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Saltwater Fly Fishing Reels

Saltwater fly reels are more complex and more expensive than freshwater fly reels, although they are still simple devices.

Most freshwater fly reels serve only one purpose - to hold the flyline and the backing if any. Although a freshwater fly reel may have a drag, few freshwater fishermen ever need to use it.

If I think about a regular trout fisherman, for example in my home area of New England, they will rarely if ever hook a trout that will require a drag on the reel, that will ever take them down beyond the fly line into the backing. This isn't to say that the trout don't fight and that you won't lose a few, but the big majority of freshwater fish fly fisherman catch simply aren't that big.

Of course I can think of many exceptions, but for most freshwater flyfishermen, they are exactly that, exceptions. Freshwater fish like musky, Nile perch, freshwater striped bass, and migratory species that may have grown up in salt water like steelhead and salmon are big strong fish. If you are targeting these, what I'll say below about salt water reels also applies to you.

Saltwater fly reels, at least most of them, also have a breaking device called a "drag."

When a hooked fish pulls hard enough to break the line, instead it pulls out line under pressure, hopefully tiring the fish enough so you can land it. That is all a drag is: it's an adjustable breaking device.

You can catch a big fish on a fly reel without a drag, but it's much tougher. I once landed a 100 lb tarpon on a dragless fly reel (and yes, luck was definitely involved!) You can press on the edge of the reel spool as it spins when the hooked fish is running. This is called "palming" the reel as you often use your palm to do this.

Note that with an  "anti reverse" reel where the reel doesn’t rotate when line is pulled out, you typically can't palm it easily. Then again, I've never seen an anti-reverse reel without a drag.

Expensive fly reels, like many salt water models, usually have much better drags. That means the drag is smoother - more consistent. This is especially an issue when the fish starts running or suddenly jerks - a smooth drag is less likely to result in a busted leader and lost fish.

Although saltwater fly reels can be expensive, you don't need to spend a lot of money. A good inexpensive fly reel, with maybe an extra spool for quick line changes or perhaps two inexpensive fly reels instead, are all you need to start, and maybe all you'll ever need for most fish like striped bass, bonefish, bluefish, weakfish, etc.

We recommend decent salt water fly reels for all budgets. Check out Best Fly Reel - Saltwater.

Now if you want to set the world record for Marlin on the fly, you’ll need a big budget, both for salt water fly reels and other gear, probably plenty of travel, and lots of charters!