Buying used fly reels really makes sense. If you think about where you will be walking when you fish it is a good chance that you will add a scratch or three to your rod and reel soon anyway.
I recently came across an article where the author talked about a fly fisherman admiring and fondling the new reels in a fly shop. The reels operated smoothly and were things of beauty. Be careful, this kind of activity will cost you.
It is better to spend the time necessary to learn about the different quality used fly reels that are available on the market today. Careful research can bring you a nice used fly reel.
Once you learn the quality models that will fit in your budget, the next step is to watch for them on eBay or sites like this one. Often times you will get a fly line with the reel, which adds even more to the value. A good fly line can run over $50 all by itself.
For a refresher on the different features of fly reels, types, construction and drag systems go to our Best Fly Reels page.
Are you a collector or a fly fisherman (or maybe both)? If you want to buy some used fly reels to collect that is one thing. If they are to be used for fishing that is another.
There are some real classics out there. If you want to go the collector route I recommend you visit the just-reels.com and vintageflytackle.com sites. But hang on to the check-book; high-quality reels like the Charlton, Lamson, Megoff and some Hardy models can cost more than a thousand dollars.
Everyday use is another story. For the average trout, the fancy drags found on costly reels are just not needed. A fly fisher using an automatic fly reel, for example, uses the hand strip and zip routine to fight the trout, never getting the fish "on the reel" at all.
On the other hand if you are going after larger trout with an ultra-light rod, the drag on your reel is very important.
Most of the modern reels made today are fishable. That is not the case for some of the older models. There is a lot of junk out there.
Pflueger Medalist reels have been around for years and you will find many of their used fly reels on the market today. (I would avoid the other Pflueger models.)
You should be able to find a good Medalist for fewer than forty dollars. The 1492 (for 3-wt. and ultra-light rods) and the 1494 (good for 4, 5, and 6 wt. lines) reels are a good place to start.
Some other good reels to watch for and research:
There is a theory going around that new fly reels cost so much because fly fishermen are willing to pay the price. We don't see that happening among the spinner fishermen.
Take your time and research the used fly reels on the market. You may just find a real good quality reel from days gone by with many years of service left in it.