Our editors at Finn’s Fishing Tips independently research, test, and recommend the best products to help you make purchase decisions. You can learn more about our review process here. We sometimes get a commission through purchases made via our links.
Tarpon or the Silver King is a big fish that weighs between 75 and 100 pounds. Most anglers and fishing enthusiasts notice and seek this fish because of its acrobatic moves as it leaps out of the water, although people rarely eat it. Fly fishing for tarpon is regarded as one of the most extreme types of fishing. So what is the best tarpon fly reel?
This fish can be found off the coasts of Florida, Greater Antilles, and Caribbean islands, which means that a fisherman should invest in high-quality fly reels that are designed to withstand the challenges of saltwater fishing. For this reason, we’ve prepared a detailed guide to explain the most critical features that you need to consider if you’re fishing for tarpons. We’ve also searched the market to suggest a few good products.
So, let’s dive in.
In a Hurry? Here’s Our Top Picks…
Reviews of the Best Tarpon Fly Reels
A fly reel is an integral piece of your fishing equipment. This is why you need to make sure that you’re buying a well-made one that is specifically designed to withstand the pull of a big fish and the other circumstances that can break a flimsy reel. Check out our top picks.
This reel is made to last, thanks to its aluminum construction. It’s fully sealed to withstand saltwater and features a carbon fiber drag system. It guarantees a powerful yet smooth drag in all weather conditions to help you get your tarpon successfully.
As a great entry-level option for your first saltwater fly reel, this excellent reel won’t disappoint you. It comes in various colors and sizes to help you target different species. The biggest size of 14+ will help you catch bigger fish like tuna, while the 9/10/11 size will work for tarpon fishing.
The optimized center of gravity eliminates one of the biggest problems that anglers deal with when they target tarpons. There’s no risk of rod twists, so your fishing equipment will always be in top condition. Moreover, the rounded finish provides more protection.
You will also enjoy increased backing capacity with the V-spool and its unique backing canal arbor. It also reduces line stacking for a better fishing experience. The oversized palming rim increases the spool’s rigidity and drag application. However, the high price of this reel might turn off some users. Nevertheless, if you maintain it well, it will deliver exceptional performance for a long time.
What We Like
- Reliable and durable aluminum construction.
- Carbon fiber drag system.
- Fully sealed design.
- Optimized center of gravity to eliminate rod twists.
- Increased backing capacity.
What We Don’t Like
- More expensive than other models.
If you are targeting smaller tarpon fish, this fly reel will be a perfect choice. It provides silky-smooth drag, thanks to the reliable stainless steel drag system. It features a one-way bearing to provide smooth and immediate drag engagement. The fly reel is available in multiple colors, so you can choose your favorite.
This fly reel is solid yet lightweight. It’s made using machined aluminum alloy, which is corrosion and impact resistant, guaranteeing better durability and long service life, despite its budget-friendly price. The interior is hollow, which doesn’t affect the durability of the reel, but makes it lighter and easier to maneuver.
Moreover, the surface is hard anodized for extra protection to be abrasion-resistant. This reel will perform well in all weather conditions and is cold-forged and tempered to provide more strength if you’re seeking a stubborn fish.
Thanks to the mid-arbor design, you will be enjoying faster line pickup and reduced line memory. It features an easy-gripping knurled handle and is set for left-hand retrieval. You need to contact the manufacturer to learn how to set it for right-hand recovery. It works fine for a beginner, but if you’re looking for something more solid for an avid angler, you might want to experiment with other options.
What We Like
- Budget-friendly aluminum construction.
- Lightweight hollow design.
- Surface is anodized for more protection.
- Fast line pickup and reduced line memory.
What We Don’t like
- A little difficult to set for right-hand retrieval.
- Not suitable for an experienced angler.
This is a great saltwater fly reel that works for tarpon and other big fish. It’s made of durable yet lightweight aluminum and comes with an elegant shiny finish that makes it a great addition to your fishing gear.
The ultra-lightweight canvas phenolic handle gets tackier when it gets in touch with the water. This is a great plus for saltwater fishing as it provides the needed stability.
With the help of the composite drag system, you will be enjoying enough breaking power to handle big fish like tarpon and other saltwater fish that are known to put up a fight. You can easily adjust the drag knob on the side of the reel for the best performance.
As a bonus, you will love that the spool is maintenance-free, and the composite disc drag with the stainless steel interface will help you enjoy your time more with fewer problems that you might encounter with other models.
However, the high price tag might not work for all anglers. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for exceptional performance and balanced weight, then this will definitely be worth the price.
What We Like
- Durable aluminum construction.
- Amazing performance in saltwater.
- Elegant design.
- Drag system can be easily adjusted.
What We Don’t Like
- More expensive than other models.
With a minimalist design, this fly reel offers high precision because it’s well made. It’s a top-tier fly reel that has been specifically designed to withstand saltwater fishing. The anodized aluminum construction guarantees better durability, and the fly reel comes in multiple colors for more fun. The colors are bright and vibrant and stay so even after long-term use.
This fly reel provides smooth drag with the sealed drag system that prevents anything from getting in and interfere with the dragging mechanism. Although there are reels that are better sealed, this one does stand the test of time, as the drag remains consistent in different conditions.
Moreover, this fly reel can also work in freshwater fishing scenarios, as the knob rotates to allow for fine adjustments. The micro drag adjustments make it one of the most versatile fly reels that won’t disappoint you.
The quick-release mechanism is an excellent choice for an avid angler. The reel also has a large arbor which allows for plenty of line and backing capacity.
The frame has the needed structure to provide maximum impact resistance, and the minimalist design makes it stand out from the rest of the products. However, the drag knob can be a little too loose at lower settings. It also creates a tiny gap that can get the line stuck.
What We Like
- Minimalist and lightweight design.
- Anodized aluminum construction.
- Micro drag adjustments.
- Smooth drag and retrieval.
- Large arbor to provide big line backing capacity.
What We Don’t Like
- The drag knob can be a little loose at lower settings.
This fly reel features 2 + 1 ball bearings for better glide, and this increases the durability and strength of the reel in all fishing conditions. The reel is made of high-quality aluminum for more durability and comes at an affordable price.
Whether you’re a left or right-hand user, the reel will work for you with no adjustment. The large arbor design provides smooth immediate drag engagement. The click drag and silent retrieval work in all conditions.
Adjusting the rotary knob drag system will be an easy job, even if you’re a beginner, because the knob is highly responsive and intuitive. The reel provides smooth performance and is easy to control.
The reel comes in a package that features a fly fishing line with a unique taper design to allow for precise and accurate cast in different conditions. The leader is made of low-memory nylon, which makes it almost undetectable to fish. The braided backing line has low friction with a good curl degree and is easy to knot.
When used in saltwater, you have to open the reel and clean it properly. Otherwise, the salt will corrode the ball bearings and prevent the reel from working properly.
What We Like
- Durable fly reel with a compatible line.
- Affordable price.
- Easy to adjust drag system.
- Smooth dragging with 2 + 1 ball bearings.
What We Don’t Like
- Requires regular cleaning, or it will get clogged.
How to Choose the Best Tarpon Fly Reel
After picking the right fly rod, picking a reliable fly reel is your next step to maintain the success of your fishing experience. There are lots of fantastic fly reels on the market, and the differences in price can be huge. This is why we thought of a few features that you need to consider while shopping for a fly reel that works for tarpon fishing.
Your fly reel should be compatible with the weight of the line you’re choosing to catch your target species. If you have a 7 weight fly rod, your fly reel should be able to handle fly lines from 6 to 9, for example, to guarantee smooth performance in all conditions.
Tarpon tend to be big and usually fight, so a fly reel that handles lines between 9 and 11 will work for you. Bigger fish require a higher weight, so the rod doesn’t break, and you can catch your fish successfully.
Choosing a fly reel with the right weight guarantees that it will hold a decent amount of linebacking. This will prevent your fish from running away, so you can catch more fish with less time and effort.
Pre-cast reels are usually heavier and less durable than machined fly reels. Machined fly reels combine durability with lightweight and versatility because they can handle different fishing conditions without breaking or bending.
However, pre-cast reels are more appealing to beginner anglers because they’re usually more affordable. Nevertheless, if you’re serious about tarpon fishing, paying more for a machined fly reel will be an excellent decision, as the reel will provide great value for money in the long run.
Most high-quality feel reels are made of aluminum because it’s sturdy and corrosion-resistant. It’s also lightweight, so it will facilitate your mission whether you’re targeting big or small fish. Having an anodized finish is a big plus because it adds to the durability of your reel.
The drag power is a big feature to consider when you’re shopping for a fly reel because it stops the fish from snapping the line off the reel. It becomes more important when you’re dealing with a big fish like a tarpon.
Author Note: There are two drag systems on the market, click and pawl and disc drag. The disc drag system is highly efficient and extremely smooth. It provides great stopping power when you’re dealing with a big fish that is trying to get away.
A click and pawl drag system is more affordable and works for those on a budget. It will be an excellent choice for an entry-level angler, but it might be less disappointing if you’re trying to catch a big tarpon.
This is a cylinder located at the center of the reel, and the fly line is tightly wrapped around it. A larger arbor allows for faster line retrieval and also creates less memory in the line, which makes it harder to detect by fish. This is why choosing a larger arbor is a big plus if you’re catching tarpon or other big saltwater species.
Beginner fly reels might feature a smaller arbor. These reels will probably be lighter and less bulky, which makes them easier to manipulate. They can also be more affordable than the ones with larger arbor.
- What is the minimum fly rod size that you need to catch tarpon?
A fly rod with 9 or 10 weight is the minimum you can use to catch a tarpon. In stronger winds, and if you’re presenting the fly backhanded, you need to increase the weight to 11 or 12. This will provide more power, especially when the wind is strong.
However, 12 fly rods can be a pain to cast all day long, so you might want to consider opting for a fast-action rod. It will provide the needed stability and won’t disappoint you when you’re trying to catch a tarpon.
- Which bait to use when catching tarpons?
The key to successful fishing depends on choosing bait that the fish naturally eats. Baitfish like threadfin herring, pinfish, and minnows will work fine. Some fishermen also use crabs and mullets.
You should avoid using bait that spins with the current, especially that most tarpon fishing is done in high winds. This is why shrimps don’t work well because the fish will snap off the head of the shrimp and fly away. Instead, drift your bait down to the fish and wait until it gets closer.
- What is the best location for tarpon fishing?
The Florida Keys is probably the most popular location for tarpon fishing. Fly anglers target the larger fish around the bridges using live bait and conventional tackle to achieve great results.
How can you clean your fly reel?
Unless you maintain your fly reel properly, catching a big fish will be a huge problem. Regular cleaning provides smooth drag when a big fish is trying to get away.
Salt and debris from the water can interfere with the performance of the drag system and eventually make your fly reel useless when it comes to catching large fish. You might still be able to use it to catch small fish that don’t put up a big fight, but catching tarpon will probably be more challenging.
Make sure that your reel is free from corrosion which can damage the internal parts and prevent them from operating smoothly. You should also clean the drag system even if it’s sealed to make sure that there’s nothing affecting its performance.
To do this, you should handle your reel with care in the first place. Don’t drag it through sand or bump it on rocks that can affect the performance of the moving parts.
You should rinse the reel with fresh water after every use and avoid pressure washing it, as this might actually damage the bearings and other moving parts. Pressured water can actually drive the debris into the drag system and affect its performance.
Every few trips, you need to deep cleanse your fly reel by removing the line and soak the spool in soapy water. You should never soak the reel frame for extended periods, and you should dry it properly before storing it. Lubricating your reel once a year will also work.
Tarpon fishing is an exciting experience for both avid and beginner anglers. This is why buying the right equipment and learning how to use it should be your main concern.
We chose the Redington Grande 9/10/11 Fly Reel – Marine as our top fly reel for tarpon fishing because it’s durable and reliable. If you’re looking for a more affordable option, we recommend that you take a look at the Piscifun Sword Fly Fishing Reel.
And if you want to tie your own flies, check out our guide on the best curved fly tying scissors.