6 Best Fly Reels For Salmon In 2024

An angler fly fishing for salmon on a large west coast river. He is using one of the best fly reels for salmon.
An angler fly fishing for salmon on a large west coast river. He is using one of the best fly reels for salmon.

Experienced anglers understand that the right gear makes a huge difference, especially regarding the fly reels they use for salmon fishing.

I have eleven fly reels that I use when guiding and fishing for salmon. I loan these to my clients on guide trips, so these reels need to be up to the job.

I have also spoken with several salmon fishing guides to get their feedback on what they use and think are the best fly reels for salmon

I discuss budget salmon fly reels to high-end salmon fly reels.

The top salmon fly reels generally have a wide arbor design which helps hold more fly line and backing and helps to retrieve the line quicker, and they should have a smooth sealed drag system to help fight the big salmon without breaking them off.

As a salmon guide, I often allow my clients to use their personal reels if they prefer. Doing so has given me experience with a wide variety of salmon fly reels ranging in price from $79.00 to over $600.00.

While all these reels can be used for salmon fishing, some don’t perform as well as others, and I’m here to explain why.

Our Expert’s Top 3 Quick Pick Fly Reels For Salmon

There are a few things that I consider important when it comes to choosing a fly reel suitable for large and strong salmon.

Large Arbor Reels Are Ideal for Salmon Fishing

When I’m teaching classes or guiding trips for salmon, I always emphasize the importance of using the right type of fly reel for salmon fishing.

Salmon are renowned for their fighting ability, often resulting in long runs that sometimes take over 100 feet of line. One of the main aspects to consider when choosing the best salmon fly reel is the size of the arbor, also known as the spool size.

Large arbor fly reels are the best for salmon fishing because they have a greater outer diameter, allowing the angler to wind the line back onto the reel quicker after those long runs.

This speedy retrieve also comes in handy when the salmon darts toward me, and I need to reel it in as quickly as possible.

The large arbor reel also allows me to fit the fly line on the reel with at least 300 feet of fly line backing.

Enclosed Disc Drag Fly Reels

Two essential features to look for when considering salmon fly reels are a smooth disc drag reel and a fly reel with a sealed drag.

A smooth drag is critically important and will help land more salmon without breaking the line. Some of the more economical reels do not have effective drag systems and the line releases with inconsistent tension.

An inconsistent drag means that a lot of pressure is required to get the drag to start, and then once it begins, the drag pressure reduces temporarily, and then tightens or repeats. This results in a jerky drag with alternating high and low tensions, which can lead to line breakages.

I’ve seen many lost salmon due to drag that is not smooth, and even worse, I’ve seen fly rods break.

A high-quality smooth drag system will start easier and maintain a consistent and smooth tension while the salmon is pulling.

A sealed or enclosed drag system means that the disc and plate are sealed and protected and prevents water and dirt from getting into the drag system.

A sealed drag is beneficial at any time of the year, but it really makes a difference in the winter when steelhead fishing, especially if I submerge my fly reel underwater and don’t want ice to interfere with the drag system or freeze it completely.

Choosing the Right Size Fly Reel for Salmon

Salmon fly reels come in different sizes, and matching the reel size to the rod is recommended. For instance, use a #8 fly reel with an 8-weight fly rod. However, if you need to choose between a larger or smaller reel, opting for a smaller fly reel is better.

A larger salmon fly reel adds unnecessary weight and bulkiness to the setup. A lighter reel and rod combination is more comfortable to avoid fatigue during long fishing sessions.

A smaller reel, properly equipped with ample backing, can still accommodate enough fly line and backing line to handle large salmon effectively.

Remember to match the fly line to the rod weight, ensuring an 8-weight line for an 8-weight rod.

While you can upsize the line by using a 9-weight line on an 8-weight rod, downsizing the line is not advisable. Consequently, using an 8-weight line on a #6 or #7 salmon fly reel mounted on a 7-weight fly rod is acceptable.

Great Lakes Salmon Fly Reel Size:

  • 8-Weight Fly Reel: Best For Small Rivers and Creeks
  • 9-Weight Fly Reel: Best For Large Rivers

West Coast Salmon Fly Reel Size

  • 9-Weight Fly Reel: Best For Small Rivers and Creeks
  • 10-Weight Fly Reel: Best For Large Rivers

Recommended Fly Lines for Salmon

Once you’ve acquired a good salmon fly reel for your area, you’ll need a suitable fly line that can handle big salmon. Consider these factors:

Nymphing: Nymphing for salmon with or without indicators is best done with a floating weight-forward fly line. Nymphing or indicator specialty lines are ideal; however, a general-purpose fly line is fine.

Streamer Fishing: When mostly or only streamer fish for salmon, use the following:

  • Floating Line: Best for streamer fishing in small to mid-sized rivers or shallow rivers under 8 feet deep. I add sink tip or poly leader for more depth on larger rivers. 90% of the time, I use full floating lines so that I can easily switch to nymphing.
  • Sink Tip Line: Sink tip lines are good for streamer fishing in medium to large rivers with medium to deep water. They are a little harder to cast than full floating lines.
  • Full Sinking Lines: Full sinking lines are a good option for fishing larger, faster, deeper rivers. These lines are hardest to cast, but they will get the fly down and keep it down.

Fly Line Backing” Additionally, investing in a good quality 20 or 30-pound backing capable of handling long salmon runs is crucial. Check out my recommendations for the Best Fly Lines For Salmon Fishing and Best Fly Line Backing.

Top Salmon Fly Reels for 2023

An angler using a salmon fly reel, a close up..
Using the best fly reel for salmon fishing can make all the difference in landing big salmon and having a great day.

While numerous salmon fly reels excel in the market, we can only cover a selection of the finest options based on personal experience, guide recommendations, and client success stories.

Expensive Reels: Expensive reels are not required, however, they offer superior quality, durability, lightweight design, and improved drag systems, which are all good things when dealing with large fish like salmon.

Mid-Price Reels: Mid-range reels priced between $200 and $400 can still deliver exceptional performance and land hundreds of salmon each year. I have no issues with these reels, and in fact, most of the reels I use for guiding fall into this category.

Budget Reels: When it comes to hard-fishing salmon, I am reluctant to recommend budget reels, especially the really cheap ones under $100.00. My experience with these reels is that they can NOT handle large fish, and the drag systems are not smooth.

1. The Nautilus CCF-X2 7-9-10 For Salmon

The Nautilus CCF-X2 is a highly recommended saltwater fly reel and freshwater reel with excellent features. It offers a high maximum drag, adjustable drag, and fast retrieval rates.

I have used this fly reel in the rivers in fresh water and when beach fishing for salmon in the salt water.

This reel has been redesigned to be stronger, more durable, and more versatile than its predecessor. It is available in brushed titanium or black anodized finish and is built with corrosion-resistant machined aluminum.

The Nautilus CCF-X2 utilizes a cork carbon fiber disc brake drag system and features a sealed drag with cork and carbon fiber disc brakes and hybrid ceramic bearings.

Its ultra-large arbor design provides increased line pickup and is suitable for fighting large saltwater fish. Nautilus offers a limited lifetime warranty for defects in materials and workmanship.

2. Lamon Guru S HD Fly Reel


The Lamson Guru S HD fly reel is a remarkable and affordable saltwater and/or spey reel that is great for salmon fishing and is a favorite of many guides and salmon anglers.

I have used this reel for the last season and like the complete cage design and a blaze-finish in Type-II anodize.

The reel has been updated with improved spool geometry for enhanced retrieve rates and increased porting for reduced weight and better line drying. It also integrates a counterbalance and introduces a curved cross-section arbor for structural stability.

Crafted from machined 6061 aluminum and stainless steel, this reel offers durability and strength.

With its large arbor full frame design, the Guru S HD provides efficient line management.

3. Waterworks Lamson Liquid Fly Reel – Best Under $200.00

The LAMSON LIQUID FLY REEL is one of the best fly reels for salmon

Another great option for salmon fishing under $200.00 is the Waterworks Lamson Liquid Fly Reel. It combines a pressure cast design with unique elements, offering high performance at an affordable price.

The Liquid features a smooth cork disc drag system, sealed conical drag, and a large arbor design for increased line pickup. It is made of pressure-cast aluminum, providing lightweight affordability.

The Waterworks Lamson Liquid comes with a protective Polyurethane coating and a lifetime warranty for material and workmanship defects.

4. TFO NTR IV Fly Reel

The TFO NTR FLY REEL is one of the best fly reels for salmon

For under $190.00, the Temple Fork Outfitters NTR IV Fly Reel is worth considering.

It features a “No Tools Required” design, making it easy to change the retrieve, tighten the drag, or perform maintenance without additional tools.

The NTR fly reel is fully CNC machined from lightweight 6061-T6 aluminum and comes with a smooth cork disc drag system.

It has a one-way stainless-steel spindle bearing with an internal cap and O-ring seal, ensuring reliable performance.

The NTR reel has an outgoing check and is simple to change from left to right-hand retrieve. Each NTR fly reel comes with a black neoprene pouch.

5. The Waterworks Lamson Remix HD Fly Reel

LAMSON REMIX HD FLY REEL is one of the best fly reels for salmon

The Waterworks Lamson Remix Fly Reel is another top choice for salmon fishing under $300.00. It offers a combination of machining and lightweight cast construction.

The Remix features a fully machined aluminum case with a pressure-cast aluminum spool. Its U-shaped arbor and narrow spool design allow for efficient line control.

The reel has a sealed machined drag system, a type II Anodize case finish for durability, and a polyurethane spool finish for decreased weight.

The Waterworks Lamson Remix comes with a conical drag system, a large arbor design, and a lifetime warranty for material and workmanship defects.

6. Redington Behemoth Fly Reel

The REDINGTON BEHEMOTH FLY REEL is one of the best fly reels for salmon

The Redington Behemoth Fly Reel is popular among saltwater anglers due to its affordability and exceptional performance.

This reel boasts the strongest drag in its class and comes in various colors, and it is inexpensive when compared to other salmon fly reels. The Behemoth features a lightweight, aesthetically pleasing design with a die-cast aluminum construction.

It has a twin-molded, soft-touch handle and an oversized aluminum drag knob for comfortable operation. The reel utilizes a reliable carbon fiber drag system and offers a large arbor design for increased line pickup. Redington provides a lifetime warranty for defects in materials or workmanship.

Tight lines,


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