Are New Cheap Fly Reels Worth Buying?

The first thing we need to do is define what we mean by cheap fly reels. To one person $200 might be cheap but in our discussion we will be talking about new fly reels under $50. Most of these reels could be poorly made. I say "could" because you may be able to find a good deal on sale. But be careful!

Here are some things you should consider when looking at the lower-cost fly reels.

•How do you plan on using it?

•The different materials fly reels are made of

•What to look out for in cheap fly reels

What are you going to use it for?

•Are you planning on passing the outfit on to the kids when they get older?

•You may not be sure that fly fishing thing is going to be a long-term hobby. Keep in mind here that a poor outfit could frustrate you to the point of losing interest altogether.

•Some of the cheap fly reels would be good for casting practice in the back yard.

•If you are even considering fly fishing for steelhead don't even think about a cheap fly reel. Start saving now for a fly reel with a good drag system.

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Materials Used in Making Fly Reels

Let’s first look at the materials used to make most fly reels. As a general rule this is a good place to start your research. They are listed here in the order you can expect them to be priced, stamped metal being the cheapest.

Click on each material to reveal more information about each type of commonly used fly reel material.

Stamped Metal

These are generally poor quality. Stay away from these at any price.

Graphite or Plastic

  • Light-weight and inexpensive.
  • Frames may not be stiff enough and are not likely to hold up over time.
  • The drag systems are not as good, which could be a problem when using light tippets.
  • Often they are included in the “complete combo” outfits.
  • May be best used for casting practice.
  • There are some fly fishers that seem to like these but I’m one who would rather buy a classic old Pflueger Medalist on eBay (often under $50 with shipping) than a cheap graphite or plastic reel from China. Go figure.

Cast Aluminum

  • Hot aluminum is poured into a mold, forming the parts. Some are machined after casting.
  • These are more likely to break if you hit them on a rock but can be a good value and a great place to start for the novice fly fisher.

Machined Fly Reels

  • Made with aircraft grade aluminum stock.
  • They are made with more exact tolerances.
  • The very best fly reels are made this way. If the budget allows or if you can find one used, go for it.
  • The price of these reels will run from $100 to over $800. The best fly reels for steelhead can often go for over $2000 (I’m not kidding).

What to watch out for in cheap fly reels

Keep these in mind when shopping for a cheap fly reel.

•Gaps between the reel and the spool that can pinch or tangle the line.

•Is an extra spool available for the reel? It is not a bad idea to purchase it at the same time.

•Your fly reel needs to be the correct handing for you. Most fly reels can be changed so this is not a problem but worth knowing for sure.

•Does it look like the coating is just a thin coat of paint?

•Take a look at the drag. Are there plastic parts and can the drag be adjusted easily?

•When it come to the drag systems, more manufacturers are tending toward disc drags but for the average trout a click and pawl system will work just fine. They do not have the stopping power of disc drags but they do apply a steady pressure.

See fly reel drag systems for steelhead for more information on disc drag systems.

•Confirm the reel capacity. Is there room for 90+ feet of fly line plus the backing? The manufacturer should give a rating for the line weight and the amount of backing it is designed for. If no information is given, consider a different fly reel.


Hopefully we have answered the question about buying cheap fly reels. Poor-quality reels need to be avoided at any price. Why take a chance on them coming apart or in some way ruining the day?

Fly reels should last longer than the gas you just put in your truck (which by the way may be more than you just spent if you bought a cheap reel). Save up your money for a good reel or buy an old classic on eBay. Some of the best fly reels can be found there. They may be used but most are still in good shape.

See our Used Fly Reel Buying Guide.

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