The fly fishing reel holds our fly line and includes a drag system that helps us slow a fish that wants to make a run. A good fly reel will properly balance the fly rod and line, have a sealed drag system, and low start-up inertia. Take a look at our fly fishing reel recommendations here.
Matching the rod and line weight should be the primary objective in choosing a fly reel. A light 2/3 weight reel placed on a 7 weight rod is going to feel cumbersome and heavy toward the tip of the rod.
Conversely, a heavy 7/8 weight reel attached to a 3 weight rod will feel heavy toward the reel. The most enjoyable and best performing arrangements will strike the balance. For example, pairing a 5/6 weight reel on a 5 weight rod and line will balance nicely, while providing optimal performance.
The sealed drag system is what sets apart the best from the rest, and will keep grit and muck sealed out. Without a sealed drag, foreign bits of dirt can work their way into critical areas and lock up the drag.
For new anglers, it may seem simple enough to keep an unsealed reel up out of the sand and dirt. But at some point every fly caster lets their reel descend to the bottom of the stream while untangling their rod tip, tying on a new fly, or trying to net a nice fish.
One way or the other, an unsealed drag will begin to collect foreign material. It may last a few seasons, but the fragility of an unsealed drag system can manifest through catastrophic failure at the worst moment.
Start-up inertia is much less important for most applications. This simply means the energy required to have the drag system let line out, instead of in.
This really only becomes essential if an angler was fishing with very lightweight leader or tippet. Due to the low breaking strength of light tippet, the reel needs to provide consistent resistance if the fish makes a big run.
Most reels of any quality are reversible to accommodate both left and right handed casters, but make sure you check for this feature. A right handed caster will want to retrieve line with their left hand and vice versa.
Beware of cheap reels. There are some great looking inexpensive fly reels out there, and some are decent quality. But the drag systems of most cheap reels consist of vastly inferior components that will not perform like a good drag system, which could cost you a trophy fish. If you’re looking for a fly fishing reel, don’t be misled by the flashy external appearance of an inexpensive reel.