Best Fly Reels

Fly reels tend to employ a more simple design than other reel types, for example spinning reels. However, given the reel is an integral component to fly fishing, the simplistic nature of the design does not mean that all fly reels are the same, and as such, it's important to understand how they can vary.

In this article, we will discuss some of the ins-and-outs of fly reels, what sort of differences to expect and look for across different fly reels, and then we will also provide our reviews of what we consider to be the best fly reels at different price points.

  • Basic
  • Mid-Range
  • High-End
  • Pro

Waterworks Lamson Guru Fly Reel



  • High quality
  • Made in the USA
  • Large arbor
  • Machined 6061 aluminum and stainless steel
  • Type 2 anodize finish
  • Sealed conical drag system


  • Expensive
  • Small handle

General Consensus

The Waterworks Lamson Guru fly reel is crafted with extreme care in Idaho, USA. This reel is extremely well-liked by customers, and for good reason. The care that goes into each reel leads to a very well-balanced reel with awesome retrieve rates, reduced weight, and improved line drying.

The machined 6061 aluminum combined with the strong stainless steel makes this reel one of the more durable fly reels on the market. Not only is it strong, but the intelligent open spoke design minimizes the weight while still ensuring a very strong structure.

The wide spool allows for fast line pickup, the drag works smoothly and is more easily adjusted than many disc-drag systems, and it's very easy to change from a left-hand to right-hand retrieve. The main drawback about the retrieve is that the handle is smaller than we would like, but that's pretty much the only bad thing we could think of.

Overall, this is an excellent reel, but it comes in at a price that is way more expensive than the other fly reels we reviewed. However as the old saying goes, "you get what you pay for", and in this case, that saying definitely holds true. It will be tough to find a smoother, more durable, more well-balance, and easy-to-use reel than the Waterworks Lamson Guru fly reel. We recommend this reel to anyone who wants the best fly reel they can get at am expensive, yet justifiable price.

What to Look for in a Fly Reel

Given fly reels are contsructed quite differently from other common reel types, such as spinning reels, it is important to be aware of some of the subtle differences. If you're solely a fly fisherman, then chances are you already have lots of knowledge in this area, but for those with minimal experience casting flies, we will provide some further information about important things to consider when looking for a new fly fishing reel.


Fly reels come in many different sizes, or "weights", that allow you to optimize the amount of backing and line on your current rod. Common fly reel weights are usually around 3-10, but you will often see a small range reported instead, such as "3/4" or "5/6". 

Given most fly reels will come in a variety of weights, how do you know which is the correct weight for you? This will depend mostly on the rod weight that you are currently using, and it's quite simple to match up. For example, if you are using a 7-weight rod, then a 7/8 fly reel should do the trick nicely.


Aside from the general action of casting and retrieving, the drag system is the main mechanical component of a fly reel. This allows you to alter the resistance on the reel when you are fighting a fish. Given this is an extremely important function of any reel, as well as an important aspect of fishing in general, most fly reels will have a decent drag system in place. 

However, if you want to ensure that you are getting what you want, it helps to know a little bit about how the drag system works. Most fly reels will employ a disc system, whereby numerous lubricated discs are stacked, and by tightening or loosening a knob you can change how firmly these discs are pressing together, ultimately adding or decreasing resistance on your reel. 

While we mentioned the drag system is an integral component of any reel, many fly fishermen find they don't have to worry about subtle differences between drag systems when fishing for trout, as standard drag system seem to work more than good enough for trout. Where it really matters is in saltwater where you have a chance at setting the hook on  a much larger or stronger fish that will fight your line for a prolonged period of time.

Lastly, specific drag systems on particular fly reels are best understood after extended use. Of course, this doesn't help much when you're shopping for a new fly reel, and "fast-acting disc drag system" doesn't always give you a good idea if one drag system is better than another. Therefore, we would simply recommend looking around at numerous customer reviews (not just our reviews), to see what various individuals say about the drag system. If the reviews are all over the place, stick with an angler who seems to be fishing for a similar species as you, and who may have the same level, if not more, experience.


This is a term you may see a lot when looking at different fly reels. So what is an arbor and why is it important?

The arbor is the part of the reel that the fly line and backing winds around. The main thing to recognize here is that you can get many different sizes of arbors, usually categorized as small/standard, mid-arbor, and large arbor fly reels.

In order to understand how the size affects the performance, it's best to compare the two extremes: small and large. A small arbor will be able to hold the most amount of backing and line, but the trade-off is a slower retrieval rate and more line memory.

Looking at the retrieval rate, an arbor with a smaller diameter will require more revolutions to retrieve the same amount of line when compared with a larger arbor. In terms of line memory, we are basically referring to susceptibility of the line to coiling, and ultimately, tangles or birds nests. With a small arbor, the line is more tightly coiled, and therefore it is more likely to have a residual coil/bend as it comes off the reel. Since the line on a large arbor is less tightly coiled, there is a lower chance of tangles or birds nests.

So why not always use a large arbor? Large arbors tend to be found on more expensive reels, so that's a practical factor to consider. Additionally, if you're fishing smaller freshwater fish like trout, often times a large arbor reel will cause a noticeable imbalance on the lighter rod. Combined with the fact that large arbors are often found on larger reels in general, these reels will often be a bit heavier than a small-arbor reel.

Generally speaking, if you're planning on fishing larger saltwater species that put up a strong fight, then you will likely want to use a large arbor reel due to the retrieval speed and robust construction, as well as the fact that it's weight will pair well with your rod. If you're fishing smaller freshwater fish like trout, you can still use a large arbor reel, but you may prefer something more lightweight and balanced on your rod. A mid-arbor reel will pretty much provide an average of the two, so if you're really not sure that can also be a good place to start.

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