How to Choose a Fly Reel

how to choose a fly reel

How to Choose a Fly Reel

A quality reel is important for properly utilizing your rod, the line, and fighting the fish. It must have enough power to guide the fish in without breaking, while being smooth enough to strip line off while casting. It should also have a smooth drag system that can be used to tire the fish without breaking the tippet. I have compiled a list of the best fly fishing reels under 200 dollars here if you are interested.

Many people may overwrite purchasing a quality reel, but when it comes down to the actual business of fighting a fish, no one wants to be caught with a faulty reel or one that under or over performs. That is why it is so important to choose the right fly reel. A few properties that should be looked at are: weight, drag, aesthetics, and construction.


Weight applies to the strength and stiffness of a fly fishing setup. Read more here about this type of weight. It is imperative that this number match up with the rod and the line, as this means that the setup will be able to work together to pull in fish – there won’t be a weak or overly strong link.

For example, a 6 weight rod should be paired with a 6 weight reel and therefore 6 weight line. The weights start off at 1 and go up to 15, getting stiffer and stronger as the number goes higher. Therefore, higher weight combos are designed for bigger fish.

Drag of the reel

The drag on a reel is there to help you fight fish, wearing them out as they have to work to pull line off your reel. This helps keep the rod fully loaded without snapping it or your line when a big fish makes a tremendous run. Instead, that beautiful “click” of the drag comes into play, and there is no better music to a fisherman’s ears than this noise.

Fly fishing reels come with two different types of drag – the click-and-pawl system and the disc drag system. The click-and-pawl system is as basic as a spring that applies pressure against the spool. When the drag is tightened or loosened, this spring pushes harder or lighter on the spool, thereby allowing it to spin more freely or less freely. This is the traditional type of drag and is only recommended for smaller fish because it has less stopping power for larger fish.

The disc drag system is the higher end type of system that is basically two discs that create friction depending on how tight you have the drag set. As you can imagine, these would have far more power than a click-and-pawl drag system. However, it is important to get a sealed disc drag system if you are going to be fishing harsh environments or risk getting sand in your reel.

This is because unsealed drags can let sand get in between the discs, creating a terrible grinding noise and compromising your drag.

As far as setting your drag, on most reels there is a knob on one side you can tighten or loosen, which adjusts the drag. Many people set their drag lighter for casting, then as a fish runs, they tighten it down. Another option is to palm the spool to slow the fish down if for some reason you’re not able to get to the drag knob.

Aesthetics, how does it look

For many, this may be the most important thing they look at in a reel. Does it look good and catch the eye? Some people may prefer a more traditional reel like the Orvis Access Mid-Arbor, while for others, the Redington Behemoth is a thing of beauty.

Orvis Access Mid-arbor Fly Reels


Both of these reels are highly functional, and at this point, it may boil down to whichever one you think looks better.

Construction of the fly reel

Depending on what type of environment you are fishing, the construction can make a big difference. Saltwater and freshwater reels are often different materials, and are coated differently as well. There are also machined and pre-cast reels. Machined are made from a solid piece of metal and therefore are stronger than pre-cast, but are also more expensive. Machined are also lighter. As you read earlier, a sealed drag system also helps keep dirt and particles out of your drag.

The coating on the reel helps prevent against scratches but also salt. If you fish saltwater, ensure that the reel is anodized to help prevent it from breaking down from all the salt. A tough reel will last for years if you make sure the one you are purchasing fits your needs.


Good fly fishing reels should last you for years if you select the right one off the bat. Hopefully this list has opened your eyes to the different things to look at when choosing a fly reel. You can view a list here of the best fly fishing reels under $200.

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