The 7 Best Budget Fly Reels in 2021 (Full Buyer’s Guide & Reviews)


Are you looking to get fishing but don’t want to spend a fortune?

We all love getting more for less. When it comes to a fly fishing reel, you can sometimes find some really great reels that don’t cost the earth.

Today I want to show you some of the best budget fly reels on the market. I’m going to take a look at what makes them so good and even give you a few tips on choosing.

With any luck, you’ll be able to save yourself at least a few dollars, so more money to spend on flies!

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Top 7 Best Budget Fly Reels for Fly Fishing

Angler Dream Fly Reel

When I saw the price, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“It can’t be any good”… I said to myself.

Heads up. I was wrong.

Bearing in mind that this is truly a budget fly fishing reel, there seems to be quite a lot of similarities to things that will easily cost 5 times as much!

Let me show you…

All aluminum construction gives you two things. The reel is lightweight, and it is also really durable. Go inside the reel, and you’ll find a Teflon disc and aluminum alloy drag system. This is paired up with a one-way ball bearing, offering an instant stop system.

Taking a look at the frame, it’s got cutaway sections and is hollow, making the reel even more lightweight.

I particularly like the large arbor. Besides me needing to wind less when I’m retrieving the line, it prevents the line from coiling up and compressing. By getting less’ memory’ in the line, it stays straighter, aiding casting and fly presentation.

Pros

  • Comes with leader, line, and backing.
  • Lightweight aluminum construction.
  • Great looking.

Cons

  • While the instant stop is a nice feature, I can’t really think why you’d need it.

Takeaway

If you needed proof that a good fly fishing reel doesn’t need to cost a fortune, here it is. It has everything I like to see on a reel, including a really low price tag.

You will have to load the reel yourself, be sure to check my buying guide, where I’ve included a video on how to load the fly line onto a reel.

Piscifun Aoka Fly Fishing Reel

Do you know what?

I sometimes feel a little bad about spending lots on my current reel. When I see products like this, I wonder if I couldn’t have got the same effect for much less.

Want to know what I mean? Get this…

With a fully machined frame and die-cast spool, this reel could be every bit as good as some ‘big name’ brands. The only thing it lacks is an extra ‘0’ on the number of dollars it costs. The spool is a quick release too, so you can easily change out your floating line for a sinker at the touch of a button.

And there’s more…

You can switch between a ‘click-drag’ system or silent running. Speaking of the drag, this is a little more basic than expensive models, but who cares when it does the job? Inside you’ll find a cork drag system. Turn the knob, set your resistance, job done.

The arbor is mid-sized, offering a good mix of low line memory and quick line pickup.

Oh, and did I tell you in blue and black, this fly fishing reel looks great?

Pros

  • Great looks.
  • Amazing value.
  • Lightweight aluminum construction.

Cons

  • The cork drag isn’t sealed, which means it could degrade over time.

Takeaway

With an included carry pouch, I can’t really fault this reel. It does everything that you’d need. For the money, it’s one of the best cheap fly reels on the market. I can’t say it any simpler.

Aventik Z Fly Reel

You’ll see guys who spend a small fortune trying to get a lightweight reel. Well, when I see this, I can’t help but feel bad for them.

Why?

How do you like the sound of all graphite construction and all that it brings? By that, I mean superb lightweight handling and corrosion resistance, all in a superbly cheap package. The thing I really like about this reel is that it looks solid and means business.

Digging under the hood, you’ll find a central disc drag paired up with a substantial knob on the non-working side of the reel. You can switch between making the reel silent or turning on the clicker. A clicker is really useful if you’ve got your hands full with a big fish and need to hear when it is taking line.

Is that all?

Nope, the arbor is massive too. I like that I can leave my line on the reel overnight, and it is straight as an arrow the next morning.

Pros

  • Huge arbor.
  • Solid construction.
  • Very lightweight body.

Cons

  • The reel is quite ‘wide’. While I don’t mind this, it isn’t as ‘low profile’ as some all-metal reels.

Takeaway

An all graphite reel at such a low price? 20 years ago, you’d be lucky to get change out of $500. When viewed in this light, it’s definitely one of the best fishing reels for the money. Lightweight and strong, with a decent drag system, what more do you want?

Croch Fly Fishing Reel

If you are worried about the durability of buying a budget fly reel, read on…

This thing is like a little tank. Manufactured from a blend of stainless steel and aluminum components, the all-metal construction means it is practically bombproof!

You’ve got to look at this.

The arbor is both large and wide. This leads to less line stacking. If you are reeling in a big fish, you can often get the line’ bedding in’ where the pressure pushes into the line already on the spool. A wide arbor can stop this.

The machined aluminum frame reduces some of the weight, and it has been anodized to stop pesky rust from spoiling the day.

If you are down to the backing, you are going to need stopping power; fortunately, the Croch reel has a super solid and really smooth stainless steel drag system, giving just the right amount of tension to stop a trout in its tracks.

Pros

  • Rock-solid construction.
  • Powerful stainless steel drag.
  • Highly durable.

Cons

  • It comes as a left-hand retrieve. To change it to the right-handed, you’ll need to open the reel up.

Takeaway

Simple, solid, and steady. Sure, you can spend a fortune or achieve similar performance with a reel such as this for a fraction of the price. It isn’t fancy or packed with features, but what’s fitted works, and it works well.

Martin Caddis Creek Fly Fishing Reel

This is probably the most barebones and basic model on my list. While it won’t bowl you over, it is a cheap and affordable solution for those who want a cheap fly fishing reel.

It would make an ideal choice for those who fish on bigger waters, as it is designed to be used with #6 weights of line, which perfectly match slightly bigger rods.

Here’s what’s inside…

The reinforced aluminum spool is pretty hard wearing and durable. This reel isn’t garnished with lots of gadgets. It’s really simple. There’s a switch on the back to easily release the spool, and you’ll find a metal clicker-style drag.

The reel comes pre-spooled with a size 6 floating line and backing. You’ll also get 5 leaders included within the pack.

Pros

  • Simple, rugged design.
  • All metal construction.

Cons

  • It’s a little heavy.

Takeaway

This reel might not be one you want to use every day. But, if you are bringing company for a day’s fishing, it’s pretty easy to get set up and operate. If it gets dropped, it isn’t a big deal as it’s cheap and really rugged.

White River Fly Shop Hobbs Creek Fly Reel

White River Fly Shop Hobbs Creek Fly Reel

Big brands aren’t always the way forward.

Ever bought a designer shirt?

Chances are you’ve paid for a label. White River is capable of producing quality that easily matches the big boys. Case in point? This reel.

First off, it’s cast aluminum, giving the reel superb strength while also making a substantial weight saving. Throw in a disc drag, and you’ve got something that fishes and feels really quality.

As with expensive fly reels, you’ve got a nice big arbor with plenty of room to store your line without introducing memory needlessly. It actually looks pretty futuristic too. There are large cutaway sections, so you can easily see how much line you’ve got left when you hook into a monster.

Pros

  • Cast aluminum and superb quality.
  • Huge arbor and excellent line storage.
  • High strength disc drag.

Cons

  • The smallest size available is #5, so not suited to lighter rods.

Takeaway

You could easily expect to pay $100 or more for a similar ‘branded’ reel with the same features. Why not save that money for some other gear (or a rod upgrade)? I can’t really fault this reel. Provided you have a rod rated for #5 line, it would make an excellent choice.

Redington Crosswater Fly Reel

Ok, so this is at the upper end of what I’d call ‘budget’… But swing by Orvis’s website and tell me this isn’t amazing value.

Ah, you are back… I told you so!

This fly reel is substantial and looks really great on most rods. It is a little different than our other suggestions. Normally you’ll hear me rave about all-metal constructions.

But, do you know what?

I might just have changed my mind. This is a reel with a difference. It’s constructed from a polymer composite. In a word, plastic. But don’t be fooled into thinking that makes it any less ‘good’. The truth is it is strong, durable, light, and completely corrosion-free.

It’s the ideal budget reel for use in both freshwater and saltwater. In fact, if you head on over to my dedicated saltwater fly reel article, you’ll see its features there too!

You can drop this reel, bang it, and give it some serious abuse, and it will act like it’s fresh out of the box. There’s no fancy to finish to chip or damage, and I think that’s a good thing.

Aside from the construction, it works really well. As with all of my budget fly reels, it comes with a nice arbor and a strong drag system.

Pros

  • Solid composite polymer body.
  • Durable.
  • Nicely sized arbor.

Cons

  • Not everyone will like spending money on a ‘plastic’ reel… (more fool them is what I say).

Takeaway

Ok, so it’s a bit different than what we are used to. But why not take advantage of the technology. It’s cheaper and just as strong as some others on our list. It’s a lightweight reel too! If you are looking for a ‘brand name,’ this is hands down one of the best fly reels under $100.

A Quick Guide to Budget Fly Reels

fisherman using fly fishing rod and reel in mountain river

Ok, I’ll be upfront.

Just because you are looking to spend less shouldn’t mean that you don’t care about your gear. At the end of the day, the fish don’t know how much you have spent. And ultimately, it’s not about something with a designer price tag; it’s about whether it works to catch fish.

And that’s the best thing…

All of the reels above will work to bag you plenty of trout. If this is your first foray into buying a reel, then I want you to make the best choice you can. So, I’ve assembled a quick buying guide to show you what I look for.

And note…

You’ll want most of the same features in the best fly reels under $200 as you would with expensive premium versions.

What Should I Look for in a Reel?

Ok, I’m going to tell you a secret.

When fly fishing, the reel doesn’t matter half as much as with other kinds of fishing. And here’s why.

Most of the time, you bring the line in and send it out again using your hands, not the reel. Unlike, say, spinning, where the reel is working all day, 80% of fly fishing is done without the reel being wound in or out.

I mean, here’s a guy who is on his first-ever fly fishing trip. Watch how many times he ‘reels in’…

That looks like fun, though, right?

Here are my main criteria when choosing budget fly reels.

A Large Arbor

The first thing that I look for in a reel is the ability to store line. When fly fishing, this is one of the reel’s primary purposes. A large arbor does a few things.

First, it lets you store plenty of line. If you’ve gone for a heavier line, you will need a bigger arbor. Otherwise, everything gets a little cramped.

Secondly, a large arbor lets your fly line rest in relatively bigger and looser coils. As a result, it gets less memory.

Wait, what’s memory?

Memory is when the line ‘remembers’ the position it was stored in. When casting a fly line, you want it to rest on the water in a straight line. If it has a lot of memory, what you’ll actually get is a curly ‘pig tail’. And nobody wants to fish with a pigtail.

So go for a nice big arbor.

Oh, and before I forget, to get the most out of your reel, you’ll need to load it correctly. Here’s how you do it.

A Drag System

Remember how I said that 80% of your fly fishing is done without using the reel?

Well, what about the other 20% of the time?

Here’s the answer. When you come to make your first cast, you’ll be stripping line off a few feet at a time, this can happen pretty fast, and the last thing you need is the reel to carry on spinning as you draw each section of line off.

So what’s the solution.

In a word… Drag.

A good drag will make it easy for you to pull the line off of the reel. But this isn’t its only purpose. If you catch a big fish that eats up all the loose line in your hand, you’ll be relying on the drag to slow it down.

Want to see what it sounds like when there’s a trout taking the line on the drag…

Man, I’m so jealous!

Lightweight

You also want your reel to be lightweight. Remember we talked about a big arbor? With the reel’s size being increased, you really don’t want it to be made of heavyweight material.

If you look in my list above, you’ll find that the reels are made of really lightweight materials. My favorites tend to be aluminum. But that said, with the advent of modern polymers, you can get a composite reel that is just as strong!

Durability

Let me make one thing clear.

‘Budget’ doesn’t mean that you need to put up with junk. You wouldn’t accept a $200 reel breaking, as that would affect your fishing, so you shouldn’t expect a lower-priced reel to do so either.

What I’m saying is low money doesn’t have to mean low quality. At the end of the day, we all want a reel that works.

Make sure you pick a reel that still has solid features. I like to look for sealed drag systems and machined frames.

If you can find one that has a spare spool, all the better, then you’ve got a backup.

fly fishing rod and reel and caught sea trout

Is it Possible to Find a Reel Under $200?

Take a look at my list above! Abso-frickin-lutely!

We all like fishing with premium gear, and it does feel marginally better… But, the relationship between cost and how good a reel feels isn’t linear. I tend to find the more expensive reels are very much a diminishing return.

One of the best reels I ever used cost me about 60 bucks, and it lasted well over a decade.

Is it Worth it to Buy a Cheap Reel?

Again, yes, it is for several reasons.

Reels do take a lot of punishment. Let’s say you get a season out of a hard-fished reel. Is it better that you’ve spent $300 or $50? If it breaks, can you afford to replace a $300 with a like-for-like model?

If the answer is no, then you may just be better going for something budget.

A cheap reel with a decent rod will out-fish a cheap rod and an expensive reel all day long. That’s just the way fly fishing is. If you want to see some great performing fly rods (that aren’t too pricey) then I’ve got an expert guide right here.

Often fishermen buy a cheap reel to use as a backup. Whenever I go fishing with friends, I use one of my ‘budget’ reels. That way, if they inadvertently break it, we can stay friends.

Cheap fly reels still work really well. They aren’t as crucial as other pieces of fishing gear. So you can save some money and invest in other essential kit, check my article here to see what I like to take fly fishing.

fly fishing rod with flies and canvas hat

Do I Need a More Expensive Option When it Comes to Choosing a Fly Reel?

Here’s the truth.

You don’t need to spend a fortune when choosing a fly reel. All you need is something that works well with your choice of rod.

If it’s balance you are after and want to keep costs down, you might want to consider a fly rod and reel combo. This will allow you to get a perfectly balanced setup, and the reels thrown in with the package are nearly always pretty sweet.

Suppose you are looking to spend a lot of money. Why not go down the cheap route first, have a good think about what you like and don’t like, and then you can invest in something a little more expensive knowing that you’ve made the best possible choice and done a bit of research?

Summary

A good reel is important. Notice I used the word ‘good’ and not ‘expensive’.

The best budget fly reels will all allow you to catch fish, and, often, there isn’t a world of difference aside from the designer tag (and price to match).

Why not leave me a comment and let you know what you decided on?

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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