Best Fly Fishing Reels

Best Fly Fishing Reels - Outdoorsmen Reviews

Top Fly Fishing Reels by Brand:

  • Leland Reel Co
  • Red Truck Reels
  • Sage Fly Reels
  • Abel Fly Reels
  • Hatch Reels
  • Galvan Fly Reels
  • Hardy Fly Reels
  • Tibor Fly Reels
  • Redington Reels
  • Mako Reels


The perfect laydown. A dragless, short drift under the bank. Suspended emotion as the water dimples and your fly disappears. You pause. Only the big browns take a dry without breaking the surface, so you make sure the fish has turned down before you tighten up. Half an instant longer, then, SET! There it is! Pulsing, constant, and alive at the other end! The stalled world is drawn into motion. Line peels off. You didn’t think the hole under the bank was that deep… but the reel’s still screaming. This fish could be big, very big. You take your eyes off the water long enough to see your backing appear, bright and startling. Still running. This could be one great fight  . . .


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Or it could be one great disappointment. What makes the difference? Your equipment, your connection to the fish, your reel! When you’re in a situation where all elements count, you want the best. But what is the best? How are you to know what to look for when there are so many choices out there?



The campsite was less than ideal. Your trusted friend and guide swore he’d been here before, that it was a “great spot.” That was before the wind, and the rain, and your good buddy’s all night snoring. At sunrise, the only thing keeping you going was the promise of strong fish on new equipment. You leave the tent, survey the site, and grimace. In the confusion to put up the tent fly, a reel had been dropped. The palming rim on the outside spool was bent into the frame and riddled with dirt and pine needles. “How on earth did this happen?” you ask, “This reel is totaled, and I never even got to fish with it!”


Fly fishing takes you to wonderful places. Wonderfully savage places. Places where plans go awry, and the best security is having solid equipment. Fly reels are no exception.

Machined Aluminum

The most structurally sound reels are machined aluminum, entirely cut from bar stock in the way the David was carved from a block of marble. Dynamic in their simplicity, machined reels are comprised of the fewest assembled parts, so there’s fewer things that can go wrong. Sophisticated design standards ensure these reels function as a smoothly spinning whole. Ounce for ounce, these reels are the strongest and most precise on the market.

Anodization and Lubrication

Keeping grit and grime out of your fly reel is important. Low or no-maintenance lubrication and a durable finishing process are critical characteristics that increase the life of your reel and safeguard against mechanical breakdown.

550-fly-fishing-rising-trout-flies Best Fly Fishing Reel

Aesthetic Considerations

A fly reel is a thing of beauty. With so many different designs, you now have the opportunity to choose a reel that embodies the experience you’re seeking when you step into quiet waters. Is the style of the holes in the frame, called porting, agreeable? How is the finish? Does it balance with your fly rod? In short, is it a pleasure to fish with?


She’s still down there. You don’t know where. You don’t know for how long. But you do know one thing, she’s big. This is the third run she’s been on, and last time, you almost got her to the surface. It was just long enough to see the telltale shape and coloring, and to quicken your heart. Now she’s coming in again.  In anticipation of another run, you tighten down the cork drag two clicks between rotations of the spool. You keep the rod tip high. Slowly. Slowly. She’s almost to the surface. You bring up her head. You’re sliding her towards the net . . . and . . . WHIZZZ! She turns and dives deep again, straining against the line. As the sound of the outgoing click blurs into a siren, you smile. This fish isn’t going anywhere.

Smooth Rotation Engagement

Start-up inertia is the single biggest obstacle to landing a fish, whether line is coming in or the fish is running out. A reel that requires the smallest amount of energy to start turning, avoiding a “spike” in sudden resistance, is the best choice when seeking to reduce stress on a fish taking line. In this respect, a fly reel is only as good as its drag system, and a drag system is only as good as the materials and design that go into it.

Cork Disc Drag

Drag systems employing cork and synthetic discs consistently perform at the top of industry standards. These are the smoothest systems around, they dampen the transition from stillness to rotation resulting in the least-jarring spool engagement. That may sound like a mouthful, but it means fewer broken tippets and more successful landings. The materials that go into a great drag system must be durable enough to withstand high levels of pressure, heat, and friction. Retaining its shape no matter the drag pressure, treated cork has proven to be a superior drag material because of its compressibility.


The arbor is the interior cylinder of the fly reel; it’s what your fly line wraps around. Recent design trends have emphasized an arbor with a greater circumference. With large arbor reels, line memory is reduced, and the rate of line retrieval is increased. Most importantly, outgoing drag tension is mitigated as line is depleted, decreasing the chance of losing that once-in-a-lifetime trophy on a long run. Fishing a large arbor maintains a tighter connection with the fish, reducing slack and giving you more control over unpredictable fish-fighting conditions.

Best Fly Fishing Reels - Two Rods - Outdoorsmen Reviews

Revived and strong, the fish eases away from your net and glides out of sight.  No fight is certain, and that’s what makes this landing all the more rewarding. You’ve had your moment of simple perfection. In the days to come, the picture your buddy snapped and the stories you’ll tell will recall this experience. But for right now, the only proof that it happened is the glowing ache in your arm, and no fish tale can do justice to this hour on the water.