best saltwater fly reels

Best Saltwater Fly Reels

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Are you planning on spending some quality time fly fishing on the salt flats? Maybe you are planning a trip to Florida for Redfish or Bonefish or a massive Tarpon?  

If you love the thrill of saltwater fly fishing, you’re going to need a sturdy, specialized saltwater fly reel that you can rely on! Fishing in the surf can be demanding, so remember saltwater fly reels require some extra power behind them to help you fight and land those huge saltwater fish.

Check out our expert reviews to help you decide what is the best saltwater fly reel for you. From the affordable Piscifun Sword to the flagship Ross Reels Evolution LTX see what our experience fishing guides have to say.

Image Product Details  
flyfisherpro-table__imageBest OverallOrvis Hydros SL
  • Large arbor size
  • Very fast line retrieval
  • Strong but lightweight
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flyfisherpro-table__imageBest BudgetRedington Behemoth
  • Very cool design
  • Affordable price
  • Available in a range of sizes
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flyfisherpro-table__imageMost DurableHardy SDSL
  • Drag system is fully sealed
  • Simple to use and maintain
  • Study and Durable
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saltwater fly reels

If you’re not close to the sea, then we’ve also reviewed some of the best fly fishing reels for freshwater here too. For now on with the reviews:

The Best Saltwater Fly Reels in 2020

Now, onto the reviews of the best saltwater reels on the market now! We always try to cover a wide range of products, so there’s something for everyone. So let’s find out how each of these reels performs and whether it’s the right choice for you in our detailed reviews:

Orvis Hydros SL Saltwater Reel

Orvis Hydros SL

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The Good

  • Large arbor size
  • Very fast line retrieval
  • Strong but lightweight
  • Fully sealed, making it one of the best models around

The Bad

  • The drag knob can be a little tricky to use

Orvis is known for its high-quality fishing gear, and they do not disappoint when it comes to the Hydros SL saltwater fly reel! Orvis has given the original Hydros a complete overhaul, making it lighter, bigger, and better for saltwater.

This time around, Orvis has taken care to create a sturdy and durable design, but they have also removed any unnecessary weight. This makes for a saltwater fly reel that is strong enough to stand up to those hefty saltwater fish while performing flawlessly.  Hefty as the Hydrous Sl is, it’s not too heavy to carry around or for all-day casting, and it’s a reasonably-priced for its quality.

Some great features of Orvis Hydros SL saltwater fly reel are its super-fast line retrieval, adjustable drag, and the fully sealed disc drag system. These make the Hydros SL an easy pick for the best saltwater fly reels category. You’ll be able to haul in those whoppers thanks to the powerful drag system.

It’s a pleasure to use the Orvis Hydros SL, and it would be hard to find another reel that is as smooth as this one. If you’re looking at saltwater fly reels that hit the balance between strength, durability, and smoothness, make sure the Hydros SL by Orvis is on your list.

Redington Behemoth Fly Reel

 

Redington Behemoth

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The Good

  • Very cool design – looks amazing and eye-catching
  • Affordable price
  • The spool has a deep V-shape for greater backing capacity
  • Compares well to more expensive saltwater fly reels
  • Available in a range of sizes

The Bad

  • Heavier than some other models on the market.
  • Scuffs and marks are easy to see on this die-cast product
  • The drag knob feels cheaper and not very durable

The Redington Behemoth is another one of the top saltwater fly reels in production right now and is suitable for a range of rod weights. If it’s power you’re after, you’ll be thrilled with how the Behemoth (hint in the name right there!) performs.

Its performance won’t let you down when you hook a large salmon or tarpon – the drag strength and power in this product is truly incredible. You’ll have no problem landing big fish with the Redington Behemoth, that’s for sure!

Behemoth fly reels are ideal for any fly anglers from beginner to pro, while the affordable price makes saltwater fishing more accessible to fishers on a tighter budget.

The large arbor size and the V-shaped spool features allow you to hold plenty of backing, perfect when a fish just wants to run. The unique spool shape means that you won’t get as much annoying line memory when you cast your rod, either. It’s the best option to balance out that sturdy 10 wt or 12 wt rod setups.

Although generally well-constructed and high-quality, one minor complaint about the features is that the drag knob can feel wobbly at times. It doesn’t seem to match up to the rest of the product, which is a shame, and it’s not as light in weight as other models. Despite this, we still think the Behemoth is close to being one of the best saltwater reels for fly anglers.

You even get a handy case so that you can store it safely between fishing trips. The Behemoth should last a long time and will serve any fly angler well in any saltwater fishing situation!

Hardy SDSL Reel

 

Hardy SDSL

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The Good

  • Carbon fiber drag system is fully sealed
  • Simple to use and maintain
  • The color-coded drag regulator is a clever feature
  • Looks really cool and attractive
  • CNC machined for extra sturdiness and durability

The Bad

  • One of the more expensive products on our list

Another of the best saltwater fly reels out there, the Hardy SDSL, has had a complete overhaul, and the drag system has been upgraded!

Designed for use in coastal waters and fishing on the ocean, the sealed drag system stops your reel from getting gummed up with grit and sand or even just saltwater. It’s also made from modern, sturdy carbon fiber, which should last you years.

You get 16 pounds of pressure with the SDSL, which is plenty in most situations, even for bonefish. You can also add in an extra spool, allowing you to choose the best fly line for the conditions. The spool works on a Captive release system for easy swapping to save you time.

Constructed from one solid piece of barstock 6061 aluminum alloy and completely machined, the Hardy SDSL saltwater fly reel is one of the sturdiest models around. This also means that it’s straightforward to maintain and that it won’t rust or degrade over time – no tiresome cleaning here!

Hardy has included an ingenious color-coding design on the SDSL’s drag regulator, and it’s possible to control just how much drag you need in only one turn.

The Hardy SDSL is excellent quality, one of the best saltwater fly reels out there for keen anglers who like to get out to the sea as often as they can. It’s a worthy investment, as it should last you for years, if not decades. It’s also a very eye-catching reel that offers consistent performance and a range of great features, all finished with impressive attention to detail! Hardy SDSL saltwater fly reels won’t leave you disappointed!

Piscifun Sword Fly Reel

Piscifun Sword

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The Good

  • Made from corrosion-resistant aluminum alloy
  • Bargain price
  • Lightweight CNC machined reel
  • Very strong
  • Concave arbor has a large capacity for backing and fly line
  • Light in weight
  • You can switch from left to right hand easily

The Bad

  • It’s easy to change the drag from heavy to light by accident
  • Tricky to clean
  • Complicated to assemble and disassemble (no instructions included)
  • Not fully sealed

At this price, it would be easy to overlook the Piscifun Sword Fly saltwater fly reels, but we’d urge you to take a second look! Retailing at the lower end at an affordable price, it’s incredible how many of the right boxes the Piscifun ticks while offering excellent value for money.

As it’s made from CNC machined aluminum alloy, Piscifun Sword Fly is sturdy, lightweight, and corrosion-resistant. The Piscifun reel will balance out your fly rods well for effortless casting. The arbor is constructed with a concave design for increased strength, and you also get a pretty smooth drag system and fast retrieval with this product.

One minor flaw in the design is that it’s possible to flick the drag knob and switch the drag from heavy to light (or vice versa) without meaning to. Very frustrating when you’re in a crucial moment of landing a whopper!

But for this price, we think the Piscifun Sword Fly is one of the best saltwater fly reels if you are a beginner saltwater angler or if you’re just on a tight budget for your fishing gear. It will undoubtedly get the job done and offers all the features a beginner/amateur fly fisher will need. Just make sure you pay careful attention to your gear’s cleaning and maintenance, as Piscifun Sword reels do not have a sealed drag system.

Ross Reels Evolution LTX Fly Reel

Ross Reels Evolution LTX

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The Good

  • An innovative upgrade on the previous Evolution LT
  • So much stopping power, it’s hard to believe
  • Quick line retrieval
  • The drag system is buttery smooth
  • You’ll get fewer tangles and impressive line pick-up thanks to the large arbor and the design
  • You can use it for saltwater and freshwater fishing

The Bad

  • On the higher end of the price scale at around $385

You will love how reliable and smooth the drag system is on the Ross Reels Evolution LTX! Not much is missing from this saltwater reel (although you’d expect that at this price!) This excellent fly reel is suitable for freshwater as well, making it one of the best all-round reels. Whether you fancy fly fishing for bonefish or trout, this reel can do it all!

We loved the large arbor size, the flawless craftsmanship that evidently went into the Evolution LTX, and the lightning-fast line retrieval. It’s made in the US in Colorado so that you can be assured of this product’s high quality. The canvas phenolic handle reduces the overall weight of this reel, it’s corrosion-resistant, and offers super-fast line retrieval, too. 

The price is on the high end compared to the range of fly reels reviewed here, but the Evolution LTX boasts several awards for the best saltwater reel. If you take your saltwater fishing seriously, this one should be in the running when you’re looking for the best reel out there for you!

Orvis Mirage Reel

Orvis Mirage

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The Good

  • Fully sealed and designed reel especially for saltwater
  • No maintenance necessary
  • Designed for big, beastly fish
  • You can adjust the drag with just one turn of the knob
  • Unique, ‘ball and ramp’ drag mechanism makes the reel drag even easier to adjust
  • Fast-release spool
  • You can switch from right to left hand easily

The Bad

  • The most expensive product on our list, it’s a BIG investment

When it comes to saltwater fly fishing reels, this is the Ferrari of the fly reel world! Specifically designed to rock your saltwater fly fishing experience and take every detail to the next level, Orvis really has excelled here.

The only downside is the price tag the Mirage comes with, retailing for around $849. It’s safe to say that the Orvis Mirage does merit this hefty price, but it puts it out of range for many fly fishers with more modest budgets. Not everyone can set aside this amount of money for a fishing reel.

If you can afford to invest in the Orvis Mirage, you’ll definitely feel the difference. Adjusting the drag is so quick and a lot easier thanks to the special ball and ramp mechanism that Orvis has invented, and you can go from nothing to full drag with just one turn of the knob.

Machined from aluminum barstock, the Mirage is strong enough to stand up to the bonefish and tarpon while also pleasingly lightweight in hand. This reel can haul in much bigger fish than trout – you can really put it to the test in saltwater. Every single part of the Mirage has been carefully designed with the utmost attention to detail.

Little things like the titanium shaft for increased sturdiness, the super comfy handle, and fully-radiused reel foot put this model in a league of its own. For super fast spool replacement, you can make sure of the fast-release spool feature. The large arbor size translates to less line memory and coil, while the military-spec anodized coating makes this robust and durable for years of fishing in the ocean.

If you’re an avid angler who loves to get out on the sea a lot, the Orvis Mirage truly deserves a spot amongst your saltwater fly fishing gear. This saltwater fly reel can handle anything, and it will be proving its worth for a long time to come.

More In-depth Fly Reel Reviews Here

Why Do You Need a Saltwater Fly Reel?

For freshwater fly fishing, having a high-end fly reel isn’t necessary. But you need a dedicated saltwater fishing reel, and you should spend a bit more time and money on your saltwater gear if you can. One reason for this is that you’ll be catching much larger fish, and you’ll need all the strength you can get. So saltwater reels need to pack more power than freshwater models.

Having said that, we were pleasantly surprised by the performance of some of the budget fly reels, so don’t write off saltwater fly fishing if you have a more modest amount to spend.

A bomb-proof, preferably fully sealed drag system is essential when it comes to offshore fishing, as you’ll quickly come to realize when you hook your first, highly aggressive tarpon, permit, or barracuda!

There are also the saltwater conditions to consider when shopping for fly reels: Seawater is incredibly corrosive and harsh on your fly rod and especially your fly fishing reels, so you need something carefully designed and corrosion-resistant to withstand the elements.

tarpon salt water fly fishing

What Makes a Good Saltwater Fly Reel?

When you first walk into a fly fishing shop or even if you’re just surfing online, all the fly reel options can seem overwhelming. You’ve got your fly rod, but now you need a reel. That’s where our buying guide comes in!

We want to make choosing a saltwater fly reel easy for you, so here are the most important factors to think about before shelling out on a new fly reel:

Drag System

The drag system should be one of the first things you look at on any reel. Check out how much resistance the system can provide, as this is what will stop a beast of a fish from just running and running until you run out of line and even backing. If you want to land large fish with your fly rod, a hard-wearing reel is vital. Also, consider if the drag system is sealed.

Some of the best modern drag systems are made from carbon fiber, and occasionally, from Rulon. The startup inertia is another factor to think about – the lower, the better, as it means that the drag will be smoother right from the start.

We would also highly encourage you to go for a disc system over a click and pawl system. The reason for this is that a disc drag system is much more capable of standing up to the larger fish that you’ll (hopefully) be landing out on the ocean!

Click and pawl systems just don’t provide as much power as disc drag systems, nor are they as efficient. So check the type of system before buying your reel. You should also check what size and weight fish the fly reel is designed for to make sure it can stand up to the type of fish you’ll be after when you cast.

Ergonomics

The ergonomics of a fly reel is one of the most essential features to check out. When it comes to fly reels, this refers mainly to the handle and knob – are they comfortable and easy to use?

In our opinion, the best handles tend to be longer, and the knob should have enough grip and be large enough to hold onto easily for quick drag adjustments.

Stronger Gear

If you cast out and land a massive tarpon or some other huge saltwater fish with your fly rod, you’ll really test the strength of your gear.

Saltwater fly reels need to be sturdy enough to stand up to a lot of pressure, so go for a durable reel that is well-constructed and won’t let you down when you most need it. Your average trout fishing gear just won’t cut it.

best saltwater fly reels for the money

Lightweight Fly Reel

When you’re after a good reel, you should look for a lightweight fly reel. This generally means fly reels made by CNC machining, as this process means that the reels will be very lightweight.

This makes it much more comfortable when you’re out on the water for long stretches at a time and prevents your arm from becoming fatigued. The best reel won’t leave you tired after a few hours of casting, but it also needs to balance out your rod effectively.

Arbor Size

The best saltwater fly reels have a large arbor, which means you’ll get a faster line retrieval after casting. You won’t have to make so many turns when you have a larger arbor, which comes in handy if you’re fighting a whopper that just wants to run.

A large arbor also allows you to carry more fly line and backing, which comes in handy if you snag a fish, and it takes off on you! Another bonus is that you’ll get less line memory, too.

Corrosion Resistant Materials

For saltwater fly anglers, it’s vital that your fly gear can stand up to the harsh conditions and the corrosive nature of seawater – especially your fly rods and your fly reels! Aluminum can withstand the elements better than stainless steel, which can quickly be damaged by corrosion.

So aluminum is often the best option for corrosion resistance. The other option is to look for a reel with a protective coating such as titanium.

When it comes to saltwater fly reels, it’s vital to look for one constructed from corrosion-resistant materials such as powder-coated steel or anodized aluminum. You want to stop the corrosion process in its tracks so that your gear will last much longer!

Sealed Drag

When you’re saltwater fishing, reels come into contact with all sorts of contaminants such as sand, dirt, grit, and mud.

A quality reel for saltwater will have a sealed drag as standard. Having a sealed system is essential because it means your saltwater reel will last for longer and not get all gunked up with grit.

Taking Care of Saltwater Fishing Reels

The most high-end saltwater fly reels require little to no maintenance thanks to a clever design, sealed system, and hardy materials. If you go for one of the fly reels that are constructed from corrosion-resistant materials and also has a sealed system, you’ll have very little ongoing maintenance to do.

However, if your chosen reel isn’t so corrosion-resistant or is made up of several smaller parts, you’ll need to take more care in ensuring each separate component is properly cleaned after every saltwater fishing trip. If not, you’ll end up regretting it as it won’t last long before it begins to corrode.

So there you have the most important factors to consider when purchasing a saltwater reel. If a reel combines most of these essential features, you’re all set for consistent performance when out fishing. Other factors like a fast line retrieve will be an added bonus.

bonefish saltwater fly fishing

The Wrap Up

So there you have the best of the best saltwater reels! Whether you’re a new fly fisher heading out for your first ocean fly fishing trip or a veteran angler, you’ll be sure to find the perfect reel for you amongst our recommendations.

With something at every price point and for every ability, you’ll have no trouble picking out the right one from these reels to meet your specific needs. Whether you’re fishing for bonefish, tarpon, or permit, these reels can handle the pressure! With this wide range of options to choose from, you’re sure to find the perfect reel for you.

Now you know what to look for, plus some tried-and-tested models, it’s time to get out there, nab yourself a new fly reel, and hit the ocean for some awesome offshore fishing!

Interested In Other Types Of Reels?

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