If you love the thrill of saltwater fly fishing, you’re going to need a sturdy, specialized fly reel that you can rely on! Saltwater fly reels require some extra oomph and power behind them compared to freshwater models, so that you can land those huge saltwater fish that put up a hell of a fight!
We’ve put together this buying guide with the most important factors to consider when shopping for the best fly reels for saltwater.
Plus, we’ve reviewed some of the best fly reels for saltwater fishing around now, so you can find the best fly reel for you without wasting valuable fishing time on shopping and comparing products! We know you just want to get on out there for some epic fishing!
Why Do You Need a Saltwater Fly Reel?
For freshwater fishing, having a high-end fly reel isn’t necessary. But you should spend a bit more time and money on your saltwater fly reel if you can, as 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 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 conditions to consider when shopping for fly reels: Seawater is incredibly corrosive and harsh on your gear, so you need something carefully designed and corrosion-resistant to withstand the elements.
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 options can seem overwhelming. You’ve got your rod, but now you need a reel. That’s where our buying guide comes in!
We want to make choosing the best fly reel easy for you, so here are the greatest and most important factors to think about before shelling out on a new reel:
The drag system should be one of the first things you look at on any fly reel. Check out how much resistance the drag 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 hardwearing fly reel is key.
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 drag 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 drag 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.
The ergonomics of a fly reel is one of the most important features to check out. When it comes to fly reels, this refers mainly to the handle and drag knob – are they comfortable and easy to use? In our opinion, the best handles tend to be longer, and the drag knob should have enough grip and be large enough to hold onto easily for quick drag adjustments.
Strong Fly Reel
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 fly reel. Saltwater fly reels need to be sturdy enough to stand up to a lot of pressure, so go for a durable fly reel that is well-constructed and won’t let you down when you most need it. Your average trout fishing fly reel just won’t cut it.
Lightweight Fly Reel
When you’re after a good fly reel, you should look for a lightweight fly reel ideally. 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 reel won’t leave you tired after a few hours of casting, but it also needs to balance out your rod effectively.
The best saltwater fly reels have a large arbor, which means that 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 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 fishers, it’s vital that your gear can stand up to the harsh conditions and the corrosive nature of seawater – especially your rod and your reel! 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 that is 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!
When you’re saltwater fishing, reels come into contact with all sorts of contaminants such as sand, dirt, grit, and mud.
A quality fly reel for saltwater will have a sealed drag as standard. Having a sealed drag is essential because it means your saltwater fly reel will last for longer and not get all gunked up with grit.
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 part 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 fly reel. If a reel combines most of these essential features, you’re all set for a consistent performance when out fishing. Other factors like a fast line retrieve will be an added bonus.
The Best Saltwater Reels
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
Orvis is known for its high-quality fishing gear, and they have not disappointed when it comes to the Hydros SL saltwater reel! The original Hydros has had a complete overhaul, making it lighter, bigger, and better for saltwater.
Orvis has taken care to create a design that is sturdy and durable this time, but they have also removed any unnecessary weight. This makes for a quality product that is strong enough to stand up to those hefty saltwater fish with a faultless performance. At the same time, it’s not too heavy to lug around or for all-day casting, and it’s a fair price for this quality.
Other great features of these fly reels include the super-fast line retrieval, adjustable drag, and the fully sealed disc drag system, 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 and it would be hard to find a salt water fly reel that is just as smooth as this one. If you’re looking for saltwater reels that hit the balance right between strength, durability, and smoothness, make sure this beauty by Orvis is on your list.c
Redington Behemoth Fly Reel Saltwater
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, one thing’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 those sturdy 10 wt or 12 wt rod set ups.
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 included, so you can store it safely between fishing trips. The Behemoth should last a long time and serve any fly angler well for all saltwater fishing needs!
Hardy SDSL Fly Reel Saltwater
Another of the best options 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 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 more than adequate in most situations, even for bonefish. You can also add in an extra spool, allowing you to choose between them. 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 is one of the sturdiest models around as a result. This also means that it’s really simple 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 drag regulator, and it’s possible to control just how much drag you need in just one turn.
The Hardy SDSL is excellent quality, perfect 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! The Hardy SDSL won’t leave you disappointed!
Piscifun Sword Fly Reel
At this price, it would be easy to overlook the Piscifun Sword, but we’d urge you to take a second look! Retailing at the lower end with an affordable price, it’s amazing how many of the right boxes the Piscifun ticks while offering excellent value for money.
As it’s made from CNC machined aluminum alloy, it’s sturdy, lightweight, and corrosion-resistant. The Piscifun reel will balance out your rod well for effortless casting. The arbor is constructed with a concave design for increased strength and you also get a pretty smooth drag 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 is perfect if you’re a beginner saltwater angler, or if you’re just on a tight budget for your fishing gear. It will certainly get the job done and offers all the features a beginner/amateur fly fisher will need. Just make sure you pay careful attention to the cleaning and maintenance of your gear, as this reel’s not fully sealed.
Ross Reels Evolution LTX
Another reliable design, you’ll love how reliable and smooth the drag is on the Evolution LTX! Not much is missing from this product (although you’d expect that at this price!) This awesome fly reel is suitable for freshwater and saltwater, making it an ideal all-rounder reel. Whether you fancy 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 Colorado in the US, so you can be assured of the high quality of this product. The canvas phenolic handle reduces the overall weight of this reel, it’s corrosion resistant, and offers super fast line retrieval, too. However. the price is on the high end compared to the range of fly reels reviewed here.
It’s not for nothing that 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 Fly Reel
When it comes to saltwater fly reels, this is the Ferrari of the fly reel world! Specifically designed to rock your saltwater 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 put aside this amount of money for one piece of fly gear.
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 to the sea a lot, the Orvis Mirage truly deserves a spot amongst your fly fishing gear. This saltwater reel can handle anything and it will be proving its worth for a long time to come.
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 fly 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 saltwater fly reel 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 certain 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!