Best Steelhead Fly Reels Of 2024: Recommended By Guides

Steelhead fly reels like this one are important for steelhead fishing

I have eleven fly reels that I use for steelhead, but I am a steelhead fishing guide, and I provide reels for my clients. The reels I use need to be good. This is my review and opinion on the best steelhead fly reels, from the cheapest ones to expensive fly reels.

The best reels for steelhead fishing have a large arbor design that allows for a faster line retrieve and an enclosed drag system that helps you land big, hard-running steelhead even in wet and icy conditions.

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Our Guides Top 3 Quick Pick Reels For Steelhead

  1. Waterworks-Lamson Guru S Fly Reel – Best Overall Steelhead Fly Reel
  2. Orvis Clearwater Fly Reel – Best Economy Steelhead Fly Reel
  3. Waterworks-Lamson Speedster S Fly Reel – Best Higher-end Steelhead Fly Reel

A large arbor reel
A large arbor reel has a bigger outer circumference and the base of the spool where the line goes is further from the center of the reel.

Large Arbor Reels Are Best For Steelhead

One of the things I mention to my clients when I’m teaching classes or on guide trips for steelhead is the use of the right type of fly reel for steelhead.

Steelheads are known for their fighting ability, and that often means long runs that pull off sometimes over 100 feet of line. Having the right reel that can handle these large fish means you will catch more fish.

An important thing to consider when looking for the best steelhead fly reel is the arbor size.

Large arbor fly reels are best for steelhead fishing because they have a larger outer diameter which allows you to retrieve the line back onto the reel faster after those big runs.

The faster retrieve is also great when the steelhead is running at you, and you need to get the reel in as fast as possible.

Enclosed Disc Drag Fly Reels Are Best For Steelhead

Two things that are a must-have when considering steelhead fly reels are a good smooth disc drag reel and a fly reel with an enclosed drag.

A smooth drag is very important and will help you land more steelhead without breaking them off. Some of the cheaper reels do not have good drag systems, and the line comes off with inconsistent tension.

What happens with an inconsistent drag is that it takes a lot of pressure just to get the drag to start, and then once it starts, the drag pressure is less. This gives you a jerky drag with an on-off hard tension to light tension to hard tension over and over, and this can cause break-offs.

A good, smooth drag system will start easier and maintain the same smooth tension while the steelhead is pulling.

An enclosed or sealed drag system means the disc and plate are covered, which prevents water from getting into the drag system should you happen to submerge your reel or if it’s raining on you.

A sealed drag is a good thing at any time of the year, but it really makes a difference in the winter when you dunk your fly reel under the water. You don’t want ice interfering with your drag system or freezing it completely.

If you are new to fly fishing for steelhead, remember that the rod and reel are only as good as the angler using them, which is why if you are new or an intermediate fly angler, you should check out my page Fly Fishing For Steelhead.

What Size Fly Reel Is Best For Steelhead?

Steelhead fly reels come in different sizes, and the general rule is to match the fly reel to the rod. This means you should use a # 7 fly reel with a 7-weight fly rod.

However, if I had to choose a bigger or smaller reel on my rod, I would go with a smaller fly reel. In other words, I would not put a 9-weight fly reel on an 8-weight rod, but I would put a #6 or a #7 reel on an 8-weight rod.

This is because of the weight of the entire rod and reel setup. A bigger steelhead fly reel just has more weight, and it can be bulky.

I find that a light steelhead fly reel and rod setup is a lot easier on the arms and shoulders after a long day on the rivers, and a smaller reel properly rigged up with lots of backing should hold more than enough line to manage big steelhead.

You should still match the fly line to the rod, meaning a 7-weight line goes on a 7-weight rod. You could also upsize the fly line by putting an 8-weight line on a 7-weight rod, but you should never downsize the line.

There is no reason why you can’t put an 8-weight line on a size #6 or #7 steelhead fly reel and then put that fly reel on a 7-weight fly rod.

For Great Lakes steelhead, I would use a seven or 8-weight rod and would therefore use a seven or 8-weight steelhead fly reel and matching fly line.

For West Coast steelhead, I would use an eight or 9-weight fly rod, and therefore I would use an eight or 9-weight steelhead fly reel and matching fly line

Click here to see my recommendations on the best steelhead rods.

Best Fly Lines For Steelhead

Once you get that nice new steelhead fly reel, you will need a good fly line suitable for steelhead fishing. You will also need a good 20 or 30-pound backing that can handle 300-foot steelhead runs. See my picks for the best fly lines for steelhead.

The Best Steelhead Fly Reels

There are a lot of good steelhead fly reels that would be good for fishing steelhead. I cover some of the best fly reels my guides and I are using, as well as the fly reels that other guides use and recommend to their clients.

I am often asked, “Do you really need an expensive fly reel, or will a cheaper reel be okay?”

The simple answer is No. You do not need a very expensive reel. The more expensive fly reels are usually of better quality, better build, and lighter weight. They are usually more durable, so they will last longer, and they have a better drag system.

These are all a bonus when fishing big fish like steelhead. Most of my steelhead reels are in the $200 to $400.00 range, which I consider a mid-range reel. These types of reels last a long time and can land hundreds of steelheads a year.

So, let’s check out some of the best fly reels for Steelhead.

The Orvise Clearwater 7 -9 for steelhead
Orvis Clearwater Fly Reel is a great reel under $300 suitable for steelhead.

Orvis Clearwater Fly Reel

Best Economy Reel – The Orvis Clearwater fly reel in size 6/7/8 is one of the least expensive reels that would work for steelhead fishing. I have seen this reel for under $100.00

It has a smooth enclosed disc drag system with a large arbor design and is backed by the Orvis warranty.

If you are on a budget or want a decent reel to start fly fishing for steelhead, this is a great reel to consider.

Alternative Steelhead Fly Reels Under $200.00:

Another good reel under $150 that would be a great option for steelhead fishing is the Waterworks Lamson Liquid Fly Reel or the

A good reel for under $190.00 to consider is the Temple Fork Outfitters NTR Fly Reel.

The Waterworks Lamson Remix Fly Reel
The Waterworks Lamson Remix is one of the best fly reels for steelhead under $300.00.

Orvis Hydros

There are two great options for anglers looking for a good fly reel between $200 and $300.00. The first is the Orvis Hydros Fly Reel.

Lamson Remix

The second reel is the Waterworks Lamson Remix Fly Reel

Both reels are backed by a great warranty and customer service from two well-known fly fishing brands. It would be difficult to choose, but the Orvis Hydros gets more 5-star reviews.

Hardy Ultradisc UDLA Fly Reel
Hardy Ultradisc UDLA Fly Reel

Waterworks-Lamson Guru S Fly Reel

The Waterworks-Lamson Guru S Fly Reel is a great reel that comes in just under $350.00. It is a lightweight reel with a large arbor spool, and it has a sealed conical drag system.

Coming just over $400.00 is the Hardy Ultradisc UDLA Fly Reel. This is the newer model to the Hardy reels that I have been using for the last 4 years, and let me say the Hardy reels have been great.

Waterworks-Lamson Speedster S Fly Reel
Waterworks-Lamson Speedster S Fly Reel

Waterworks-Lamson Speedster S Fly Reel

The Waterworks-Lamson Speedster S Fly Reel is a great reel that gets a lot of positive reviews.

With its large arbor, fast retrieve, good drag system, and lightweight design, this fly reel would make an excellent steelhead fly reel.

MORE TO COME: We will be reviewing and adding more great fly reels over the months to come.

Tight Lines,


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