Best Fly Reels For A Novice

fly reels

The best fly reels for trout today can be purchased for under $150. But before I share my personal recommendations let's look at some of the things you should take into account before you buy a fly reel.   

  • The rod and reel needs to be balanced. 
  • Type of reel 
  • Reel construction 
  • Drag system 
  • Fly reel arbor size

The Rod and Reel Needs to be Balanced.

  • Before you buy a fly reel you need to decide on a fly rod and the type of waters you plan on fishing. See Best Fly Rods for help with this. 
  • The weight of the reel needs to balance the rod. Most reels will tell you what line and rod weight the reel is designed for. You can usually go one or more line weights either direction from the stated number.

Fly Reel Types

 There are three main types of trout fly reels: 

  • The best fly reels are single action. These reels have a one-to-one retrieval rate, are very easy to change spools, and in most cases easy to change the handing from left to right. They are also very easy to maintain. 
  • The multiplier fly reel has a greater than one to one retrieval rate and has more moving parts. This faster retrieval rate allows you to retrieve the line faster if a large fish decides to swim toward you. It is more complicated and used mostly for larger trout like steelhead. 
  • The automatic fly reel uses a trigger to retrieve the fly line. As the fly line is pulled out the spring inside becomes tighter. The automatic reel does not allow you to change the degrees of drag. It does not allow you to change spools. You rarely see it used anymore.

Fly Reel Construction

 There are four common methods in constructing trout fly reels. 

  • The cheapest fly reels are made of graphite. I do not believe these reels will hold up over time. These reels are often included in combo outfits. I would stay with an aluminum frame even if I had to go with cast aluminum. 
  • The next lower quality fly reels are made of stamped metal. These reels often have gaps between the spool and the reel, which can cause the line or leader to become pinched. They offer only a coating of varnish for protection. Not worth the money. 
  • The next type of construction is cast aluminum. They are more reliable and relatively inexpensive. Be careful, like the stamped metal reels, always inspect the fit between the spool and base. These are easier to break. 
  • The best fly reels are machined out of a block of aluminum. They have tight tolerances between the spool and body. Most of these fly reels offer an anodized finish to protect against corrosion. See how these fly reels are made. 

Fly Reel Drag Systems

 There are two drag systems that are most common in fly reels. 

  • Click and pawl drag uses a spring to push a pawl onto a gear. This produces a clicking sound. This drag system is used mostly in lighter trout fly reels. Trout drag systems 
  • Disc drag is used in some of the best fly reels. They are needed when fighting large fish. They use cork or Teflon that press against the spool in a smoother, more efficient way. Steelhead drag systems. 

Fly Reel Arbor Size

Fly fishing reels come in several arbor sizes. The arbor is the center hub that the line is tied to. 

  • Small trout reels will have a standard size arbor. 
  • The mid-arbor size is a compromise between the two sizes. These may be more common in the mid-weight reels.  
  • The large arbor fly reels are needed when you need to retrieve line fast, which is common when a large fish turns toward you after a run. 

My Personal Recommendations:

Best fly reels for spring creeks and small streams: (For 3 or 4 weight fly rods):

In this weight a single-action reel with a click and pawl drag should be fine. Your quarry here will rarely require a serious drag system but a disc drag will be a bonus. The cast or machined aluminum reel is the best way to go but again be aware of the tolerances in the cast aluminum reels. 

Orvis Battenkill BBS II  Bar Stock Reel    $119

  • This reel has an infinitely adjustable offset Rulon drag mechanism. It is machined from 6262-T6 aircraft grade aluminum. It is available in titanium or black.  It has a diameter of 2 3/4" and weighs 3.5 ounces.

Lamson Waterworks Konic 1.5      $119

  • The Konic has a smooth, fully sealed conical drag system and stainless roller clutch. It is made from pressure cast ALDC12 aluminum alloy. Konic is anodized then finished with a 100% solid polyurethane coating. It has a diameter of 3.10" and weighs 4.4 ounces. 

Redington Drift 3/4 Series     $99.95

  • This reel has a click and pawl drag. It is fully machined from 6061-T6 aluminum and then custom anodized, making it lightweight and durable. The Drift series also has a quick release spool and the handing can be easily changed. A nylon case is included. It has a 2.83" diameter and weighs 3.7 ounces.  

Ross Flystart #1    $50

  • For the more budget-minded the Flystart will serve you well. It is manufactured out of high-quality pressure-fed cast aluminum with a machined finish. The self-lubricating synthetic drag system is virtually maintenance-free. It comes in titanium or black. The drag system is smooth with a wide range of adjustment. It has a diameter of 3" and weighs 5.2 ounces. 

Best fly reels for small to medium-size rivers and lakes:(your 5 weight fly rod):

Medium to larger trout will require a little more attention toward the drag system and construction of the reel.  

 Orvis Battenkill Bar Stock Reels BBS III    $129

  • The BBS III is suitable for freshwater or light-duty saltwater. This reel has a very dependable drag system. It is machined from 6262-T6 aircraft aluminum. It comes in black or titanium. This reel is 3" in diameter and weighs 3.9 ounces.

Lamson Waterworks Konic 2    $149

  • The Konic 2 has a fully sealed conical drag system and is machined from ALDC12 aluminum alloy. It also is anodized with a polyurethane coating.  It has a diameter of 3.40" and weighs 4.7 ounces.

Ross CLA #3        $210

  • The CLA3 is fully machined of 6061-T6 proprietary aluminum and fully anodized. It has a larger drag knob and a very dependable Delrin 500AF Teflon self-lubricating drag system. It has a 3.5" diameter and weighs 5.5 ounces. 

Best fly reels for medium-size rivers for steelhead:  (your 7/8 switch rod):

Larger trout and steelhead call for a large arbor reel with a disc drag. The reel becomes more important with the larger fish.

Ross CLA #4     $250

  •  Improvements have been made to the CLA4 to support their use for larger fish like the steelhead.
  • The drag system and the frame and spool have been strengthened. It has a 3.75" diameter and weighs 7.3 ounces.

Teton Classic Size 7/8        $204

  • This reel is designed for large trout. The large drag knob makes it easier to grab when your fingers are wet or cold. 

Charlton 8500SS 0.8  (Shown here)

  • I just had to put this one in because it was one of the best steelhead fly reels made. They are no longer in production but you can still find them on eBay. Be prepared to fork out at least $2500. As my dad would say: "Hey, it's only money".  (and no, this one is not mine).

Best fly reels for medium to large rivers for steelhead (Spey rods)

OK, this is not for the budget-minded. I have already mentioned that Spey rods are not for the novice, but here are a few Spey reels anyway.

Abel Spey Reel  $500

  • 8/9/10 Weight Spey lines. Made from 6061-T651 cold-finished aerospace-grade aluminum. This reel is available with either ventilated or solid spool. 

CLA7 Large arbor fly reel   $ 315

  • This reel has incredible stopping power. The drag is very smooth and the large arbor spool has been reinforced to eliminate any flexing. Oil-impregnated bushings improve the spool rotation. 

Summary: The Best Fly Reels

  •  Decide on the fly rod first! For the budget-minded, spend the extra money here.
  •  Avoid the automatic and multiplier reel.
  • Go with a single-action reel machined from a block of aluminum if you can make it fit in your budget. 
  • Match the rated line weight of the reel to the fly rod. 
  • Larger trout on a lighter rod will require you to fight the fish with the reel, making the drag more important. The disc drag will be needed for the larger trout. 
  • In all cases make sure you buy an extra spool at the same time that you buy your reel and that you can change it easily. You will need it. This is just fly fishing basics. 


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