What to Look for in a Fly Reel for Trout

Fly fishing equipment and gear has evolved in leaps and bounds in the last decade and fly reels are no exception. Ten years ago simple reels made out of stamped metal with click drag systems with very little stopping power were the norm. Some reel companies were making quality bar stock aluminum reels but the classic small arbor design was still standard. Large arbor designs with oversized spools for faster reeling had been introduced but were just beginning to catch on. Saltwater style sealed drag systems were a rarity in trout fly reels and super lightweight reels that were extremely durable were also hard to find.

Fast forward to the reel choices we have today and anglers have many high-tech, high-performance options available. Any fly fisherman who invests hundreds of dollars on a premium fly rod that is lightweight and powerful should look for a reel that will provide anglers an equally high level of quality. Below is a list of attributes anyone interested in purchasing a new reel for fly fishing for trout should consider.

Basic Construction

The material your reel is built out of is the first basic consideration. For those looking for a premium fly reel, avoid plastic or stamped metal reels. These reels will break or bend if dropped, stepped on or otherwise abused. Bent spools will go out of round and not work. To avoid these problems, choose a frame that is more durable and will last forever without bending or breaking. Look for a reel that is made out bar stock aluminum. These reels are chiseled out of one block of aluminum and are very sturdy.

Drag System

While saltwater strength stopping power is rarely, if ever, needed even for the largest trout, low-tech click and pawl drag systems usually have cheap plastic or metal components that are prone to failing and attract dirt and debris. Sealed disc drags like those featured in Hatch Reels keep out water and grit and also have plenty of resistance for when catching a monster trout in fast heavy water demands a beefy drag system.

Arbor Size

Large and mid-sized arbors are now pretty standard in most trout reels. Larger diameter spools allow anglers to reel in more line with each turn of the spool. Playing fish off of the reel on small diameter spools is time consuming and unreliable but with a large arbor it is easier to keep up with the fish and keep slack out of the line. Fly lines and backing are not tightly coiled on a large arbor so there is less memory and tangles. You will still find small arbors on some reels that anglers may prefer for nostalgic or traditional reasons.

Go Light

Technology has given rod builders the ability to make fly rods lighter and lighter over the years and fly reels have followed suit. It is important to have a reel that balances well on a fly rod. Modern reels like those made by Waterworks-Lamson weigh next to nothing but are durable and hold up to abuse. Light reels also help anglers avoid casting fatigue.

Most anglers shopping for a new fly rod will demo a few rods to cast and those looking for a new reel should check the fit and feel of a new fly reel on their rods. Choose your reel size based on your rod length and weight. Don’t overlook the importance of choosing a reel with superior features. At Vail Valley Anglers we have an extensive inventory of the best trout fly reels on the market from Tibor, SageWaterworks-Lamson, Hatch and more. Let us help you choose the best new fly reel for you.

Brody Henderson, Senior Guide and Web Content Writer