While rods take the top seat in the fly fishing world, a good fly reel should enhance your angling prowess, helping you to achieve long, ultra-precise casts and fight aggressive fish with confidence.
But with the wealth of reels on offer from major manufacturers, it can be tough to know which one is best for you.
We’d like to help, and below, you’ll find our top picks across weights and water types, giving you honest, concise reviews of some of the best options out there.
Here's a quick glance at the best fly fishing reels available today:
Table of Contents (clickable)
Check out our buying guide for the best fly fishing rods
|Drag: Torque System |
Backing capacity: 125 yards 20#
Material: T6 aluminum
Weight: 4.8 oz.
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Galvan’s Torque fly reels are the stuff of dreams for fly anglers, offering quality and performance that puts them at the top of their wish list year after year.
Machined from lightweight aluminum that’s then tempered to toughen it, the Torque T5 can take whatever real-world abuse you dish out. That’s more important than it sounds: after a long hike to your favorite stream, you don’t want a slippery rock to end your day! You might scratch this strong reel--you may even gouge the spool--but bending, crushing, or breaking are next to impossible.
The Torque’s spool provides plenty of space for backing, and it picks up line at a spritely 7.16 inches per turn. That’s not blazing speed, but it’s more than enough for the fish you’ll be chasing with #5 tackle.
But if there’s a point at which the Torque has no equal, it’s the drag. Stronger than you’ll likely need, it’s easy to set, offering an incredible range of incremental adjustments. Offering satisfying clicks as trout run, it’s got plenty of stopping power should you tie into something a bit oversized, too. And smooth gets redefined by the Torque system--you simply won’t find better at any price!
Not everything’s perfect, though. Some anglers may find the reel’s knob a bit short, but it’s plenty beefy and provides more than sufficient traction for tough fights.
Overall, while not the lightest #5 option out there, the torque’s durability and quality really shine through, making it an easy choice for our top overall slot.
|Drag: Nano CF Drag Disc |
Backing capacity: 130 yards 20#
Weight: 3.9 oz.
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3-Tand bills the TF-50 as an all-arounder, perfect for everything from trout to steelhead. That’s a tall order, but a few minutes in your hand and a few fights under your belt will tell you that the TF-50 lives up to the hype.
At this price point, you wouldn’t expect a reel to challenge high-dollar rivals. But the TF-50’s machined aluminum spool is expertly tempered, providing durability that matches the Torque for a lot less money. It’s also slightly more capacious than its more expensive competition, offering five more yards of 20-pound backing line.
It’s also startlingly lightweight.
Is that a big deal? Not really, but these small details really add up.
The carbon fiber drag system on the TF-50 is awesome, too. It’s very smooth, surrendering only a tad of performance to the Torque, and very easy to adjust. And for a do-it-all reel, you’ll find plenty of stopping power for everything from bass to steelhead.
Sealed against saltwater intrusion, you can fish this reel anywhere, anytime with confidence.
Everything about this reel screams quality, and it has me scratching my head as to how 3-Tand packs so much performance into a reel at this price!
Perfection is impossible, and where this reel falls short of the Torque are on issues like knob feel, drag sound, and drag settings. You simply don’t get the incredible range or power of the Torque.
Is that a deal-breaker? Not in my book!
|Drag: carbon fiber |
Backing capacity: 125 yards 20#
Material: die-cast aluminum
Weight: 5.7 oz.
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Fly fishing is an expensive sport, and if you’re anything like me, when you can shave off a few dollars while retaining high performance, you’ll jump at the chance.
Redington’s Behemoth is a fantastic choice for anglers who can’t (or won’t) throw $300 after a nice reel, and while not the best performer on our list, you certainly won’t be disappointed by what it delivers for the price.
Redington’s arbor is plenty capacious, and its deep V increases the amount of backing line it can hold. For anglers chasing bigger fish, that’s an important point to consider. And while machined aluminum spools dominate the market, there’s nothing wrong with the die-casting process, provided the right alloy is used.
It picks up line pretty quickly, and I really don’t think you’ll feel sluggish when a big trout turns your way.
The Behemoth’s drag is plenty strong enough for monster fish and titanic fights, offering a massive 15 pounds of maximum drag! But it does suffer from a relatively narrow range of settings, with the “lower” half of the dial really turning down the pressure. That’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but don’t expect Torque performance at this price.
The retrieve knob on the Behemoth is well-designed and executed, and it’s among my favorites on our list.
Like the much pricier Torque, don’t expect this reel to be sealed against saltwater intrusion.
Overall, the Behemoth is a solid reel at a very reasonable price. But is it competition for the 3-Tand?
Not even close!
|Drag: dual-action CCF-X2 |
Backing capacity: 200 yards 30#
Weight: 8.6 oz.
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There are plenty of #8, #9, and #10 options on the market, but I really think the Nautilus CCFX2 is among the best reels you can buy.
Nautilus’s previous CCF was good--so good, in fact, that the improvements on the newer model make this an almost unbeatable option for anglers chasing steelhead, reds, and anything else in the salt.
The 5-inch spool offers a ton of capacity for strong backing line, and it picks up 12 inches per turn. That’s quick--quick enough that even the biggest fish will find it a challenge to outpace your retrieve. And it’s as strong and light as you can expect, defying its size with a featherweight feel on your rod.
The CCFX2 comes with a powerful drag to match, providing a jaw-dropping 20 pounds of maximum tension. That’s what I want when I’m trying to turn a bull red, and since it’s easy to adjust on the fly, you can quickly match the setting to the fish on your fly. Six turns bring the drag from practically nothing to its max, and all that room for adjustment lets you micromanage your drag settings, a feature you’ll really appreciate on the water.
I like the knob, too, and it’s great for gripping in hard fights.
Of course, this reel is sealed against saltwater, just as you’d anticipate.
Unfortunately, this reel really shows when it takes a beating, and durability is sub-par. That wouldn’t turn me off to this otherwise awesome reel, however, and I don’t think it should sour you on the CCFX2.
|Drag: sealed conical |
Backing capacity: 35 yards 20#
Material: 6061 aluminum and stainless steel
Weight: 3.87 oz.
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Anglers throwing light lines need a reel to match, and in many cases, it’ll function more as a line holder than a cranking machine. That doesn’t mean that quality and performance don’t matter, but rather that you’re looking for something different from a #3 reel than you are from a #5.
Lamson’s initial Guru was already a great light reel, but the recent improvements make it a very, very good choice for dry flies and light lines. It offers plenty of capacity for backing line, and you won’t feel outgunned for trout on small streams. Not quick by any means, it’s still fast enough for brookies that want to put your angling skills to the test.
Overall build quality is excellent, but this tiny reel can’t stand up to serious abuse. A hard fall on sharp rocks is going to result in damage that’s more than skin deep, so be careful with this little guy!
The drag is smooth and appropriately light since Lamson matches the drag mechanism to the reel. The only downside here is that at the minimum setting, you still get a touch of tension.
Is that a deal-breaker? I don’t think so, and the Guru II is a great dry fly reel and one of the first I’d reach for when outfitting a #3 rod.
As an added bonus, it’s sealed, too!
5wt fly fishing tackle is probably the most widely used, as it’s just right as a Goldilocks option. It’s strong enough for big fish, but light enough for dry flies and beautiful presentations.
As a result, we’ve tilted our list heavily toward that weight.
Over the last few decades, manufacturers have significantly improved how they craft fly reels.
Most quality reels are now machined from a solid block of aluminum, providing unrivaled toughness and strength. And for the most part, few reels these days are die-cast, a process that involves pouring molten metal into a pressure mold. That’s because machining produces superior reels--hands down.
Most of our top picks are machined from aircraft-grade aluminum, tempered to increase durability, and then given a hard-anodized coating to further protect them. The Redington Behemoth is the only exception here, and the die-cast process is the reason that this reel can cost so much less than the competitors.
Does it really matter?
Yes. But you get what you pay for.
Fly fishing may be a delicate art, but the conditions under which it’s practiced are rugged.
From rocks as slick as greased ice to twisted roots just waiting to catch your foot, a fall is almost inevitable. And when you do go down, your reel is going to take a beating.
That’s one reason that machining matters: it results in a tougher reel, all other things being equal. And generally, heavier reels are a bit beefier, soaking up abuse just that much better than ultralight counterparts.
We think it’s a good idea to value durability a bit more than weight, since an ultralight reel that bends on impact isn’t nearly as nice as a more rugged, but heavier option.
Weight matters, of course. And where a heavy reel can alter the feel of the rod in your hands, affecting casting, a light reel can just disappear onto the rod.
We look for the sweet spot between so light that fragility is virtually guaranteed and so heavy that the reel becomes a nuisance.
If there’s a detail where manufacturers are apt to fudge the numbers, it’s in reporting accurate backing capacity.
These numbers matter, and from fighting big fish to picking up the most line with each crank of the handle, more is better. That said, most experts recommend that you use 25 to 50 yards less than the max for the best performance.
Wider spools are generally better performers than narrow options, as they prevent your line from laying over itself and affecting casting. But “wider” is relative, and pure spool measurements don’t really mean anything on their own.
The reels we’ve selected offer relatively wide arbors, and you can count on them to cast well.
Last, but certainly not least, a fly reel’s drag is something to consider carefully.
Most quality reels offer a smooth drag, and that’s not really the point on which to make your choice. There are standouts, like the Torque, but the true test of a drag is its setting range.
Max drag isn’t critical, and you really don’t need very much for most #5 applications. Even for #8/10 applications, just a few pounds, magnified by the bend in your rod, is often enough. But what’s critical is where the tension starts to increase and how many options you have around the sweet spot of 1.5 to 2 pounds.
The more options, the more precise your settings. And stars like the Torque let you dial in just the weight you want, giving you tiny, accurate, incremental changes to drag tension.
Fly fishing reels have come a long way since your grandfather worked his favorite flies for trout. From improvements to the manufacturing process to space-age drag materials, this new breed of reel is leaps and bounds ahead of the options of yesteryear.
We hope that this article has helped you select the right option for you, and if it has, we’d love to hear about it!
Please leave a comment below!