I have 7 fly reels that I use for steelhead, but for this article, I have consulted with many steelhead guides to find out what the best steelhead fly reels are from the cheapest to the more expensive fly reels.
The best steelhead fly reels will have a large arbor design which allows for a faster line retrieve, and they will have an enclosed drag system to ensure that you land those big hard-running steelhead even in wet and icy conditions.
As a steelhead guide that often permits clients to use their own reels if they want to, I have experience with countless steelhead fly reels that range from $79.00 to $600.00 and all can work for steelhead but some just don’t work well and I will tell you why.
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Our Guides Top 3 Quick Pick Reels For Steelhead
- Waterworks-Lamson Guru S Fly Reel – Best Overall Steelhead Fly Reel
- Orvis Clearwater Fly Reel – Best Economy Steelhead Fly Reel
- Waterworks-Lamson Speedster S Fly Reel – Best Higher-end Steelhead Fly 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.
Steelhead 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 and 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 to go with 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.
The reason for this is about the weight of the entire 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 7 or 8-weight rod and would therefore use a 7 or 8-weight steelhead fly reel and matching fly line.
For west coast steelhead, I would use an 8 or 9-weight fly rod, and therefore I would use an 8 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 are going to need a good fly line that is 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 and we can’t cover them all on this page, but we can cover some of the best steelhead fly reels my guides have used and what other guides use and recommended to their clients.
The question I get asked all the time is ” do you really need an expensive fly reel, or will a cheaper reel be ok?”
The simple answer is No, you do not need a very expensive reel. What you will get with the more expensive fly reels are better quality and better build, lighter weight, they are usually more durable so they will last longer, and you will get 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 which is what I would consider a mid-range reel and these types of reels last a long time and can land hundreds of steelhead a year.
So let’s check out some of the best fly reels 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.
Alternatives 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.
Best Steelhead Fly Reels From $200 to $300
Two great options for anglers that are looking for the best steelhead fly reels between $200 and $300.00 dollars are the Orvis Hydros Fly Reel and the Waterworks Lamson Remix Fly Reel.
Both reels are backed by a great warranty and great customer service from two well-known fly fishing brands. It would be a difficult decision to choose but the Orvis Hydros does get more 5 star reviews.
Best Steelhead Fly Reels From $300 to $400
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.
Best Fly Reels For Steelhead Between $400 and $500
The Waterworks-Lamson Speedster S Fly Reel is a great reel that gets a lot of positive reviews.
With its large arbor and fast retrieve, a good drag system, and its lightweight design, this fly reel would make a great steelhead fly reel.
MORE TO COME: We will be reviewing and adding more great fly reels over the months to come.
Best Steelhead Fly Reels Conclusion
If you are wondering why there aren’t more reels recommended it’s simply because, unlike other websites that recommend reels without ever using the reel, I prefer to tell the guys about reels that I have used, or guided with or ones that my guide and clients have had great success with.
If you have any tips, recommendations, or questions about the best fly reels for steelhead, let me know in the comments section below.