern fly reels employ one of two different drag systems. Some, particularly older models, use a geared mechanism in combination with a spring to impart drag on the reel. Reels with this type of drag system are called click-and-pawl reels.

Others rely on pressed discs to create friction and therefore tighten the tension on the line, much like the disc brakes on a car do to slow its wheels.

In practice, both styles work well. Although disc-brake systems offer a nearly infinite number of drag settings, while click-and-pawl reels only offer a number of discrete drag values.

Nevertheless, novice fly fishermen are unlikely to notice much difference between the two different styles. The overall quality of the reel is more important than the type of drag system employed.


When all other things are equal, most fly fishing enthusiasts prefer their reel to be as light as possible. This generally makes it easier to handle and cast the rod, and reduces the amount of fatigue you may feel during a long day of fishing.

However, it is important to match the weight of the reel to the rod. You don’t want to use an ultra light reel on a heavier rod, nor do you want to do the opposite. This can make it more difficult to cast accurately which is one of the most important aspects of fly fishing.

Simply put, you want to ensure that your entire rig is properly matched. If you are going to use a 5-weight line, you need to use a rod and reel in the 4 to 6-weight range for optimum performance.

Generally speaking:

  • 1-weight to 3-weight setups are best for catching small trout in tiny streams.
  • 4-weight to 6-weight rods are better suited for small bass, large trout, and similar freshwater quarry.
  • 7- to 9-weight setups are great for larger bass, bonefish, and salmon; while larger weight rigs are necessary for catching tarpon and wahoo.


Fly reels are constructed in one of three primary ways, all of which relate to the processing of the metal elements.

rainbow trout


Most economy reels are made through a process called metal stamping.

These reels are typically heavier, yet less durable than those made via other processes. Metal stamping works by using an automated press to bend and cut the metal material in a pre-determined manner.


Better reels often rely on die-cast manufacturing processes, in which molten metal is poured into a pre-formed mold.

This process can be used effectively to make mid-tier reels and it behooves those shopping on a budget to look for die-cast products instead of inferior reels made from stamped metal.


While die-cast reels can be quite effective and well-built, the highest quality reels are almost invariably made from machined metal.

This process starts with a large block of metal. Computers then direct a machine designed to cut or grind metal to remove a precise amount of material, thereby leaving perfectly formed components which can then be assembled by other machines or human workers.

It bears mentioning that die-cast reels cannot be anodized the way machined reels can, which makes them more likely to corrode than machined reels are.


– Philipp ( Toothy Critters ) gives one piece of advice for choosing a saltwater fly reel.


One final reel characteristic that you should think about is the finish or color of the reel.

While natural chrome or black matte finishes are probably the most common available styles, some manufacturers produce reels in other colors. In fact, modern fly fishers can obtain reels in almost every color of the rainbow.

Some anglers believe that shiny finishes may reflect light onto the water potentially spooking the fish. This is an unlikely occurrence, but it bears consideration. If you are worried about this phenomenon, just select a model with a matte finish.

Consider These External Factors Too

Most of the previously discussed factors relate to the act of casting or reeling in fish.

However, you don’t fish in a vacuum. You fish in the real world, targeting real fish and facing real obstacles in the process. Accordingly, you need to consider a variety of additional factors when selecting your reel.

Target Species

You must consider the biology, behavior, and tendencies of the fish you intend to target to select the best reel for your needs. For example, some fish (lake trout, for instance) are often caught in deeper waters and they may engage in long runs once hooked.

You’ll need a premium reel that can hold a large quantity of line, has a smooth-yet-strong drag system, and collects line quickly when retrieved. By contrast, these types of things are not necessary when targeting brook trout in 6 inches of water or bluegill in a small pond.


– Deanna ( Fly Anglers Online ).


It is always important to use the proper equipment depending on where you’re going fishing.

Fishing along the coast of Oregon is much different that fishing a lazy Texas oxbow, and neither are anything like fishing a cold Appalachian stream. Not surprisingly, different equipment – including fly reels – works better in some locations than in others.

If you spend a lot of time fishing in the ocean, you want to be sure to you use not only saltwater-specific gear, but also a high-quality, sealed reel to help protect the reel’s delicate interior components from the corrosive saltwater surrounding you.

Similarly, if you fish in places with highly silted water, a sealed reel lasts longer than the alternative. It is also important to consider the cold-tolerance of your reel if you fish in icy conditions, as some inferior-quality reels will lock up in very cold conditions.


Although many anglers overlook it, water access is an important consideration when selecting a reel. If you can just walk or drive right up to your fishing location, the size and weight of your reel won’t have much of an effect.

However, the weight and bulk of a large arbor reel will make it more difficult to get through the brush flanking a mountain stream, so a small arbor model would be preferable in these circumstances.

It is essential to opt for a sealed reel in these hard-to-reach locations. This helps keep more dirt and grime out of the reel while you are bumping and tripping through a forest while trying to get to your fishing hole.


fly fishing on freshwater

Fishing must be fun for it to turn into an enjoyable hobby, and you aren’t likely to have much fun if you spend all your time futzing with your reel instead of fishing.

Therefore, it is generally wise for beginning fly anglers to stick with simple reels which lack some of the bells and whistles common on more complicated models.

It’s also important to be familiar with the basics such as understanding how fly fishing leaders can help you with fishing and tying fly knots among others.

By contrast, advanced anglers are well-served by spending a little bit more money to obtain a higher-quality reel.

Leading Fly Reel Brands

As with most other commercially manufactured products, fly reels often exhibit brand-specific tendencies and characteristics. To some extent, this is deliberate on the part of the manufacturer.

It demonstrates their relative commitment to craftsmanship, their preferred design practices, and the materials they rely on when constructing their reels. But it can also indicate problems inherent to the manufacturer’s design or their marketing approach.


abel fly reel

One of the finest manufacturers of fly fishing reels, Abel is a company that primarily focuses on reels that appeal to discriminating anglers.

To give you an idea, Abel brand nippers are more expensive than the reels made by other manufacturers.

Their lowest priced reels should not be compared to the entry-level reels produced by other manufacturers. Even their least expensive reels are suitable for anglers with some experience and skill.

Anglers Feedback

Most anglers that use Abel reels speak glowingly of them. They love the durability of the reels, as well as their interchangeable nature. Many Abel frames and arbors can be swapped around to provide you with exactly the type of reel you require.

However, the most widely praised characteristic of Abel reels is undoubtedly their silky-smooth drag systems.

While they are producing cork drag systems, they recently began utilizing a proprietary stacked disc system which is sealed to keep out the elements and remain completely maintenance free.

Some users note that Abel reels are a little bit on the heavy side, although this is a minor complaint that most are willing to overlook.


ross fly reel

Ross is a storied company that has been making fly fishing reels since 1973.

They claim to have been the recipient of more “Awards in Excellence” than any other manufacturer of fly fishing tackle.

Ross reels are often heralded as the best reels available at the mid-market level, perfect for seasoned anglers who appreciate the materials, design, and craftsmanship without having the budget or desire to purchase a $500 reel.

They manufacture quality reels at all price levels, including some fine entry-level reels at a really affordable price point.

Anglers Feedback

Many users complain that the drag system tend to be weaker than those produced by other manufacturers. This is more likely to be a problem for anglers chasing bonefish and tarpons than those targeting trout. So Ross reels are more popular among those seeking smaller quarry.

Some users find the weight of the reels problematic, and this extra weight causes the rod to be butt-heavy. However, other anglers find that its good qualities more than makeup for a little extra weight.

Note that Abel reels and Ross reels are both made by subsidiaries of the same parent company: Mayfly Outdoors.


orvis fly reel

Orvis is one of the primary players in the fly fishing industry. They produce everything from lines and tippets, to rods and reels.

They usually offer a variety of product lines within each category.

This ensures that you’ll see Orvis equipment in the hands of different anglers, from seasoned experts to beginners heading out for their first fly fishing session.

Orvis makes reels with different price points. While they manufacture premium models with high price tags, they also offer entry level reels which are still affordable.

However, expect these entry-level reels to lack some of the features common to fancier models. For example, their Battenkill line only features a 4-position drag system. This limits the versatility of their low-cost reels.

Many anglers are comfortable palming the reel to impart drag. In such cases, trading drag flexibility for a lower price is a smart decision.

Anglers Feedback

Most Orvis reels are noteworthy for being made with very good craftsmanship for the price as well as being very light.

Many of their designs have repeatedly been tweaked in an effort to shave off as much weight as possible without compromising the function or durability of the reel.


lamson fly reel

Lamson is an interesting company that began as a bicycle component manufacturer. They helped bring clipless bicycle racing pedals to the market back in the 1980s.

Since then, they’ve created some other innovative bicycle designs to make a cyclist’s life easier.

In the early 1990s, Lamson – who’s fishing division is called Waterworks – began applying this same spirit of innovation to their reels.

One of the most important things they did was to re-engineer the drag system for some of their high-end reels, moving from a disc-based system to one that relies on matched cones to impart resistance.

Some of their lower-priced reels still feature a click-pawl drag system. This cone-based drag system relies on a simpler design than most disc-based reels, thereby reducing the failure rate. This type is typically very durable.

Anglers Feedback

Lamson produces a few high-end reels priced at more than $500. While these are great choices for experienced anglers, beginners will find a few Lamson reels in the $100 price range.

Most of their entry-level reels are excellent for freshwater fly anglers, and the larger models are an excellent choice for those pursuing smaller saltwater species.


hatch fly reel

Hatch is a maker of premium-quality reels, suitable for everything from the smallest native trout to giant tarpons.

Unlike other manufacturers that produce low-price and entry-level models, they concentrate on the intermediate to high-end market.

These aren’t reels for beginners. They are for intermediate to advanced anglers who appreciate everything that these reels have to offer.

Hatch reels were originally designed to replace the number of high-dollar, yet low-quality reels dominating the market in the early 2000s.

The company founders decided that drag, durability, and design were their most important criteria when designing their reels. It appears to have worked, as Hatch users overwhelmingly praise the craftsmanship put into the reels.

Anglers Feedback

They aren’t just well-made, these premium reels are built to take a beating.

They are durable enough to withstand the wear and tear that most anglers unleash on their reels, but they lack the “tank-like” feel common to many other super-durable reels. Instead, they feel like precision instruments assembled by people who know what they are doing.

Hatch reels also draw praise for their great drag systems which are sealed and maintenance-free. Its aesthetics are highly celebrated among fly fishing enthusiasts who want a reel that looks as well as it functions.

All credit for this great article goes to Outdoor Empire.

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