If you’ve spent any time saltwater fishing, you’re well aware of the wear and tear it puts on your gear. Saltwater can ruin expensive fishing gear within one season if you don’t properly clean everything.
Thankfully, there are saltwater-specific fly reels that will withstand the power of the fish you’re catching and not corrode after one season.
We’ve tested and reviewed 11 saltwater fly reels to help you make the best decision.
Best Saltwater Fly Reel: Quick Picks
The Mako Model 9500 is an amazing reel with the durability and precision that you need on a saltwater fly reel.
Anglers on a budget have been loving the Behemoth for years. It continues to surprise anglers every time they use it.
Best Saltwater Fly Reels: Full Reviews
In terms of saltwater fly fishing gear, few brands are more reputable than Abel. The Abel SDS 7/8 weight is a powerful and heavy-duty model that's up for the majority of the challenges you put in its way. Where the reel stands out is in its design. The sharp contrast of colors and the corrosion-resistant material are beautiful! Beware, however, the basic model is around $900, and the higher model is around $1400. If you want a warranty, you can get a lifetime warranty for $20!
- The Abel SDS weighs 8.9 ounces
- The SDS has a 25lb max drag
- The retrieval rate has a pickup line of 9.4 inches per turn
Mako Reel Company makes a phenomenal fly fishing reel. Right off the bat, it's important to know that these reels are similar to a decent mortgage payment. The models are going to cost you between $1400 and $2400. However, the drag system is better than almost every reel on the market. It's a sealed, carbon fiber drag system and is perfect for a saltwater reel. Saltwater fish are powerful and the 9500 model pairs well with 9 to 11-weight rods.
- Fully Sealed with o-rings, proprietary carbon/Teflon lip seals
- 11.7 ounces
- One turn-stop drag system
Ross reels are another quality option for saltwater fly anglers. One of the most important features of a saltwater fly reel is the drag system, and the 16-disc sealed drag system is going to give you a chance with most fish you find. You can find these reels ranging from 7-weight to 12-weight! One of the best aspects of this reel is that you're only going to be paying around $800 for one of these reels. It's quite affordable for fly reels.
- The reel ranges from 7.5 oz. to 8.85 oz.
- Type II anodized aluminum
- You'll get 30 pounds of drag pressure
Nautilus fly reels pride themselves on maximizing arbor size and drying time. It's impressive how little material they use to make reels as strong as these. The NV-G models are built on Monster frames and they have a fully sealed disc drag system. The reels range from 6-weight to 12-weight. The CNC machining creates a nice amount of space under the backing, so you're not going to have wet backing that corrodes your reel! The NV-G models are around $700 for a reel.
- You can get upwards of 15 inches per turn
- You can choose brushed titanium or a black anodized finish
- The 8-weight is 7.2oz
If you're interested in an extremely versatile saltwater fly fishing reel, the Spectrum Max model from Sage is for you. Saltwater reels often have a specific use, but the Spectrum Max is equally at home in freshwater as it is in freshwater. The Sealed Carbon Drag package exclusively for Sage is strong and powerful! You can get this model ranging from 5/6-weight to 11/12-weight. For around $500, you're getting a great deal.
- Fully machined with aluminum
- The drag knob has 40 different settings
- The 7/8 model is 7.5oz
The Redington Behemoth fly reel is one of the most affordable fly reels for saltwater species. It's less than $200, and it's able to perform at a high level. Anglers who aren't quite sure if they're interested in saltwater fishing can get all they would need through this reel. The reels range from 4/5 weight to 11/12 weight. It doesn't have the strong max drag that other high end saltwater reels have!
- Die-Cast Aluminum
- Carbon fiber capped drag system
- The 7/8 weight is 7.5oz
The Hardy Fortuna XDS has been a well-respected reel in the world of saltwater fishing. Its best feature is the powerful drag system. It gives anglers 30 pounds of drag, so you are able to fight the majority of fish you hook into. Where the reel runs into some trouble are in its ability to pick up line. It's less than many other reels! At $800, you're getting a high-quality reel with some great features. Hardy is an extremely reputable brand.
- Fully sealed disc drag system
- 6-weight to 12-weight available
- The Hardy Fortuna XDS is 8.8oz
The Lamson Litespeed is a semi-affordable reel with great reliability. Coming in size 8-12, you're able to use it for any style of saltwater fly fishing you're going to be doing. It is also one of the lightest saltwater reels on the market. The 8-weight is 5.7oz, the 10-weight is 6.6oz, and the 12-weight is 8oz. The fully sealed drag system is going to keep the reel in good shape as long as you're able to take care of it after each use. It's powerful, comfortable, and does exactly what you need. You'll get a great reel for around $600.
- Ultra Large Arbor
- Built in the USA
- Index Clicking Drag Knob
For fly fishing equipment, many anglers think of Orvis as more of a freshwater fly fishing company. However, anglers will be pleasantly surprised with the Orvis Hydros fly reel. It's a high-quality reel with a sealed drag, stacked carbon, and stainless steel washers. It's extremely strong and perfect for saltwater fly fishing. The 7-weight through 11-weight reels are perfect for all your saltwater needs. Plus, for only $250, you're getting a great deal.
- The reel ranges between 6.60z and 7.7 oz.
- Matte II anodized finish
- Lifetime warranty
If you want a reel specifically designed to excel in salt water, then the Tibor Riptide should be one of your top options. You'll be getting an American-made reel with all the necessary features to help you land fish. There are 10 different colors to choose from to bring a bit of personality to your setup. For around $700, you can purchase this reel!
- Perfect for 8-10 weight rods
- Fully sealed disc drag system
The Hatch Finatic is another one of those fly reels that's extremely versatile and up for any task that you have. It's great for any fly rod between a 7-weight and a 9-weight. Many anglers find themselves using this on freshwater pike trips as well as saltwater trips! Depending on what you need, the Finatic can do it. You can find these reels for around $600!
- Fully sealed custom drag system
- Made in California
Saltwater Fly Reels: Buyer’s Guide
Choosing the Right Size
Choosing the right size of your fly reel heavily depends on the size of your fly rod. For saltwater fish, you will want to use somewhere between an 8-weight and 14-weight rod (see here for a fly rod weight chart).
Know the size of fish you can land before you make your decision. If you’re fishing inland or smaller saltwater fish, 8-weight to 10-weight rods are good. Large fish require an 11-weight or 12-weight fly rod!
For your reel, you want to make sure it matches the size of your rod. If you’re using a 9-weight rod, you want a 9 or 10-weight reel to ensure everything stays balanced. You can overline your rod if you choose, but make sure the weight of the reel is as balanced as possible. It’s going to make casting and mending easier!
When you’re looking to purchase your saltwater fly reel, you want to make sure it’s reliable. Landing fish in saltwater on a fly rod is no easy task. You will be working hard to find fish, select the proper fly and accurately present it.
You need all of your gear up to the challenge of fighting a strong saltwater fish. Your feel will power your setup, so make sure you’re willing to invest.
Also, saltwater can easily corrode metal. By choosing a fully sealed and anodized aluminum reel, you won’t have to worry as much about your reel breaking down after one or two seasons.
Be sure to fully clean your reel in freshwater after each use to ensure everything stays in great condition. One reel can last a decade if it’s properly cleaned.
You absolutely need to have a fully sealed drag system. These are watertight, so you don’t have to worry about sand and salt getting into the gears and ruining the reel. When it’s fully sealed, you can submerge it under water without worrying about it getting ruined.
You also want to make sure the drag system has enough strength for you. Most powerful drag systems have somewhere around 20 to 30 of drag when it’s fully locked down. That much drag will tire out most fish you’re targeting on a fly rod in saltwater.
Line and Backing Capacity
Line and backing capacity are other important features on your reel. A good saltwater fly reel allows for 100-150 yards of backing and 30 or so yards of fly line. If you have 175 yards of line on your fly reel, that should be enough to land whatever fish you’re targeting.
You may run into a massive fish that will come close to spooling you, tighten that drag, and fight it as best you can. It’s a tricky balance when fishing fish.
Arbor Size/Retrieve Rate
A large arbor reel is a must for any saltwater fly angler. Your line needs nearly 200 yards of line capacity! Also, the retrieval rate can be helpful. If your retrieve rate is around 10 inches, you have a decent amount of line that will be reeled in on each rotation. This is helpful when you’re retrieving your casts and fighting the fish. Take this into consideration when making the purchase.
Saltwater reels are generally a bit heavier than freshwater reels due to their size. Heavy reels don’t always guarantee more quality. For example, the Ross Evolution R Salt reel is only 8.85 ounces, and the Mako Reel is around 11.5 ounces. If you prefer a heavier reel, one around 10 ounces is a good option! A true lightweight reel can be found in Ross or Abel.
It also helps if you know the weight of your fly rod. This way, you’re able to balance it how you would want!
Price is heavily dependent on what you’re able to afford. Fly anglers see their reels as prized possessions and are willing to spend $1000 on them. You can get a great fly reel for around $400, but you can easily spend $1000 more than that if you want. Know your budget, and you’ll likely be able to find something that works for you!
Saltwater fly anglers need to be ready to change. Whether you’re fishing deep structures or throwing flies in the flats, you may want an extra spool that can hold floating or sinking lines. It’s an easy change! If you like your reel, purchase an extra spool instead of an entirely new reel!
Taking Care of Saltwater Fly Fishing Reels
Care for saltwater reels doesn’t have to be overly complicated. After each use, drop it in a bucket of freshwater and reel it in a few times. This will help get fresh water into some areas that need to be rinsed.
After each season, you can unwind all the line and backing from your reel and do a deep clean! This should keep the corrosion from getting to the necessary parts of your reel.
Final Thoughts on the Best Reels for Saltwater Fly Fishing
Saltwater anglers hold their reels in high regard, and they should. The reel gives them a fighting chance against the fish they tie into, and without a quality option, fish can be lost. Take your time with your research, and you’ll find one that fits your needs! Brands like Ross, Lamson, Hatch, and Abel will not fail you!