Here’s the thing about saltwater fly fishing… The fish are bigger and stronger.
A Bonefish or tarpon doesn’t mess around, so you will want a reel that is equally as serious.
When I’m planning a trip, the one thing I make sure I’m armed with is one of the best saltwater fly reels I can find… And I’m going to help you find one too.
Here are some great suggestions, be sure to check my buying guide too!
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Table of Contents
- Top 7 Best Saltwater Fly Reels in 2021
- A Quick Guide to Saltwater Fly Fishing Reels
Top 7 Best Saltwater Fly Reels in 2021
A Quick Guide to Saltwater Fly Fishing Reels
So, you’ll hopefully see that with saltwater fly reels, there is plenty of choices out there.
Now I like a few options, but it’s you that will be choosing, so let me offer some guidance on things that you should think about when buying a fly reel for saltwater fishing.
Now here’s the thing…
With saltwater fly reels, it’s a bit of a balancing act. You will need a bigger reel, but at the same time, you don’t want something that is going to cause you fatigue.
Do you know what I call things that are overly heavy and make me tired?
Successful fly fishing is all about traveling light. You can see proof of it everywhere. For some lightweight storage solutions, why not check out my article on fishing bags for saltwater fly fishing just here.
Manufacturers reduce the weight of fly reels in a few ways. The first and most obvious is by constructing them from lightweight material. Look for things such as aluminum and other alloys that are lightweight. Aerospace aluminum, in particular, is really good, as it is very hard too.
Certain metal reels can be a bit on the heavy side. So you might want to consider an alternative. I like the use of polymers, as they are light, but they are really hard-wearing too!
And the second way?
The second way reel manufacturers reduce weight is by removing bits.
Yup. Those holes all along the side of the reel aren’t just cosmetic. They are removed to reduce weight. If a manufacturer has done its job right, it won’t affect the reel’s structural integrity.
Look for reels with large cut-out sections as it means that they are likely lightweight.
Fly fishing is all about balance. Unlike other types of fishing, you will be doing a lot of work and holding the rod all day. Aside from catching fish, your setup also dictates how well you cast.
And as I always say…
Better casts mean more fish! And good casting is all about balance.
Now, balance is related to reel weight, but it also depends on the rod you are going to be using. If you plan to use your own existing rod, this will probably be a little heavier for saltwater fly fishing. While you don’t want a reel that is too heavy, you want to match it to the rod.
So what’s the solution?
Well, you need to assess what you need to balance your setup. Essentially you need to pick a reel that is neither too heavy nor too light for your current rod. Here’s a quick video that explains it well.
If you haven’t yet chosen a rod, I can help with that too. Why not head over to my article here, where you can see some of the best beginner fly rods?
If you are looking for a great rod and reel balance straight ‘out of the box’, you may also want to consider a fly rod and reel combo. These tend to be really great as they are a perfect pair!
Did you hear what I said at the start?
Saltwater fish are seriously mean… They go harder and faster. It isn’t uncommon to have your line stripped off the spool when a fish makes a big run. To guard against this, you’ll need plenty of spool capacity.
And don’t forget…
You’ll probably be using a heavier rod and a thicker line. Again this will mean that you need a bigger spool.
Did you notice anything in my guide above?
I used a term quite a lot… Arbor. The arbor is the disc of the reel. As a general rule, the bigger the arbor, the greater the capacity of the spool.
Pick a reel with a big arbor.
Fly fishing in freshwater is delicate and pretty clean.
Fly fishing in saltwater? That’s an all-out assault. It can be pretty rough and harsh. I’ve dropped my reel, smashed it against a rock, left it sitting in the sand, and soaked it in saltwater.
And do you know what?
It still works just as well as the day that I bought it.
Features that make this possible again come down to construction. Look for reels that are made from materials that won’t degrade or rust.
When assessing durability, also keep a good lookout for these next three words.
They are important:
Sealed. Drag. System.
This means that the reel’s interior (and the part that does all of the work) is isolated from elements such as sand and saltwater. By ensuring you have this feature, your reel will need far less maintenance (or replacing in the future).
Speaking of drag, you will want to put every ounce of pressure on the fish you can. When saltwater fly fishing, there is a good chance that you will be playing the fish straight off the reel.
When they make a run, you need the ability to slowly but surely tire them out (without overstressing the line).
The answer is an effective drag.
I love reels that let me fine-tune the drag. It’s even better if they have a ‘click’ system so that I can repeat the right settings again and again. Drag is so much more important on a saltwater fly reel when compared to their freshwater cousins.
When choosing, make sure that you can control the drag easily, and it is also easy to calibrate.
Left or Right Handed?
Here’s something you might not have thought about. If you are a ‘southpaw’, then you’ll be pleased with my above selection.
They are all suitable for right and left-handers. You might not think that it makes a difference, but some reels only have an internal gear structure to apply drag one way.
The best fly reels will allow you to fish with either hand with minimal adjustment
Let’s face it.
This area probably has more bearing on our decisions as anglers than most others combined.
I’m going to be upfront.
Price is important. But let me ask you a question…
Would you rather buy something slightly more expensive once or pay double for something cheap? Make the wrong choice with your fly reel, and you are going to be out of pocket and possibly cost yourself fish or a day’s fishing!
I tend to find that the extra quality, and extra use that I get out of a reel that is up towards the top of my budget, makes it all worth it. Think how much work your reel is doing? It’s literally the engine that drives your fishing setup, and if it fails, it is terminal.
It is funny how I see guys drop a fortune on a rod and then pair it up with a substandard reel. Effectively they’ve just canceled all of the rod’s benefits. If you are looking to pair a great reel with an equally great rod, I’ve got some amazing suggestions here.
While I don’t advocate spending more than you can afford, when it comes to saltwater fly reels, I’d advise spending the most you can afford to get something really good. It will save you trouble and help you catch more fish in the long run.
If you are just getting started and are looking for something cheaper to get you going, I’ve got your back… Check out my list of the best budget fly reels over here!
Choosing fly fishing gear isn’t always the easiest… Normally because there is so much choice.
I’ve tried to keep my list fairly concise, and these are some of the best saltwater fly reels out there.
Provided you stick to the above guidelines and consider your choice carefully, you should find something amazing that will last for years, even with the abuse that tarpon can dish out.
What’s the biggest fish you’ve caught on a fly? Let me know in the comments.
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