Close up Photo of a Fly Fishing Reel

Best Saltwater Fly Reels in 2020 (Complete Buyer’s Guide)

Buying a saltwater fly reel is very different from buying a freshwater one…

After considering all the options our top picks were…

Saltwater fly reels are used to target some of the strongest fish in the world and deal with the harshest environment at the same time.

You’re going to need a durable, strong reel with a good drag if you stand a chance with fly-fishing.

Choosing the right one can be tricky…

Here we’ve put together the best saltwater fly reels out there so you can make the right choice. 

Our Favorites 

Here are our top three choices from the lineup, each one in its own category.

This is so you can have a variety to choose from depending on your needs.

Best All-Rounder

Piscifun Platte Fly Fishing Reel

Another good looking saltwater reel from Piscifun. It’s made from machined aluminum for corrosion-resistance durability, it’ll handle being banged around without being dented.

Piscifun Platte Fly Fishing Reel

The best all-rounder is about being good value and getting the job done.

The winner is the Piscifun Platte.

This reel is mid-ranged in price and well made from machined aluminum.

Its size, sealed drag, and power will be able to handle most of the fish you cast at. The sealed drag also means it’s going to be very easy to maintain. 

Best On a Budget

Maxcatch Avid Fly Fishing Reel

This reel is a step up from the Maxcatch Eco but is still good value. It’s made from machined aluminum for great corrosion resistance and durability. It’ll also survive bumps and scrapes without denting.

Maxcatch Avid Fly Fishing Reel

The best on a budget category is all about trying to find the best compromise between quality and price, while still having a reel you can rely on.

The reel that does this is the Maxcatch Avid.

It’s well made with great durability, has a smooth and strong drag system and will survive the salty environment. 

Editor’s Choice

Redington Behemoth Fly Reel

This reel is made from Reddington’s own material which can only be die-cast. It’s very corrosion-resistant and durable.

Redington Behemoth Fly 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.

Our Top Choices of Best Saltwater Fly Reels

Here are all the top reels we reviewed.

Each one’s a winner in its own right and they all have their different strengths…

Piscifun Sword Fly Fishing Reel

This is a great reel and it comes in at excellent value. It’s forged from machined aluminum making it corrosion resistant and very durable. It won’t dent or bend if you just drop it, unlike die-cast aluminum.

Piscifun Sword Fly Fishing Reel

This is a great reel and it comes in at excellent value.

It’s forged from machined aluminum making it corrosion resistant and very durable.

This is a great reel and it comes in at excellent value…

It won’t dent or bend if you just drop it, unlike die-cast aluminum.

It has purposefully been made to be light thanks to its hollow design which requires less material.

This’ll give your arm a break when you’re casting all day. 

The reel is mid-arbor which isn’t the best, a large arbor is better for your retrieve rate but it’s good enough.

The drag isn’t sealed, you’ll have to look after it a lot, and is made of a cork and stainless steel disc system.

It’s very smooth but the clicker is loose meaning the drag can be changed by mistake, which isn’t what you need.

The fact that it’s not sealed is useful, as it means you can get in there and clean it out as you need to.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with instructions on how to take the drag apart.

The surface of the reel has been hard anodized for even more protection against the salt water and it comes with a 3-year warranty…

The surface of the reel has been hard anodized for even more protection against the salt water and it comes with a 3-year warranty, which is always a nice addition.

It does come from the factory set to left-hand retrieve and if you want to switch it to right, you’ll have to call the company for instructions. 

Specs

Pros

  • A smooth multi-disc cork and stainless steel drag.
  • Lightweight for long days of casting.
  • Durable and made with corrosion-resistant materials.

Cons

  • It’s only mid arbor in size, reducing your retrieve rate.
  • There are no instructions on how to take apart the drag.
  • It can only be switched to right-hand retrieve with guidance.
  • Loose clicker on the drag means it can be changed by mistake.

Maxcatch ECO Fly Reel

This reel is made for beginner saltwater fly fishing and the largest size it comes in reflects that, a 7/8WT. This is the smallest size reel you can fish with in saltwater.

Maxcatch ECO Fly Reel

This reel is made for beginner saltwater fly fishing and the largest size it comes in reflects that, a 7/8WT.

This is the smallest size reel you can fish with in saltwater.

It’ll handle a few of the inshore species including bonefish, but don’t hook a permit or a tarpon with this guy.

The line capacity is far too small to handle them.

The reel is made from die-cast aluminum so it’ll be corrosion resistant, but it won’t do well against any big bumps and scrapes…

The reel is made from die-cast aluminum so it’ll be corrosion resistant, but it won’t do well against any big bumps and scrapes – it’ll dent.

The drag is unsealed and made from a multi-disc Teflon system.

It’s smooth and strong but the clicker can start to take the drag from zero to full too quickly after some time.

The reel itself is light, will be easy to cast with all day…

The large arbor design is great for your retrieve rate and the reel is easy to switch from left to right hand retrieve thanks to the one-way bearing.

The reel itself is light, will be easy to cast with all day and its great value for money. 

Specs

Pros

  • A smooth multi-disc Teflon drag.
  • Lightweight for long days of casting.
  • Easy to switch from left to right hand.

Cons

  • It only comes in small sizes.
  • The die-cast aluminum won’t survive bumps and scrapes well.
  • The drag clicker can start malfunctioning after a while.
  • Small line capacity

Best On a Budget

Maxcatch Avid Fly Fishing Reel

This reel is a step up from the Maxcatch Eco but is still good value. It’s made from machined aluminum for great corrosion resistance and durability. It’ll also survive bumps and scrapes without denting.

Maxcatch Avid Fly Fishing Reel

made from machined aluminum for great corrosion resistance and durability…

This reel is a step up from the Maxcatch Eco but is still good value.

It’s made from machined aluminum for great corrosion resistance and durability.

It’ll also survive bumps and scrapes without denting.

Spool

The spool is mid-arbor, again it’s not a large arbor so your pick up will be slower and your line capacity will be a bit less.

The largest size it comes in is a 9/10wt which will get the job done in most circumstances inshore.

Drag

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

It’s smooth and corrosion-resistant, but not sealed.

It sits on a one way bearing for immediate engagement and this also makes it easy to switch from left to right hand retrieve.

The drag knob is a bit sensitive and the drag increments are quite limited.

NOTE

The drag has also been known to slip when fighting trout on the smaller reels, which is worrying if you’re going into the big bad ocean. 

The reel comes with a 3-year warranty and Maxcatch’s customer service is excellent. 

Specs

Pros

  • It comes in a large enough size.
  • One way bearing for immediate drag engagement.
  • Machined aluminum is very durable.

Cons

  • Drag changes in big increments.
  • The drag can slip easily.
  • The drag clicker can start malfunctioning after a while.
  • Medium arbor size reduces your retrieve rate.

Piscifun Crest Fly Fishing Reel

This is a high-quality reel made for a life in saltwater. The drag is made up of carbon, Teflon, and stainless steel in a multi-disc system. It’s powerful, fully sealed and therefore is impervious to grit, sand, and water.

Piscifun Crest Fly Fishing Reel

This is a high-quality reel made for a life in saltwater.

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

It’s powerful, fully sealed and therefore is impervious to grit, sand, and water.

This makes looking after this reel easy – all you’ll have to do is rinse it off.

This is a high-quality reel made for a life in saltwater. The drag is made up of carbon, Teflon, and stainless steel in a multi-disc system…

The only worry might be if the drag fails.

You won’t be able to get in there to fix it, but it comes with a lifetime warranty so it can simply be replaced if that happens.

The sealed system does make it heavier than other reels but it’s worth it.

Arbor

The reel is a large arbor, great for picking up line quickly and the whole thing is made from machined aluminum, so its light, corrosion-resistant and durable against dents and scrapes.

The retrieve is silent and the click-drag lets you adjust it very accurately. 

The reel is designed simply which keeps it light and easy to change from left to right hand retrieve.

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

Specs

Pros

  • The drag is sealed making it easy to maintain.
  • Lifetime warranty included.
  • The reel is a large arbor for a great retrieve rate.

Cons

  • Slightly heavier than other reels due to the sealed drag.
  • You can’t maintain the drag yourself.
  • The handle material is low quality.

Sougayilang Oscar Fly Fishing Reel

This is an entry level reel for saltwater fly fishing and the largest size is a 7/8wt. The reel is made from machined aluminum for corrosion resistance and durability.

Sougayilang Oscar Fly Fishing Reel

This is an entry level reel for saltwater fly fishing and the largest size is a 7/8wt.

The reel is made from machined aluminum for corrosion resistance and durability.

It has a large arbor for a good pick up and retrieve rate.

It also has a hollow design, which makes it light for casting with all day. 

It has a large arbor for a good pick up and retrieve rate…

The drag sits on a one way bearing for immediate engagement and we’re told it’s made from a fiber composite – though that’s all the information we get, which worries me.

It’s not smooth and I’d be worried about hooking a fish in saltwater with it. 

The reel is easy to switch from right to left hand retrieve and it comes with a 5-year warranty.

The handle does tend to loosen and start to rattle.

Overall, you can’t expect too much for the price point but I’d worry about hooking a bonefish with this reel.

Specs

Pros

  • Its very light for easy casting all day.
  • 5-year warranty included.
  • The reel is a large arbor for a great retrieve rate.
  • It’s great value

Cons

  • The drag isn’t smooth.
  • No information about the drag system
  • Reel handle can loosen and rattle.
  • It only comes in small sizes.

Best All-Rounder

Piscifun Platte Fly Fishing Reel

Another good looking saltwater reel from Piscifun. It’s made from machined aluminum for corrosion-resistance durability, it’ll handle being banged around without being dented.

Piscifun Platte Fly Fishing Reel

Another good looking saltwater reel from Piscifun.

It’s made from machined aluminum for corrosion-resistance durability, it’ll handle being banged around without being dented.

Drag

The drag is sealed for easy maintenance and is made up of alternating carbon fiber, Teflon and stainless steel, an excellent combo for the salt.

It also packs a punch.

The reel comes with a lifetime warranty, so if you have any issues you can get it replaced…

The drag can fail in rare instances, this is most likely due to a defective unit but check it when it arrives.

The reel comes with a lifetime warranty, so if you have any issues you can get it replaced.

The drag knob is also extra-large and flat, meaning it’s easy to change mid-fight and you won’t get caught up in it.

Arbor

It has a large arbor design and comes with a left hand retrieve as standard.

You can change the retrieve over but it’s not easy and you’ll have to contact Piscifun for directions.

The reel is heavier than most but that’s thanks to its robust design and sealed drag. 

Specs

Pros

  • Sealed strong drag.
  • Lifetime warranty included.
  • Corrosion-resistant and durable.
  • Easy to maintain.
  • Handy drag knob.

Cons

  • A heavy reel to cast with all day but worth it for the sealed drag.
  • Hard to switch from left to right hand retrieve.
  • Drag can fail in rare cases.

Editor’s Choice

Redington Behemoth Fly Reel

This reel is made from Reddington’s own material which can only be die-cast. It’s very corrosion-resistant and durable.

Redington Behemoth Fly Reel

This reel is made from Reddington’s own material which can only be die-cast.

It’s very corrosion-resistant and durable.

The spool is bigger than most large arbors which is great for line capacity and a quick retrieve

The drag is made from heavy carbon-fiber and is said to be the most powerful drag in its class…

The drag is made from heavy carbon-fiber and is said to be the most powerful drag in its class.

It can put a serious hurt on fish!

The drag is adjustable to very small increments and its made easy thanks to the oversized aluminum knob.

The drag isn’t sealed and will need constant maintenance, but if it does fail you can get in there and fix it. 

This reel is very heavy and you’ll feel it casting all day. 

Specs

Pros

  • Very powerful smooth drag.
  • Lifetime warranty included.
  • Corrosion-resistant and durable.
  • Great line capacity.

Cons

  • The drag isn’t sealed and will need constant cleaning.
  • It’s a heavy reel to cast with all day.

What To Consider When Buying Saltwater Fly Reels

There are a few things to look out for when buying a fly reel to ensure you get what you need.

Here is a guide to the key factors you need to consider…

Weight

I’m sure you know this but just in case – make sure you buy the right weight reel for your rod.

They’re made with the same weighting system, so an 8wt rod needs a 7/8wt reel. Simple!

The power, line capacity, and drag systems get better and better as the weights get higher…

The weight of the rod and reel you have should be determined by the fish you want to catch.

The bigger and more powerful the fish, the higher the weight should be.

The power, line capacity, and drag systems get better and better as the weights get higher.

Here is a simple guide for what you need.

If the species you are after isn’t listed below, you’ll find what you need with a bit of research. 

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

Arbor Size & Line Capacity

Reels these days come in a range of arbor sizes.

Arbor simply refers to the diameter of the spool and the range is from small, to medium, to large.

The larger the arbor the quicker you can wind in your line and the more line you can get on your reel.

TIP

As a rule of thumb, always go for a large arbor, and why not if it’s there – it’s only going to help.

Don’t be discouraged if the reel you want is a medium arbor, it’ll still work just fine.

Drag

Your drag is very important in saltwater and you’ll depend on it to land your fish.

Some reels come with an unsealed or sealed drag.

A sealed drag protects the drag system from getting any water, sand or dirt in there, making it easy to maintain.

But because it’s sealed, you can’t get in there and fix it if something goes wrong.

TIP

An unsealed drag is going to need some love and attention, but if you get to know it, you’ll be able to keep it alive and fix it. 

The drag you need is also related to the fish you want to catch.

Almost all saltwater fish run fast and hard but there’s a big difference between a redfish and a sailfish.

Make sure the drag you choose can handle what you’re going after.

I had a sealed Sage reel in the largest size, hooked one GT with it and it never had drag again.

Not great when you’re stuck on an island in the Seychelles!

Durability & Frame

Most reels these days are made from aluminum and the way the aluminum is forged makes a big difference to durability.

Die-cast aluminum isn’t as strong as machined aluminum. A reel made from die-cast is likely to dent easily whereas a machined reel will be a lot more durable.

I’ve seen guys arrive in the Bahamas on a bonefishing trip, only to drop their reel while setting up and bend the spool.

That reel was done for their whole trip and they had to borrow one, all because it was die-cast and not machined. 

Sound

The sound a reel makes is a personal thing.

I prefer complete silence, the reel making noise isn’t helping me as I’m aware of what’s happening and don’t need the reel to tell me.

But some people love the sound of a screaming reel.

Make sure you get what you like but don’t compromise on quality for the sake of a clicker.

Conclusion

Out of all the reels we have looked at, here are the best of the bunch… 

Best All-Rounder

The best allrounder is the Piscifun Platte.

This reel is leagues ahead of most of the others and the reason it’s the allrounder is because it has been designed with saltwater in mind more than the others.

It has a large arbor, a strong sealed drag, it’s well made from machined aluminum for durability and it comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Best on a Budget

The best reel on a budget is the Maxcatch Avid.

It’s well made with great durability but still has excellent value.

The drag is smooth, strong and will handle most of the smaller saltwater species.

You’ll have to look after this one, as the drag isn’t sealed. 

Editor’s Choice

The Redington Behemoth is the best reel in the line up and the great thing is it’s not going to break the bank either.

The drag is exceptionally strong and it’s designed to be reliable in saltwater day after day.

The drag isn’t sealed, so you’ll have to keep maintaining it, but it’s made from great materials so it’s not going to corrode badly.

The 11/12wt size will handle most fish in the ocean and that’s what we need from the best.

If you’re serious about saltwater fly fishing then this reel is worth the investment, it’ll have your back and for a long time. 

There we have it, some of the best saltwater fly reels on the market for you to choose from.

Remember to think about what you’re trying to catch and their durability so you make the right choice for you and your fishing needs.

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