8 Weight Reel Shootout 2022 (6 Quality Fly Reels Tested)

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.

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An eight weight reel is the transition reel that takes you from bonefishing on the flats to chasing pike and musky in lakes and rivers. So it’s a freshwater fly reel one day and a saltwater fly reel the next.

It’s one of the most useful size reels you can own and it’s got a lot to live up to.

It’s going to be the hardest working reel you own and it needs to be able to keep up with you, hence this 8 weight reel shootout.

Below we run through everything you need to know to pick the right eight weight reel for you.

Our Best From The Review

Here is a summary of the top 3 reels from the lineup…

Top Pick

Orvis Hydros SL

An affordable, durable reel with an excellent drag system.

Orvis Hydros SL

The top pick from the review is the top-scoring Orvis Hydros.

It does everything impeccably well while having a terrible drag knob, but I think this is something most of us can live with.

It’s an affordable, durable reel with an excellent drag system that’s going to last and it comes with a lifetime warranty.

Maybe Orvis will read this and come out with a replacement drag knob.

Best Value

Redington BEHEMOTH Fly Reel

An affordable fly reel with amazing drag and good overall features..

Redington BEHEMOTH Fly Reel

The best value reel is the Redington Behemoth.

For the lowest-priced reel in the review it has amazing drag and scores pretty well in every department except for free spool pressure and durability.

You’ll have to set the drag a little above zero when pulling out line, and just try really hard not to drop it.

It does come with a lifetime warranty though, so if you do drop it, there is a fix around the corner.

Editor’s Choice

Orvis Mirage

This reel combines the best of performance and usability, with a great drag and retrieve rate combined with an excellent handle, drag knob, and durability.

Orvis Mirage

If it was me, I’d choose the reel that came in second place, the Orvis Mirage.

It doesn’t have the best adjustability, and it’s bloody heavy at almost 9 oz, but it does everything else amazingly well.

For me, it combines the best of performance and usability, with a great drag and retrieve rate combined with an excellent handle, drag knob, and durability.

Our Top Choices of 8 Weight Fly Reels

Best Value

Redington BEHEMOTH Fly Reel

An affordable fly reel with amazing drag and good overall features.

Redington BEHEMOTH Fly Reel

The Redington Behemoth did quite well when we tested it against our key categories with an average score of 65.

The reel has an excellent max drag and, and as Redington claims, it’s the highest in its class, and for the price it certainly is.

A max drag of 16.7 lbs is high enough to slow down any saltwater species you might target with an eight weight and most of it is usable too.

Drag and Start-up Inertia

It didn’t do so well in the adjustability department, only giving you 9% of the total drag when set at 50%, making it hard to know what the drag you set will actually come out of.

When set to free spool, it did terribly, providing barely any drag to stop a bird’s nest tangle when pulling out the line.

The start-up inertia was minimal, the weight acceptable and the retrieve rate was solid at 9 inches per turn.

You’ll be able to gather up sock pretty quickly when a fish starts running towards you.

Handle and Durability

The handle is long and easy to use and the drag knob is one of the best around.

Access is quick and it feels like second nature to use it.

The place the Behemoth really dropped points was in the durability department and being made from a die-cast process this was no surprise.

If you drop this reel, it’ll know about it and will likely bend and be unusable.

Score

  • Rating / 10
  • Max Drag: 9
  • Usable Drag: 9
  • Drag Adjustability: 6
  • Free Spool: 5
  • Start-up Inertia: 9
  • Retrieve Rate: 7
  • Weight: 7
  • Ergonomics: 8
  • Durability: 5
  • Total Score: 65
  • Results
  • Max Drag (lbs): 16.7
  • Usable Drag (lbs): 9.31
  • Drag Adjustability (% force at half): 9
  • Free Spool (lbs): 0.02
  • Start-up Inertia (%): 1
  • Retrieve Rate (In.P.Turn): 9
  • Weight (oz): 7.5

Specs

  • Arbor: Large
  • Drag: Carbon fiber
  • Line Capacity: Fly line with 200 yds of 20 lb backing
  • Diameter: 4 inches
  • Sealed Drag: Yes
  • Retrieve: Left and right
  • Material: Reddington’s secret

Pros

  • Excellent drag strength
  • Deep V spool for extra line capacity
  • Easy to use handle and drag knob
  • Large arbor for a quick retrieve
  • Corrosion-resistant and saltwater ready
  • Very affordable
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Clicker doesn’t last long
  • If you drop it, it’ll bend and maybe break
  • Not great in free spool with barely any drag

Editor’s Choice

Orvis Mirage

This reel combines the best of performance and usability, with a great drag and retrieve rate combined with an excellent handle, drag knob, and durability.

Orvis Mirage

The Orvis Mirage has done incredibly well with a score of 74 in our testing categories, coming in second place overall.

Drag

The max drag is pretty solid at 10.30 lbs but it would be nice if it was a little bit higher. That being said, it’s certainly enough stopping power for a bonefish.

An awesome thing about the Mirages is that all of the max drag is usable.

This means you can play a fish using the full drag spectrum your reel has to offer, rather than having to sit outside of the max.

Adjustability

In terms of adjustability, the Mirage is pretty poor, only giving you 14% of your drag power when set to 50%.

You’ll have to be careful when adjusting between 50 and 100% as the increments will go up very fast.

It’s an epic reel in free spool, giving you the perfect amount of pressure to pull the line off your reel without getting in a tangle.

This will come in very handy when you have to quickly get ready and make a cast to a fish that surprised you.

Retrieve Rate

The retrieve rate is excellent at 9.9 inches per turn, your lines will come in quickly and you’ll be able to inch down pressure on stubborn fish like tarpon.

The handle and drag knob are great, you can get to them easily and they’re both intuitive to use.

Durability

If you drop this reel you have nothing to worry about.

The machined 6061T6 aluminum build is tough as nails and won’t dent.

The main place the Mirage lost point was in the weight category – At almost 9 ounces, this is a pretty heavy reel that will tire out your casting arm faster than others.

Score

  • Rating
  • Max Drag: 9
  • Usable Drag: 10
  • Drag Adjustability: 6
  • Free Spool: 10
  • Start-up Inertia: 9
  • Retrieve Rate: 8
  • Weight: 5
  • Ergonomics: 8
  • Durability: 9
  • Total Score: 74
  • Results
  • Max Drag (lbs): 10.30
  • Usable Drag (lbs): 10.30
  • Drag Adjustability (% force at half): 14
  • Free Spool (lbs): 0.29
  • Start-up Inertia (%): 0
  • Retrieve Rate (In.P.Turn): 9.94
  • Weight (oz): 8.9 oz

Specs

  • Arbor: Super large
  • Drag: Carbon and stainless steel disc drag system
  • Line Capacity: Fly line with 200 yds of 20 lb backing
  • Diameter: 4.25 inches
  • Sealed Drag: Yes
  • Retrieve: Left or right, pick at purchase
  • Material: Machined 6061T6 aluminum

Pros

  • Go to full drag in a single knob rotation
  • Super-large arbor for a quick retrieve
  • Solid build that doesn’t dent or break
  • Easy to use ergonomic handle and drag knob
  • Excellent free-spool pressure
  • Good max drag power
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Drag increments don’t have great adjustability
  • A little heavy compared to others

Hatch Gen 2 Finatic

A reel great for catching small species like bonefish. It’s well sealed so it can used for both saltwater and freshwater.

Hatch Gen 2 Finatic

The Hatch Gen Finatic 7 did ok in our testing, but I was surprised that it didn’t make the top 3 – I would have bet on it, luckily I didn’t.

Drag

One place this reel fell down hard was in the max drag category with 5.49 lbs of pressure behind its multi-disc Rulon drag system.

5.49 lbs of drag just isn’t enough to go out into the world of saltwater with confidence and you’ll have to stick to smaller species like bonefish with this reel rather than going for tarpon. 

The being said, 100% of that max drag is usable and it’s excellently sealed, so whilst it might not be very high, it’s very reliable. 

Adjustability

It also hits the nail on the head with adjustability and free spool with 44% of the max drag when set at 50%, and 0.26 lbs of pressure in free spool, the perfect amount to avoid tangles. 

The reel did well with its retrieve rate of 9.22 inches per turn and did averagely in weight, ergonomics, and durability.

Handle and Durability

The handle is a little short and you sometimes knock your knuckles against the spool while using it, but the drag knob is great and there is zero pressure when you turn it.

If you drop the Finatic, it’s not going to break, but due to its softer coating, you’ll be able to tell as it’ll suffer some scars.

Score

  • Rating / 10
  • Max Drag: 5
  • Usable Drag: 7
  • Drag Adjustability: 9
  • Free Spool: 9
  • Start-up Inertia: 9
  • Retrieve Rate: 8
  • Weight: 6
  • Ergonomics: 7
  • Durability: 7
  • Total Score: 67
  • Results
  • Max Drag (lbs): 5.49
  • Usable Drag (lbs): 5.49
  • Drag Adjustability (% force at half): 44
  • Free Spool (lbs): 0.26
  • Start-up Inertia (%): 0
  • Retrieve Rate (In.P.Turn): 9.22
  • Weight (oz): 8.4

Specs

  • Arbor: Mid or large
  • Drag: Rulon multi-disc drag system
  • Line Capacity: 8wt fly line with 240 yds of 20 lb backing
  • Diameter: 4.25 inches
  • Sealed Drag: Yes
  • Retrieve: Left or right
  • Material: Machined Type 2 anodized aluminum

Pros

  • Excellent drag adjustability
  • Zero start-up inertia
  • Super sealed drag for zero maintenance
  • Tough materials for saltwater use
  • Quick retrieve rate thanks to the large arbor option
  • Good clicker sound
  • Easy to use drag knob and handle
  • Lifetime warranty with no service fee

Cons

  • Max drag should be higher
  • A little heavy
  • Scuffs when dropped

Ross Evolution R Salt

A durable reel with a great max drag for its size.

Ross Evolution R Salt

The Evolution R Salt came third overall when tested against all our key areas.

Drag

It has a mind-blowing max drag of 21.34 lbs, which is huge for a reel of this size.

I have no idea how they managed to cram that kind of power into an 8 weight, but I’m glad they did.

It does well with the usable drag too with around 10lbs, but it does pop its bubble in the adjustability department giving only 8% if the total drag when set at 50%.

Spool

It does poorly in the free spool department with only 0.12lbs of drag, so tangles could become an issue when pulling out line and you’ll want to set it a little higher than free.

The retrieve rate is pretty food at 9.87 inches per turn and ergonomically it does ok too.

The handle is easy to use and the drag knob is fine too, although it does take a little getting used to due to the open design.

Weight and Durability

The reel is a little heavy, but it’s not the worst and in terms of durability it’s pretty good. It’s not likely to dent or suffer scuff marks when dropped.

It’s only weak point is the ported reel seat which will bend when dropped at the wrong angle, but you’d have to be unlucky for this to happen.

Score

  • Rating
  • Max Drag: 9
  • Usable Drag: 10
  • Drag Adjustability: 6
  • Free Spool: 7
  • Start-up Inertia: 9
  • Retrieve Rate: 9
  • Weight: 6
  • Ergonomics: 7
  • Durability: 7
  • Total Score: 70
  • Results
  • Max Drag (lbs): 21.34
  • Usable Drag (lbs): 9.98
  • Drag Adjustability (% force at half): 8
  • Free Spool (lbs): 0.12
  • Start-up Inertia (%): 0
  • Retrieve Rate (In.P.Turn): 9.87
  • Weight (oz): 8.2

Specs

  • Arbor: Large
  • Drag: Multi-disc stainless steel and carbon fiber system
  • Line Capacity: 8wt fly line with 215 yds of 20 lb backing
  • Diameter: 4.025 inches
  • Sealed Drag: Yes
  • Retrieve: Left or right
  • Material: Machined aluminum

Pros

  • Made for palming for some extra-human drag when you need it
  • Exceptionally high max drag
  • Good line pickup and capacity
  • Sealed drag for reduced maintenance
  • Lifetime guarantee
  • Easy to use the handle

Cons

  • Not the best drag adjustability or free spool pressure
  • A little heavy
  • The reel seat can bend when dropped at the wrong angle

Sage Reels Spectrum LT

One of the lightest reels in the market. With better than average retrieve rate, ergonomics, and durability.

Sage Reels Spectrum LT

Sage’s Spectrum LT was the worst reels we tested against our key categories. With a score of just 60, this reel has got a long way to go.

Drag

The max drag is minimal at just 3.26 lbs, and although 100% of it is usable, there still isn’t much to use. I’d be scared to cast at a bonefish with this reel unless it was tiny or I could chase it with a boat.

Adjustability

It’s ok in the adjustability department with 25% of the drag force being given when set at 50% but with such a small drag to work with, it had to benefit them somewhere.

The free spool setting is just fine at 0.13, there is just about enough stopping power to avoid a bird’s nest.

Weight

One place this reel does shine is in the weight department.

At 6.1 oz it’s one of the lightest 8weight reels on the market and will balance a new lightweight rod perfectly and save you an arm ache.

Other Features

The retrieve rate, ergonomics, and durability are better than average, the handle is a little small though and it comes with a ported reel seat that’ll be when dropped at the wrong angle, like on the Ross above.

Score

  • Rating
  • Max Drag: 3
  • Usable Drag: 5
  • Drag Adjustability: 7
  • Free Spool: 7
  • Start-up Inertia: 9
  • Retrieve Rate: 7
  • Weight: 8
  • Ergonomics: 7
  • Durability: 7
  • Total Score: 60
  • Results
  • Max Drag (lbs): 3.26
  • Usable Drag (lbs): 3.26
  • Drag Adjustability (% force at half): 25
  • Free Spool (lbs): 0.13
  • Start-up Inertia (%): 0
  • Retrieve Rate (In.P.Turn): 8.76
  • Weight (oz): 6.1 oz

Specs

  • Arbor: Large
  • Drag: Carbon fiber disc system
  • Line Capacity: 8wt fly line with 200 yds of 20 lb backing
  • Diameter: 4 inches
  • Sealed Drag: Yes
  • Retrieve: Left or right
  • Material: Machined 6061-T6 aerospace grade aluminum

Pros

  • Super lightweight
  • One revolution to get to max drag
  • Made from quality materials for saltwater
  • Good drag adjustability
  • Handles being dropped well
  • Lifetime guarantee

Cons

  • Tiny max drag
  • The handle is a little small
  • The reel seat can bend

Top Pick

Orvis Hydros SL

An affordable, durable reel with an excellent drag system.

Orvis Hydros SL

Here we have our overall winner, the Orvis Hydros SL, with a score of 76. It performed excellently in most categories but fell down hard in one of them, which we’ll talk about in a bit.

Drag

The drag on the Hydros SL is excellent.

It has a max of 14.12 lbs, 12.63 of which is usable, and it’s incredibly accurate in adjustability, giving 48% of drag power when set at 50%.

With this reel, you know where you stand with every click of the dial whilst being covered by more than enough usable drag for tarpon, bonefish, permit, you name it.

Spool

It also does excellently when in free spool with 0.19 lbs of pressure that’ll stop any kind of bird’s nesting that could potentially happen.

The retrieve rate, weight, and durability are all good or excellent.

Your line winds in fast, the reel won’t weigh you down (it’s lighter than most), and if you drop it, you’ll barely be able to tell when looking at the reel.

Handle

The handle is ok but the one sad thing about this reel is its drag knob.

It’s too small to make a solid turn on and there is some kind of indent on it for your thumb that is more likely to cut you than help you turn it.

If Orvis could change this one thing, they’d have one of the best 8 weight reels around.

Score

  • Rating
  • Max Drag: 9
  • Usable Drag: 10
  • Drag Adjustability: 10
  • Free Spool: 8
  • Start-up Inertia: 9
  • Retrieve Rate: 8
  • Weight: 7
  • Ergonomics: 6
  • Durability: 9
  • Total Score: 76
  • Results
  • Max Drag (lbs): 14.12
  • Usable Drag (lbs): 12.63
  • Drag Adjustability (% force at half): 48%
  • Free Spool (lbs): 0.19
  • Start-up Inertia (%): 0
  • Retrieve Rate (In.P.Turn): 10.19
  • Weight (oz): 7.7

Specs

  • Arbor: Large
  • Drag: Carbon & stainless steel multi-disc
  • Diameter: 4.25 inches
  • Sealed Drag: Yes
  • Retrieve: left or right
  • Material: Machine anodized aluminum

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Worth a lot more than the price
  • Lighter than most reels with the same drag
  • Excellent max drag
  • Good linear drag adjustability
  • A lot of usable drag
  • Superfast retrieve rate
  • It can handle being dropped
  • Lifetime warranty

Cons

  • Could have a larger line capacity
  • Awful drag knob that’s a pain to use

What Makes The Best Saltwater Fly Reel?

Fisher Holding a Bonefish
Fisher Holding a Bonefish

There are quite a few things that make up a good saltwater fly reel.

Firstly it has to be able to survive in saltwater and should be made of corrosion-resistant durable materials like anodized aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium.

The next thing is about the drag.

Saltwater species run fast and the best saltwater reel will have enough stopping power to handle them.

Usable Drag

The reel should also have enough usable drag, the drag settings you’d use to fight a fish with.

It’s not just about the max or usable drag though, start-up inertia and adjustability play a large part as well.

The drag should start up smoothly without any slipping points, and it should adjust linearly, so when you’re setting the knob to 50% you’re getting 50% of the drag. This makes adjusting your drag when fighting a fish a lot easier.

Protection

The drag should also be fully sealed to ensure no dirt, grit, or saltwater can get inside and seize the drag system.

The last thing you want is to hook a 10lb bonefish and your drag to seize so you watch swim away when the line breaks instead of taking a picture with a fish of a lifetime.

Weight

Weight is also an important factor.

Heavy reels weigh down your casting arm and can make you tired just when you don’t want to be, and that’s always when a big fish swims by.

The last thing is about arbor size and how quickly a reel picks up the line so you can avoid slack during a fight, ensuring that the hook stays put and you don’t lose the fish.

Testing

Casting a Fly Rod
Casting a Fly Rod

We looked at each in-depth and found out all the dirty details about each one after it had been tested in the field.

We then scored each reel out of 10 on how it performed in all the key areas details below.

Key Performance Areas

Max Drag

Maximum drag is something you don’t often use when fly fishing, as using it would usually end up breaking your line and losing the fish.

It is, however, an excellent benchmark for the overall performance of a reels drag system, plus it’s always nice to know how far you can go.

Capacity

If your car does 180mph you’re not going to drive it around at that speed the whole time, but knowing it can get there proves the quality of the component parts and the overall design.

With an 8 weight reel, you need a minimum max drag of 8lbs, as this is enough force to stop a big saltwater species like a 15lb redfish.

Usable Drag

Usable drag refers to the amount of drag you’re likely to set the reel to while fighting a fish, unlike max drag which is all about the performance of the drag system.

Usable drag is measured by the amount of drag the reel gives you when turned up to between and ½ and ¾ of the max available, as this is your fighting drag area.

Indication

A usable drag measurement is one of the most important factors in a saltwater fly reel, as it lets you know how much of the max drag force you’re getting in that fighting sweet spot.

This allows you to tailor your drag to the fish and leader weight you’re using, giving the ability to turn up the pressure when you need to without busting your leader.

Drag Adjustability

When you adjust the drag of your fly reel using the drag knob, you want it to go up linearly.

When you set it to 25% on the knob you want 25% of the max drag, and at 50% it should give you 50% of the max, and so on.

Here is a quick video on how to set your drag…

HOW TO SET YOUR DRAG

Output

Having a reel that when set to 50% gives you 10% or 70% of the max drag is a nightmare to manage when you’re trying to get the right drag force you want.

You’ll never actually know with certainty how the drag knob setting correlates to the actual drag force you’re getting.

This results in you constantly checking and possibly setting the wrong drag for the fish you’re after, leading to lost fish, broken lines, and spooled reels.

Free Spool

When you’re pulling out line to make a cast, you’re setting your reel’s drag to the minimum on the drag knob.

This is so you have minimum resistance and can get the line out quickly enough to make a quick cast to a fish that’s just shown up out of nowhere.

Tangle

The last thing you want is for the spool to go completely free because with each pull of line you make, the spool will keep turning, and you’ll look down to find a giant tangled nest and won’t be able to make a cast.

Just what you want when you’re rushing to cast to a permit that’s just crept up on to the flat, not!

At free spool, you’re looking for the reel to give you just enough drag, around 0.4 lbs, to let you take the line off your reel quickly but not allow a bird’s nest to happen.

Start-Up Inertia

Start-up inertia refers to how long it takes the drag system to engage fully when it goes from zero (no fish pulling on the line) to a hundred (a bonefish peeling line off at 20mph).

At this moment the drag should engage smoothly without slipping up at all and give consistent drag from start to finish.

Reel Slip

Reels with poor start-up inertia will slip at the beginning, giving you a varying drag force until the system fully engages and it goes smooth.

This can be a real problem when you’re fighting large and quick saltwater species like tarpon as the pressure you’re putting on them keeps moving around. It can end in the line breaking or the fish running off with too much line early on in the fight.

Arbor Size and Retrieve Rate

Blue Fly Reel Closeup
Blue Fly Reel Closeup

The retrieve rate of a fly reel is one of the most important factors to consider in terms of performance and the higher it is the more fish you’re likely to end up catching.

Quite often during a fight, a fish will turn and start swimming towards you.

This is the moment when everything can go wrong.

The slack takes the pressure off the hook and allows the fish to shake the hook out unless the angler winds as fast as possible to keep the line tight during this critical moment. 

Tight Line

Therefore the higher the retrieve rate, the easier it is to keep the line tight in these situations, and this comes down to the size of the arbor.

An arbor for those that don’t know, is the mid-section of the spool where you would attach your line to in order to fill the reel.

The larger the arbor, the more line you’re going to wrap around it with each wind, and therefore the faster your retrieve rate.

NOTE

Most reels claim to have a large arbor but each large arbor differs in size which is why we looked at how many inches per turn each reel had.

Weight

The fly fishing industry is making rods and reels lighter and lighter each time they upgrade their product lines.

This is great for us fly fishermen, as we will be able to fish with a lighter set-up than ever, taking away those arm arches we all get when casting over 200 times in a day.

The lighter the reel the better, to keep your casting arm loose and ready, and to balance out the superlight rods that are hitting the market correctly.

Reeling Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed our 8weight reel shootout.

The data speaks for itself a little bit and working out the right 8 weight for you does come down to personal preference a little bit. If you’re still undecided which is best for you, here are a few more pointers.

Top Pick

If you’re looking for something light with great overall performance, then the Orvis Hyrdos is the obvious choice.

It’s the winner of the shootout, has an amazing drag system, and is super durable.

Best Value

Where budget is your main driver, the Redington Behemoth it was you’re after.

It’s an excellent reel all-around, and when you consider the low-price, it’s quite exceptional. The drag is big and reliable, like the retrieve rate and it’ll serve you well in the saltwater.

Editor’s Choice

If budget is of no concern, and you’re looking for the best performance combined with usability, then the Mirage is what I would choose.

It does everything exceptionally well except for the fact that it’s heavy. If you can live with that, and I certainly would, then this is the 8 weight reel for you.

Thanks for ready and I hope you found it useful.

Please share it around with your fishing mates and check out some of my other articles the ‘the best polarized sunglasses for fishing.

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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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