New Saltwater Flyfishing Reels for Under $200

Two C-notes isn’t chump change, but it’s the least you should spend if you want a quality reel that can stop a big striper or false albacore. Here are four

new saltwater fly reels,
From bottom: Redington Behemoth; Waterworks-Lamson Liquid 4; World Wide Sportsman Gold Cup; Orvis Battenkill Disc IV.Ralph Smith

It’s no secret that fly reels capable of playing in the salt—and putting the halt on brute fish—can set you back more than a full day’s inshore charter. Lucky for you, as quality reel components become more affordable to manufacturers, there are more reels popping up that can handle the freight-train run of an albie and the bulldog pull of a striper without forcing you to miss a truck payment. I picked up four 9-weights with sealed drags that sell for under $200, and then did my best to break them. Here’s the verdict on how they took the abuse.

$130; redington.com
Bargain Rating: Excellent
Construction: Excellent
Drag: Excellent
Feel: Excellent

Specs and Features: Weight: 10.8 oz. • Backing Capacity: 200 yd./30 lb. • Deep-V spool • Carbon-fiber drag • Nonslip handle • Heavy-duty die-cast construction

The Lowdown: This reel was the test winner, hands down. It may be die-cast, as opposed to machined, but as soon as you pick it up, you can feel that it's built like a bank safe. The deep-V spool acts almost like a level wind, laying line evenly on the intake, which makes catching up to an albie that's running at you far less hair-­raising. The reel's large drag knob allows you to make quick, fine adjustments in the heat of the moment, and I truly believe the Behemoth's drag—even in a 9-weight—could put the brakes on a bluefin tuna in the 40-pound class.

$130; waterworks-lamson.com
Bargain Rating: Very good
Construction: Very good
Drag: Excellent
Feel: Excellent

Specs and Features: Weight: 6.7 oz. • Backing Capacity: 250 yd./30 lb. • Extra-large arbor • Welded foot • Pressure-cast aluminum frame and spool

The Lowdown: The Liquid is the largest-­diameter reel of the group, yet one of the lightest. It holds so much backing and picks up line so fast, you don't ever have to worry about getting spooled. While the frame and spool are very solid, I worry about the small plastic tab that engages the gear teeth to produce a click. It would take a full season of testing to know for sure, but at first glance, it seems like a component that could wear out under prolonged strain. The conical drag performed flawlessly, though a larger knob would make it a little easier to adjust.

$170; basspro.com

Bargain Rating: Very good
Construction: Excellent
Drag: Very good
Feel: Excellent

Specs and Features: Weight: 8.3 oz. • Backing Capacity: 200 yd./20 lb. • 11-washer drag stack • Teflon washers • Extra-thick T6 aluminum construction

The Lowdown: With this next generation of the popular Gold Cup, Bass Pro set out to build a reel that could take maximum punishment, and I think the company has succeeded. Unlike older models, this reel has very tight tolerances; it wouldn't torque or flex no matter how hard I tried to make it. It also picks up line very quickly—a huge plus in the salty game. While the drag is plenty strong and engages fast, it seemed to take more knob-turning than it should to make minor pressure adjustments. All in all, though, this is a very solid, trustworthy reel for the price.

$189; orvis.com

Bargain Rating: Good
Construction: Excellent
Drag: Excellent
Feel: Very good

Specs and Features: Weight: 5.9 oz. • Backing Capacity: 175 yd./20 lb. • Type II corrosion-resistant anodizing • Machined Delrin handle • Lightweight aluminum construction

The Lowdown: It may seem out of place here, but this smaller, ­standard-arbor reel has enough muscle for the salt. The sealed drag starts ­super fast. Even as I cranked with the drag maxed, the reel never wobbled thanks to its one-piece spindle. The lower Bargain Rating is due to its higher price and standard arbor, which makes the reel a bit less versatile. If you target mainly smaller species like seatrout or bonefish, this lightweight reel is just the ticket. You might have to crank ­double-​time if you hook up with a cow striper or albie, but it has the right stuff to land them.

THE TEST

I spooled each reel with 30-pound backing, an intermediate 9-weight line, and a 30-pound leader. To test the drag, I lashed each leader to the back of a bicycle, peeled some running line onto the asphalt to provide a legitimate jolt, and had a buddy take off down the street. We first did this test dry, and then we soaked each reel in a bucket of water to see how well the drags were sealed. To test the tolerances, I maxed the drags and reeled a 20-pound dumbbell across the lawn 10 times with each reel. Finally, I assessed the overall feel, construction, and design of these bargain reels compared with the many models—of all different prices—that I’ve fished over the years. —J.C.