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A fly reel is a mechanically simple piece of equipment, but it’s crucial to fly fishing. A fly reel plays two main roles: It holds your fly line and backing, and it also has a drag that helps protect your line and tire out fish during a fight. Unlike with spin fishing, your fly reel won’t impact how well you cast—that depends only on your fly rod. Still, you’ll want to pair a good fly reel with your rod to get the most out of your setup.

Your fly reel is most important when you’ve hooked into big trout. When you’re fighting tiny trout, you can strip in line by hand.. But when you’re fighting a trout that can snap your leader, the best method is to rely on your fly reel’s drag. A quality fly reel will have a smooth drag that will apply consistent pressure to the fish, giving you the ability to land a trophy trout. 

  •  Disc Drag or Click-and-Pawl: There are two main types of fly reels ideal for targeting trout. The most popular style of fly reel is made with a disc drag. This style of reel 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 a 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. 
  • Size: 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, 1-3-weight rods and reels are appropriate for landing small trout in small water. 4-6 weight rods and reels are versatile and can perform well in alpine streams and tailwaters alike. 6-8 weight rods and reels are best for throwing big streamers and making long casts on bigger water. 
  • Large Arbor Reels: When looking for a good trout reel, you’ll see normal, standard-arbor reels and large arbor reels. 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 will be able to 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. For the same line weight, a large arbor reel will be significantly bulkier than a standard arbor reel. 

Our Picks for the Best Trout Fly Reels on Amazon

Top Pick Overall: Ross Reels Animas Fly Reels

Top Pick Overall

It’s a craftsman-quality disc drag model made in the fly fishing mecca of southwest Colorado. Ross Reels

Runner Up: Redington ZERO Fly Reel

Runner Up

It’s an extraordinarily lightweight large arbor option available at a reasonable price point. Redington

Great for Streams: Orvis Battenkill Reel

Great for Streams

It’s a classic click-and-pawl that’s ideal for small-water expeditions. Orvis

Budget Pick: Piscifun Sword Fly Fishing Reel

Budget Pick

It’s a low-cost offering with a good disc drag that will tame big trout. Piscifun

Field & Stream is here to help you choose among the most popular products on Amazon, and hidden gems our experts think are worth checking out.

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