Saltwater Fly Reel Buying Guide: Must-Have Features and 5 Top Values

fly reel and rod for saltwater fishing

Watching line tear through the water with blazing speed can help prove whether or not a fly reel is worth the investment. For saltwater fly fishermen, it takes even less time to find out the value. Big fish and fast runs test the mechanical parts and the salty air and water test the seals and finish.

Quality is king when it comes to choosing any saltwater fishing equipment. They have to be able to perform under demanding conditions. Saltwater fly fishing reels are no different. These reels are put to the test on every outing and anglers need total faith in their equipment before they land the next trophy fish.

Here is a rundown of must-have saltwater fly reel features as well as a list of, in our opinion, five of the best saltwater fly reels for the money in today’s market.

Basic Considerations

Balance

Fly reels for saltwater fishing, or for any environment, are usually designed to fit only two different rod weights. Be careful of placing a 5-weight reel on a 7-weight rod or greater. You’ll find that the casting power of the rod will overmatch the ability of the reel. It should only be used on a 5 or 6-weight rod.

The opposite is also true. An 8-weight reel on a 6-weight rod, for example, will throw off the balance and lead to casting errors. The bottom line is, placing an incorrect reel on a rod will throw off the balance.

Large Spool 

The reel spool size varies in size to allow for proper line weight and backing for each rod and reel combination.  However, even if you think the equipment is right for the conditions, it’s always good to remember big fish swim in shallow water too.

Knowing your target is a necessary aspect of saltwater fly fishing. Due to the variety of species that are available to catch, it’s better to overestimate how much power you may need. As a result, you’ll need to choose a larger reel that can support more line.

Wondering if a fish is going to pull you through your backing can force you to fight the fish harder and likely lose it. The more power the better when it comes to using fly reels in salt water.

Quick-release Spool

Most saltwater reels come with a quick-release spool. This time-saving feature allows anglers to quickly and efficiently change to the correct rod and line to match the fishing conditions and species.

Primary Considerations

Resistance to Corrosion

The primary mechanical parts on a saltwater fly reel to consider are the frame, drag system and arbor size. Saltwater reels have frames carved from block aluminum by a Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC). The CNC frames are anodized to help prevent corrosion. Corrosion is a saltwater angler’s worst enemy.

My first experience with the corrosive nature of salty air happened one Christmas morning in Duck Key, Florida. I was fishing on a charter boat and my parents had sent me a multi-purpose fishing tool from Minnesota, land of 10,000 (freshwater) lakes. In a matter of hours, the non-anodized tool went from polished metal to polished metal with rust spots.

For saltwater reels, anodized is a must. Remember this when purchasing your next reel, otherwise you’ll learn the hard way as I did.

Smooth Drag

A smooth drag system is a must for saltwater reels. Fast, long runs will heat up a spool quicker than the sun on asphalt. Most quality drag systems deliver line out evenly and smoothly and, use a combination of materials that reduce friction and, thus, heat build-up. Make sure your drag is up to the challenge.

Regardless of which materials used, proper cleaning after each use is essential to preventing malfunctions when the heat is on. Whether you’re chasing tarpon or permit, a saltwater fish is going to give you a fight. When it comes to battling a personal best fish, the last thing you want to worry about is if your reel is going to hold.

Large Arbor

Finally, a large arbor is essential for saltwater fishing. The larger arbor increases line retrieval speed, a necessity when fighting larger fish. Plus, the large arbor allows you to spool on more backing to prepare you for battle with the giants.

All five of the following reels meet the basic requirements and have a large arbor, CNC frame and well-tested drag system in addition to other important features that make them ideal for saltwater use. Let’s take a closer look at these top-rated, exceptional value saltwater fly reels:

ORVIS Hydros SL

Orvis Hydro SL saltwater fly reel

Click for more details on the Orvis Hydros SL

The Orvis Hydro SL is made of high quality machined aluminum with an anodized coating for added strength and durability. Plus, it is lightweight. Saltwater equipment has a tendency to be heavier due to the more materials needed to strengthen it. Orvis has found a way to keep strong materials but cut on the excess weight.   

An upgraded carbon drag and clutch system, with 14 lb. capacity and quick adjustment feature perform smoothly and consistently under stress, and the ultra-large arbor picks up line rapidly.

Overall, the Orvis Hydro SL is one of the best saltwater fly fishing reels for the money today and will handle the rigors of salty water and hard runs. You will find that this reel is well worth the cost given its overall high quality. Additionally, Orvis has a solid selection of warranties for any angler concerned about its longevity, which in our opinion should be excellent.

  • Sleek, lightweight and durable fly reel built with quality and attention to detail
  • High-grade, anodized machined aluminum frame built to last
  • Fully-sealed carbon drag system to keep out the elements
  • large, lightweight, balanced arbor for a great feel and fast retrieves
  • Reversible right or left-hand retrieval to suit all anglers

Piscifun PLATTEPiscifun Platte saltwater fly reel

Click for more details on the Piscifun PLATTE

This reel meets all the requirements needed for a reliable saltwater reel. A CNC machined 6061-T6 anodized aluminum alloy frame, fully sealed carbon to stainless drag system, large knurled drag knob and large arbor design. Add the lifetime warranty and the Piscifun Platte is a low-risk, high reward fly reel.

The only knock against the PLATTE is the weight. It’s noticeably heavier than some of the higher-end reels, but it’s not enough to inhibit your fishing experience. You can find these from size 5-10. It’s a great reel to use if you are new to saltwater fly fishing. It will give you a chance to see if you enjoy the sport as well as determine the aspects of the reel that are most important to you.

Too many anglers make the mistake of purchasing the highest quality equipment only to learn that they don’t like several features of it. It’s better to start on the more affordable side to learn what is most important to you and move on to more expensive materials once you are confident in the options.

  • Anodized, CNC-machined aircraft-grade 6061-T6 aluminum alloy
  • Clicker drag design offers accurate adjustment
  • Big arbor speeds up retrieval
  • Airtight, sealed carbon- stainless drag keeps saltwater and dirt at bay
  • Knurled drag knob provides a sure grip
  • Convenient left/right handle conversion
  • Manufacturer’s lifetime warranty

Piscifun Crest

Piscifun Crest saltwater Fly Fishing Reel

Click for more details on the Piscifun Crest

Every reel has its sweet spot. For the Piscifun Crest, it’s the price – it is affordable. The frame is constructed of the same material as its bigger brother, the Picifun Platte. Machine tooled 6061-T6 aluminum alloy is strong and an anodized coating increases durability. The sealed drag system is a layered carbon, Teflon and stainless design, able to withstand exposure to sand and salt water.

As always, Piscifun’s lifetime warranty is a plus! When it comes to fishing gear, warranties are often a lifesaver. Quite often equipment gets broken and there’s nothing an angler can do about it. The reassurance from a company that they stand by their gear gives anglers more confidence to be daring on the water.

  • Anodized, CNC-machined 6061-T6 aluminum alloy
  • Clicker drag offers fast, precise adjustments
  • Large arbor increases retrieval speed
  • A fully-sealed drag system keeps out water, sand and debris.
  • Fast, easy left/right handle retrieve conversion
  • Manufacturer’s lifetime warranty

Redington Grande

See the Redington Grande at Backcountry.com

When you pay a little more for a reel, you want something in return. The velvety smooth finish and ultra-smooth drag on the Redington Grande provide that extra benefit. Palming the reel for added drag will not hurt your hand and the rounded edges won’t catch or damage your line.

The ultra-smooth drag will prevent break-offs while your line is under constant, sustained pressure during those long runs. Its convenient, adjustable knob is also another plus. The Redington Grand is one reel that stays in the fight!

Redington is a well-known name in fly fishing and makes some of the best fly reels for saltwater fishing. Their reels are spectacular and have a reputation for quality and durability. You can’t go wrong with any sort of Redington piece of fly equipment, in my humble opinion.

  • CNC machined, anodized aircraft-grade T-6061 aluminum frame
  • Completely sealed, “SUPER-TORQUE”, carbon fiber drag system that is powerful and smooth
  • V-spool reduces bundling and increases line backing capacity
  • Oversized, velvet-smooth palming rim for increased drag application and spool rigidity
  • Enhanced reel foot position for true center of gravity to eliminate rod twist
  • Unique, rounded finish for line/leader protection
  • Enlarged soft-touch, anti-snag handle
  • Easily converts between left-hand and right-hand retrieve
  • Lifetime warranty

Sage Spectrum

Sage Spectrum fly reel for saltwater

Click for more details on the Sage Spectrum

A fully machined, anodized aerospace-grade aluminum frame makes the Sage Spectrum strong and durable. Not only that but it is also one of the most attractive fly reels in this or any line up (the copper is a real eye-catcher for me).

The one revolution knob controls a smooth, sealed carbon drag to slow down the most acrobatic run. With its large, concave arbor, store more line and retrieve it quickly for that next long run. Getting on top of the bite is one thing, bringing them in is another; that’s when you need a Sage Spectrum.

  • Cold-forged, machined and anodized aircraft-grade aluminum for exceptional strength and rigidity
  • Sealed carbon drag System prevents saltwater and sand intrusion
  • “One Revolution Drag Knob” features indented and numbered settings
  • Large concave arbor accelerates line pick-up and increases strength and capacity
  • Machined anodized aluminum ergonomic handle w/quick and easy left/right retrieve conversion

Final Thoughts on Saltwater Fly Reels

While there are many fine saltwater fly reels on the market today, I believe that the ones on this shortlist are some of the best values around. As always, do your research and keep in mind some of the more important features discussed here when making your selection. See you soon, friends!

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