I can’t tell you what it is about a sleek reel that entices me to spend money I don’t have and blow off work or family gatherings to get a few more hours in the water, but I know it does.
Obviously, reels are more than just eye candy for the angler.
A high-quality reel can make a world of difference in landing fish, especially wall hangers. There are a lot of factors that go into a good fly reel and deserve your attention when deciding on a reel for use.
For the sake of some form of organization and comparison we are only going to examine these factors for 5wt reels. Don’t exit out of the article in frustration!
The make and model of these reels usually come in various sizes, and the performance of a 5wt reel is comparable to other sizes of the same model.
For our list of the best fly fishing reels, I can’t claim to have personally handled all of them. Some I have and a few I even own and use regularly. For the others, I rely on friends and trusted fly fishing sources.
Our Top Pick: The Orvis Mirage
A top performer in all categories! This reel is as close to perfect as it gets.
Fly Reel Boot Camp^
To understand what we are going to be discussing in this article, it would be prudent to quickly go through some of the basic parts that make up the reel and common terminology associated with them.
If you already have a good understanding of these terms jump ahead to our top fly reel list.
Reel design is a science in its own right and this small informational section only scratches the surface of reel terminology and function, but we want this review to be easily read and understood by even the beginner angler.
With this in mind, here are some common terms to understand before moving forward.
When we refer to arbor size we are talking about the relative proportion of the arbor diameter (part that houses bearings and where the backing is attached) to the overall diameter of the entire reel (arbor and spool combined).
- We group reels into the following categories: large, mid, and small arbor sizes.
- Larger arbors result in a reel that can bring in more line per rotation of the spool.
When adjusting the drag, how sensitive are the changes to increments in drag pressure when adjusting the drag adjustment knob.
If a reel has excellent drag range, you can cover a wide variety of pressures with one rotation of the knob. This gives you good control and manipulation of how much drag is used when fighting fish.
This term describes the amount of tension put on line pulled from the spool and is measured in pounds.
In this review, we will look at the maximum drag pressure that can be obtained for each reel.
Generally, unloaded reels that fall between 3.5 and 6.oz will not disturb the balance of a traditional 5wt fly rod.
It’s always a personal choice, and you should experiment to determine what weight suits your casting style best.
Line Retrieval Speed^
The quickness at which the reel can bring in slack line from the water. Two major factors contribute to line retrieval speed. Arbor size, as we discussed earlier, and spool spin.
Faster spin just means that the spool can be rotated quickly with less effort. High spool spin paired with large arbors give you the maximum line retrieval speed.
This refers to how well the reel can stand up to outside forces applied to it without losing form and functionality. A major factor for a reel’s durability is the material used in manufacturing.
The more durable, and expensive reels, are usually made from some form of a metal alloy (mostly high-grade aluminum) while cheaper reels are made from a plastic or graphite material.
The 10 Best Fly Reels for Trout^
About Our Top Choices^
Here is our top ten list for the best fly fishing reels for trout available on the market. These below reviews are in no particular order, and all will perform admirably in the field.
We will discuss the pros and cons of each as well some unique features of each reel.
As I mentioned earlier, the look of the reel has a huge appeal to me, and I’m sure it does to other anglers as well.
I can’t help but throw the Redington Behemoth into our best fly fishing reel list. It truly is a unique looking reel. Now, a sharp design is not the only feature of this reel. It performs extremely well.
A high performing die cast reel with a unique and cool design.
The Behemoth is die cast giving it a unique look and V-shaped spool that can hold a tremendous amount of backing and line.
Die casting is usually associated with cheap reels prone to wearing out quickly, but Redington has perfected its process providing a reel that is as durable as the high-end reels at a fraction of the cost.
The drag on this reel is unreal. Seriously, this reel applies up to 9lbs of drag pressure. This may be overkill, as this much drag shouldn’t be needed unless you hook the trout of a lifetime, but more importantly, the drag is action is very smooth.
The behemoth has a large arbor and can retrieve line quickly and reduce line memory for better drift management.
The biggest issue with this reel is the weight. At 6.9oz it might not balance well with most 5wt rods and would probably be better paired with a 6wt.
For the price and quality of this reel, it should be at the top of any best reel for fly fishing list. Oh, and this reel also comes with a lifetime warranty.
Lamson Litespeed IV^
It is quite incredible the work that Lamson has done with this particular reel. The lightness and durability of this reel are almost unparalleled in the fly fishing world.
The reel weighs in at only 3.75oz!
Lamson Litespeed IV
A reel with a lightness and durabillity that tops most fly reels.
The Litespeed IV has an excellent drag system with up to 6.8lbs of drag pressure. At times the drag adjustment may feel a little unwieldy, but it is sensitive to pressure changes and covers a good range.
The drag system is also sealed, so consistent cleaning and upkeep will not be an issue.
This reel has a large arbor and decent spool spin, which allows one of the best retrieval speeds of all the reels on our list.
Lamson also employs a “Hard Alox” finish to the reel making it extremely resistant to scratching and dinging when in the field.
The lightness of this reel does result in a product that can easily bend when exposed to extreme forces from falls or drops.
While not important in catching fish, the design of this reel is outstanding and easy on the eyes. With a small fee, this reel is also covered by a lifetime warranty.
Orvis Access II^
The Orvis Access II is the traditional reel designed by Orvis, and in many anglers opinions, outperforms some of Orvis’s more expensive reel models.
It is a durable reel made from aircraft grade aluminum and weighs in at 4.45oz for the 3-5wt model giving it excellent balance with most fly rods in the correct weight range.
Orvis Access II
A perfect reel when you don’t want to break the bank.
This reel has an excellent drag system with a fine tuning drag knob and drag resistance up to 5lbs.
This is a mid-arbor reel, so line retrieval is not as quick as other reels on this list, but as a long time user of the Orvis Access, I have never had an issue with landing fish quickly.
The reel frame is less ported than a lot of other modern reels so backing and back line may not dry as quickly and may require more upkeep to keep the line from degrading.
If you are taking care of your line as you should this will not be an issue at all.
This is an excellent reel for those looking to break into fly fishing and not break the bank.
Sage is one of the big brands of fly fishing and has produced quality fly fishing gear for decades. Their 4200 model fly reel does not deviate from their quality.
The Sage 4200 is made from high-grade aluminum, and the forging process provides extra strength making this reel one of the most durable models on our list.
A fantastic reel from one of the most prominent brands in fly fishing.
The 4200 has a large arbor and is one of the top reels for retrieval speeds. The reel weighs in at a little over 4oz so spooled with backing and line it will balance well with correct weight rods.
The drag system lags a bit on this reel when compared to other models on our list. It has a max drag pressure of 1.8lbs.
Still it’s able to handle most fish, larger trout or other species may require a drag system known as your palm.
Overall, this is a fine reel that will provide excellent durability and performance for the price. The drag system might be lacking compared to other reels regarding pressure and adjustment, but it is smooth enough to handle most fish efficiently.
Ross Cimarron II^
Ross has produced a unique reel that will stand out to other anglers on the water. More importantly, it performs almost flawlessly.
The Cimarron has excellent spin giving a high retrieval speed when paired with the large arbor. In times where a lot of slack line needs to be retrieved quickly, this reel stands above the rest.
The Cimarron II might have the best drag adjustment knob on our list.
It has a great gripping surface, and the square shape and extension from the reel frame make it easy to handle in the midst of fighting a large fish.
The drag system can deliver drag pressure up to 9lbs, although the range of drag adjustment is not as extensive as other reels on this list.
This reel weighs in at a little under 5oz when not loaded and will balance well with 4-6 weight rods.
Ross reels are known for their extreme durability, and the Cimarron is no different.
The Ross Cimarron II will not cost you moving some cash out of savings with a price under the $250 mark. Part of this cost is also donated to fish conservation organizations, which all anglers should be happy to give to as well.
The second Orvis reel to make our list; the Mirage III is a fantastic trout reel that is nearly perfect in all categories.
The Mirage has a much larger arbor than the previous Access reel from Orvis and provides much faster line retrieval and can hold more line and backing.
In fact, it tops our list concerning the amount of material it can hold. It also makes it slightly heavier than the Access at 4.8oz unloaded.
The drag knob on this reel can feel clumsy, especially when trying to dial the drag up or down in the middle of a fight and that’s about as far a stretch we can make on finding a con to this reel.
Besides the knob, the drag system functions quite well with a drag pressure of 6lbs and a nearly seamless transition from slack line to drag settings.
The Orvis Mirage is one of the most popular trout fishing reels and for a good reason. It has a beautiful design with a beautiful performance on the water.
With a small fee, these reels can be purchased with a lifetime warranty.
This reel provides perhaps the best drag system that is available in a fly reel.
The amount of drag pressure exceeds the Redington Behemoth, but what makes it stand out is the ease and sensitivity of the drag adjustment.
From personal use, it is incredible how smooth the transition is to the drag system after a large trout has taken out your slack during its run. With the Torque, worries of breaking off a large fish hitting a run vanishes.
A durable reel with a drag system that’s above all its contenders.
The drag adjustment knob extends out from the frame and has excellent gripping surface making quick drag adjustments hassle free.
A second great feature to this reel is the durability. The reel is made from high-grade aircraft aluminum and can withstand extreme abuse without affecting the reel’s performance.
It is relatively light weighing in at 4.8oz unloaded, so it pairs well with mot 4/5wt fly rods. The lightness comes from the material as well as the highly ventilated design, which also provides quick drying of line and backing.
The only real issue for this model is the short retrieving handle. Anglers with large hands might find it difficult to retrieve smoothly without bumping knuckles across the frame.
The Galvan Toque is a bit pricier, but could easily claim the title of one of the best modern fly reels. It also comes with a lifetime warranty for no extra fee.
The look and feel of this reel seems bulkier than other reels on our list.
The 350 model (best for 5wt rods) weighs 5.1 oz unloaded and has one of the larger arbors in our list. The Cheeky Boost also uses vented spools to dry out backing quickly.
The drag system of the Cheeky Boost reel has some pros and cons. It boasts 4lbs of drag pressure, enough for any trout you might encounter in the river, and has a stiff enough drag adjustment knob to keep the desired pressure in place.
The big drawback of this reel is the poor sensitivity in the drag range.
The biggest asset of this reel and what sets it apart from all others is the incredible line retrieval. The spin is incredible and is attributed to the large arbor and exemplary bearing system.
Cheeky also donates a portion of the price to trout conservation programs.
Hatch Finatic 4^
The Hatch Finatic is visually stunning, and its sharpness makes it seem to be some device used for hunting rather than a fishing reel.
The Finatic 4 weighs 5.2oz and provides excellent balance with both 5 and 6wt fly rods.
Hatch Finatic 4
With the durability of this reel you’ll be able to fish for years without a switch.
The reel offers excellent line retrieval with a large, metal handle and large arbor. The spin on the reel during retrieval is not as efficient, so you will not be able to pick up the slack line as quickly as with Ross Cimarron II or Cheeky Boost.
The Finatic 4 also employs an excellent drag system although the drag pressure maxes out at a little over 2.2lbs. In reality, this pressure is enough to handle most fish, but if you do encounter one of those once in a lifetime trout some palm may be needed.
The Finatic’s drag adjustment knob can be difficult to adjust. This may be cumbersome when handling fish, but it does provide a lot of stability that your drag will not be adjusted unknowingly when traveling or hiking.
The drag system is extremely smooth with little start up inertia needed to initiate the drag quelling your fears of breaking off from a big trout.
The Hatch Finiatic 4 is one of the pricier reels on our list, but its durability and performance give you a reel that will land fish for years to come. When I say durable I mean durable!
Alright, for the most part, the reels listed so far are still a pretty penny, and most new anglers just are not comfortable parting ways with that much cash.
Because of this, the Piscifun Sword has made our list. If you’re going to go the cheaper route, this reel still provides most of the qualities seen in the previously listed reels.
The best fly reel under $100. Perfect for beginners and anglers on a budget!
The Piscifun Sword reel is mid arbor and has ventilation in the frame for the backing area. It weighs in at 4.7oz, so balance is not an issue.
It is made from high-grade aluminum and will withstand hard days in the field as well as most of the reels already discussed. The main drawbacks for this reel are not of the material or design but in the drag system.
The drag system for this reel uses both stainless steel and cork discs. The problem with cork is it does not provide the same stopping power and tends to wear quicker than other materials.
The smoothness of the drag is fair and honestly, to the novice angler you are not going to tell much difference between it and more high priced reels. The drag adjustment knob also has the tendency to be “knocked” out of place fairly easily.
Besides these drawbacks, and it is a stretch calling them drawbacks, the reel has a good drag range and the adjustment knob is easy to handle even while working fish.
The Sword is a very good reel but just falls a little short in the drag system that makes other reels on this list great. And for the price difference, you should be okay with that.
Wrapping Up Our Top Fly Reels Guide^
Looking for the perfect reel can be daunting given the number of reel models that are available.
Labeling the single best reel for fly fishing is also near impossible since personal preference plays such a major part and the types of fishing available all affect the type of reel needed.
In this article, I have outlined and discussed ten great reels for the traditional fly fishing tackle.
I hope to have also outlined some of the most important characteristics often associated with a high-quality fly rod that you can carry with you through your angling adventures.
In the end, getting your hands on these reels and experiencing them in the field for yourself will show you what your personal preferences are for the best fly reel for trout.