Best Fly Fishing Reels for Saltwater Fishing in 2019
If you're new to saltwater fly fishing, or just in need of a new reel, this article will bring you up to speed on what makes the best fly fishing reels for saltwater fishing.
Whether you're double hauling deceivers for stripers or flinging crab flies for tailing redfish, your equipment better be ready for the fight — especially your reel. We'll also give you our top three fly reel recommendations that are made for the salt and well worth the money.
Let's be honest: unless you're chasing steelhead, salmon, or muskie, a freshwater fly reel is mostly just a convenient way to store line. A saltwater fly reel, on the other hand, has serious work to do.
So, what should you look for when buying a saltwater fly fishing reel? Well, if a reel meets the following criteria, you can bet it'll hold up to any critter you find in the surf, the marsh, or on the flats.
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Unlike spinning reels or baitcast reels, making a fly reel corrosion resistant or saltwater-proof is relatively simple. It boils down to four components: the material used to construct the reel; whether or not the drag is sealed; whether or not the bearings are sealed; and whether there are any non-stainless steel screws, nuts, or bolts used on the reel.
The vast majority of saltwater fly reels are made with machined aluminum. These reels are generally very strong and durable and inherently corrosion resistant.
Good saltwater fly reels will have both a sealed drag and sealed bearings. If they don't, both the drag and the bearings will need regular cleaning and maintenance.
Finally, saltwater fly reels use stainless steel screws, nuts, and bolts. The best saltwater fly fishing reels are designed to use as few of these extra parts as possible, making them more corrosion resistant and durable.
Luckily, most reel manufacturers explicitly state if a fly reel is intended for use in saltwater. If they don't, it's safe to assume that it's intended for freshwater and shouldn't be used in the salt.
As a general rule, saltwater sportfish are much larger, stronger, and faster than their freshwater relatives. For this reason, having a strong, smooth drag system on your saltwater fly reel is critical.
In the most basic sense, there are two main drag types used in fly reels: click and pawl drag and disc drag. Click and pawl drag systems are the most traditional and are rarely, if ever, used for saltwater fly reels. Disc drags are the main variety of drag used in modern saltwater fly fishing reels. Chances are, if you're shopping for a saltwater reel, you're going to buy a reel with a disc drag.
Cork, carbon fiber, and Teflon are the most commonly used drag materials in modern fly reels.
Cork is the most traditional drag material, and while it's used less in less in modern reel design, it has many virtues. It's smooth, easy to maintain, provides tremendous stopping power, and has a very soft startup which helps protect your tippet when a big fish takes off.
These days, carbon fiber is the drag material of choice and is what you'll find in most modern reels. Carbon fiber drags have practically no startup inertia leading to a drag that is smooth from the get-go. Carbon fiber drag systems are also practically maintenance-free, especially if they are fully sealed.
Teflon, and other low-friction materials like rulon, are also commonly found in saltwater fly reel drag systems in conjunction with carbon fiber. These materials have very little startup inertia and are self-lubricating, requiring almost no maintenance.
Sealed Drag or Unsealed Drag?
While having a fully sealed drag certainly makes life easier when the reel gets dropped in the sand or caked with mud, it's not a requirement for a saltwater reel. Most mid- to high-end saltwater fly reels do in fact have fully sealed drags, but this luxury comes at a premium. An unsealed drag simply requires a bit more maintenance, but if properly cared for will last for a long, long time.
Unlike fishing for small stream brook trout, you actually have to reel in a saltwater fish. In general, fly reels are not very efficient when it comes to reeling in, especially when compared to a spinning or a baitcast reel. So, to compensate, fly reel designers increased the diameter of the reel's spool, creating what is known as a large-arbor spool.
It's hard to find a saltwater fly reel that doesn't have a large arbor spool. This is a good thing, as a large arbor not only increases line retrieval speed but decreases line memory which can have a negative effect on casting performance.
To withstand the intense pressure that a heavy-duty saltwater fish will put on a reel, a strong, stiff frame is essential. The best fly fishing reels for saltwater fishing have frames that are lightweight, yet incredibly strong. If the frame is not strong enough, it will torque and bend out of shape when a powerful fish makes a good run, which can lead to the reel seizing up and you losing the fish.
As with most fishing gear, the lighter and stronger an item is, the more it costs. Luckily, today's fly reels, even entry-level models, are incredibly lightweight. Buy the lightest reel you can afford, but if your budget is tight, don't sweat it — you can still find a great saltwater reel that you can cast all day for a reasonable price.
Now, onto our recommendations...
3 Best Fly Fishing Reels for Saltwater Fishing
When the Redington Behemoth hit shelves a while back, it seemed too good to be true. A saltwater fly reel that actually performs for under $200?
Truthfully, the Redington Behemoth is an incredible saltwater fly reel regardless of its low price.
Decked out with a robust, carbon fiber drag packing a whopping 30 pounds of drag pressure, the Behemoth will stop just about any fish you hook into.
It has a deep V spool design that allows for additional line capacity and has an interlocking large-arbor spool that gives you plenty of line pick up to get your catch in quick.
The one aspect of the Behemoth that seems less than ideal at first is its die-cast aluminum body. This body material does lower the price considerably, and the good news is, it doesn't lower the reels performance at all. In fact, Redington took advantage of the fact that it's a die-cast reel, and created a uniquely strong and stylish design that they say is "un-machinable."
You simply won't find a better reel for the price. The Behemoth is available in four sizes, from 5/6 up to 9/11, and in two colors, black and gunmetal. This reel is made for the salt and can easily handle any inshore saltwater fish you encounter as well as some blue-water species like dorado and small tuna.
2. Mid-Price Option: Nautilus X-Series
Moving up in price, and some might say style, we have the Nautilus X-Series. Made in Miami, Florida, Nautilus has a reputation for producing some of the most advanced carbon fiber and Teflon drag systems on the fly reel market.
The Nautilus X-Series certainly lives up to the company's high-praise and is what we believe to be the best middle-of-the-road saltwater fly reel available.
The X-Series features an open-frame design made from machined aluminum that is insanely lightweight and impervious to corrosion.
The large arbor spool features a highly ventilated arch design that includes a dual palming rim that increases the strength of the spool by 35%. The extra palming rim comes in handy when you need to add some extra manual drag to tame a speedy fish.
Inside, the X-Series is loaded with a fully sealed SCF-X Teflon and carbon fiber disc drag that is self-lubricating and maintenance-free .
The Nautilus X-Series is available in four sizes: 3/4 and 4/5 for your freshwater pursuits, and 6/7 and 8/9 for all your saltwater needs.
If you're looking to buy a saltwater fly reel that you'll pass down to your children, and your children's children, get the 7 Plus Finatic by Hatch.
This thing is built to take all the abuse a lifetime of saltwater fishing can throw at it.
The entire frame and reel foot is one solid piece, machined from a single block of aluminum. This gives the reel incredible strength and durability as there are fewer parts on the reel that can fail.
The frame itself has a beefier frame than many other reels, keeping the frame true and torque-free when fighting even the rowdiest fish.
The drag housing on the 7 Plus Finatic is also machined into the reel — again, fewer parts that could fail. Inside, the carbon fiber drag system is completely self-contained and fully sealed within the frame of the reel. The drag system is self-lubricating and maintenance free.
The reel comes standard with a large arbor spool, perfect for saltwater fishing. But in the event that you want a smaller arbor spool for freshwater fishing, the spool can be swapped out for a compatible mid-sized arbor reel made by Hatch. Seriously, if you only buy one saltwater reel in your lifetime, it should be the Hatch 7 Plus Finatic.
As you can see, the best saltwater fly fishing reels are specialized tools, designed to stand up to the hard pulling, salt-breathing monsters of the sea. Now, with a better understanding of what makes a good saltwater fly reel, and with three great reel options to choose from to match any budget, you're ready to gear up and find your way to the nearest saltwater flat.