The best fly reel for trout is the one you don’t worry about. Plan for the worst with your other gear, but not having to second guess your reel makes fly fishing a little less stressful. A reel has three jobs: storage, retrieval, and drag. Though limited, these tasks are vital to your success as a fly angler. Failure in any can mean the end of your day on the water. Many fly reels fulfill these objectives. The best will do so effortlessly and combine intangibles that help them stand out in a crowded market. Here we highlight our favorite reels for fly fishing for trout.
Best Fly Reels for Trout Fishing: Quick Picks
Don't mistake ultralight for cheap or flimsy. Abel's TR is anything but. When you need to shave ounces to pursue the most pristine fisheries, you'll be glad you have a reel like Abels that can hold its own.
Best Fly Reels for Trout Fishing: Full Reviews
Well-known for high-performing, popular fly fishing reels, Waterworks Lamson offers their Remix in two colors (glacier and smoke) and sizes -3+ to -9+. The reel case is machined aluminum, providing stability and confidence, while the spool is die-cast for unparalleled design and performance. As a bonus, the spool is compatible with Waterworks Lamson Liquid fly reels adding flexibility to a fly reel designed to meet high expectations. At $219, the Waterson Lamson Remix should be in any discussion for the best trout reel.
- Weight: Less than 5 ounces (-3+ 4.29 oz, -5+ 4.54 oz)
- Sealed Conical Drag
- U-shaped arbor
Classic design meets modern innovation: Sage has been repeating this approach since its inception. The Sage Trout reel combines a timeless aesthetic with a performance-focused design that any angler can appreciate. The key attributes that make the Sage Trout such an impressive reel are:
- The Sealed Carbon System SCS drag puts carbon durability in a sealed drag system.
- A single-revolution drag knob with numbers so that you never have to wonder about your drag again.
- A concave arbor increases stability and capacity.
- One of the most durable, high-performing fly reels packaged in a classic style that you'd swear was out of some 1940s catalog. Specifically designed to fit trout-specific rods, the Sage Trout comes in two traditional colors: bronze and silver.
- Sealed Carbon System Drag
- Single Revolution Drag Knob
- Concave Arbor
With its Clearwater reel, Orvis uses die-cast manufacturing to support an introductory price point ($98-$119). Cast reels may not receive much credit compared to fully machined reels, but Orvis compensates with a smooth, steady Carbon®-to-stainless, stacked disc drag system. The result is a good trout reel perfect for beginners or an extra reel for a more seasoned angler. Leave it to a brand like Orvis to design a reel that performs without breaking the bank.
- Fresh design with a stealthy matte-gray powder-coat finish
- Carbon®-to-stainless, stacked disc drag
- Affordable cast design
Temple Fork Outfitters' NTR reel system caters to the angler who follows the KISS rule. Simplicity is at the heart of these reels. In fact, NTR stands for 'No Tools Required.' Though simple in design. The TFO NTR is made of high-quality aluminum and is CNC machined, so it will be as durable as it is easy to use.
- No tools are required for adjustment and maintenance
- CNC Machined with lightweight 6061-T6 aluminum
- Easy left/ right retrieve adjustment
Designed explicitly for tight line, European-style nymphing, the SAGE ESN makes handling thin-diameter lines a breeze. The narrow reel and large arbor allow for quick line pickup during retrieval. Line control is critical when euro-nymphing; the ESN ensures that you always know where the line is while trying to remain in contact with the bottom of the river. Despite its euro-nymph focus, the ESN is also an acceptable option for other techniques, giving the reel versatility, which is never bad on the water.
- Sealed carbon fiber drag system
- Frame option keeps tippet from sneaking through the reel
- A unique balance system allows for total control
Line control is vital when it comes to Euro-style nymphing. The adjustable balance system on Redington's Tilt aims to keep anglers in control. This award-winning reel design is machined with a full frame that holds the thin line exactly where it needs to be. Once you detect that uber-subtle strike, the Tilt's carbon fiber drag system lends sturdy and smooth resistance to help you land the trout before your tippet is toast.
- Carbon fiber drag
- Fully machined, full-frame narrow large arbor design
- Three one-ounce removable weight system
Who says simple can't be sophisticated? The Abel TR is a celebrated click and pawl reel that is anything but low-brow. The machined reel uses an integrated, precision-balanced clicker that proves a smooth, stable drag without the need for counterweights. Machined stainless steel details are what you'd expect from Abel, and the large arbor design helps you get the line back quickly. Add the exquisite accents and decorations that grace so many Abel reels, and you'll understand why this reel makes our list.
- A limited number of machined parts ensures a lifetime of dependable use
- Ported frame for the perfect balance of weight, sound, and look
- Made in Montrose, Colorado, USA
The best reels need to be rugged and easy to use. The Waterworks Lamson Guru fits the bill. Designed to be as lightweight as possible while still proving excellent performance, the Guru is a perennial top reel for trout anglers. Like other Waterworks Lamson reels, the Guru is compatible with similar Waterworks-Lamson spools, specifically the Guru HD. This gives the Guru reel a saltwater option in a pinch. Trout reels will run between -3+ to -7+ and come in a variety of colors. Confidence, effortlessness, and visual appeal, what more do you need to reach a state of troutvana?
- Machined 6061 Aluminum, Stainless Steel
- Type II Anodized finish
- Large Arbor and 6 x 6 x 4 dimensions
Not every angler is content to chase beaver ponds brookies. Some get their blood pumping by coaxing beasts out of the darkest bends of rivers. For those trophy hunters, there is the Redington Behemoth. The behemoth boasts a burly carbon fiber drag system providing a counter punch to the biggies under the far bank. These reels are designed with performance and value in mind, as is all gear produced under the Redington brand.
- Large-arbor spool
- carbon fiber drag
- affordable reel ranging from a five-weight and up
Timeless design for the simple art of fly fishing, the Orvis Battenkill Click & Pawl is what trout fishing is all about. The simple design blends form with function, combining the internally adjusted click-and-pawl drag system with the delicate, timeless aesthetic that only Orvis can provide. The Battenkill is machined aluminum, and its narrow design helps the pickup line avoid bunching. The reel is perfect with a $200 fiberglass rod or $2,000 bamboo masterpiece, any angler will love it, and the Orvis Battenkill is a must to have if you fish freshwater.
- Left or right retrieve
- Narrow spool construction
- Four-position internally adjusted drag system
Fly Reel Buyers’ Guide: Things to Consider
Weight of Fly Reels
When considering the best fly reel for trout, look to match reel weights with the corresponding type of fly fishing you do. It goes without saying that the weight of your reel will also be compatible with the rod and line you choose as well.
Most trout reels run in the three and seven-weight range. Small creeks and feisty brook trout are well suited to three and four-weight reels. A seven-weight reel will work great with the heavier rod and line if you’re pursuing trophy trout and throwing large streamers. The standard, all-around trout rig is a five to six-weight outfit.
TROUT REEL WEIGHTS
3-4 weight | creeks and ponds for small trout
5-6 weight | all-around trout rods capable of typical trout fishing applications, along with small to medium-size streamer fishing
7 weight | trophy trout and stillwater, large-diameter line benefit from a wider reel
A Note on Measured Weight
While most modern outdoor products aim to be very light in actual weight (ounces, pounds, etc.), consider how this affects your rig’s overall balance when choosing a fly reel for your rod. For example, having a featherweight reel attached to a three-weight fiberglass rod can be a fun experience, but add a similar reel to a seven-weight casting articulated streamers and you lack a counterbalance for the added heft at the tip of your rod. The result is likely early exhaustion and probably a sore shoulder. Keep this in mind and consider trying out a reel on your planned rod before fully committing to purchasing.
Construction of Fly Reels
Fly reels need to be durable. Reels must survive bouncing off rocks and resist deterioration from baking in the sun. Reels are made from light, rigid materials like aluminum and are machined from a single block of metal or manufactured in a die-cast. In many cases, including some of our picks above, fly reels may be die-cast but also have machined parts.
Though modern innovations and techniques have narrowed the dependability gap between machined and die-cast reels, there remain some advantages to machined reels. For example, CNC or Computer Numerical Control machining tools can produce very light reels with incredibly smooth surfaces. The smooth surfaces allow for the real to be anodized, further protecting the real and creating a suitable surface to accept colorful decorations and accents.
For a trout fisherman, what matters is not necessarily how the reel was produced but rather the functionality of the design itself. Reels all look pretty much the same. However, upon comparison, some are tall and thin while others are wider. For instance, we can describe the classic look of the Sage Trout or Orvis Battenkill as tall and thin. These reels collect and stack line resulting in faster line pickup. A wider reel, like the Lamson Guru, allows for a flatter, more even retrieval of line. This type of reel is helpful if an angler utilizes large diameter, floating line where the line bunches up on top of itself may result in the line contacting the outer edge of the reel and creating jamming issues.
An arbor is the cylinder at the center of a fly reel that holds the backing and line. One may use an arbor knot to attach the backing to the arbor. The arbor’s value comes into play when a fly anglers want to retrieve line quickly. Coupled with the retrieving speed of the reel, the width of the arbor corresponds positively to line pickup. If the arbor is narrow, an angler will need to make more reel rotation to retrieve a certain amount of line compared to if the arbor is wider.
Today, most reels list having a large arbor to increase line pickup, but is this increase in line retrieval necessary in trout fishing? It depends.
A large arbor is helpful if you plan to have a significant line out or the potential for a large trout running with a lot of your line. I prefer large arbor reels when fly fishing stillwater because trout have space to run. It is also nice to pick up line when swinging streamers in larger rivers. However, a large arbor doesn’t come into play when fly fishing small creeks or ponds for smaller wild trout. Standard arbors will suffice in these small-stream cases. When comparing reels, you may see the acronym ‘LA’ for a large arbor or ‘SA’ for standard.
Capacity of Fly Reels
The primary job of a fly reel is to carry the fly line needed for fly fishing. Most fly line is between 80 and 100 feet long. Coupled with a length of Dacron backing, your fly reel acts as a storage system, a line organizer, and a way to release and retrieve line in a controlled manner.
When choosing a fly reel for trout, ensure that the capacity will handle the fly line. Consider the length of the line, along with a section of backing, which may be between 50 and 150 yards long. Keep in mind that the diameter of your line will affect the capacity of line a reel can handle. Overloading a fly reel can result in hang-ups and deeply embedded tangles that affect your fly fishing and risk a nice fish at an inopportune moment.
Should you find your fly reel is overloaded, consider shortening the length of backing. While it is always great to dream about a fish peeling off 100 yards of backing, in practice, a trout that takes you to your backing is unlikely to be landed, anyway. Increasing your capacity by reducing your backing length will help improve line management overall.
The funny thing about trout is that they aren’t too keen on getting caught. I know, shocker.
As soon as a trout realizes they are hooked, it will take off. They dive and dart and leap into the air in every attempt to free themselves from their predicament. Without applying consistent pressure to the fish, the trout can escape. Using resistance to control the fish allows the angler to play the fish enough to land it. Fish are energetic and strong in their domain and can easily make a run and snap the line. A significant benefit of fly reels is administering smooth resistance to the trout and keeping the hook in place until the trout is willing to be coaxed to a net.
Fly reel drag systems provide adjustable resistance when battling trout. Drag systems can be divided into two categories: click and disc. Click drag systems, are straightforward systems that utilize a small reel component, known as a pawl, to push against the reel’s spool to create drag. This pressure can be made with an adjustable knob or simply by force created by the angler’s palm.
Disc drags are pads that do the same thing as the pawl. Disc drags push up against the spool, creating pressure to slow the line’s release. In the case of disc drag systems, the reels are adjusted with a knob on the reel. Disc drag pads are made with various materials, the least expensive being plastic, and the higher-performance reels are composed of cork and carbon fiber. As an angler, the goal of any drag is to provide a smooth and consistent drag to keep pressure on a fish to guide them to the net. Without this smooth braking system, a sudden burst of energy will snap your line, and your fish will be lost.
Final Thoughts on Fly Reels for Trout
You can pack an extra rod and a patch kit for your waders, but the best fly reel for trout is the one that is durable, consistent, and heck, it better look good too. No, it’s not too much to ask for your reel to be bomb-proof. You’ve got plenty of other things to think about. So when your focus is on the fish, the best fly reels will keep it there.