If a fly rod is just an extension of your arm, shouldn’t you get a fly reel that acts in the same way?
Many people think that it is okay when purchasing their fishing gear to go all out in spending money on a great fly rod, but then pinch pennies on other gear. While getting a great fly rod is extremely important (seriously, we wrote a whole article on it here), purchasing the right fly reel to match the strength and flexibility of your fly rod is equally as pivotal in securing great catches.
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- 1 How to Choose the Best Fly Reel
- 2 7 Best Fly Fishing Reels 2017 – Reviews and Guide
- 3 Comparison – Which Should I Choose
- 4 Conclusion
How to Choose the Best Fly Reel
When looking to purchase a fly reel, it is important to first keep two factors in mind:
- Fly reels should objectively function well (aka don’t buy a cheap-o reel because you found it for $10 at a thrift store).
- Fly reels should subjectively function well with your personal fly rod.
So how do you make sure that a fly reel is paired well with a fly rod?
First, you want to make sure that the weights of both the rod and the reel match together. For example, you wouldn’t want to pair a 4-wt trout fishing rod with a 7 or 8-wt reel that is meant to handle tackling larger trout and bass.
Second, you want to make sure the fly reel is paired with your fly rod in the correct position. If you cast right-handed you’ll most likely want to purchase a left-facing reel, as right-handed casters usually retrieve line with their left hand.
For these reasons, many fly rods are sold in bundles that include the fly rod, the fly reel, and the fly line altogether. Purchasing one of these bundles is a great idea for beginners and those who may not know how to pair rods and reels together, as everything already comes prepared to work together. If you’re interested in one of these bundles, we heartily recommend the Orvis Clearwater 5-wt bundle, which we reviewed in our recent Fly Rod article.
However, for those looking to customize their fishing setup and ultimately keep improving their fishing style long into the life of the rod and reel, we recommend purchasing fly rods and fly reels separately.
When deciding upon which fly reel works best for you, there are a few things to consider. Start up inertia, reel weight, and the drag system are all pivotal features which to measure a fly reel by.
Start up inertia is the resistance to movement that occurs the moment when a fish starts to take the line. Because things that are at rest tend to stay at rest, the reel does not perfectly start rotating at top speed once the line is taken. Start up inertia measures the drag that occurs until the reel is spinning smoothly at top speed – in terms of a car, start up inertia basically measures the time it takes from the line to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour. Reels with a low start up inertia will also have less stopping power, so it is important to get a reel that is balanced in these two categories.
The movement toward purchasing the lightest fly rods is in full swing. While it is a huge trend that may seem meaningless, it is backed by physics. Each cast you make, your arms will have to lift each ounce of the rod. The heavier your rod, the more work your arms will be doing by the end of the day. In order to save strength for more casting, rods have gotten lighter and lighter. In cohesion with this principle, reels need to become lighter to match the rods. It is important to first check the weight of your fly rod and see if the reel you are looking at balances it in weight.
The drag system is the resistance put upon the spool to prevent the line from being stripped away when a fish takes the line. Light drag systems put little drag on the reel spool, and when a fish begins to take the line, the line will put no pressure on the fish, making it difficult to reel in. Alternatively, high drag systems will put too much pressure on the spool, potentially snapping the leader or tippet.
7 Best Fly Fishing Reels 2017 – Reviews and Guide
The Ross Evolution LT 2 is a super lightweight reel that can handle quite a bit of drag and makes the perfect accessory for any 5 to 6-wt fly rod.
It is constructed from 6061-T6 aluminum, and has an excellent drag system, which protects the tippets and leader and allows you to go for larger fish.
Ross claims that this fly reel has no start up friction (and while this is not completely true), the start up friction in the Evolution LT 2 is indeed very minimal. The drag system is also impressive, as Ross uses a triple redundancy drag to provide 3 modes of backup to protect the reel spool.
Overall, the lightness of the reel and the quality to ensure that it can take on large fish without compromising its weight is a big factor to us.
With the Access Mid Arbor series, Orvis offers a great fly reel starting at a very reasonable price. Like the Ross Evolution LT 2, the Access Mid Arbor II is constructed from 6061-T6 aluminum.
The middle-range arbor that gives this reel its name is well-constructed; it offers the benefits of a larger arbor such as quick retrieve and less coiling, without the larger size that large arbors have.
This reel weighs very little, and pairs perfectly with a rod like the Orvis Clearwater or Helios series. The drag system is carbon and stainless steel, and while this reel does not boast an extremely impressive start up inertia, the price of this reel is very enticing given the rest of its quality.
The Galvan Torque 5 is a world-class fly reel that boasts the best start up inertia on the market today.
Weighing in at 4.8 ounces, this reel is best for 5 to 6-wt rods and lines, and has a simple, sleek look. Because of its reliance on ventilation and large arbor design, the Torque 5 reel is safe in both freshwater and saltwater, and can handle a number of outdoor weather conditions.
While this is not the lightest reel on the market, it has one of the higher strength-to-weight ratios. This reel is a powerhouse, and can handle very large fish and lots of drag. On top of that, the reel is easily interchangeable between right and left hand retrieve. making this the perfect reel for just about anybody.
The Galvan Torque 5 also comes in many different colors, including gold, green, black, and blue.
We feel that this is one of the best performing reels on the market, and has been for the last few years.
4. Sage 4250
The fly reels in the Sage 4200 series are known for having a silky smooth drag system.
It is made of 6061-T6 aerospace grade aluminum, cold forged and tempered for maximum strength.
The reel has a large concave arbor which helps give a good drag, while protecting the reel spool.
This reel is easy to set the drag, with numbered detented settings, and converts easily from right to left-handed retrieve.
At just under 4″ in diameter and just over 4 ounces, the Orvis Mirage features a carbon to stainless steel drag, and gives one of the better performances on the market.
Crafted in the U.S., this reel is maintenance-free that goes from zero to full drag within one spool rotation, and gives consistently strong yet smooth drag. The spool is quick release, and can easily be switched from right to left hand retrieve.
This reel is made from lightweight 6061-T6 aluminum, and the titanium shaft increases the durability without adding too much overall weight.
The startup inertia on this reel rivals the Galvan Torque 5, and the smooth drag system makes this reel a strong contender for our favorite of 2017.
Lamson’s Litespeed IV fly reel and spool offer a valuable product at a great price. Updated in 2014, this model sheds some of the weight off its predecessor, and has a greater retrieval rate that still makes this a strong contender for the best reel in 2017.
This reel features Lamson’s iconic fully sealed conical drag system shape that the brand is known for, and has an open ventilated large arbor design. The sealed drag system prevents salt and dirt from entering the system, ensuring that this reel will give you a great performance through its long life.
At 3.75 ounces, this is the lightest reel on the market, which means we can fish from before sunrise to long after sundown with this one on our rod.
The last review on our list, the Redington Rise fly reel series comes at a great value to consumers, as it is also one of the cheaper high-end models out there.
It is designed of 6061-T6 aluminum, and features a quick release spool to interchange between left and right-handed retrieve in a flash. This has one of the largest arbor designs on the market, which lends itself to give a quick line retrieve.
The main downside to the design, however, is the added weight. At 5.4 ounces, this reel should not be put on ultralight rods, as it would throw the balance off.
The drag knob is large and easy to adjust, and the drag system gives a very smooth performance.
Overall, we love the low price, keeping in mind that it is similar enough in performance to the other reels on our list for the average angler.
Comparison – Which Should I Choose
Best Buy on a Budget: Redington RISE series
No doubt about it – our choice for those looking for a great value on a smaller budget should look into the Redington RISE series. This reel is priced lower for its heavier weight, which means it should not be paired with very light rods. For most rods and in most situations, however, this reel will perform almost similarly to the other high-end reels in our list. This model is easy to make adjustments on, and is easy to use for left and right-handed retrieve. Even at a lower price, the Redington RISE should give you years of great performance.
Best 5-wt Fly Reel: Ross Evolution LT2
The best 5-wt fly reel on the market in 2017 is the Ross Evolution LT2. Ross’s fly reel is very lightweight made from 6061-T6 aluminum and has a great drag system. This helps protect the tippets and leader from larger fish, and makes it something we’d love to put on a 5-wt rod. While there are some reels with better drag, and some lighter reels out there, we feel like this is the perfect mix of the two.
Best Saltwater Fly Reel: Galvan Torque 5
The Galvan Torque 5 was almost our choice for best overall buy; however, its sealed drag system makes it almost impervious to saltwater, dirt and grime that may enter the system, making this the perfect choice for fresh and saltwater fishers. We believe that the Galvan Torque performs well in any situation, but can handle saltwater and inclement weather better than any other reel on our list.
Best Overall Buy: Orvis Mirage III
If we had to select one reel to use for our freshwater and saltwater fishing, we would take the Orvis Mirage III. Like the Galvan Torque series, the startup inertia is amazing on this reel. However, this model bests the Torque 5 on retrieval rate as well, something important to us when considering using it for a long day of fishing. The smooth feel of the drag and sleek finish aren’t bad either.
No matter which reel you purchase, it’s important to match your rod, reel, and line weight together for the best fishing experience. The technology behind fly reels has only gotten better and better, and any of these fly reels would make a great choice for amateur and seasoned anglers alike.