Best Budget Fly Reels (Cheap Fly Reel for Beginners)

Over the years, I've learned what specs truly matter and what to look out for on a reel to ensure it lasts. This article includes an in-depth look at the features and characteristics you should look for in the best budget fly fishing reel.
best budget fly reels

Fly Fisher Pro is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the best budget fly fishing reels on the market. Yes, there are hundreds of other options available, but the reels on this list come from reputable manufacturers, and I’ve had extensive experience with all of them.

I’ve been fly fishing for most of my life. Only recently, I’ve had the luxury of owning more premium fly fishing equipment. This means that I have a considerable amount of experience with budget equipment, including reels.

Image Product Details  
flyfisherpro-table__imageBest DragLamson Liquid
  • Versatile
  • Concealed Drag System
  • Great Performance
Check Today's Price
flyfisherpro-table__imageBest OverallRedington Behemoth
  • Great Spool Design
  • Can Handle Heavy Fish
  • Incredible Performance
Check Today's Price
flyfisherpro-table__imageBest DesignOrvis Clearwater
  • Die Cast Aluminum
  • Perfect Fly Rod Balance
  • Powerful Drag
Check Today's Price
flyfisherpro-table__imageBest SaltwaterEcho Bravo
  • Saltwater Ready
  • Carbon Fibre Disc Drag
  • Solid Aluminum Alloy Construction
Check Today's Price
flyfisherpro-table__imageBest ValueCheeky Preload
  • Great For Beginners
  • Stainless Steel Disc Drag
  • One Year Warranty
Check Today's Price
flyfisherpro-table__imageBest LightweightSage Spectrum C
  • Machined Die-Cast Frame
  • Eexclusive-to-Sage Drag System
  • Perfect For Trout Fishing
Check Today's Price
flyfisherpro-table__imageBest For TroutTemple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label
  • Lightweight
  • Beginner Friendly
  • Lifetime Warranty
Check Today's Price
flyfisherpro-table__imageBest BudgetPfleuger Trion
  • Very Affordable
  • Durable
  • Perfect For Tarpon
Check Today's Price

Lamson Liquid

lamson liquid

Available at:

Specs:

  • Available models: four models covering 3 to 10 weight applications
  • Available colors: Smoke (a light gunsmoke color) and vapor (light olive)
  • Drag system: Sealed conical drag
  • Claimed weight (5 weight): 4.65oz
  • Backing capacity (5 weight): 100 yards 20lb dacron
  • Width (5 weight): 1″
  • Diameter (5 weight): 3.61″

Pros:

  • The Liquid’s most critical components (the drag) are machined in the US. The reel is also assembled in the US
  • The conical drag is small, light, and well-sealed
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons:

  • The Liquid is constructed using the die-cast method. To some anglers, this might signal cheap or inferior quality; however, with the modern techniques used, the reel performs really well.

Waterworks Lamson has always been a synonym for advanced lightweight freshwater reels. Although the Liquid is their most affordable offering, it’s encouraging to see that Lamson strives still to deliver a quality product at this price point.

One method manufacturers use to keep costs down is to die-cast their frames and spools. Lamson took this process one step further and engineered the design to optimize this casting process. This process allows them to create details in the reels that aren’t possible with CNC machines.

The frames and spools are cast in the East and then shipped to the US, where Lamson manufactures the rest of the parts. The Liquid is then further machined and assembled right next to their more expensive reels.

The Liquid also uses Lamson’s conical drag system, which provides the same drag torque as conventional stacked disc systems. One benefit of the conical system is that it is smaller, lighter, and easier to seal.

The Liquid comes with a reel case to protect your reel when traveling and a lifetime warranty to the original owner.

Lamson also offers the Liquid in a 3-pack. This option is ideal if you regularly switch between different fly lines as it comes with two extra spools.

For reviews of all Lamson Reels see our full breakdown here.

Redington Behemoth

redington behemoth

Available at:

Specs:

  • Available models: five models covering all fishing applications between 4 and 12 weight
  • Available colors: black, gunmetal, desert (like a sand color), O.D. green (dark olive), and hunter (orange)
  • Drag system: carbon fiber disc drag
  • Claimed weight (5 weight): 5.7oz
  • Backing capacity (5 weight): 125 yards of 20lb dacron
  • Width (5 weight): not specified
  • Diameter (5 weight): 3.6″

Pros:

  • A solid and dependable reel at a great price
  • Budget 12wt reel
  • Large backing capacity
  • Great color options
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons:

  • Quite heavy
  • Die-cast construction. Once again, this is not a big issue as there are no clearance issues.

The Redington Behemoth has been around for quite some time, and it still remains one of the best budget fly reels on the market. Especially when you’re targeting larger predatory fish and the lightest piece of kit isn’t of utmost importance.

Similar to the Lamson Liquid above, the Behemoth is made from die-cast aluminum. One of the best aesthetical features of the Behemoth is that it’s available in a wide range of colors.

The Behemoth’s drag is solid and dependable thanks to a fully sealed carbon fiber stacked system. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly saltwater reel or a backup for an upcoming Bonefishing trip, the Behemoth is a great choice.

Redington ships the reel with a nylon reel case, and it comes with a full lifetime warranty to the original owner.

For our full Redington Behemoth Review see our post here.

Orvis Clearwater

orvis clearwater

Available at:

Specs:

  • Available models: two models covering the 4 to 9 weight range
  • Available colors: matte grey powder coat finish
  • Drag system: carbon and stainless steel disc drag
  • Claimed weight (5 weight): 5.4oz
  • Backing capacity (5 weight): not disclosed
  • Width (5 weight): not disclosed
  • Diameter (5 weight): 3.5″

Pros:

  • Hard to beat under $100
  • It comes in the two most popular reel sizes, 4-6 and 7-8

Cons:

  • Die-cast construction

Orvis as a brand needs no introduction; they are to flyfishing what bread is to butter. Their Clearwater is an exceptional low-cost freshwater reel that suits most fishing applications perfectly.

The Clearwater is constructed using the die-cast method, allowing Orvis to keep costs down. After fishing with the reel for a day, I must say that it feels solid, and all tolerances are in check. The reel has a tasteful matte gey finish that I like.

The drag torque is generated by stacked carbon fiber and stainless steel washers. If kept clean, saltwater, and dirt-free, this system will provide you with many years of dependable service. The torque generated by the Clearwater isn’t groundbreaking, but that’s not what you need. I found the reel smooth, and it has ample stopping power for most freshwater applications.

Orvis also supplies the Clearwater reel in their Clearwater combo. This complete outfit comes with a Clearwater rod, reel, and a floating fly line and is the perfect option if you’re a beginner fly angler.

For our full Orvis Clearwater Reel Review see our post here.

Echo Bravo

echo-bravo

Available at:

Specs:

  • Available models: three models covering all 7 to 12 weight applications
  • Available colors: Black
  • Drag system: Stacked carbon fiber and stainless steel discs
  • Claimed weight (7 weight): 8.5oz
  • Backing capacity (7 weight): 200 yards
  • Width (7 weight): 1.25″
  • Diameter (7 weight): 4.25″

Pros:

  • Possible to take the reel apart completely and service all parts
  • Good backing capacity

Cons:

  • Only available in large sizes
  • Only a 12-month warranty

If you’re looking for a budget-conscious saltwater fly reel, the Echo Brave should be on your radar. One of the main selling points of the reel is that all components are serviceable and reachable by you, the owner. In his “how-to” video, Tim Rajeff takes you through the entire process, pointing out potential snags. What I appreciate about this video is his honesty about which components you should look after the most. They don’t sugarcoat the reel with marketing jargon; they say it as it is.

There are three models in the Bravo lineup. The most popular one will most probably be the 7-9 weight version. This reel will also make for an excellent freshwater fishing tool for species line golden dorado, carp, big bass, and salmon.

The Bravo’s spool has ample porting, allowing your backing and fly line to dry more effectively after a day on the water. The reel has a black finish with a red cone that covers the drag system.

All in all, the Bravo is an excellent choice for the beginner angler looking to target bigger fish.

For our full Orvis Echo Bravo Reel Review see our post here.

Cheeky Preload

cheeky preload

Available at:

Specs:

  • Available models: three models covering 2 to 8 weight applications
  • Available colors: Black
  • Drag system: stacked disc drag
  • Claimed weight (5 weight): 4.4oz
  • Backing capacity (5 weight): not disclosed
  • Width (5 weight): 0.9″ inner measurement
  • Diameter (5 weight): 3.5″

Pros:

  • It comes preloaded with backing and fly line
  • The reel is very light

Cons:

  • Die-cast body
  • One year warranty

The Cheeky Preload takes the term value for money to the next level. It’s hard to find good fly reels under $100, let alone one spooled with backing and a fly line. Yes, the line might not be a brand new Rio Gold Intouch, but if you’re a newcomer to fly fishing, this is an ideal option.

The Preload is available in three models. The Preload 300 is perfect for line weights 2-4, making it ideal for the small stream trout angler. The 350 model is perhaps the most versatile option, best suited for 5 and 6 weight rods, making it suitable for all trout applications. The Preload 375 covers the 7 and 8 weight applications and is perfect for bass and carp.

Cheeky uses the die-cast process to construct the preload, whereafter it is run through a CNC machine. The alternating carbon fiber and stainless steel disc drag provide more than enough stopping power.

The Preload is shipped in a reel case and comes with a one-year warranty.

Sage Spectrum C

sage spectrum c

Available at:

Specs:

  • Available models: 4 models ranging from 3 to 10 weight
  • Available colors: grey, black, and copper
  • Drag system: sealed carbon disc drag
  • Claimed weight (5 weight): 4.875oz
  • Backing capacity (5 weight): 100 yards of 20lb dacron
  • Width (5 weight): 1.31″
  • Diameter (5 weight): 3.63″

Pros:

  • Lightweight for its price
  • Calibrated drag knob
  • Lifetime warranty to the original owner

Cons:

  • Die-cast construction

The Spectrum C is Sage’s most affordable reel. Don’t let this deter you, though, as many of the features found in their more expensive options trickled their way down, making the Spectrum C great value for money

The reel is built with die-cast aluminum and finished with a grey powder coating. Sage really opened up the Spectrum C to a wide range of anglers, making the reels suitable for most fishing applications from 2 to 10 weight.

One of the best things about the Spectrum C is its drag. It’s a single revolution drag, which means it goes from free spool to maximum torque in a single turn. The cherry on top of the cake? This drag is calibrated from 1 to 10, which means you can pre-adjust your drag for a specific tippet material and not be afraid that it will break.

The Spectrum comes in three color combinations, all of which have the same grey powder-coated frame and spool. The color options are black, grey, and copper, each of which changes the color of the drag knob and handle.

The Spectrum C comes with a lifetime warranty to the original owner and is shipped with a neoprene reel pouch. If you’re looking for a fly fishing reel that’s easy on the wallet but will last you many years, this is it.

For our full Sage Spectrum Reel Review see our post here.

Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label

TFO NXT Black Label

Available at:

Specs:

  • Available models: three models ranging from 4 to 8 weight
  • Available colors: black
  • Drag system: stacked alternating disc system
  • Claimed weight (5 weight): 4.6oz
  • Backing capacity (5 weight): 100 yards
  • Width (5 weight): 0.98″
  • Diameter (5 weight): 3.38″

Pros:

  • Lightweight for the price
  • It comes in the most popular fly reel sizes
  • Lifetime warranty to the original owner

Cons:

  • It doesn’t have a very large arbor design
  • Die-cast construction

The TFO Black Label NXT is one of the most affordable fly reels out there, yet I still feel comfortable recommending it to newcomers. TFO warranty and after-sales service are solid, and they’ve been around for a good number of years. That’s the sort of thing you’re looking for when buying a piece of fly fishing gear.

Similar to all the reels in this article, the NXT is manufactured using the die-cast technique. It has a stacked carbon fiber and stainless steel drag system, providing ample stopping power for most freshwater applications.

The NXT is available in three models, covering line weights from 4 to 8, making it ideal for trout, bass, and salmon.

Temple Fork Outfitters ship the NXT Black Label with a neoprene pouch and offer a lifetime warranty to the original owner.

If you’re just starting out, TFO also offers the Black Label NXT as a complete outfit. This kit includes the NXT Black Label rod, reel, backing, and fly line. These kits are available in 5wt and 8wt options.

For reviews of all TFO Fly Rod Reviews see our full breakdown here.

Pfleuger Trion

Pfleuger Trion

Available at:

Specs:

  • Available models: five models covering all fishing scenarios from 2 to 12 weight
  • Available colors: black and silver
  • Drag system: disc drag
  • Claimed weight (5 weight): 6.1oz
  • Backing capacity (5 weight): 50 yards
  • Width (5 weight): 0.94″
  • Diameter (5 weight): 3.25″

Pros:

  • Very affordable

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Die-cast construction
  • Low backing capacity

Although the Pfleuger Trion won’t be my first choice as a fly reel, it certainly gets the job done, is affordable, and lasts well.

The Trion is available in five models, covering a a very wide range of fishing scenarios from 2 to 12 weights. In all honesty, I would only consider this reel in the 2 to 6 weight range. I would, for instance, not recommend the Pfleuger Trion if you’re regularly going tarpon fishing.

The Trion is a die-cast constructed reel, is quite heavy, and has a low backing capacity.

how to choose

How to Choose the Best Budget Fly Reel

Price

Before looking at exactly what characteristics and features to look for, let’s first ask: What is a budget fly reel? The term “budget” might mean something different to you than to me. For some other anglers who are well blessed, “budget” might mean anything under $500.

In the list of fly reels above, I tried to stick to reels under $150 for consistency. These fly reels offer great value to both beginners and experienced anglers and will get the job done without holding you back.

Construction Method and Material

In the broad sense, frames and spools of fly reels are made either by machining bar stock aluminum or die-cast aluminum. Each of these techniques has its own set of pros and cons. I won’t cover CNC machining in detail but want to mention that one of the most significant advantages of the die-cast process is that it’s cheap to do.

For this reason, all the reels in the list above are made using this technique. In some cases, these reels are then refined by skimming off excess material in a CNC, but the foundation remains the same.

Now in the last decade, die-cast reels have come a long way. I remember the old versions were off-balance, had poor tolerances, and broke easily when dropped. New technological advances in metallurgy and casting techniques have significantly improved this process.

Modern die-cast reels are strong, resilient, and have good tolerances while retaining their cheap manufacturing cost.

To the frustration of some, you’ll notice that I marked die-cast construction as a negative point, although what I’ve written above contradicts this. The only reason I did this is that there are still many anglers who believe die-cast equals poor quality.

Drag System Type

Drag System Type

The three main types of drag systems used in fly reels are discs, conical, and cork. For the purpose of this article, I’ll leave cork drags out as they aren’t used in most budget fly reels. Let’s have a look at the other two systems.

Disc Drag Systems

The drag system comprises two or more discs that rub against each other. The harder these washers are pulled against one another, the more stopping power the drag can deliver. On most budget fly reels, the materials used are carbon fiber and stainless steel.

Conical Drag Systems

The conical drag system uses two cones that fit into each other. The same principle applies in this system in that the harder the two cones are pulled into each other, the more torque it generates. The reason they use cones is that the frictional area is much greater.

The only fly reel on our list with a conical drag system is the Lamson Liquid.

Sealing of the Drag System

The quality of the seal in the drag system is one of the biggest differentiating factors between a budget and a premium fly reel. To keep manufacturing costs down of budget fly reels, manufacturers simply cannot afford to include complex seals and materials into these fly reels.

So this is one of my biggest pieces of advice, which I’ve learned the hard way numerous times. Do not use any fly reel under $300 in saltwater, even if the manufacturer says you can get away with it. Saltwater will find its way into the drag and corrode everything in there, even if it is stainless steel.

fly reel weight

Fly Reel Weight

One of the features that get blown out of proportion lately is the weight of a fly reel. Instead, I want you to, once again, look at the bigger picture. In this case, look at your entire rig. If you’re using a G Loomis Asquith, you’ll probably need a super light fly reel. In that case, you probably won’t be looking at a budget reel in any way.

A fly reel has an often overlooked purpose. It has to balance your fly fishing rig. Now, if you’re using an entry-level rod like an Echo base, the chances are that a super lightweight reel won’t balance it well.

Keep that in mind when buying a reel, and you won’t be disappointed.

For more selection on fly reel weights see the following reviews:

Diameter

One of the things I love the most about modern fly reels is the ultra-large arbors. A large arbor helps you pick up line quicker which helps when a fish runs straight at you. It also reduces line memory when you store your gear for extended periods.

p.s. If your line has extreme memory, you should go fishing more often.

Conclusion

I hope that this article made it easier to choose the best budget fly reel. I’m confident that any reel in the list above will serve you well for many years to come. If it was my choice alone, I would go for either the Lamson Liquid or Sage Spectrum for all trout applications. The Redington Behemoth, in my view, wins hands down for all big fish applications.

Please let us know if you’ve had any experiences, good or bad, with the reels above. Also, what reels you would recommend.

Until next time

Save Up To 50% At Trident Fly Fishing

We’ve partnered with Trident Fly Fishing to get you EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNTS on a huge selection of fly fishing gear. I highly recommend checking out their USED GEAR SECTION to save a ton on a premium rod and reel.

Trident Fly Fishing Deal

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top