How to Choose the Best Fly Reel for Salmon
As our species-centered fly rod blog series comes to an end, we figured it’d be a good time to transition to fly reels. Similar to choosing the right fly rod, choosing the right fly reel can certainly enhance your chances of angling success. Intuitively, different fly reels are made for different situations.
Fly reels for Salmon is a broad category because of the diversity of Salmon species that populate the US, Canada, Eurasia, and beyond. King Salmon require a much different fly reel than Pink Salmon, Sockeye Salmon, Atlantic Salmon, etc. Commonalities exist across all Salmon species, however: they’re powerful, strong, and loads of fun to catch on a fly rod.
Let's start with the basics. It's necessary to match the size of the reel to the size of the rod you're using. This may seem intuitive but it's worth mentioning: if you're fishing a 9wt fly rod, choose an 8/9 or 9/10 sized fly reel. Here are some very basic recommendations for Salmon.
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For larger fish like Salmon, any reel you choose should also have a strong drag system. Salmon are known for reel screaming runs and enthusiastic acrobatics so a reel with enough drag to turn them and bring them to hand is paramount. It’s also important to consider retrieval rates, line capacity, and durability when looking for a fly reel for Salmon. Here are a few recommendations to point you in the right direction.
Higher retrieval rates are generally better. A reel that picks up a lot of line quickly will maximize an angler’s chance of landing a Salmon, regardless of species. Reels with large arbor designs are optimal (particularly if you don’t need increased backing capacity). For Sockeye Salmon, Pink Salmon, and Silver Salmon, the 8/10 version of the Nautilus CCF-X2 picks up over 10” of line per turn of the reel. That’s a lot. These high retrieval rates will help anglers play and land Salmon quickly and efficiently.
For King Salmon, upgrading to a heavier reel is worthwhile. A 10wt single-handed fly rod is the best tool to wrangle these larger fish. A heavy-duty 10wt reel with solid retrieval rates like the Hatch Gen 2 Finatic 9 Plus - Large Arbor will give you the best chance of landing a hooked fish.
Line capacity is another pertinent consideration when choosing the right reel for Salmon. It’s not uncommon to see a Salmon run an angler downstream into his/her backing so a reel that accommodates a healthy amount of backing is a must. If you’re interested in which backing is the best, read our backing shootout here.
Most reel manufacturers list the reel’s backing/ line capacity on their website. A Taylor Revolution Z 7-9wt fly reel, for example, has an ultra-large arbor and fits 200m of 20lb Dacron with an 8wt fly line. 200m of backing capacity is more than enough to properly fight and land a large Salmon. The ultra-large arbor design on the Taylor Rev Z also offers stellar retrieval rates.
Choosing a reel that will stand up to scrapes and dings is worthwhile, too. Salmon are often targeted in remote places like Alaska, Canada, and South America. Remote fisheries often come with rugged landscapes and the potential for a fly reel to incur some damage. If you’re looking for a fly reel for Salmon, stay away from reels with a cast design; these reels are less durable than machined reels and will warp when dropped or dinged.
Anodized reels are often the most durable. Anodizing coats the reel in a finish that is resistant to scratches, scrapes, and other wear. Anodizing also enhances the reel’s resistance to corrosion in saltwater environments, an important consideration when fishing for Salmon in brackish/tidal rivers. Most big game reels are aluminum with either a Type II or Type III anodized finish. The higher the Type, the thicker the anodized coating is on the reel.
Reels with a durable anodized finish and machined design include the Orvis Mirage, Ross Evolution R Salt, Lamson Cobalt, and many more. If you have questions about finish or anodizing, drop a comment below or call us at the shop anytime.
It's also important to balance a rod and reel setup. Not every 8wt fly reel properly balances an 8wt fly rod. If you're fishing a lightweight fly rod and decide to put a heavy fly reel on it the rod becomes butt heavy. A butt heavy rod makes initiating a cast difficult and often causes the angler to overshoot his/her target.
On the other hand, if you're fishing a rod that has a stout butt section and is a bit heavier than other rods (think Sage Payload) and you partner it with an ultra lightweight fly reel, the rod will be tip heavy. This will make it more difficult to lift line off the water and present a fly accurately.
It's also worth mentioning that balancing a Spey rod and reel setup is a bit different. If you're fishing a 6wt Spey rod, upgrade a full reel size to a 7wt - 8wt reel to properly balance the rod.
If you're curious about fly rod weights and specifications, check out our specs sheet here.
Another resource worth referring to here is our 2018 8-Weight Fly Reel Shootout and Review. This review rates, ranks, and describes the best saltwater fly reels in a multitude of categories. If you’re fishing for smaller Salmon species like Sockeyes, Pinks, and Silvers, an 8wt fly reel/fly rod is likely the best choice.
We’ve also published a post about How to Choose the Best Fly Rod for Pacific Salmon. If you’re in the market for a fly rod and reel, check out this post to get an idea of which rod is best for which species.
Ok, I know what I'm looking for. Now, which reel should I go with?
Still can't decide?
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