Do You Need a Special Reel for Saltwater Fly Fishing?

Most anglers will try saltwater fishing at some point for the shot at new species. Saltwater fish are wily and put up a heck of a fight compared to their freshwater cousins. Are you wondering if you’ll need a saltwater reel before venturing into saltwater fishing?

You don’t need a special reel for saltwater fly fishing—though you will benefit from a strong reel with a heavy sealed drag system to land larger saltwater fish. Your intended catch should determine your reel weight, ranging from 8wt to 12wt.

Saltwater environments are harsh and will put a beating on your fishing gear. It is highly recommended to purchase a reel with a sealed drag system to avoid corrosion and salt build up inside this vital component of the reel. Having a strong drag system will allow you to put the needed pressure on larger species, ensuring their safety, and allowing you to land them successfully.

Choosing a Reel for Saltwater Fishing

The quality of your fishing gear is always essential, even more so when fishing in saltwater. The saltwater habitat has a very high salinity that can rust your fishing gear more quickly than freshwater.

Saltwater fish are a much more fiesty and tougher target than freshwater fish. The extra toughness results from the harsh habitat they must adapt to survive daily.

Saltwater fishing will put the quality of every piece of your fishing gear to the test. You must ensure that your reel and other equipment are of good quality. The fishing reel is one of the most critical pieces of your equipment, so its quality should be a priority.

These are factors to consider when picking out a reel for saltwater fishing: 

  • Weight 
  • Drag system
  • Backing capacity
  • Affordability

Saltwater Fly Fishing Reel Weight 

There is a vast number of species of saltwater fish that are all exciting to target. You should decide which of them you want to target and choose your reel accordingly.

Before purchasing your reel for saltwater fishing, you must consider the weight of your target fish. Large saltwater fish like tarpon, sailfish, or sharks will require fishing reels of about 11wt. 

But for smaller species such as bonefish, redfish, and trout, you can get away with an 8wt reel. 

You must also consider the weight of the fishing reel itself before purchasing it. Fishing with a heavy reel you can’t hold for long can cause discomfort in your arms. This weight problem could make your fishing experience intolerable. 

Fishing Reel Drag System

Catching saltwater fish requires you to use more substantial and heavier fishing reels, but a very effective drag system offers an even better advantage. The drag system controls the tension placed on the fishing line when retrieving your catch. 

A tight drag makes your hold on the fish even stronger and prevents it from easily taking out the line, but the leader can snap if it is too tight. A loose drag means the line will go out too fast, making it easy for fish to run into structure or spit the hook.

The drag system of your fishing reel must be strong enough and practical to land your fish.

For saltwater fishing, it is highly recommended to use a sealed drag system. A sealed drag protects the vital disks from being exposed to saltwater or dirt intrusion. 

An affordable reel that will withstand virtually any saltwater species is the Hardy Zane Carbon Reel. This reel has a strong frame, strong sealed drag, and a large arbor for holding a lot of backing. I use these reels daily.

Reel Backing Capacity

The backing is one of the significant parts of a fly line that you should rarely ever see when fishing. This backing is an extra line that covers the length of the fishing line of the reel.

The backing is insurance to your fish catch, especially when dealing with big saltwater fish. It also increases the rate of line retrieval when you’re reeling in.

Manufacturers often make backing from a material called Dacron because it is cost-effective and efficient. The length you will use will depend on the size of fish you’re targeting and the length of your fishing line.

In salt water, your reel should have a backing capacity between 200 and 250 yards (183 and 229 meters). 

Saltwater Fly Fishing Reel Affordability 

Once you have decided on your target catch—you need to consider which reels the best suit your pocket. Suppose you are just starting; there’s no need to break the bank and get yourself a custom Abel Super Series Fly reel for a cool $1800. Several entry-level reels won’t set you back more than a couple hundred dollars. 

Best Reels Recommended for Saltwater Fly Fishing

To save you the trouble of looking for the best fishing reels, here are the top 3 ones available on for you:

  • Hardy Zane Carbon Reel
  • Lamson Liquid Fly Reel
  • Ross Reels Animas

Hardy Zane Carbon Reel

The Hardy Zane Carbon reel is one of my favorites on the market right now. The reel is crafted from barstock 6061/Carbon with a salt safe anodised finish.

The drag system is fully sealed with precise adjustment clicks, making it easy to apply the correct amount of pressure to the fish. The drag weight is a whopping 10lbs, which is quite a bit of pressure for an 8wt fly reel.  

With the proper care, this reel will last you a lifetime!

The Lamson Liquid Fly Reel

The Lamson Liquid Fly reel is incredibly durable and will withstand most saltwater species such as bonefish. The reel is made from solid CNC’d cast aluminum that does not corrode.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Lamson liquid is the conical sealed drag system. This reel has surprisingly impressive stopping power for a reel under $150. 

For the budget saltwater fly angler, it is difficult to beat this reel!

Ross Reels Animas

The newly redesigned Ross Animas Reel is not only a sharp looking reel, but incredibly strong. Boasting a fully sealed drag system and new and improved comfort handle, this reel is ready to handle some large saltwater species.

Made from bar stock aluminum, the new animas reel is significantly lighter without sacrificing strength. The new easy to use spool release system is completely maintenance free and makes switching a spool quick and easy. 

The Ross Animas is a great reel for both the beginner and intermediate saltwater fly angler.


The saltwater habitat is a harsh one that will test your gear and your angling skills. There are different features your fishing reel must possess before you proceed to use it for fishing in saltwater. Choosing a strong reel with a sealed drag system should be the priority when looking to purchase a saltwater fly reel.