Would you agree when I say fly fishing is not an easy sport? However, with time and patience, we get a hold of it and get to know how peaceful and challenging at the same time this sport can be.
I love fly fishing for the range of fish I can catch with it. From bluegills to trouts and from panfish to salmons, it is a treasure waiting to be explored.
However, in any hobby, starting can be intimidating for various reasons including the cost. Nonetheless, unless you are going for the top of the line equipment, there are budget-friendly options that can get you started.
The same can be said for fly reels. They are an important part of fly fishing and let me say they are to fly fishing what engine is to a car. However, not everybody can afford Ferraris or it is their preference to spend that amount of money. Besides, when it comes to fly reels, you can get your hands on some pretty decent reels at under $100.
In this piece here, we have done the hard work for you and present the 10 best budget reels to get your fly fishing started or find your backup reel.
Get The Best Value For Money: Our Picks for 10 Best Fly Reels Under $100
Two main things determine the overall quality of a fly reel, construction, and drag. There are factors like the size of the reel and the arbor diameter which do matter, but they are pretty much standard these days.
The table below entails the construction and the drag systems incorporated in our picks. We will talk further about each and what you can hope to get out of them. Let’s help you find your next fishing BFF.
Carbon to Stainless Disc
Rulon to Stainless Steel Disc
Cork and Stainless Steel Disc
Click and Pawl
Teflon Disc drag
Cork and Stainless Steel Disc
Cork Disc Drag
Machined + Die-Cast
1. Piscifun Crest Fly Fishing Reel – Forget High-Ends Try This At A Fraction
Piscifun started in 2013 but just in a short time, it has become a major player in the fishing tackle market. They produce all sorts of fishing equipment including but not limited to rods, reels, storage bags, and lines. When it comes to flying reel, they have a whole collection to choose from.
One thing I like Piscifun for is its ability to produce quality products at an affordable price. Piscifun Crest is a nice decent reel and to come up with it at under $100 is remarkable. It comes in three sizes and these include 5-6wt, 7-8wt, and 9-10wt. They don’t make this in really small sizes. Thus, Piscifun Crest is made for larger fishing. It comes in two colors; black and green.
The first thing I would like to mention is its fully sealed drag, so you can use it for fishing in saltwater. The drag itself is carbon to stainless, so it is not only strong but also smooth. Other than that, you would be glad to know that it is a machined reel. What that means for you is that it is made up of a solid block of aluminum. Machined reels are generally considered to provide more resistance against both freshwater and saltwater wear and tear. So, it is a solid fly reel with quality construction.
Machined reels are also generally lighter in weight and they have a smoother finish than die-cast reels.
Piscifun Crest originally comes as a left-hand reel but you can switch it to be a right-hand reel by flipping the position of a bearing in its drag. We will talk about it in further detail in a while.
The arbor is wide and U-shaped and this allows for easier line alignment when you are reeling in and the line stacks better.
2. Orvis Clearwater Fly Reel Large Arbor – Best Fly Reel for Freshwater
Orvis Clearwater Large Arbor (LA) series has reels that are made up of die-casting. Die-cast reels are not the most durable reels out there but they are easy to produce and they cost less. Moreover, they are good enough to help you in freshwater flying fishing without fail.
Nonetheless, what increases LA’s durability is its powder coating. However, it still is UV-sensitive, so don’t be surprised if it loses its color rather quickly. I would say It is not suitable for saltwater fishing unless you take care of it after every use.
Clearwater has a Rulon to stainless steel drag system. The good thing about Rulon is its low coefficient of friction and high abrasion and corrosion resistance. Another good thing about this drag system is its positive click-on system. This means you will hear a click whenever you move the drag no matter how small the movement is. This basically translates into higher precision and helps in pinpoint fine-tuning.
Orvis Clearwater LA comes in two sizes; size II and size IV. Size II is your 4-6 wt and size IV 7-9 wt. We have selected size IV for this list of best fly reels under 100 because of its better performance-to-value ratio.
3. Piscifun Sword Fly Fishing Reel – Best Budget Fly Fishing Reel for Beginners
The Sword series from Piscifun comes in four different sizes and four different colors. These include black, gunmetal, pink, and space grey. I personally like the gunmetal with its green accents as they really stand out. In sizes, you can get 3-4 wt to 9-10 wt. With its lower size option and pink color option, this reel presents a good option for ladies. Don’t get me wrong for mentioning a lower size for ladies, but it does help.
Piscifun Sword is made up of CNC-machined aluminum which is the preferred material for flying reels because of its durability. The surface of the reel has been anodized and this protects against ultraviolet radiation and provides colorfastness. The hollow structure of the reel makes it lightweight and this helps with long fishing adventures, so you don’t get tired.
The thing I personally like about this reel is its drag system. It incorporates a multi-disc cork and stainless steel. You will love that its click-drag design provides an accurate and repeatable drag setting. In addition, the drag is smooth and silent. The knurled drag knob is easy to hold on and this is a great help when you are fighting some nasty fish.
This reel incorporates a mid-spool arbor which reduces line memory and facilitates quick line pickups and these are real benefits when finessing big fish. The size 9-10 wt can hold 150 yards of 20-pound backing and 11-wt line.
4. Redington ZERO Fly Reel – Light In Weight Heavy In Performance
Redington specializes in fly fishing tackle and ZERO is their entry-level reel. This reel is basically designed for small game fishing. Right out of the box, the first thing you are going to notice about this reel is its low weight. It is the lightest reel in its class by far.
In terms of construction, Redington ZERO has a die-cast construction. As we talked about earlier, die-casting is your “good-enough” construction in reels. They are not the most durable ones around but they are lightweight and cost-effective.
Zero comes in two sizes of 2-3 wt and 4-5 wt and as you can see these are on the lower end of reel sizes. You can use these reels for creek trout, bream, and other small game fish. In addition, you get the option of selecting out of different colors and these include black and avocado among others.
I like that the handle has a rubber grip making the grip more secure and a little bit tacky and you overall get a good feeling about it. Moreover, it has a large arbor enabling a fast retrieval rate and reduced line memory.
The biggest shortcoming in this entry-level reel is that it incorporates a click-and-pawl system. Thus, there is effectively no drag system and that’s why it is called ZERO. The click and pawl system is just enough to prevent backlashing. In this system, when you do have a fish, you need to home in on the exposed rim of the reel on your palm and make it act like a bit of a drag system. This technique is called palming in fishing terms.
5. Sougayilang Large Arbor Fly Fishing Reel – A Too Good Reel For The Price
Sougayilang gives good competition to its USA-based competitors by coming up with reels that are not only constructed as tough as nails but come at a very competitive price. This reel on our hand has become a consumer favorite in a short time and for all the good reasons.
It has a CNC-machined aluminum construction and that makes it suitable for most water conditions. What makes it even more durable is its anodized hard surface providing protection against abrasions and UV damage. In short, with proper care and use, you are looking at years of service from this reel.
One area where it disappoints in terms of construction is that the drag system is not fully sealed. This basically renders it unsuitable for saltwater fishing. However, you can work around it by washing it with fresh water after every use and lubricating the clutch bearing.
Sougayilang Large Arbor comes in only two sizes at 5-6 wt and 7-8 wt and these cover most of your fishing. If you are looking to reel in steelheads and salmons, the 7-8 wt is good enough. Otherwise, usually, the 5 wt reels are good for heavier trouts, shad, bass, and redfish. This is definitely the best 5wt fly reel for the money in the market right now.
This reel incorporates a larger arbor. I would prefer a large-arbor reel over others any day because of its higher line pickup rate, reduced line memory, and consistent drag pressure during retrievals.
The drag system runs smoothly mostly but not always. It has given way on me a couple of times with 20-plus trouts but overall it has been good. I would like to mention that it has only a one-way click meaning it has a slight click when the line is going out but not when the line is retrieving. This might need some getting used to if you are switching from a reel that has a double click.
6. MaxCatch ECO Fly Reel – Cool Aesthetics With Hot Performance
Maxcatch has been in business since 2005 and specializes in fly fishing equipment. The Eco fly reel is their entry-level reel and comes in sizes from 1-2 wt to 7-8 wt. Thus, there is a lot to choose from when it comes to reel sizes. They also come in a variety of color options. These include black, silver, and rainbow among others. My personal favorite is the rainbow which is really cool-looking reel with its different color combinations.
They have cool color options, but these reels don’t have the smoothest of finishes. This is probably because of their die-cast construction. Die-cast reels are generally lightweight and cost-effective but they lag behind when it comes to being rigid and having a smooth finish.
Eco fly reels have large-arbor spools and this is not just a marketing claim, but they are actually large. For example, a 4-5 wt reel has a 3-inch diameter arbor which easily makes it above average for the size. Another good thing about the spool is that it has good ventilation and this means the line dries well and quickly.
Spools in terms of functionality, you will like its drag which is efficient and provides good resistance to the revolving spool. You can adjust the drag via the knob and the knob itself is something to admire. It has a knurled surface that provides an easy and secure grip. Plus, it clicks on every movement making it suitable for fine-tuning.
7. Goture Cyrax Fly Fishing Reel – Got More Than Just Good Looks
This next reel on our list for best fly reels under 100 has one of the smoothest finishes you are going to find in this price range. Plus, the blue and silver color combination makes it stand out. What makes this color last long is its anodized surface and you get the same smooth feeling even after years of use.
We said years of use, yes, we have a reel that has CNC-machined aluminum construction which is known for its durability in reels. However, despite its solid construction, this reel is lightweight and that is because of its hollow design. This hollow design also helps in the fast drying of your wet lines.
In terms of performance, Goture Cyrax has a multi-disc drag system. This means it has multiple surfaces that provide friction to apply better drag. You have an oversized drag knob which has provides a good grip. However, the drag is not sealed rendering this reel unsuitable for saltwater use, but as said earlier, with better care after your use you can work around it.
This reel comes in one only color combination as elaborated before but it comes in four different sizes ranging from 3-4 wt to 9-10 wt. So, depending on your preference and whether you fish for trout, panfish, bluegill, or salmon or steelheads, you can have a reel for the purpose.
8. AnglerDream Fly Reel With Line Combo – A Complete Package In A Budget
The purpose of coming up with this list of best budget fly reels is to give you options that provide the best value for money. The next entry on our list takes the value for your money to a whole new level.
This is basically a combo that has a reel, a 100-ft fly line, 50 yards of backing, and a 9-ft leader. Moreover, much to my surprise, it also comes with a couple of loop connectors that are used to connect different parts of a fishing line such as connecting a fly line to a leader. However, the big question is how all these components perform in the real world.
The reel itself has a solid metal construction but it is a die-cast construction which is not the preferred construction when we talk about durability. However, die-cast reels are lightweight and cost-effective and this is what we get with this reel. You might get a good time out of this reel with proper care but their impact resistance is on the low side and they crack even on low-level falls.
When we talk about the performance of drag itself, it works smoothly if you have got the right reel size for the fishing you are into. For example, don’t expect to reel in a salmon with a 3-4wt reel. Speaking of sizes, this reel comes in three sizes of 1-2 wt, 3-4 wt, and 7-8 wt. The size option this reel offers indicates that this reel is meant for small to medium-sized fly fishing.
When we talk about different accessories this reel comes with, the fly line comes in two colors and is weight-forward. Weight-forward lines are generally preferred when you are looking to cast far and these provide more precision. You get the same-weighted fly line as the reel size. Also, backing and leader are of such quality that you can use them without worry.
9. Piscifun Aoka Fly Fishing Reel – Constance and Efficiency At A Budget
Piscifun Aoka made its first show in 2017 and has become one of the Piscifun’s best-selling fly reels in no time. Earlier, it used to come in only two sizes of 5-6 wt and 7-8 wt, but now it also has the 3-4 size which is good for small game fish such as panfish or bluegill.
However, it comes in only one color combination which is eye-catching in that it has a blue frame and a black spool. Rather oddly, both of these parts have different constructions. The frame has a fully machined aluminum construction. Whereas, the spool has a die-cast construction. If you have a critical eye, you would notice a difference between the finish of both of these parts. The frame has a smoother finish as compared to the spool.
One feature I liked about this budget fly reel is its oversized drag knob and handle. They provide a secure grip and good ergonomics overall. The drag itself has cork/Teflon construction and they provide a low coefficient of friction making the drag consistent and efficient. This reel has a click-drag but the retrieval is silent.
This reel is suitable for freshwater and depending on the reel size you can catch your trouts, basses, and carps and I have used the 5-6 size for such adventures. So, you can probably guess that the 7-8 size can hopefully catch 20-ish salmon and steelheads.
10. Okuma SLV Diecast Aluminum Fly Reel – Best Entry-Level Fly Feel
Okuma produces a whole range of fishing equipment and has many best-selling products in various categories. SLV is their entry-level fly fishing reel and comes in a whole range of sizes including 2-3 and 10-11 on the extremes. Okuma makes one of the best fly reels of all time.
This series has a diecast construction and is by far the best entry-level die-cast reel in the market right now. What makes it more durable than the usual die-cast reels is a machined spool shaft which has a stainless steel construction. Also, it has machined brass bushings. Thus, overall, we can say that it has a solid build. Aesthetically, it has a cool matte finish that is smooth and sleek.
You will love its super-large arbor which gives super-fast line retrievals and can hold a lot of line and backing. The good thing about Okuma reels is their spare spool availability. The spare spools are not only easily available but also are cost-effective. Also, Okuma SLV has a quick-exchange spool meaning you can change the spool without removing the reel from the rod.
Fly Reels Under 100 Buyer’s Guide:
When it comes to choosing a fly reel, there are a few things that you need to consider. They vary in the degree of significance but they do impact the overall performance of the reel. Let’s have a detailed look at these factors and what you should avoid and what you should go for in them.
Define Your Fishing Goals
The first thing you need to do before buying anything in general and fishing tackle, in particular, to define what you want to achieve with them.
This is important because, for example, if you are going to fish in freshwater a reel would require a different set of qualities than fishing in saltwater would. Typically, freshwater conditions are not so demanding, so you can get away with equipment that is not so robust. Saltwater conditions, on the other hand, are harsh and you require equipment that can withstand these conditions.
Companies, nowadays, do mention whether a specific reel is saltwater compatible or not. However, if they don’t, we will talk about what you need to look for in your fly reels that would make it tolerate saltwater.
Another thing you need to define before buying any fly reel is the class of fish you want to catch. This specification will define the size of the reel you should go with for different fishes.
Material Of Construction
This characteristic will determine the condition you can use a fish reel for and the overall durability and longevity of the reel.
There are quite a few material types that companies use these days to manufacture budget fly reels. These include plastic, graphite, die-cast aluminum, and machined aluminum.
Plastic and graphite are your cheapest reels. They are your good-enough reels meaning they can serve you some time but they are highly prone to early wear and tear. You can get these reels for even under $25.
When we move up the price ladder, die-cast reels come next after plastic reels. They are lightweight and cost-effective but they have less impact resistance. This means your reel will bend or even crack on low-level falls. Moreover, they don’t have the smoothest finishes. Die-cast reels are generally used for freshwater fly flying.
In budget reels, and probably the best material you can find in fly reels under $100 is the machined aluminum. This means the reel is made up of a single block of solid aluminum. Thus, they have good durability. Moreover, some of the better-machined reels have anodized treatment on them making them colorfast and more resistant to corrosion and abrasion.
Design Of The reel
Most of the fly reels are round bodies but they differ in design on a few points. For example, you may have a hollow reel or a solid reel.
Hollow reels are generally preferred because they are lighter in weight. Their lightweight helps in your fishing adventures in that they are easy to carry and they don’t tire you up.
Moreover, hollow reels are good for drying the line and the backing because of their ventilation.
Size Of The Fly Reel and What To Expect
The size of the fly and the drag are the characteristics of a reel that determine what kind of fish you can catch with it. Usually, the size of the reel is denoted in weight or wt and is mostly equally or greater than the rod size which is also depicted in weight or wt. This determines, combined with other factors, the weight of the fish you can catch with a specific reel.
Sizes of the fly reel start from 1 wt and go up to 11-12. Each number corresponds to a range of fish that you can catch with it. Smaller size corresponds to smaller fish and larger or heavier size is equal to larger fish.
1-2 and 3-4 weight sizes give you the ability to catch panfish, trout, bluegill, and other small fish species. 5-6 and 7-8 wt sizes can handle medium-sized fish such as catfish, bass and carps, etc. Higher sizes such as 9-10 and 11-12 wt, can catch your steelheads, big carps, salmons, and big tarpons.
Normally, fly reels come in a whole range of sizes, but sometimes they come in one to two sizes. So, keep the size of the reel in mind when shopping for a fly reel.
Drag – What Is A Good Drag?
In simple words, drag is the braking mechanism of a reel. It essentially works by reducing the rotation rate of the spool and putting pressure on the line. The importance of drag increases as we ascend down the fish size we are trying to catch.
If you are trying to catch a panfish, you practically don’t need a drag as such. However, if you are looking to reel in a salmon or a big carp, drag is important.
Drags of fly reels, in general, are divided into two main categories; click-and-pawl drags and disc drags. Click-and-pawl drags consist of a spring-loaded clip that puts brakes on the toothed gear that is underneath the spool. This system is used in basic entry-level reels which need some drag to practically no drag.
Disc drags are the advanced drag systems found in the majority of the fly reels today. They consist of two or more discs that can be of different materials and these discs are pressed against each other to produce friction which leads to deceleration of the line.
Disc drags can be made up of synthetics such as Rulon, Teflon, or Delrin. These materials are strong and can last you a lifetime. They are generally strong but due to high startup inertia, they are not the smoothest drags. These drag systems don’t need lubrication, so they are sealed and can withstand saltwater.
Cork drags, on the other hand, have low startup inertia, so they are smooth. Also, they compress and expand very easily. However, cork drags do need lubrication now and then and they are usually open.
Arbor Size – Large Is Better
Arbor is the spool surface that your line and backing are wound around. In fly reels, arbor comes in three sizes, small arbor, mid arbor, and large arbor.
Larger arbors are better in that they provide fast line retrieval, so you reel in more line in less time than a smaller-arbor reel would do. Also, because of increased surface area in large-arbor reels, the line is wound in more open coils, so there is reduced line memory and bird nests.
Fly Reel Vs Centerpin – How They Differ
Both of these reels are similar in design but they differ in their fishing application. Fly reels are utilized with fly rods and hold a fly line. They usually have a drag.
Centerpin reel is a single-action reel meaning it turns only one time with a single turn of the handle. A center is used for float fishing. They usually have no drag and incorporate a shielded bearing system.
Frequently Asked Questions
Whether you are a beginner, an intermittent angler, or just want to add a backup reel into your fly fishing arsenal, buying an expensive reel is not wise.
Besides, there are quite a few decent reels that you can get at quite a reasonable price. Here, we have listed some of the best fly reels you can find at under $100. They have quality construction and efficient working making them a safe investment.
CNC machined construction tops different methods and materials when it comes to durability. Die-cast reels are relatively cheap but they lag on durability. Also, drag is important when catching big fish like salmons and steelheads. If you are into these classes, find yourself a reel with decent drag made up of quality synthetics like Rulon or carbon fiber. Other than that, for small game fish, you can get by with a click and pawl and even just palming your reel.
We have talked about all these factors and which of our picks for budget reels are suitable for different fishing scenarios in detail. Go through them and find yourself a good decent reel in a budget.