Fly Fishing Equipment in Tackle Box

Best Saltwater Fly Reels For The Money (2020 Buyer’s Guide)

Saltwater fly reels are a different breed compared to their freshwater cousins…

The reels need to be built to manage the salty environment and stop big fish when they take their screaming runs.

If you’re new to saltwater fly fishing, it can be hard to pick the right reel.

Brands you’ve used for freshwater may not specialize in saltwater and it can take a while to find a reel you can trust.

Here’s a collection of some of the best saltwater fly reels for the money, to help you find the one for you… 

Our Favorites

Best All-Rounder

Maxcatch Sprint Fly Reel

This reel has been made with saltwater in mind. The body is made from machined aluminum and is said to be the toughest reel Maxcacth has ever made.

Maxcatch Sprint Fly Reel

The best allrounder is a reel that’s fit for purpose and can handle everything you throw at it while not breaking the bank. 

The best allrounder of the group is the Maxcatch Sprint.

This reel had been made for saltwater and performs well in every aspect for a great price.

It’s well made from quality materials to last a lifetime.

The power and quality of the drag is impressive and combined with the large line capacity, you can target most fish out there. 

Best on a Budget

Orvis Clearwater II Fly Fishing Reel

This is a budget reel from Orvis and they have done a great job. The reel is made from die-cast aluminum but claims to be as strong as machined aluminum.

Orvis Clearwater II Fly Fishing Reel

The best on a budget will be the reel that does the basics well while meeting a smaller budget.

This category goes to the Orvis Clearwater II reel.

It’s a reel you can rely on, with a good drag, a good build quality, and an amazing price tag. 

Editor’s Choice

Hardy SDSL Fly Fishing Reel

Hardy are known for making good reels and the SDSL is no exception. It’s made from a special machined aluminum alloy that is exceptionally tough. This means you can be in the waves, fall on a rock or drop it on a boat and know your reel with be fine.

Hardy SDSL Fly Fishing Reel

This is quite frankly the best reel in the line up based on my experience.

I’ve fished all over the world and have caught most species on a fly rod.

This prize has to go to the Hardy SDSL.

Yes, it’s the most expensive but it’ll last a lifetime and have your back against any fish out there. 

What To Look For

When you’re buying a saltwater fly reel there are a few things to think about.

Here’s a guide of what to look out for when making your choice…

Weight

If you’re a fly fisher you’ll know this, but I’ll cover this for any newcomers out there.

The reel you buy needs to match the weight of your rod. Fly rods and reels have the same weighting system, so it’s easy to work out.

If you have a 10 wt rod, you’ll need a 9/10 wt reel. Simple!

TIP

Choosing the right weight setup depends on what you’re targeting. Fly rods and reels get bigger and more powerful as you go up the scale, so the bigger the fish the higher the weight should be. 

Here is a simple guide to help you make sure you get the right weight for the species you want to catch. 

  • Bonefish – 8wt 
  • Permit and medium tarpon – 10wt 
  • Large Tarpon and offshore species – 12wt 

Arbor Size & Line Capacity

Arbor refers to the diameter of the spool on your reel

Reels can come in the small, mid and larger arbors.

For saltwater, you’ll mostly want a large arbor, but a mid-sized arbor is also manageable.

The bigger the arbor the faster your retrieve and the more line you can get on to your reel.

Drag

You’re going to need your drag in saltwater and it can make or break your chances of landing a big fish.

The drag can be sealed or unsealed, both of which are useful in their own ways.

A sealed drag stops water and dirt getting into the drag system and makes for easy maintenance.

The downside is you won’t be able to fix it yourself and will have to return it to the manufacturer if it fails. 

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An unsealed drag will require consistent care but you can get in there and replace parts if you need to. 

Your drag also needs to be able to handle the fish you’re after.

If you want to catch a marlin, your drag is going to have to be the toughest out there, whereas the drag you’ll need for a bonefish won’t be as robust. 

Durability & Frame

Most of the fly reels on the market are made from either die-cast or machined aluminum.

Die-cast aluminum is softer and will suffer from dents and bangs.

Machined aluminum is much tougher and will survive being bashed around.

The last thing you want is to show up to your fish spot, drop your reel and dent your spool so you won’t be able to fish. 

Sound

In fly fishing, you don’t need a reel to let you know you’ve hooked a fish.

Whether it makes a noise or not is a personal thing.

Some people enjoy silence and others like the sound of a screaming reel.

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Pick what you love but don’t compromise on quality for the sake of sound.

Our Top Choices of Best Saltwater Fly Reels

Redington Zero Fly Reel

This reel isn’t really made for use in saltwater but it will work if you’re fishing light for small species. The body is made from die-cast aluminum, but it’s not your normal die-cast.

Redington Zero Fly Reel

This reel isn’t really made for use in saltwater but it will work if you’re fishing light for small species.

The body is made from die-cast aluminum, but it’s not your normal die-cast.

Redington have their own alloy that can’t be machined.

…This reel is pretty tough and will handle saltwater well over time. 

Usually die-cast means the reel will be susceptible to dents and scrapes but this material is very different…

When you feel it in your hands, its light and delicate, but don’t be fooled.

This reel is pretty tough and will handle saltwater well over time. 

The drag on this reel is a simple click-drag and won’t give you much pressure at all.

Don’t think about trying to stop a fish with it, stick to targeting small saltwater species you can palm in or fight on the line.

It may corrode quickly too and is certainly not sealed.

Be sure to maintain it well. 

NOTE

It comes in a large arbor which is good for your retrieve rate and line capacity. The reel is also covered by Reddington’s lifetime warranty.

Specs

Pros

  • Large arbor for a quick retrieve rate.
  • Lightweight for long days of casting.
  • Great for targeting smaller fish on a light leader.

Cons

  • The drag is weak, you can’t target many species.
  • Not really made for saltwater.

Best All-Rounder

Maxcatch Sprint Fly Reel

This reel has been made with saltwater in mind. The body is made from machined aluminum and is said to be the toughest reel Maxcacth has ever made.

Maxcatch Sprint Fly Reel

This reel has been made with saltwater in mind…

The body is made from machined aluminum and is said to be the toughest reel Maxcatch has ever made.

This means it’ll handle being banged around and won’t dent.

The body is made from machined aluminum and is said to be the toughest reel Maxcacth has ever made…

The drag is smooth and is made from a multi-disc system of alternating cork, carbon and stainless steel.

It has a lot of power and is sealed for easy maintenance but can slip in rare cases.

The fact it’s sealed means you can’t fix it yourself if it does fail.

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There are some reports that it’s hard to set the right drag as the knob isn’t very sensitive but this could be user error.

The reel is a large arbor for a great retrieve rate and they have made the reel with a deep V design to increase the line capacity – which is huge on this reel!

The spool pops out easily and you can switch from left to right-hand quickly. 

Specs

Pros

  • A smooth multi-disc drag.
  • Lightweight for long days of casting.
  • Great line capacity.

Cons

  • The drag can slip on occasion.
  • Sealed drag means you can’t maintain it yourself
  • It’s hard to set the right drag.

Riverruns Z Fly Fishing Reel

This reel is made up of machined aluminum for increased strength and durability. It’ll handle life in the salt and being bashed around a little. The reel also has an anodized surface for even more protection against corrosion and scrapes.

Riverruns Z Fly Fishing Reel

This reel is made up of machined aluminum for increased strength and durability…

It’ll handle life in the salt and being bashed around a little.

The reel also has an anodized surface for even more protection against corrosion and scrapes.

This reel is made up of machined aluminum for increased strength and durability…

The drag is made up of a (supposedly) sealed multi-disc carbon and stainless steel system.

There are reports of the drag not being fully sealed and this’ll become an issue as you can’t get in there to clean it.

The drag will also not ‘free spool’ and will always apply some pressure.

This can get annoying and it’s a worry for storage purposes since if the drag is always on it can easily stick after being left for a while. 

It has a large arbor design for a good pick up and a great line capacity.

The spool also comes out easily and it’s not hard to switch from left to right-hand retrieve.

TIP

Be careful when ordering this reel as there are some reports of them arriving oversized compared to the specifications. 

Specs

Pros

  • Strong smooth drag.
  • Good line capacity.
  • Machined aluminum is very durable.

Cons

  • The drag isn’t fully sealed.
  • Drag won’t go to zero.
  • Reels can come oversized.

Piscifun Crest Fly Fishing Reel

This is a high-quality reel made for a life in saltwater and it has a great price tag. The drag is made up of carbon, Teflon, and stainless steel in a multi-disc system. They alternate the materials in order to ensure a smooth and powerful performance.

Piscifun Crest Fly Fishing Reel

Piscifun Crest Fly Fishing Reel

This is a high-quality reel made for a life in saltwater and it has a great price tag.

The drag is made up of carbon, Teflon, and stainless steel in a multi-disc system.

This is a high-quality reel made for a life in saltwater and it has a great price tag…

They alternate the materials in order to ensure a smooth and powerful performance.

The drag is fully sealed, which is awesome for saltwater. Maintenance is super easy – all you need to do is rinse it after your done fishing and you’re good to go.

The reel is a little heavy due to the sealed system and you might get tired casting it all day, but that’s something you’re going to have to get used to if you’re flying for big salt fish. 

The reel has a solid line capacity and good retrieve rate, but the maximum size it comes in is a 9/10 wt.

This is fine for inshore fishing and medium tarpon but if you want to turn it up and go offshore (or target dinosaurs), you’ll need a reel that packs more of a punch.

The reel is made from machined aluminum which is durable, corrosion-resistant and will handle being bashed around a bit…

The reel is made from machined aluminum which is durable, corrosion-resistant and will handle being bashed around a bit.

When you fish in the sea, you are hopping on and off boats and often bang your reels on something.

You’ll want one that doesn’t bend when this happens. 

The reel is simple and easy to change from left to right hand retrieve.

The handle material is poor quality and it takes away from the reel, unfortunately, it could be better. 

Specs

Pros

  • Sealed drag for easy maintenance.
  • Lifetime warranty included.
  • Large arbor for good line capacity and retrieve rate.

Cons

  • Heavier than other reels.
  • Max size is a 9/10 wt.
  • The handle feels flimsy.

Editor’s Choice

Hardy SDSL Fly Fishing Reel

Hardy are known for making good reels and the SDSL is no exception. It’s made from a special machined aluminum alloy that is exceptionally tough. This means you can be in the waves, fall on a rock or drop it on a boat and know your reel with be fine.

Hardy SDSL Fly Fishing Reel

Hardy are known for making good reels and the SDSL is no exception…

It’s made from a special machined aluminum alloy that is exceptionally tough.

This means you can be in the waves, fall on a rock or drop it on a boat and know your reel with be fine.

This reel comes in every weight you might need for any fish out there…

This reel comes in every weight you might need for any fish out there.

Finally, a manufacturer that offers a 12 wt reel! The drag matches this, and you can be confident in hooking any fish out there without worrying about your reel.

I’ve seen some great reels explode into pieces against a GT but never a Hardy, the fish lose when a Hardy reel is involved. 

The drag is sealed and made of a carbon fiber disc system which makes it smooth and powerful.

The maintenance is easy, just rinse off after your done fishing.

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The reel is heavy for casting but again, if you want to catch big fish on a fly you’ll need a heavy reel. 

The drag is easily adjusted with micro-increments, this means you can find the exact drag pressure for you.

This is very handy when you are permit fishing for example.

Permit are large and clever fish and you’ll need a very light leader to hook one.

If you drag wasn’t set right, it would pop on the first run.

Specs

Pros

  • Smooth, powerful drag.
  • Lifetime warranty.
  • It comes in every size.
  • Will handle big fish
  • Easily adjustable drag

Cons

  • A heavy reel to cast with.
  • It’ll put a dent in your wallet.

Best on a Budget

Orvis Clearwater II Fly Fishing Reel

This is a budget reel from Orvis and they have done a great job. The reel is made from die-cast aluminum but claims to be as strong as machined aluminum.

Orvis Clearwater II Fly Fishing Reel

This is a budget reel from Orvis and they have done a great job.

The reel is made from die-cast aluminum but claims to be as strong as machined aluminum.

This is not the case. If you give the reel a few bangs and scrapes you can see it’s still the same as a normal die-cast aluminum.

Just like any other die-cast reel, marks and dents appear easily.

The spool feels solid enough while you’re winding and giving it a whack makes it spin a few times so you can pick up line quickly.

You can feel its a little loose around the handle if you really focus in on it, but it’s hard to notice.

The drag is super smooth and powerful enough for smaller fish…

The drag is super smooth and powerful enough for smaller fish, but its not sealed…

Even in full lock, the drag peels off smoothly. It’s easily adjustable and is made from a stainless steel/rulon multi-disc system.

It only takes two full turns to get from zero to the max drag and you can feel the adjustments as you go. 

The reel itself is nice and light, making its a pleasure to cast with.

The spool is a large arbor for a great retrieve rate and line capacity, plus it’s easily switched from left to right hand retrieve. 

Specs

Pros

  • Strong, powerful drag.
  • Corrosion-resistant and durable.
  • Handy drag knob.

Cons

  • Not made for big fish.
  • Will dent with die-cast aluminum
  • Unsealed drag.

Redington Behemoth Fly Reel

Another reel from Redington made with their own unique die-cast material, the same material used in the first reel in the Reddington zero. This makes the reel strong and corrosion-resistant but affordable at the same time.

Redington Behemoth Fly Reel

Another reel from Redington made with their own unique die-cast material, the same material used in the first reel in the Reddington zero.

This makes the reel strong and corrosion-resistant but affordable at the same time.

The drag’s made from heavy carbon fiber and can offer up to 30 lbs of pressure.

The drag’s made from heavy carbon fiber and can offer up to 30 lbs of pressure…

That’s the most drag you’re going to find in a reel of this class…

You can go catch a sailfish with it no problem.

The drag also engages smoothly and consistently.

It’s easily adjustable and accurate, so you can find the perfect pressure you need.

It isn’t sealed though so you’ll have to take good care of it. 

The spool is a nice large arbor with a V design, making the line capacity and retrieve rate both petty awesome.

The spool also gives a great line lay, I’m not sure if Reddington meant to do this but it’s a great addition.

NOTE

The reel is pretty heavy for casting with all day but that’s usually a sign of quality construction. 

Specs

Pros

  • Smooth, strong drag.
  • Lifetime warranty.
  • Corrosion-resistant and durable.
  • Huge line capacity.

Cons

  • Unsealed drag means a lot of maintenance.
  • The reel is very heavy.

Conclusion

Best All-Rounder 

The allrounder is the Maxcatch Sprint…

This reel is well made from great materials, will survive the salt, has great line capacity and has a powerful drag.

It’s been designed for saltwater and does everything you need it to for a good price. 

Best on a Budget

The best on a budget category goes to the Orvis Clearwater II reel.

This is a simple entry-level saltwater reel that’s still reliable.

The drag is solid, durable, corrosion-resistant and you can’t beat the price.

Editor’s Choice

The overall best reel in the lineup is the Hardy SDSL.

I know it’s an investment price-wise but it’ll last you a lifetime.

It’s a reel you can really fall in love with.

There you have it, the best saltwater reels for the money.

I hope this helped you find the right reel for you.

When you do make your choice, just be sure the reel is going to last and can handle the fish you want to catch, that way you can’t go wrong!

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