How to Choose the Best Fly Reel for Trout Fishing (2021 Guide and Reviews)


Ever been stripped down to the backing by a monster trout? It’s rare, but it never stops me from trying.

A screaming reel is a sign that you are doing things right!

And to make sure that this magical moment isn’t brought to an abrupt stop, I’ve come up with a list of the best trout fly reels.

Today, I’ll go through some really great suggestions, give you a rundown on what I look for, and even answer a few commonly asked questions.

Let’s keep it ‘reel’!

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Top 7 Best Fly Reels for Trout Fishing 2021

Redington ZERO Fly Reel

Ah, good old Redington. They have never let me down. They always offer fly fishing gear that really works and is always super affordable.

Now listen…

I’m not normally the biggest fan of plastic in my fishing tackle, but just this once, I’m going to make an exception.

Here’s why.

The Redington ZERO is unbelievably lightweight. When you are casting with a rod in your hand, that can only be a good thing. Because it is made from die-cast plastic, it is super resilient. Drop it, bang it… It will still hold up well. It is also very resistant to corrosion.

I love the large arbor and minimalist look of this design. The black color works really well with any color of fly line.

The click drag system is neat too. It’s a little louder than what I’m used to, but when I’m out and about, I hardly notice it.

It also comes in a variety of colors and with a spare spool!

Pros

Cons

  • Some might be put off by the reel being plastic.
  • The loud click of the drag is greater than ‘normal’.

Takeaway

If you are looking for the best fly reel for trout fishing on a budget, then this would be a prime place to start. It performs really well, is pretty solid, and is lightweight. What’s not to love?

Orvis Clearwater Large Arbor Reel

If we are talking big names in fly fishing, they don’t come much bigger than Orvis.

Speaking of ‘big’…

Check out the size of the arbor on this reel. It’s huge. Thankfully the size of the reel isn’t a reflection of its weight.

Here’s why I love it…

A large arbor makes winding much easier as you get more line on with each turn of the handle. The same is true when you are paying line out. This makes for easier casting.

The Grey matte finish gives the reel a really classic look, and the large ‘blank’ areas on the reel show that Orvis has removed a lot of material to get the weight down.

And here’s more…

The reel comes with a spare spool included. And for those of you who are left-handed, it can be converted in seconds with minimal effort.

Pros

  • Industry-leading quality.
  • Powder grey finish is really nice.
  • Huge arbor for easy retrieve and casting.

Cons

  • The only downside is the price. It is a little more ‘premium’ than other reels in the same class.

Takeaway

If you are looking for flawless performance and have the money to spend, you will never go wrong with Orvis. They are one of my most recommended brands.

Waterworks-Lamson Liquid Fly Reel

When I first saw this reel, I had one thought…

Wow!

This is one great-looking reel. And it would perform well too! This reel is assembled in the USA.

Here’s the good stuff…

This die-cast reel is rock solid and feels really solidly constructed. Manufactured from lightweight aluminum, you’ll find that it is pretty corrosion-proof and will last as long as you have it in your tackle bag.

One thing that Lamson is famous for is the quality of its drag systems. This reel doesn’t disappoint. A crisp click accompanies every single turn of the reel.

The spool is easy to remove, perfect for changing out lines. And the large arbor makes casting an absolute breeze.

Pros

  • Fantastic looks.
  • Great value.
  • Brilliant performance.

Cons

  • Real downsides? None… The only thing I can see is that you can get a better-known brand like Orvis for a similar price.

Takeaway

I love finding new names in fly fishing tackle… Lamson has definitely come up with the goods. If big names are not your thing, then the best fly fishing reel for trout on my list is right here!

Colorado Fly Fishing Reel

Speaking of less well-known names. Check this out.

This reel ticks a lot of boxes. And performs great.

So why haven’t you heard of them?

They are actually an Australian company. And I can’t think of any nation on earth that catches more big fish than Australia!

The standout feature of this reel is the carbon and cork drag system. It prevents the reel from overrunning when you cast without being too severe when you want to strip the line off.

Bearing in mind how rock solid this reel is, it actually weighs very little. This means that if you have a lightweight rod, then you will find this perfectly balanced!

Pros

  • Superb construction.
  • Industry-leading drag system.
  • Lightweight, perfect for lighter setups.

Cons

  • It is expensive! Does it justify the cost? The jury is still out for me.

Takeaway

This reel is a prime example of what quality you can get if you shop around. It easily matches the performance of the better-known big names. If you want something a little different and are not constrained by budget, this is a worthy choice.

Orvis Hydros Fly Reels

Orvis Hydros Reels

You know how much I love Orvis. I thought I’d show you the pinnacle of what a premium fly reel should look like.

If you’ve got the cash to spend, for the money, this could be your forever reel. This is about as lightweight as they come and oozes quality.

What do I mean?

Oh, just the little things, like a fully sealed drag clutch bearing, perfect for stopping water and grime making its way into the reel’s innards.

The arbor is huge too. Combined with a superb drag system, you aren’t going to get tangles and overruns. It has a zero inertia system fitted in every reel.

Orvis has really thought about this reel. And have made improvements, such as removing all unnecessary material to ensure that it isn’t 0.1oz heavier than it needs to be.

The word I want to use when describing this reel is balanced. When paired up with a quality rod, you’ll pretty much have the best rod and reel combo available.

Pros

  • Superb quality from an industry giant.
  • Amazing drag system.
  • Stunning looks.
  • A really balanced reel.

Cons

  • The cost. If you want premium quality, you’ll pay a premium price.
  • You’ll cry if you drop it.

Takeaway

I want one! Next time it comes to invest in new tackle, I’m going to keep this one in mind. The lightweight balance and excellent drag make this one of the best on my list!

Cabela's RLS II Fly Reel

Cabela's RLS II Fly Reel

Of course, great quality doesn’t have to come at a great cost. For the money, this effort by Cabelas will do the job just as well as some more expensive offerings.

Made from cold-forged aluminum, this is as tough as it gets. It’s pretty bombproof. The hard anodized finish will be impervious to bangs, bumps, and scrapes. It’s a real tank of a reel!

One feature I really like is the drag knob. It has texture and is oversized for easy fish fighting on the go.

As with all of my suggestions, it features a nice large arbor that will offer more than ample capacity to fit your line.

Southpaws (sorry left-handed people) can often struggle to find a reel that works, no worries here. You can convert it to a left-handed version in seconds.

Pros

  • Rock-solid and durable.
  • Moderately priced.
  • Easy to convert from right to left-handed.

Cons

  • It does the job… and for that price, I’m not going to complain.

Takeaway

This reel would be a great first-time investment. Granted, it isn’t quite as high quality as some of my more premium offerings, but it will provide a drop-proof solution while you figure out what works.

Sage Spectrum C Fly Reel

Sage Spectrum C Fly Reel

Want top quality without paying ‘Orvis’ prices?

You are in the right place.

Sage is up there with the main players and has managed to make a reel with premium performance without the premium price tag.

Let’s dive in…

The arbor is as big as any other on the market and held within a really tough die-cast aluminum frame. One feature which I love is the concave spool. This will allow you to fit more fly line inside without its binding on the outer casing.

And there’s more.

I love consistency in my fishing. This reel has a unique feature. The drag settings are numbered, so you can get it dialed in and make sure you are fishing the same way every time. The carbon drag is also sealed.

Meaning?

That you don’t need to worry about water or debris making its way inside the reel and messing it up!

Pros

  • Fully sealed drag system.
  • Numbered drag for easy setting.
  • Solid construction.

Cons

  • It’s a good reel… But I feel you can get similar for less.

Takeaway

Sage is a great fly fishing brand that makes quality. This reel is proof. It is an excellent mid-priced reel, perfect for beginners or experienced anglers alike.

A Quick Guide to Fly Reels for Trout Fishing

So you are in the market for a new fly reel but have been spoiled for choice?

It’s ok, I get it.

Let me show you what I look for when buying the best flyfishing reels…

catch of a rainbow trout with a fly

Weight

You’d be amazed at the number of guys I see who’ve dropped fortunes on the best fly fishing rod around… Only to pair it with a really heavy reel.

Yeah, buddy, you’ve just wasted $200!

Fly fishing is all about movement.

Casting, walking, fishing. If there’s one thing that’s going to tire you out, it is fishing with a heavy reel. It might only be an oz here or there. Trust me, with 200 casts over a day (plus a lot of fish), it really makes the difference.

I’m going to make it super simple…

Get the lightest reel that you can afford. It might even be worth spending a few more dollars. That way, you are future-proofing your next rod too!

Construction

It goes without saying that you need something that is solidly constructed. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve dropped my rod.

In fact…

It’s one reason why I rarely spend a massive amount. It hurts too much if I damage it!

I look for trout reels constructed of durable materials. As you’ll have seen above, I even consider plastic reels worthy of a look.

When it comes to construction, also consider corrosion. Fly reels tend to get the wettest at the end of the day when you wind in 40 yards of wet line before putting it in your tackle bag or sling pack before forgetting about it.

Rust is the fishing tackle’s worst enemy, so be sure to choose a reel made of rust-resistant alloy.

rainbow trout caught by a fly fisherman in autumn river

Arbor

This one is big.

No, I mean it literally. A big arbor is what you want.

If you pick a reliable brand and have already checked the weight, go for the biggest arbor you can.

Let me tell you a really quick (true) story.

I once bought a small and compact fly fishing reel (it was expensive). Sure, it was made by a very reputable brand… But in the end, I hated it. Why? Because every time I wanted to fish, the line would get jammed up against the housing of the reel. I’d chosen a reel with a tiny arbor.

Want to know what happened to it?

It’s still in a box in my garage. After I snapped a line trying to clear a jam, I decided that I needed something else.

Big arbors prevent all this. They hold a lot of line with relatively few turns of the reel. This is great when casting, as you don’t need to pull as much off before you have all of your line out.

You’ll find that most fly reels nowadays have a big arbor. This is especially true in the best saltwater fly reels. They use really thick lines, so they tend to be super huge.

Oh… and…

Big arbors cause less memory in your fly line. If you don’t know what ‘memory’ is, check out this article.

fly fisherman wearing wading boots and jacket fishing trouts in river

Capacity

The above could have been avoided if I had just considered the reel capacity.

Here’s something that you need to know…

Fly reels don’t hold only fly line!

What? Really?

Yup, you also load them with backing. The backing is a fine braid designed to pad the reel out and give you a little more line if you hook a monster.

If you find your spool full, you can reduce the backing. This is a bit like saying if you find your glass too full, drink less beer. Yeah, right, bring me a bigger glass!

The same principle applies to reels. Don’t compromise on things that may help keep a big fish on. You want as much line as you can fit, so choose a nice high-capacity reel.

Drag

I’ve left drag until last as it is important.

Now, you won’t be playing trout off the reel 99% of the time. But when you are, that normally means you are into something big.

You don’t want your drag to be tested when you have the fish of a lifetime.

The answer?

Make sure your reel has a high-quality drag. I love carbon and cork systems, with a large selector on the side of the reel.

Being able to set the drag is super important and will lead to you losing less fish. If you don’t know how to set the drag on a fly reel, I’ve found a handy video made by my friends at Rio… Who also happens to make some of the best fly lines for trout.

FAQ

Got questions? Of course, you have!

Let me run through one or two things that people always ask me.

Is fly fishing better than spinning for trout?

Want my honest opinion? The answer is yes, fly fishing is better than spinning for trout.

With spinners, you are limited to what you can do. You fish subsurface, and that’s it. Cast out, wind in… All-day. Boring right? Flyfishing gives you almost countless options.

Like what?

Fish on top, fish subsurface, fish on the bottom. Go fast, slow, or even stop (that doesn’t work with a spinner). There is no better feeling than seeing a big old rainbow sip a fly off the surface before all hell breaks loose!

For me, fly fishing is the clear winner, hands down!

What is the best fly reel for trout?

The best? For the money, I think the Lamson Liquid fly reel is great value. It is a lesser-known brand, but it performs as well, if not better, than some industry leaders. I absolutely love the way that it looks. It is super lightweight, and it has one of the best drag systems out there.

A close second is the Orvis clearwater. It ticks pretty much every box in my buyer’s guide above.

Are expensive fly reels worth it?

Yes, they are. But ‘expensive’ is subjective. Do I think you should drop $500 on a fly reel?

No, absolutely not.

Do I think spending an extra $50-100 is worth it? Yes, absolutely. Think how much you are going to be using a reel and rod. If the reel breaks, then that’s game over for the day at least. Plus, you have to buy a new one. Which will mean you’ve paid the same as you would for something quality.

Moderately expensive fly reels are definitely worth it. Just keep in mind that as you go more toward the super-premium end of reels, you are going to see diminishing returns.

Are Piscifun fly reels any good?

When compiling my list above, I came across a lot of Piscifun reels. They are budget, but I’m not sure that they are the best budget fly reels for trout.

They will work, and I believe they will work quite well. But at that price, I’m not sure that they are constructed to quite the same tolerances as some of my suggestions.

You’ll know that I’m a believer in ‘buy cheap, but twice’. If you want to use one for infrequent use or are just starting out and aren’t sure, go for gold, as they work. If you are looking for something, long term to last, you might find an established brand is a far better choice.

Summary

For me, the best trout fly reels are those that allow me to fish without really noticing them. I want to be able to store my line, pull it off, and bring it in easy.

I also like having enough pulling power to stop a big trout in its tracks if it manages to strip me down to the backing.

Stick to the buyers guide above, stay within your budget, and you’ll find something suitable. I guarantee it.

While you are here, why not check out my other flyfishing articles? I even share a few secrets on some of the best trout flies, both for summer and winter.

What reel do you use? How do you find it? Let me know, and I’ll see about adding it.

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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