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Fly reels for trout fishing serve two main roles: To hold your fly line and backing and to have a drag capable of tiring out a fish during a fight. Pairing the right reel with your fly rod will help get the most out of your setup. As a combo, they should balance around the handle. This allows you to comfortably cast without the rod feeling too tip-heavy or back-heavy.
When you are fighting small trout, you can strip in line by hand. But if you’re fighting a trout that can snap your leader, it is critical to rely on the drag. A quality fly reel will have a smooth drag that applies consistent pressure to the fish, giving you the ability to land it. Here are the best fly reels for trout on the market.
- Best Overall: Ross Reels Colorado
- Best for Small Stream: Orvis Battenkill
- Best Euro Nymphing: Redington Tilt
- Best for Streamer Fishing: Greys Tital Fly Reel
- Best Budget: Orvis Clearwater
How We Made Our Picks
I spent many years managing a fly shop and fishing for trout in the Northeast. The best reels I fished with and saw come through the shop had three things in common: They were strong, smooth, and reliable. A reel that excels in all three of these categories will be able to fight powerful trout without issue. Here are some other considerations I made when selecting the top trout reels:
- Drag System: Is it a click-pawl reel or disc drag system? If it’s disc drag, is it sealed?
- Drag Power: How powerful is the drag system?
- Tolerances: Whether CNC or Cast, how tight are the tolerances?
- Comfort: How does the reel feel in your hand?
- Durability: Can it withstand the wear and tear that most anglers will put it through?
- Cost: Is the reel a good value for what you get?
The Best Fly Reels for Trout: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Ross Reels Colorado
- Sizes: 2/3 wt and 4/5 wt
- Weight: 3.2 oz (2/3) and 3.5 oz (4/5)
- Drag type: Click-Pawl
- Easy-to-switch handle retrieves
- Smooth retrieve
- Could use more line storage
This click and pawl reel borrows technology from the roots of fly fishing and pairs it with a modern look. The Colorado is perfect for balancing out with today’s ultra-lightweight rods. It has a crisp and smooth drag system with almost no startup inertia. For anglers that prefer to retrieve with their left hand, this is among the easiest reels to switch. Since click-pawl reels have the same drag strength in either direction, all you need to do is flip the reel over, and you’re ready to go.
Best for Small Stream: Orvis Battenkill
- Sizes: 1-3 wt, 3-5 wt, and 5-7 wt
- Weight: 2.8 oz (1-3 wt), 2.9 oz (3-5 wt), 3.2 oz (5-7wt)
- Drag type: Click-Pawl
- Reliable and durable construction
- Offered in a range of sizes for different rods
- Best for light rods and small stream fishing
Of all the fly reels I’ve owned, none have held up like the Orvis Battenkill. It’s a machined aluminum reel that is a budget buy in the world of computerized numerical control (CNC) reels. This gives anglers the reliability they need to put this reel through the works. I’ve dropped mine in the dirt and filled it with silt more times than I care to admit. Yet, time and time again, it performs flawlessly come the next fish. The drag system is a classic click-pawl drag that sings when a fish is on the run. Available in three different sizes, there’s a reel for ultralight 2-weights all the way up to 7-weights for slinging streamers.
Best Euro Nymphing: Redington Tilt
- Sizes: One size
- Weight: 5.7 oz
- Drag type: Adjustable carbon fiber disc drag
- Unique weight balancing system for longer rods
- A large spool makes line pickup quick
- Full-frame reel design prevents narrow euro lines from slipping between the frame and spool
- Not the best-looking reel
European nymphing has exploded across the fly-fishing scene as an effective way to catch a lot of fish. It utilizes rods 10 feet or longer and thin-diameter fly lines. The Redington Tilt is designed with long rods in mind. It features three removable one-ounce weights, capable of balancing rods from 0- to 5-weight. An ideal balance should be slightly in front of the reel. With long rods, the further back it’s balanced, the lighter it feels to cast all day.
The reel also incorporates a large arbor with a full frame design. Thin euro lines are known to jump off a spool and into the space between the spool and frame. The full-frame design prevents this from happening. Plus, an adjustable carbon fiber drag gives anglers a wide range of drag pressure.
Best for Streamer Fishing: Greys Tital Fly Reel
- Sizes: 5/6 wt
- Weight: 6.8 oz
- Drag type: Sealed carbon disc drag
- Fully Sealed
- Powerful Drag
- Could use more backing capacity in smaller sizes.
It’s a natural progression in any trout angler’s career to turn to streamer fishing. Slinging big bugs at the bank draws bites from big fish. To fish them effectively, anglers use heavy rods paired with large arbor reels. The Greys Tital is a large arbor reel that offers plenty of line capacity in a lightweight package. Designed as Greys’ flagship model, it is overengineered to withstand saltwater and freshwater scenarios. The reel pairs well with most rods in the 6- to 8-weight range. It is complete with a fully sealed carbon disc drag system to help you fight and land big fish.
Best Budget: Orvis Clearwater
- Sizes: 4/5/6 wt or 7/8/9 wt
- Weight: 5.5 oz or 6.3 oz
- Drag type: Adjustable disc drag
- Reliable reel for a casting reel
- Large arbor design
- Only available in two sizes
- Slightly heavy
Every fly reel should offer three things: A strong drag system, plenty of line capacity, and a comfortable feel. The Orvis Clearwater does all three. It is a casting reel, meaning it’s poured into a mold rather than machined. Hence the lower price point. Regardless, the reel tolerances are tight, and it performs like high-end machined reels. The drag system gets its stopping power from a Rulon and stainless-steel disc stack. While not a carbon disc drag, it is still plenty powerful and easy to adjust. The spool is a true large arbor design capable of holding plenty of backing and a fly line. On the water, it is comfortable in the hand and balances with most trout rods.
Things to Consider Before Buying The Best Fly Reels for Trout
Trout reels are an essential piece of any setup. Whether dry fly fishing, nymphing, or streamer fishing, a good reel is the final piece in building the perfect combo. Consider the following when selecting a trout reel.
Disc Drag or Click-and-Pawl
There are two main types of fly reels ideal for targeting trout. The most popular style is made with a disc drag. This style allows you to quickly adjust your drag, much like you would on a spinning rod, which means you can use the reel’s mechanical functionality to slow down powerful trout without breaking the line.
A click-and-pawl reel is a simple and more traditional style of fly reel. It comes with a light preset drag that can’t be easily adjusted. This is better for small-water fishing where you’re unlikely to hook into a line-busting fish. If you hook into a big rainbow or brown trout while using a click-and-pawl, you will need to gently apply pressure to the reel with your palm. Performed correctly, you can still land big fish, but this style of fighting is more prone to human error that can allow a trout to throw the hook or break the line.
Fly reels are sized in relation to fly rods. You need to get a fly reel that is rated to the correct rod weight. For instance, if you have a 5-weight rod, you need a reel that includes 5-weight in its advertised line range. As a general rule of thumb, 1- to 3-weight rods and reels are appropriate for landing small trout in small water. Then you have 4- to 6-weight rods and reels that perform well in alpine streams and tailwaters alike. Finally, 6- to 8-weight rods and reels are best for throwing big streamers and making long casts on bigger water.
Large Arbor Reels
There are two different arbor sizes on reels—standard and large. What’s the difference? The arbor is the center of the spool, which the fly line wraps around. Large arbor reels also typically have a larger diameter overall. The main benefit of a large arbor reel is the retrieve rate because you can retrieve more line per turn of the reel’s handle. Large arbor reels also reduce line memory. The only real disadvantage of a large arbor reel is its size and possibly, heaviness.
Q: What makes a good trout reel?
The best trout reels are smooth and reliable. When fishing light lines, you want a smooth reel with no startup inertia. This means as soon as the fish pulls, your reel drag engages, and the fish can take the line. Reels with higher startup inertia can feel jerky and will result in more fish breaking off. Next, a reel must remain reliable after years of fishing. A reel is no good if, after a season on the water, it acts up. There are plenty of options out there that offer both at a wallet-friendly price.
Q: How expensive is a trout reel?
I’ve seen trout reels sell for anywhere from $50 up to $1000. Sure, the expensive reels are better than cheaper models, but they are not a thousand dollars better. The key to finding the right reel is to set a budget in advance. I like to figure out what features I need in my reel, pick a price point and start shopping. There are plenty of great reels out there for under $200.
Q: Is a click-pawl drag good?
Click-pawl drags are reliable and classic. They don’t offer a powerful stopping power like their disc drag counterparts, but they are lightweight and easy to use. These reels will also help you save money. If you do find yourself tangling with a big fish, palm the spool and add tension manually. This may not be ideal if you find yourself constantly fighting big fish, but in a pinch works great.
The Best Fly Reels for Trout: Final Thoughts
A good fly reel goes a long way when landing fish and keeping your line under control. To find the best, look for reels that are reliable, smooth, and affordable. There are plenty of great options available, so test them when you can. Even if it’s just playing around with them at your local fly shop, you can learn a lot about a reel and what you like.