How to Choose the Best Fly Reel

How to Choose the Best Fly Reel

Since you made it to this page, we probably don’t have to convince you that fly fishing is one of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors. It’s peaceful, relaxing, and thrilling all at once—no wonder converts become so obsessed. Ready to get started? We’ve created this guide to help you get the fly reel that works for you.


Cast reels: Most anglers start with this type of reel, for good reason. They’re relatively affordable, perfectly functional, and should last for many seasons. Cast reels are made by filling a mold with molten metal; when it cools, you have the body of the reel. Downside: Compared to machined reels (below), they’re heavier and less durable.

Machined reels: These reels start as a solid block of aluminum, then a CNC machine mills away metal until you are left with the body of the fly reel. This process creates reels that are light, strong, and extremely durable. They promise a lifetime of use and are the top of the line option. No surprise: They are more expensive. 

Anodized: This is a finishing process that makes metal more durable and increases corrosion resistance. It can be applied to either type of construction. It’s nice to have for all conditions, but especially useful if you plan to fly fish in saltwater, where rust is a bigger threat. 


Don’t be confused by this term. It’s used to describe rod, reels, and line, and ensures that all three match. So the weight of your reel should match the weight, or size, of the line you’ll use, and the weight of your rod should do the same. 

Fly lines come in a variety of sizes/weights. Larger fish require thicker, stronger lines and thus higher weights. The line weight also needs to be appropriate for the fly on the end of your line. It needs to be heavy enough to carry the fly out over the water, but not so heavy that it massively outweighs the fly.

Weights range from 0 to 16 and the gap between each widens as you increase weight. The highest weights are only useful if you’re going after shark or massive saltwater fish. The lower weights are perfect for small fish, while a weight somewhere in the middle will give you great versatility and allow you to fish for a variety of sizes. 

A 5-weight for freshwater fishing allows you to fish for most species you'll find in lakes, rivers, and streams, while many saltwater anglers will opt for an 8-weight for larger fish.


A reel’s drag describes how fast the line comes out of the reel when a fish is on the line. Drag moderates the speed of the fish and lets line out at a consistent rate to protect your line from snapping. There are two main drag systems: the disc drag and the spring and pawl (or click and pawl)

Disc drag: You’ll most likely use this system. It works by applying pressure to your line, like a brake, to slow it down and moderate its speed. It still allows you to easily wind the reel back up, though. Disc drag systems are adjustable so you can be sure you have the proper drag on your line for the line weight and fish.

Spring and pawl: This is the original drag system and uses a simple cog inside the body of the reel to moderate the speed the line comes out. It is not very adjustable and is often overpowered by larger fish. The main benefit is that this system is lightweight, but you’ll have to seek it out as it’s not very common anymore.

Arbor Size

The arbor is what you wind your line around within the reel. Originally, reels had narrow spindles, but over the years fly arbors have gotten larger. This allows the arbor to reel in more line per revolution which means you can bring your line in faster. This is especially useful in saltwater fly fishing where fish might run out far, meaning you have a lot of line to reel back up.

The downside to larger arbors is that they make the reel heavier. If you're using a low-weight rod for trout fishing, or for catching other small fish, a large arbor can make your reel and rod feel unbalanced. Mid-size arbors offer a balanced solution. These are often a great option if you want a single versatile reel. 

System Match 

Reminder: It’s critical to make sure your reel, line, and rod weight all match so that they can work together properly. When they do, you’re ready to head for the water. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.