The Best Trout Reels

Trout reels tend to be, first and foremost, line holders. For many fishing situations, when a fish is hooked, you’re more likely to simply strip line in rather than crank it in with the reel. But that’s not always the case. When you do get a fish “on the reel,” it’s important that it performs as needed without fail.   Trout rods — that is, rods designed primarily for targeting trout species —represent the single biggest segment of the fly rod market. Therefore, it stands to reason that the largest part of the fly reel market is devoted to trout reels.

A good trout reel must be sized properly to not only balance well on its designated rod. It must be able to hold an appropriate line with a reasonable amount of backing. A good trout reel will balance out its rod, helping the angler swing the rod comfortably all day without arm fatigue. A reel that is too heavy can create too much vibration in the rod tip, throwing off accuracy and performance. A reel that is too small and too light, can lead to the angler dropping the tip too much during casting. That affects distance and line control.

In evaluating the performance of trout reels, we cast line from it using a variety of rods — and anglers. We’ll adjust the drag, checking for smooth control at all stages of fishing. The drag setting should be easy to adjust without having to look for the control knob. And the control should allow smooth adjustments from tiny tweaks to locked-down stopping power.

The best trout reels feature easily swappable line spools so anglers can pop out their weight-forward floating line and switch to a sinking line when they jump from river to lake. And the reels should be able to stand up to the rigors of rough use in a variety of situations: We’ll test it while rock-hopping western river banks, bouncing around in drift boats, and tossing it into gear bags will road tripping to new angling locales.

The price of trout reels is one of the last considerations. Given that the reel needs of the standard trout angler are fairly modest for general trout fishing, our best-rated reels are seldom the most expensive — though some high-end expensive features are certainly beneficial. Machined aluminum construction, as opposed to cast aluminum, carries a high price but adds considerable durability to the reel.  When looking at reels, we’ll explore the costs versus benefits of all the reel features.

Review Year
Best in Class
Overall Rating
Price
Name Overall Rating Ratings The Good The Bad Price
Cheeky Boost 350
94
Best in Class
2015
Weight 7
Drag Performance 10
Line Pick-up 9
Ease of Spool-Changes 9
Durability / Abuse R... 9

Large arbor for fast line retrieval

Smooth, problem-free drag

Attractive design

Expensive

Heavier than others

Some anglers don’t like the reel’s silent retrieve

MSRP
$219.00
BEST DEAL
P
P
Sage 3250
93
Weight 7
Drag Performance 9
Line Pick-up 9
Ease of Spool-Changes 9
Durability / Abuse R... 9

Large arbor for fast line retrieval

Solid construction

Smooth, consistent drag sytem

Expensive

Heavier than others

Limited color options

MSRP
$219.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Montana Fly Company Madison IIa
90
Weight 6
Drag Performance 9
Line Pick-up 9
Ease of Spool-Changes 10
Durability / Abuse R... 8
Value 8

Beautiful fish-related artwork covers the reel

Fast, simple spool release and replacement

Machined aluminum construction throughout (from 6061-T6 bar stock aluminum)

Self-lubricating drag system

Heaviest reel in the test class

Looks like it should be in a showroom instead of a drift boat

MSRP
$235.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Orvis Access II
90
Weight 9
Drag Performance 8
Line Pick-up 7
Ease of Spool-Changes 9
Durability / Abuse R... 7

Least expensive in the class

Lightweight

Very durable

Smaller spool size means slower line retrieval

Somewhat ‘basic’ in looks.

Not made in the USA

MSRP
$155.00
BEST DEAL
$607.00
Orvis CFO II
88
Drag Performance 7
Line Pick-up 5
Ease of Spool-Changes 8
Durability / Abuse R... 8

Lightweight

Classic look matches well with bamboo or fiberglass rods

Made in USA

Small spool size means slower line retrieval

Expensive

Simple drag

MSRP
$335.00
BEST DEAL
$325.00
Redington Rise I
87
Weight 7
Drag Performance 8
Line Pick-up 7
Ease of Spool-Changes 8
Durability / Abuse R... 8
Value 9

Slightly oversized “mid” arbor design for faster line pick-up and less coil-retention in the line

Adjustable for left- or right-hand retrieve mode

Precision drag adjustment that doesn’t “drift” during extended use

Machined aluminum construction is stronger and more durable than cast-aluminum

Heavier than some other reels in its class

MSRP
$160.00
BEST DEAL
$154.97
Redington Delta
87
Weight 5
Drag Performance 8
Line Pick-up 8
Ease of Spool-Changes 9
Durability / Abuse R... 7

Modest price

Solid construction

Smooth, drift-free drag

Heavy

Not made in USA

Spool removal/attachment can stick

MSRP
$200.00
BEST DEAL
N/A
Cheeky Boost 350

The Cheeky Boost 350 reel earned praise from every angler I had testing it. The Boost’s fast line retrieval and ultra-smooth drag were universally praised as was the clean, yet vibrant design. The Boost’s silent retrieve did raise an eyebrow among the more traditionalist testers, but others loved the quiet action of the reel. All in all, the Boost was a favorite of all the testers, and an clear winner of the Best in Class award for this year’s general-purpose fly reels.

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