5 Top Trout Fly Reels and Some Simple, Smart Buying Tips

trout reel and flies closeup

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In our previous post, I took a look at a few of today’s top trout fly rods based on outstanding quality and value for your dollars. In this post, we will look for the same but in reels, as we feature 5 of the best trout fly reels currently available.

For such a relatively small, simple thing, a fly reel is an indispensable tool in the pursuit of fish, especially trout. However, because of its complex design, not all are created equal with some better than others.

In this article, I will break down for you 5 models that I believe are some of the very best trout fly reels today based on quality, features, and overall value. They will certainly make the time spent on rivers and streams both more productive and enjoyable.

But, before we get to our selections, it is important that we ask ourselves what defines a good trout fly reel, so let us discuss that first.

Let’s start with durability and corrosion resistance are the two major things I consider in a good trout reel, especially with higher-priced models. In terms of corrosion resistance, most have bodies that are made with aluminum but its other components may not be.

Other factors to consider are the design itself and its ability to resist moisture and particulate penetration. A reel used for trout fishing must resist debris from entering the mechanism of the reel itself to properly operate for any length of time.

Steering away from durability, let us look at how you will use the reel. Smaller sizes are more applicable for smaller streams and rivers so a large capacity one would be impractical to buy for this type of fishing.

Consider the line and, more importantly, the diameter of the line. Fly fishing line is getting very thin these days but consider the diameter of the line because it can add up very quickly in the reel.

Look for a reel that can be cleaned and maintained easily. Many come apart and can be cleaned and lubricated by the average angler. If you are unsure how to do this properly, consider stopping by your local fly shop or sporting goods store for help.

Ok, with a few of the technicalities out of the way we now know a little bit about what we are looking for. So, let’s move on to our 5 trout reels and see how they can enhance your fishing and make your time on the water more enjoyable.

Waterworks-Lamson Liquid Fly Reel

Lamson Liquid -3+ Reel Smoke

See full details and specs on Amazon

The Waterworks-Lamson reels are a good choice for durability and the resistance of particulates and moisture. The Liquid Model is no exception as it is very light and is not very enclosed.

The thing I have noticed about the current crop of the best reels for trout fishing is that they are changing from an enclosed casing to a more open-type casing. This prevents many things such as mud and dirt from becoming trapped with your line as well as limiting moisture from sitting in your reel.

One thing that I learned from trout fishing in murky streams such as those during spring runoff is that weeds and dirt can get wrapped into your reel. Your line just lasts longer on an open design type.

With all of that being said, this reel ranges in sizes and cost but it is a great choice for an angler who simply hangs his pole up in the garage after a trip. As a child, I had to let all of my line out at the end of the day and let it dry because I used an enclosed reel. No such concern with this reel.

The drag system is smooth and responsive but, because of the diameter of the dial, it can be a bit more difficult “playing” a fish. Do not let this deter you from this reel, however, because this is a minor issue on an otherwise great reel, I believe.

I feel that for what you get versus the cost, this is a good bargain that would make for a relatively affordable gift that is durable enough for a kiddo in the family as well. This reel does come apart and uses a prong screw to open. I like this design and believe it is best, in my opinion, to prevent accidental disassembly.

Lastly, I like that, although some of its components are imported, the Lamson Liquid reel is assembled right here in the USA.

Features:

  • Anodized aluminum frame
  • Dial drag system
  • Two colors
  • Ambidextrous

Pros:

  • Left and right-handed
  • Durable materials
  • Great value, assembled in the USA

Cons:

  • Small drag wheel
See on Amazon

Sage Fly Fishing Spectrum C Fly Reel

Sage Fly Fishing Spectrum C Fly Reel

See full details and specs on Amazon

The Spectrum C is a good all-around reel that is designed for simplicity. There are a few features on this reel that I think are great and worthy of taking a look at for those in the market for a new reel.

One feature that I am nuts about is the dialed and numbered drag system. For some, this may be a trivial thing but for me, the numbered dial helps me to better fight fish as it lets me memorize levels of drag for certain fish.

Another feature that I like very much is the available sizes. As I stated above, ask yourself where you fish and how much line you will need. Reels that are sold in many sizes are a great way to get what you need without paying for what you do not.

In terms of durability, the Spectrum C is a great reel for keeping your line healthy and keeping particulates from entering its internals. It excels in waters with weeds and other plants that tend to come back to your reel.

It is also ambidextrous like the previous reel. This is a great feature that, honestly, many reels today offer. But if you share your gear with friends or family, it is important to make sure that the ones you use are ambidextrous.

One feature, however, that may be an issue for some is that it can be difficult to clean this reel as it comes apart in a difficult way, and the parts that will need to be cleaned are rather small. This is due to its SCS drag feature. Even so, this is an excellent trout reel for the money.

Features:

  • SCS dial drag
  • Aluminum build
  • Vented spool
  • Large arbor

Pros:

  • Dialed drag for better control
  • Durable construction
  • Vented spool enhances strength and capacity

Cons:

  • Can be a little difficult to clean
See on Amazon

ORVIS Hydros Fly Reel

Orvis Hydros Large Arbor Fly Fishing Reel (Silver, I (1-3wt))

See full details and specs on Amazon

Orvis has been in the game for a very long time and they are well known for making some of the best fly fishing reels for trout in the fly fishing community. The Hydros Model is no exception with its durable anodized aircraft-grade aluminum build and large, powerful and fully sealed drag system.

I really like this reel and despite being made by ORVIS, it is still competitive with others in terms of cost though it is somewhat a little on the higher end. But you have to consider what you get with this unit and the company standing behind it.

The truth of the matter is that anything you buy will eventually break if you have it long enough. It does not matter what kind of warranty you have, it has the potential to break. I really like ORVIS and their repair policy to keep your reel out of the waste bin and on your rod.

Orvis offers a lifetime guarantee against defects in materials and workmanship. Simply file a claim on their website and sending in your reel with a small handling fee. They also offer cleaning and maintenance services in addition to repairs. Green thinking like this not only saves you money but the environment as well.

As far as durability is concerned, I really enjoy the simple flathead screwdriver approach for this reel, but the drag itself is bulky and there is the potential for debris to lodge itself inside the drag more easily.

This is a minor inconvenience however and simply means you will have to give the drag compartment a cleaning every once in a while, which is something all reels need anyway.

On the looks side of things, this reel is aesthetically attractive and comes in 4 colors and patterns to match your gear and taste, which I find very handy if you care about things like that.

The Hydros also has interchangeable spools (sold separately) that so you can change up your line and technique on the fly (pun intended). I use this technique with my spincast reels and can tell you that changing it up that fast is a great way to stay on the fish.

*Pair this up with some Hydros HD line

Features:

  • Sealed drag/large drag controls
  • Aircraft-grade aluminum Build
  • Multiple colors from which to choose
  • Interchangeable spools (sold separately)

Pros:

  • Durable design
  • Large capacity
  • Orvis guarantee

Cons:

  • Extra spool sold separately
See on Amazon

ORVIS Battenkill II Fly Reel

Orvis Battenkill Fly Fishing Reel (Battenkill I (1-3wt))

See full details and specs on Amazon

Here is another quality offering for Orvis. The Battenkill 2 is a more enclosed reel than the Hydros but still offers good breathability and outstanding durability. It is porous enough to keep water from settling in the reel, prolonging it as well as the life of the line.

Consider this reel for the quality you expect from a name like ORVIS but also for its reasonable price. As with most reels, the aluminum design is going to protect from corrosion but oftentimes the more enclosed models are more durable to impact.

This Battenkill is quite enclosed, meaning that, for the most part, there is simply more metal than on other reels. While this can make it a pain to clean, it also makes it an ideal choice for those who are hard on their gear, like kids. Another particular type of fisherman that I think would like this due to its durability is those who use ATVs to reach their fishing destinations

Being an ambidextrous fly reel, it is a good option for those who share gear. But the components for changing this and cleaning the reel are small and can be difficult to manage, especially in the field.

Overall, I would say that this is a great value for the money, especially when you take into account the ORVIS repair program that protects your investment. The Battenkill is a quality, reliable trout reel that will last and provide you with years of enjoyment.

Features:

  • Semi-enclosed spool
  • Aluminum design
  • Ambidextrous
  • Multiple sizes

Pros:

  • Very durable and lightweight
  • Right and left-handed
  • ORVIS guarantee

Cons:

  • May be difficult to clean
See on Amazon

Redington Run Fly Reel

Redington Run Fly Reel 3-4 Weight Black

See full details and specs on Amazon

The Redington Run is another trout reel that stands out for its quality construction and simplicity of design. Its simple, wire-like spool frame is a great option for fishing for trout in fast streams because you can see how much line you have out more easily.

Simple framed reels are also great for cleaning and maintaining as there are really no sensitive parts or thin metals that can be damaged. No matter where I catch trout, I like to keep things as dry as possible for the health of my gear and this simple wireframe reel is great for that.

The reel’s large carbon disk drag system lets you easily control the fish, even the big ones, during the fight. But at a cost as always, it can be bulky and catch on bags and other gear, potentially damaging the drag system. So added care is called for here.

Yes, the drag is a bit bulky as stated, but I want to make an argument for it with regard to its usability. The larger drag is great for fighting fish with more precision. When I hook fish, I play them for long stretches sometimes and a powerful and smooth drag is my best tool. Plus, most fly rod cases have ample room for a reel, so storage should not be much of an issue.

A reason that I love these simple reels is the fact that you can simply hose them off at home after fishing, especially if you fished in saltwater, and they’re good to go. Just be careful to do this in your hand and try not to hit the drag system. Furthermore, drag systems are better cleaned separately and more carefully.

Rounding out the reel’s other great features, it comes with an easy push-button spool release for quick spool change-outs and cleaning/maintenance, a large arbor for fast retrievals, and easily left/right hand retrieve conversion. You’ll also get a nylon reel case and a lifetime warranty with this reel.

Features:

  • Sturdy, lightweight aluminum construction
  • Large carbon drag system
  • Large arbor wheel
  • Push-button spool release

Pros:

  • Can be easily cleaned
  • Powerful drag control
  • Strong, simple frame design

Cons:

  • No interchangeable spools
See on Amazon

Pointers and Tips on Selecting a Fly Reel for Trout Fishing

I love fly fishing, and I love having the tools that I need to simplify that love. Focus less on the logistics and more on the sport itself. To do this, you need good gear, but good gear does not just mean the norms like durability, usability, and cost.

You need to consider what stands behind the name of the folks who make the reel and the testimonials of the folks who fish with their products. Do not buy gear without taking some time to learn a bit about it – do your research. Reading this article is a part of that.

Another tip I will give you is the need to keep things simple. When I buy fishing gear, I start with what gets the job done at a bare minimum, then I work my way up the product ladder from there.

An example of this would be a simple spool that can accommodate what I need for trout fishing while being a sturdy, easy-to-use product. By buying a smaller reel that holds smaller amounts of line, you can save a little money.

The way I learned about some of the products I have in my truck today is from friends. Your best source of information on gear is your friends and people you know who have used them. 

Shopping for gear for any activity can be daunting, even for something as simple as a trout fly fishing reel. But taking your time and doing the research will help you in that endeavor.

Trout fishing is a great pastime and a great way to spend time on the water. There is something magical about spring when the snow leaves the mountains and the mayfly hatches. It is one of my favorite things about my home here in Montana. And to take full advantage of that, you need a good trout fly reel.

The fly reels in this post are some of the best values for trout fishing that are out there today. I hope that this will help you get started on your decision as to what to attach to your fly rod. As always my friends, have fun on the water and be safe!

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