Published September 14, 2021
Ask any saltwater fly angler, and they’ll tell you:
If you’re going to target fish in the ocean, you’d better have a reel you can trust.
Imagine hooking into a once-in-a-lifetime tarpon or giant trevally, if you haven’t already. You’ll be into your backing, and the fight of a lifetime, quickly. To land a fish like this, your reel is going to put in work.
There’s a series of considerations you’ll want to take if you’re shopping for a new saltwater fly fishing reel.
Whether this is your first foray into the world of saltwater reels, or you’re looking for the best saltwater fly fishing reel available, we’re here to help.
Our “best saltwater fly fishing reel” guide below will walk you through the simple steps of choosing your new reel and help ensure you are getting the best gear for your budget and application.
In this new guide you’ll learn:
- Our picks for the best overall saltwater fly fishing reels
- The best saltwater reels for the money
- Including the best saltwater fly reel under $300 and $150
- The difference between saltwater reels and freshwater reels
- What to look for in a saltwater reel
Best Saltwater Fly Fishing Reels
It’s clear that the good folks at Ross Reels know what they’re doing. Well established as a trusted name in the fly fishing industry, the Colorado-based company makes a great saltwater fly fishing reel despite being landlocked.
The Ross Evolution R Salt is an awesome reel. It’s lightweight but still manages to pack a lot of stopping power and durability into the sleek, minimalist design
Somehow, Ross managed to take a 16-disc fully sealed drag system and pack it into one of the lightest saltwater fly fishing reels available.
This drag system is plenty to stop a gamefish in its tracks. The Evolution R Salt provides a perfectly capable amount of line retrieval for fighting fish. It’s got a durable finish and just looks flat-out sexy.
Coming in at a price of between $595 (7/8 version) and $695 (9/10) with Ross’s lifetime warranty, this is our pick for the best saltwater fly fishing reel on the market.
The drag on this reel is phenomenal, and it alone would be enough to make the Galvan Grip one of our best saltwater fly reels. The high-points on this reel go deeper than just that, though.
The Grip’s drag is smooth and stern. It consists of 2 ceramic ball bearings and carbon fiber and is entirely sealed.
As we’ll get to later on, this is a main factor in saltwater fly reel design—leaving your drag exposed to the elements can be deadly to your reel. The reel will feel right at home on the bottom of your favorite saltwater stick.
It’s got a simple, refined design and an ergonomic drag knob and handle. At a price of $535, backed by a lifetime warranty, you’re going to get a ton of performance for your investment.
Best Saltwater Fly Reel For the Money | Under $300.00
If you were simply handed the Orvis Hydros and told to test it out at sea for a weeklong saltwater trip, you’d never guess that it could be classified as a “best for the price point” fly reel.
This reel outperforms many more expensive reels, and nearly hangs with our choices for “best overall saltwater reel.” For this reason, the Orvis Hydros is our clear winner for the title of “best saltwater fly reel for under $300.”
The drag on the Hydros is awesome. It’s one of the most powerful drags you can find on ANY saltwater fly reel, regardless of price.
The drag is fully-sealed and beefy enough to handle gamefish deftly. It retrieves line quickly, scooping up over 10” worth per full turn.
Drag and line retrieval reign supreme in the search for the best saltwater fly fishing reel, and the Hydros does very well in both. It’s also coated with a durable finish to prevent it from picking up scuffs and boat rash.
The Orvis Hydros is without a doubt the best saltwater fly reel for under $300, making it one of the best for-your-money purchases in angling.
Best Saltwater Fly Reel For the Money | Under $150.00
Saltwater fly reels are typically more costly than their freshwater cousins, and for good reason. They’ve got to stand up to the elements and fight bigger fish.
With that in mind, it’s an absolute delight to find a sturdy, no-frills, shows-up-and-gets-the-job-done option like the Echo Bravo.
Coming in at a low price of $120, the Bravo is a steal. It looks the part of an affordable reel—nobody’s going to drop compliments on its appearance, but its performance will make anglers do a double-take.
For starters, it’s pretty remarkable that the Echo team is able to produce and distribute a reel with a sealed drag at this price point.
You won’t have to worry about corrosive salt getting into the drag’s inner-workings, so it appears that you can put a price on peace-of-mind. It’s not going to pick up line quite as fast as the Galvan Grip or the Ross Evolution R Salt, but it’s also not far off.
The Echo Bravo’s drag system performs on a series of carbon fiber discs, and this saltwater fly reel is a great bargain.
The Difference Between Saltwater and Freshwater Fly Reels
It’s best to think of saltwater and freshwater fly reels as two distinct categories with two distinct missions in mind. Freshwater fly reels are not made to withstand the elements and powerful fish that saltwater reels are. Salt is a coarse, corrosive element that will wear down a fly reel in a hurry.
Fly reels are about friction and repetitive motions, and when combined with salt, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
In addition to salt, saltwater fly reels are more often fished from boats in windier conditions, which can put inadvertent wear on your equipment as well. For this reason, saltwater reels are typically designed with durability in mind, whereas freshwater fly reels will sacrifice durability for a lighter design.
Then, there’s the matter of difference in species. A large trout or bass is a different fight than even some mid-sized saltwater gamefish such as bonefish or redfish. Without even getting into tarpon or tuna, you’re going to need a reel that can put the brakes on a bigger fish. Saltwater reels excel at this.
What to Look for in a Saltwater Fly Reel
One of the main differences between saltwater reels and freshwater reels involves an obvious distinction: the presence of salt and how the reel will respond.
While this seems simple, it’s important to understand what salt does to a reel. As salt works its way into a reel’s drag system, it will corrode the inner-workings of your fly reel. This will cause your reel to fail, and this doesn’t take as long as you’d think.
For this purpose, it’s important to choose a fly reel that features a fully-sealed drag system. This will make your reel last long and perform at the level you need it to, which brings me to the next consideration.
Saltwater fish are generally bigger and stronger than freshwater species. Because of this, you’re going to need a drag that can stop a gamefish. Freshwater reels won’t hold up to the demands of fishing for larger saltwater targets, so choose a saltwater reel that prioritizes drag.
Arbor Size and Line Retrieval
On the topic of playing saltwater species, another consideration you’ll want to make is the line storage and retrieval offered by your reel. Saltwater fish are going to take off and put you into your backing much more often than trout, so you’ll want a reel that can both store an ample amount of line and backing and pick up this line and backing quickly when called upon. When shopping for a saltwater fly reel, you’ll want to pick something with a large arbor.
We hit on durability as it pertains to drag systems, but overall durability is important, too. Salt doesn’t have to get inside the drag to grind away at your reel. You’re going to want a reel that’s anodized to protect the outside of your fish-retriever.
Hopefully this guide has helped you as you search for a saltwater fly fishing reel. Keep in mind that durability, drag, and line retrieval are the name-of-the-game and salt should stay on the outside of your reel. If you do that, you’ll be chasing gamefish with confidence after making an educated purchase.