6 Best Saltwater Fly Reels: 2021 Buying Guide

Kenneth ReavesEdited by: Kenneth Reaves
Michael DarmontReviewed by: Michael Darmont

Last Update:

The Rundown

Best Overall: Redington Grande (click to view)
“The Redington Grande is a CNC precision-machined reel and frame are incredibly lightweight and durable, thanks to the aerospace-grade aluminum used for the construction.”

Best Premium Reel: Sage Spectrum Max (click to view)
“The Spectrum Max is precision machined, cold-forged, and lightweight. It has a precision drag system with computer-precise spacing and a dented system that allows you to choose the proper drag weight easily.”

Best Budget Reel: Orvis Hydros (click to view)
“The Hydros is completely corrosion-resistant, ergonomic, and one of the lightest fly reels you can find. Ideal for wading in the surf since its fully sealed system and stainless steel construction won’t ever rust.”

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The best saltwater fishing reels have completely sealed internal systems, easily adjustable drags, a large spool for increased line capacity, and are as lightweight as possible for their size.

With so many reels on the market and all the eye-watering prices on saltwater fly reels, it can be hard to know which reels are suitable for you and won’t let you down. We’ve put this list together to help you decide which fly reels are best for you.

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What Is The Best Fly Reel For Saltwater?

Top 6 Saltwater Fly Reels

Best Overall

Redington Grande 9/10/11 Fly Reel - Marine

Redington Grande

Heat resistant drag plates

V-shaped spool for better line stacking

Best Premium reel

Sage Fly Fishing Spectrum Max Fly Reel

Sage Spectrum Max

Dented drag settings for easy weight selection

Anodized, aero-space grade aluminum keeps the reel light and strong

Best Budget reel

Orvis Hydros Reels

Orvis Hydros

Fully constructed from stainless steel

Ergonomic drag knob and a narrow spool

Most Durable

Colorado Fly Fishing Reel 5 6 Weight with Drag Large Arbor, Multi-disc Drag Wheel, Ergonomic Left/Right Handed Fishing Fly Reel, Fully Sealed Fresh Salt Water Fly reels 5 6 wt Trout Bass

Colorado

Tempered internal hub

Teflon cork drag

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Best Minimalist

Galvan Torque Fly Reel Size 10 Clear

Galvan Rush

Proprietary torque drag system

Friction-free plastic ball bearings

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Best Affordable

Echo Ion Fly Reel Size 2/3 Black

Echo Ion

One-way roller clutch bearing

Loud ingoing and outgoing line clicker

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Best Saltwater Fly Reels

  1. Best Overall: Redington Grande
  2. Best Premium Reel: Sage Spectrum Max
  3. Best Budget Reel: Orvis Hydros
  4. Most Durable: Colorado
  5. Best Minimalist: Galvan Rush
  6. Best Affordable: Echo Ion

Redington Grande Fly Reel

Best Overall Saltwater Reel: An all-around durable and powerful fly reel with features usually reserved for higher-priced models.

Redington Grande 9/10/11 Fly Reel - Marine
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KEY FEATURES

  • Heat resistant drag plates
  • V-shaped spool for better line stacking
  • Great capacity for backing

The Redington Grande has two larger sizes available, but this model punches well above its weight, handling fish up to junior tarpon. It also has quality features usually reserved for reels well above its price point. As a result, it is an excellent fly reel for handling saltwater environments.

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Reel Specs

The CNC precision-machined reel and frame are amazingly lightweight and durable because of the aerospace-grade aluminum used. The reel has a precision drag system with computer-precise spacing and a dented system that allows you to choose the proper drag weight easily. It also can go from zero to max drag in a single rotation of the wheel. 

Target Species

This reel is in the same weight class as the 9/10/11 Grande. It’s an excellent option for small and medium-sized saltwater species, and the oversized arbor makes it easy to catch up to fish running slack into your line.

Sage Spectrum Max Fly Reel

Best Premium Saltwater Reel: A quality reel from one of the global leaders in high-end fly fishing gear.

Sage Fly Fishing Spectrum Max Fly Reel
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KEY FEATURES

  • Dented drag settings for easy weight selection
  • Anodized, aero-space grade aluminum keeps the reel light and strong
  • Oversized arbor for faster line pickup

If you’re looking for one of the absolute best and highest quality saltwater fly fishing reels on the market, look no further than the Spectrum Max. Precision machined, cold-forged, and lightweight, this reel screams quality. It’s an excellent choice for anglers looking for one of the best fly reel money can buy.

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Reel Specs

The CNC precision-machined reel and frame are incredibly lightweight and durable thanks to the aerospace-grade aluminum used for the construction. The reel has a precision drag system with computer-precise spacing and a dented system that allows you to choose the proper drag weight easily. It also can go from zero to max drag in a single rotation of the wheel. 

Target Species

This reel is in the same weight class as the 9/10/11 Grande. It’s an excellent option for small and medium-sized saltwater species, and the oversized arbor makes it easy to catch up to fish running slack into your line.

Orvis Hydros Fly Reel

Best Budget Saltwater Reel: As light as it can be with premium performance at a palatable price point.

Orvis Hydros Reels
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KEY FEATURES

  • Fully constructed from stainless steel
  • Removed as much material as necessary to lighten the reel
  • Ergonomic drag knob and a narrow spool

Premium fly fishing reels also tend to have premium price tags attached to them. Not so with the Orvis Hydros. Completely corrosion-resistant, ergonomic, and one of the lightest fly reels you can find. Overall, it’s an excellent saltwater fly reel that you can have on most budgets.

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Saltwater Fly Reels Specs

The newest design of the reel has a lot of the frame machined down and the excess material removed to reduce weight, creating a fly reel that weighs under one pound. In addition, the ergonomic drag knob is easily accessible on the reel and is perfectly balanced for light fly rods. 

Target Species

The Hydros is an excellent reel for bonefish, drum, trout, and other small to medium-sized saltwater species. It’s great for wading in the surf since the fully sealed system and stainless steel construction won’t ever rust or corrode.

Colorado Fly Fishing Reel

Most Durable Saltwater Reel: Perfectly protected from the elements and can take a beating from big fish and usage.

Colorado Fly Fishing Reel 5 6 Weight with Drag Large Arbor, Multi-disc Drag Wheel, Ergonomic Left/Right Handed Fishing Fly Reel, Fully Sealed Fresh Salt Water Fly reels 5 6 wt Trout Bass
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KEY FEATURES

  • Tempered internal hub
  • Teflon cork drag
  • Won’t rust or corrode

Saltwater is highly corrosive and hard on your gear, so you need a reel that won’t let you down when it counts. While on the smaller side, the Colorado Fly Reel is incredibly durable and protected against the harsh saltwater environment. It’s one of the best options for anglers that are hard on their gear and amazing for wading since getting it wet won’t ruin the reel.

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Saltwater Fly Reels Specs

The coated aluminum reel components and the fantastic sealing system make this reel one of the most durable ones you can find. In addition, the extra-large arbor gives you much more line capacity than you would think on a reel of its size. The Teflon cork drag washers are incredibly smooth, and the reel comes with a neoprene case for safe storage. 

Target Species

Since the Colorado is a smaller size, it’s more suited to smaller species. It’s a decent bonefish reel but is more suitable for jacks, trout, and bluefish. If you plan to go after larger species, try wading in shallow water to make sure you can keep up.

Galvan Rush Light Fly Reel

Best Minimalist Fly Reel: Minimalist design and the features of higher-end models in the line

Galvan Torque Fly Reel Size 10 Clear
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KEY FEATURES

  • The proprietary torque drag system
  • Friction-free plastic ball bearings
  • Outstanding durability and simple design

Simple designs are often the most effective, which is true of the Galvan Rush Fly Reel. The Light has the same drag system as its pricier cousin, the Torque, giving it plenty of power in a simpler package. It’s a great fly reel that can handle salt and freshwater with sizes to match your target species.

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Saltwater Fly Reels Specs

Open spoke design helps keep the reel as light as possible and reduces fatigue on the angler. In addition, the Torque drag system delivers plenty of drag power for fish up to cobia and roosters. The reel is also very durable, featuring a sealed internal system and anti-corrosive materials. 

Target Species

The Rush Light is an excellent reel with different models performing better for a variety of species. For bonefish, go for the R8LT, tarpon the R12LT, cobia, roosterfish, and permit shoot for the R10LT. 

Echo Ion Fly Reel

Best Affordable Saltwater Fishing Reel: A good entry reel for beginner fly anglers who might balk at the price tags of mid-level fly reels.

Echo Ion Fly Reel Size 2/3 Black
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KEY FEATURES

  • One-way roller clutch bearing
  • Loud ingoing and outgoing line clicker
  • Rulon disc drag system

Beginner fly fishers might not want to shell out the money for mid-level fly reels, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a reliable reel to get them started. The Echo Ion Fly Reel is a simple, solid fly reel that works in both fresh and saltwater and can reliably help get an angler’s feet wet in the sport.

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Saltwater Fly Reels Specs

Simple reel design, low start-up resistance, and a low-maintenance drag system are all perfect for beginners. It’ll help reduce tippet damage and allow you to make mistakes with minimal punishments. It also has a large arbor, fast line pickup, and the stainless steel components won’t rust on you. 

Target Species

This is a great wading reel for targeting trout, blues, jacks, and other smaller species on the flats. However, it likely won’t have the line capacity or stopping power to handle bigger fish like cobia, tarpon, or permit. Take extra care to keep the reel clean after use so you can maximize the lifetime of the reel as well. 

What To Look For When Buying The Best Saltwater Fly Reel

Weight

Fly fishing trips mean you’ll have the rod and reel in your hands constantly casting, retrieving, and fighting fish. You want to find a saltwater fly fishing reel as light as possible to reduce fatigue on your arms throughout the day. You also need a reel that’s big enough to handle saltwater fish. Look for designs that minimize weight and lightweight metals like anodized aluminum to find the lighter reels available. 

Drag

You want to find reels that have easy-to-control drags. Drag power is a given, but the easier the drag system is to adjust, the better. It will let you put pressure on the fish without overstressing and breaking your line. You’ll learn the fine-tuning and minor adjustments with practice, but just the ability to change the drag swiftly and easily will help you land more fish when it comes to saltwater fly fishing.

Spool Size

The arbor size of the reel is the size of the spool. The larger the arbor, the more line capacity and room for backing your reel will have. This is because saltwater lines are thicker than freshwater, and saltwater fish fight harder and run farther and faster than freshwater fish. You want to find a saltwater reel that can fit sufficient backing and at least 250 yards of your preferred line weight (usually between 8 and 12 weight), so always check the line capacity for a reel’s spool size. 

Balance

The better the balance of your setup, the better your casts will be, and the easier on your arms the whole trip will be. Balancing your rod and reel can be difficult, so you might want to check out some expert advice on how to get the right balance. You want to match the saltwater fishing reel you plan to use with the rod you plan on using and strike a good balance between the weight and weight distribution of the two. 

Perfect Captain’s Insider Tips

One of the most sought-after and renowned saltwater species to target with fly fishing are bonefish. If you’re interested in learning about bonefish, how to target bonefish, and know the right gear you need to successfully catch one, we talked everything about it in our article “How To Catch Bonefish”.

If you’re interested in tying your saltwater flies, you’re going to need a quality fly tying vise. We have an additional article on fly tying vises to help you pick the best one for your needs. 

Questions & Answers

What makes a good saltwater fly reel?

The good saltwater fly reel is comfortable for you to use, meets or exceeds some requirements, and is appropriate for your target species. Ergonomic designs, lightweight reels, and a good balance with your preferred rod go a long way in the reel being comfortable. 

Requirement-wise, your saltwater fly fishing reel needs to be made from anti-corrosive materials like aluminum or stainless steel. You also must have a reel with sealed internal components, or saltwater absolutely will get inside and ruin the reel. Easily adjustable drag systems are a must for saltwater fish as well, so you can pressure them without overstressing the line.

A 10 weight reel is a solid choice for almost all saltwater species if you plan on fishing for a variety of species. Otherwise, use a 7-8 weight reel for bonefish, 9 weight for striped bass, bluefish, and small tuna, and a 12 weight or higher for heftier fish like tarpon, cobia, roosterfish, or permit.

How much backing does a saltwater fly reel need?

A good rule of thumb for fly line backing is to have around 100 yards on the reel. It gives you a faster retrieval by increasing the spool size where the fly line lays and compensates for initial runs of 75 plus yards when you hook a fish.

On larger reels or for larger species, you can up your line backing to 125 or 150 yards, and on smaller reels, for small species, you can cut it to 75 yards. Regardless, most kinds of saltwater fishing can be assisted by some sort of backing on your reels.

How do I take care of my saltwater fly reel?

Basic saltwater fly fishing reel care is needed for saltwater fly reels. After every trip, rinse the reel thoroughly to remove any leftover salt and debris from the reel. After every other trip, rinse and wipe off your line and backing. Let it dry quickly and thoroughly. There are many, so extra water isn’t making your line or reel deteriorate. 

Remember that fly fishing takes practice, and some research can help you catch up on the learning curve. There’s a ton of professional tips and resources available online to help you get started or pick up new tricks.