A Matter of Function and Taste
Nymphing (euro and otherwise) has continued to grow in popularity for fly fishers worldwide in the past decades, and for good reason.
Simply put, it’s deadly effective and can better your chances at an encounter with a fish when other methods aren’t working.
This review is about 4wt fly reels, the lightweight cousin to the all-purpose and ‘standard’ 5wt. These reels perform particularly well when using nymphs, and excel at providing a delicate presentation and accuracy, even when using tiny flies.
I’m going to do a deep dive here on some stellar products so you can buy with confidence if you’re looking for a lighter reel designed to improve your nymphing game.
In this article we will cover:
- Best overall 4 wt fly reels
- Best 4wt fly reels for the money
- Uses of a 4 wt fly reel
- What to look for in a 4 wt fly reel
- Types of 4 wt fly reels
- 4 wt fly reel frequently asked questions
- And much more!
Let’s get started!
4wt Fly Reel Reviews ( Best Overall)
Whether you’re committed to nymphing or not, Lamson makes good reels at an affordable price.
Many customers that reviewed the Liquid S Series from Lamson Waterworks say that these reels perform just as well as other reels that cost twice as much.
Most often, the -3+ model was paired with a 10’ 3wt rod, which seems to be the standard rod size and weight for nymphing applications. It is light and reliable, with a US assembled drag system and a pressure cast design.
One consistent fact that stands out in the reviews of this reel is that it performs well in freezing cold water, a condition that dedicated nymph-fishers are often faced with.
- 3.34” Diameter
- .99” Width
- 4.2 Oz Weight
- Pressure Cast Aluminum Case and Spool
- Can Hold 100 yards of 20# Backing Material
- Polyurethane Finish
- Available in Smoke or Vapor finish
- $129.99 Price Tag
- Ambidextrous Hand Orientation
- Large Arbor
- Lightweight and Functional
- Some manufacturer’s problems are reported with the drag, so test it before you take it to the water
- The pressure-cast aluminum case and spool are often more fragile than machined parts, so try to avoid overt abuse and hard falls on rocks and etc.
Hailing from Alnwick, England and in business since 1872, this company knows fly fishing. They have a storied reputation for producing quality gear designed for the most devoted and fickle fly anglers the world over.
Their Ultralight MTX reel is a fantastic example of this brand’s commitment to their craft. Hardy’s proprietary alloy that the reel is constructed with is super light but sacrifices nothing in power or durability with a 5 lbs max drag.
This expertly engineered reel has a fully customizable 340-degree drag system with a color-coded easy-to-read display that is both aesthetically pleasing and super useful when nymphing.
- 5 Oz Weight
- Proprietary Carbon Fiber/Aluminum Alloy Construction
- 1.0:1 Gear Ratio
- Sealed Disc Drag
- Ambidextrous Hand Orientation
- Titanium/Orange Color
- Fantastically well-engineered and aesthetically pleasing
- Color-coded drag system is user friendly and allows for precise tuning
- Large arbor and line capacity while remaining incredibly light
- Built to last
- I have extensively researched reviews of this reel and have found nothing that comes close to a negative report. The only thing off-putting about this reel is its $429.00 price tag, but with Hardy, you truly do get what you pay for
This is the flagship reel from Galvan, and it has brought the company international praise and attention from fly fishers the world over.
Numerous fly fishing publications hailed the reel as a modern marvel as far back as 2004 due to its meticulous construction and performance on the water.
Like the above offering from Hardy, this reel is simplistic, functional, and extremely aesthetically pleasing. Despite its lightweight, it is powerful and holds the standard amount of line and backing necessary for effective fishing applications.
- 0.85” Spool Width
- 4.5 Oz Weight
- ⅘ Line Weight Capacity
- 100 Yard 20# Micron Backing
- Available in Green, Clear, Black, Blue, and Burnt-Orange Colors
- Rigorously tested for extreme conditions
- Super light and balanced
- Published in various magazines and used in competitions
- Much like the above reviewed Hardy reel, it was basically impossible for me to find negative reviews of this fly reel. The high price tag is the only drawback to this expertly engineered piece of equipment
Sage is a newer company that provides quality products at affordable prices for newly initiated and seasoned anglers alike.
At my last virtual meeting, I even spied on one of my bosses wearing a Sage t-shirt. The Spectrum C fly reel from Sage is an all-purpose reel that works great whether you’re euro-nymphing or throwing dry bugs, with a large arbor for quick line retrieval, and Sage’s proprietary drag system with the detented surface.
The drag system is sealed to keep out sand and grime, and the whole reel is powder-coated to deter rust and damage. This is a workhorse of a reel that is still light and suitable for delicate presentations that hold its own against reels twice the price.
- 3 5/16” Diameter
- 4 5/8 Oz Weight
- 1 5/16” Width
- 3-4 Line Weight
- WF4 With 100 yards of 20# Backing
- Available in Grey, Black, and Copper Colors
- Affordable $165.00 price tag
- Quality workmanship and super functional
- Vented concave arbor for greater capacity and strength
- Precise and intuitive drag system
- Neoprene and ballistic nylon case included
- There were a few manufacturing problems with an unknown number of these reels last year, but Sage has gone above and beyond to correct this, so make sure the inner spool isn’t bent and retrieves the line without wobble
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Best 4wt Fly Reels for the Money
I’ve reviewed Redington products before, and they excel at producing affordable gear at reasonable prices, which draws in both the beginner and the guys that need backup equipment they can rely on.
This reel is incredibly light, and Redington boasts that this is the lightest reel in its line weight class. It pairs well with light long rods and has all the standard 4wt reel characteristics that other more expensive reels have at a fraction of the cost.
Instead of an advanced closed-seal disc drag system, Redington has opted for a traditional click-drag.
There are simply too many good reviews of this real, ranging from the beginner to the expert, and it performs just as well throwing dry bugs as it does small nymphs, making it a fantastic first reel for people new to the hobby.
- 3” Diameter
- Incredibly Light at 2.7 Oz
- Click Drag
- Large Arbor
- 100 yards of 20# backing capacity
- Super affordable without sacrificing quality ($79.95)
- Incredibly lightweight and balanced
- Simplistic and functional
- Some people have remarked that the click on this reel is LOUD, loud enough for them to mention it in their reviews, so I decided I had to note that here, although a loud click-drag has never bothered me personally. After a few months of heavy use, it does quiet down
- The finish used on this reel is prone to scrapes, scratches, and abrasion when used heavily and dropped, loaded, etc.
Patience is a virtue, but I must admit, I am sometimes not so virtuous. If you feel the same, this might be the reel for you.
This reel from Cheeky comes preloaded with backing, fly line, loop-to-loop leader, and tippet. They are proud to tout this reel as ready to fish directly out of the box.
The line supplied is Cheeky’s proprietary floating type and it is coated in an anti-abrasion finish. It features a welded loop, plus a leader and tippet. All you have to do is get it through your guides and tie a fly on.
- 3.9 Oz Weight
- WF3F Line with 100 yards of 20# backing
- Die-cast frame and body
- Large Arbor
- S-Power disc drag
- Silent retrieve
- Powerful drag system
- Affordable at $99.00
- Ready to fish out of the box
- The only negative thing that I could find about this reel is in relation to the pre-loaded line. There were a few customers who received the reel with the fly line improperly spooled onto the reel
- The fly line itself seems to be hit or miss, sometimes with structural issues like cracking, fraying or brittle leader.
Echo is another company that has consistently good reviews and solid products at an affordable price.
Their Ion fly reel is a lightweight and slim product that sports a disc drag system on a large arbor, with a satisfying click on both the delivery and retrieve.
- 2.9” Diameter
- .9” Width
- 4.8 Oz weight
- WF3 Line with 75 Yards of 20# Backing Capacity
- Large Arbor
- Disc Drag
- Incoming/Outgoing Click
- Affordable at $79.99
- Lightweight but powerful
- 12-Month Limited Warranty
- Every other reel reviewed here can hold the standard 100 yards of fly-line backing except this one. I personally don’t see this as a deal-breaker but it should be noted before you buy
Uses of a 4wt Fly Reel
As mentioned, 4wt fly reels are often paired with long, sensitive rods for nymphing. With contact nymphing, sensitivity is key to discern gentle strikes from trout when your nymph is on the bottom, and 4wt reels work well with lighter lines or even straight mono setups.
However, don’t forget about other bugs! Many trout anglers that are partial to blue-lining and fishing small streams for native brookies pair these reels with shorter rods for mountain stream use.
What to look for in a 4wt fly reel
There are many characteristics that the above-reviewed reels have in common. It should come as no surprise that many of these similar characteristics lean more towards using nymphs than other flies.
A large arbor is important for fast line retrieval, and advanced drag systems that are precise and able to be fine-tuned can make all the difference when trying to hook up with heavy tungsten nymphs (especially if you’re using barbless hooks!)
Other things to consider are the capacity of the reel, because how much and what type of line you have is critical to understanding how to get those smooth drifts that bring trout out of hiding.
Price is another major factor to consider. Some of these reels are downright pricey, even though they are marvelously well-engineered and super light. If you’re new to the nymphing game or you just wanna size down your favorite small-water fly setup, price is something you will need to consider.
Types of 4wt Fly Reels
Many 4wt reels possess a large arbor, and many fly anglers that have used large arbor reels simply don’t switch back to narrow ones. A large arbor fly reel has a much thicker and more solid center spool, meaning that you can get that line back quick for more drifts, or successfully get a big trout to the net without overplaying them.
Even guys not into the nymph game are gravitating more and more towards large arbor reels and away from the old narrow ones.
The drag systems in the reels above vary as well, falling either into the disc drag type or the classic click-pawl. I personally am a sucker for the satisfying click of the classic drag system, I think at this point my brain just associates that noise with fishing.
However, some of the more expensive reels in this review have very advanced mechanical disc drags, where the drag is produced from a sealed assembly of washers, and the drag is adjusted by how tightly they are positioned against each other.
Being able to fine-tune your drag can be important when concerning the hook set and while playing a big fish, but I can honestly say that I have yet to encounter a situation where my knockoff Japanese Pflueger Medalist has failed me with its click-pawl drag.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Does my 4wt fly reel need to be paired with a 4wt fly rod?
A: The answer here is no! The most common accompanying rod to a 4wt reel that I’ve found is 9-10ft 3wt rods for euro nymphing, but much like other fly combos, no you do not have to pair your 4wt reel with a 4wt rod.
Q: Can a 4wt fly reel handle larger fish?
A: Yes, it can. While it may take some getting used to, these reels are more than capable of handling bigger fish. It has more to do with how you play them than the capabilities of a reel’s drag system.
Q: How to set up my 4wt fly reel?
A: A 4wt can be set up the same way as your normal 5wt, meaning backing, to fly line, to the leader.
While I do know a few anglers that swear by straight mono running line when engaged in euro-nymphing, most of the reels in this review were set up the traditional way.
Only the Echo Ion reel does not hold the standard 100 yards of 20# backing, all the others do.
Q: What are the differences between a 4wt fly reel and a 5 or 3 wt?
A: Some differences are the size of the arbor, line weight, capacity, and overall weight.
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Conclusion/Reeling it in
There is so much information available about the next best, lightest, or most cutting edge reel that being in the market for one can be slightly intimidating.
This, combined with some large price tags on the big brand name might make some just forgo purchasing one altogether.
But they do have their uses and are gaining serious popularity as of late, so if you’re on the fence consider one of the more affordable models in this review and give them a try whether you’re nymphing or not. As always, good luck and tight lines.