Ultimate Guide to the Best Sealed Drag Fly Reel 2022

// By Leonard Schoenberger

If you’ve been fly fishing for a while now, you might have heard anglers talking about the biggest fish they ever caught.

Fishing in small freshwater bodies may be fun, challenging, and good enough for the average angler, but if you are looking for a place where you can truly take up the challenge of catching a monster fish, then you have to search the saltwater bodies or the bigger rivers if you want to go home feeling more than satisfied. 

To have a more productive day of fishing, an angler must know how to effectively use their reel’s drag because this could make or break their chances of having a great catch. A reel’s drag is vital in creating a resistance against the spool’s rotation of the fly fishing reel, making it hard to pull the fly line from the reel. To put it simply, drag in a reel is just the fishing term for “brakes”. The resistance it produces against the rotation of the spool is what we call the drag system—a highly important feature that allows you to control and slow a fish down while fighting its weight. A sole fly rod won’t be enough when you battle big fish that are pulling your line. 

Moreover, learning how to utilize your drag would allow you to set the spool’s tension to prevent tangles and backlashes while you pull your line from the fly fishing reel. This proves to be beneficial especially when you don’t want to waste any precious time dealing with tangles when you are already on the lookout for your next big catch.

Table of Contents:

Best Sealed Drag Fly Reels Quick Answer List

Types of Drag Systems

Important Features in a Sealed Drag Fly Reel

Review Of The Best Sealed Drag Fly Reels

Conclusion

Saltwater Fly Reel 1 ES

Best Sealed Drag Fly Reels Quick Answer List

1. NAUTILUS CCF-X2

2. TFO BVK SD

3. ABEL SDS

4. HARDY FORTUNA Z

5. ROSS EVOLUTION LTX

6. REDINGTON GRANDE

7. ORVIS MIRAGE LT

8. TIBOR SIGNATURE

9. BAUER RX CLASSIC

10. SAGE ESN

Saltwater Fly Reels 2 ES
Sealed drag fly reels

Types of Drag Systems

Before diving in and finding out which drag fly reels would suit best for your fishing needs, it is vital to understand the types of drag systems that are used in fly fishing reels first. There are two: disc drag and click-and-pawl reels. 

Disc drag fly reels are built with washers that are placed between the spool and the drag knob. These washers are usually made with various materials. When you adjust the drag setting to get tightened, the washers get pushed against the spool to make it slow down as it spins, hence, making it harder for the fly line to leave the fly reel. 

Click-and-pawl reels, on the other hand, do the work by having toothed gear on the fly reel’s spool. A triangle-shaped spring-loaded metal that we call the pawl rests into the gear’s teeth. Together, the spool and the gear spins when the fly line is pulled off the reel, and the pawl then slows down the spool, creating a drag and making a buzzing sound. Because click-and-pawl reels are usually built with fewer parts, anglers have a much easier time with their maintenance. 

However, most anglers would swear by the fact that disc drags are much better than click-and-pawl reels. Disc drags sport a more modern feel, and most stores nowadays only display models under this category, with only a couple of click-and-pawl models at hand. One good reason for this is that disc drags are much more reliable when it comes to the aspect of stopping power when fighting big fish compared to the latter. Another reason is that disc drags are much more flexible, and having access to its variety of adjustments proves to be useful when facing different weather conditions when fly fishing.

There is nothing fairly wrong with click-and-pawl reels, however, people just prefer the convenience and updated design and usage of disc drag systems. Traditional anglers still love having click-and-pawl reels in their collection, though, because it keeps the history and romance of fly fishing alive. 

That being said, there are also two other categories that you could choose between when choosing a drag fly reel. These are the sealed and unsealed drag fly reels. This time, however, we are going to focus on the former. 

Two saltwater fly rods in a boat
Sealed drag fly reels are a great option for saltwater fly fishing

Important Features In Sealed Drag Fly Reels

Before reading on, you must first understand what a sealed drag is. Sealed drags are enclosed in a water-tight cover that prevents dirt, grime, and salt from getting into the drag and causing it to malfunction. 

These are designed for anglers that often fly fish in saltwater, as this kind of reels can be submerged in the sea without having to think about ruining it by letting some sand, dirt, or salt penetrate the machinery. This can also help you save a lot of precious time because you won’t have to spend hours scrubbing and cleaning off the grease on your reel every time you fish.

With the wide range of selection for sealed drag fly reels in the market, it is also important for you to research and learn the features actors that you need to know before choosing your next reel companion. To help you narrow down your choices, take a look at these factors that you need to consider first before finding a suitable model for you. 

Drag Strength

Since the concern for salt or sand getting into your drag system is already out of the way now that we are talking about sealed drag reels, the drag strength is the second thing you should keep in mind when choosing one. 

Fishing in saltwater exposes you to much bigger and even more challenging species, so your drag system must be able to withstand their power when they try to swim away. However, do be careful when picking greater drag strength because this also comes with the tendency to break off your line. At the end of it all, your choice depends on your fishing skills while out in the sea.

Target Species

Disc drag fly reels are usually great for anglers that often spend their time fly fishing in large saltwater and freshwater bodies. If you often find yourself fighting off bass or steelhead, then investing in a fly reel with a good disc drag system would prove to be beneficial for you. 

Weight 

Similarly, the weight of your rod is also essential when it comes to determining the kind of fish species you will be targeting. All drag systems won’t typically have issues with fighting trout, bass, and any other small freshwater fish, but the fun and challenge are in the weight of your rod. Lighter-weight rods, generally below the 6 weight, provide more excitement when fishing for smaller targets. 1-3 weight rods are ideal for small trouts, while 4-6 weight rods would be great for smaller pike, bass, and pickerel.

For larger fish species, however, most anglers would swear by fly reels with disc drag systems. You may also use any other system, though the disc drag would guarantee you the best catches especially when it’s a good quality one.

That being said, the reel you choose should match the weight of your current rod setup as much as possible. You may still choose a real that’s one above or below your rod weight, but this could still lead to an imbalance and will affect your performance while you are out in the water. If you are opting to buy a rod and reel setup that already matches well together, then good for you! However, if you already have a rod of your own, be sure to check if the fly reel you are searching for would match nicely with your equipment in terms of balance and power. 

Puget Sound Fishing

Materials and Construction

Of course, the materials and construction of these products should never be overlooked, especially if you would want to invest in a high-quality fly reel that would last for years. Fly reels can be made in two ways: machined and pre-cast. Pre-cast fly reels are built from liquid metal that has been poured into a mold while machined ones are milled out from a block of metal. Pre-cast reels are heavier with slightly less durable quality than the other ones, but pricier ones still possess more than decent durability. These are a great choice for those who are just starting with fly fishing.

Machined reels, on the other hand, are more lightweight and stronger. They will typically last longer (and even for a lifetime) and provide great performance and experience as time goes by. That being said, they are also fairly more expensive than pre-cast models.

Anodize-covered reels are also great choices since it effectively repels or fights off the corrosive effects of saltwater. If you often fish in the seas and oceans, be sure to check this feature before purchasing a reel for your fishing needs.

Arbor

An arbor is at the center of a reel, a cylindrical piece where the fly line and backing are wrapped around. Newer models now feature larger arbor sizes because they retrieve the lines faster, leaving a lesser mark in the leader and the line. If you are going to fish often for saltwater fish, do pick a fly reel that has a larger-sized arbor in order to have smoother runs and quick retrieval of lines. However, if you often fish for trout and would stick to targeting smaller fishes, smaller arbors will do, especially if you are just a beginner. These are generally a lot more lightweight and cheaper than the larger ones. 

Fly Rod and reel in hand

Review Of The Best Sealed Drag Fly Reels

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Now that you have an ample idea of what to expect and which features to consider when choosing a sealed drag fly reel, take a look at some of the best sealed drag fly reels in the market today: 

NAUTILUS CCF-X2

The NAUTILUS CCF-X2 offers maximum drag as well as optimum adjustability. Not only that, but it also gives anglers great retrieval rates, making it the perfect companion for saltwater anglers at such a reasonable price. These newer models take pride in their doubled drag strength, multiplied smoothness, and decent start-up inertia. Nautilus also made these reels a lot heavier than their older products as a way to balance heavier rods, adding to their strength and durability. 

The NAUTILUS CCF-X2 features a cork carbon fiber disc brake drag system, a great option for saltwater enthusiasts that often fight off big fish. Its disc brakes are also embellished with hybrid ceramic bearings, all completely sealed. This one also features an ultra-large arbor, an essential factor for helping anglers battle the biggest saltwater species on a single-handed fly rod.

The NAUTILUS CCF-X2 can be bought in either a black anodized finish or in brushed titanium. Both materials are great enough to withstand saltwater impact so it’s really up to your preference. The reel is also built with machined aluminum, so if you accidentally dropped or dinged it, you won’t have to worry about any wear and tear that could happen. 

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TFO BVK SD

If you have ever heard of the BVK reels, then this one is pretty much the same thing—except that it comes with a fully sealed drag system, all still at the same price. The TFO BVK SD offers easy left-hand and right-hand retrieve changes as well as easy maintenance for those who fly fish on the go. The drag system is sealed with stainless steel and Delrin® to keep small debris from getting in.

These fly reels are built with machined aluminum and coated with an anodized finish, which makes the TFO BVK SD one of the most affordable choices for saltwater anglers. It also features a large arbor design that contributes to its line capacity as well as efficiency in picking it up. 

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Abel SDS

The Abel SDS is built with a heavy-duty drag system and a cold-forged 6061-T561 aluminum that provides anglers with one of the strongest drag ratings in the industry. That being said, this reel has been dubbed as a powerhouse, perfect for serious saltwater anglers that often fight large species such as bonefish and tarpon. 

The Abel SDS is also built on an alternating 5-disc sealed drag stack system that has over 20lbs of maximum braking power, strong enough to stop saltwater fish of any kind and size. Not only that, but these discs are also extremely durable and would typically last a lifetime.

The Abel SDS also features a ported reel handle and aircraft-grade aluminum and hard-anodized finish that gives it maximum protection and extra durability. Its large arbor size also helps contribute to its performance when anglers fight the largest fish species while out in the seas or ocean—all with as little effort as possible. 

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HARDY FORTUNA Z

The HARDY FORTUNA Z is one of the best choices in the market for those who are always looking for a feisty fish fight. It features a multi-pad disc drag system that generates over 25-30lbs of stopping power.

The HARDY FORTUNA Z is fully sealed and comes with a hard-anodized finish, and also features a power paddle handle—all combined to provide anglers a great fusion of power, strength, and reliability. With its all-black finish it has a very sleek and modern look to it that makes it a great choice for a number of fly rod outfits.

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ROSS EVOLUTION LTX

The ROSS EVOLUTION LTX is the spawn of the Evolution LT and the Evolution R fly reels of the same brand, fused to make one of the best fly reels in the market at present time and give anglers the best of both worlds. It features an ultra-smooth drag with its carbon/stainless steel and fully sealed disc drag system that can stop any kind of freshwater fish at an instant. It also features a large bell-shaped arbor that contributes to the quality of line pickup, helping anglers battle even the largest freshwater fish on a single-handed fly rod. 

The ROSS EVOLUTION LTX is made with 6061-T6 Aluminum, a material commonly used in automotive construction. This reel also comes with a Type II anodizing finish that gives it an aesthetically pleasing color that is perfectly balanced with its rigidity, as well as increases its durability and ability to fight off any kind of wear and tear. 

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REDINGTON GRANDE

The REDINGTON GRANDE is also a great option for serious saltwater fly anglers. It’s built with the perfect balance of durability and drag strength, with its fully sealed Super-Torque disc drag system that provides one of the most powerful and smoothest performances in saltwater. The drag system itself is built with Carbon-Fiber drag and specialized carbon braking discs that give it a strong finish.

The REDINGTON GRANDE is built with T-6061 aircraft-grade aluminum, a fully machined reel, and an anodized finish that gives it its reliable durability that also fights off corrosion and any weather condition. The aluminum gives the reel the power to balance saltwater fly rods without it being excessively heavy. Its large arbor increases its line pickup and ultimately helps fly anglers battle fish on a single-handed fly rod. 

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Orvis Mirage LT

The Orvis Mirage LT is designed for anglers that often fight pike, bass, carp, and trout, among other fish species. This one is ideal to be paired with lighter fly rods but it won’t disappoint when it comes to backing for the larger freshwater fish.

If you are familiar with the original Mirage model of Orvis, then you would truly appreciate the changes they made with this particular one—it’s 30% narrower and 30% lighter. They retained the durable drag system from the original models, featuring a carbon and stainless steel sealed disc drag system that’s perfect for anglers that are ready to face any environment. 

The Orvis Mirage LT has a type II anodizing finish that keeps the reel durable and resistant to scratches, as well as provides enough protection without adding unnecessary weight to the reel. The reel is built with 6061-T6 aluminum and a large arbor that helps in the line pickup quality when fighting larger fish. 

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TIBOR SIGNATURE

Styled by Ted Juracsik, the TIBOR SIGNATURE is the perfect fit for serious fly anglers. Tibor’s 35 years of experience in manufacturing reels shows in this product, featuring a drag system that’s designed to put seal pressure in the free spool to avoid overruns. 

Tibor takes pride in its self-maintaining reels as well as having one of the most reliable drag systems in the industry. The TIBOR SIGNATURE has a unique clutch system that allows anglers to easily change from right to left-hand retrieve and a patented QuickChange spool system that has a robust clicker sound and a single moving part. 

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BAUER RX CLASSIC

The BAUER RX CLASSIC is the perfect choice for Spey anglers who would like to have a traditional Spey reel that still exhibits modern characteristics. This is built for balancing two-handed rods, featuring a solid black hardback frame for a weight increase. This reel can also be paired with heavier single-handed rods in saltwater, due to its durability and drag strength. 

The BAUER RX CLASSIC has an anodized finish that provides extra resistance to corrosion, and its frame features a polished finish that gives it a traditional stylish look. This one is built with a machined 6061 aluminum that’s both resistant to corrosion and abrasion. Not only that, this reel is powered by a strong and sealed disc drag system, with a large arbor that helps anglers battle the largest Spey and saltwater fish.

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SAGE ESN

Like every other product Sage produces, this SAGE ESN does not disappoint when it comes to its features and construction. It has been designed specifically for Euro nymphing anglers, all fine-tuned and designed to give them an optimum performance when it comes to nymphing. The reel’s super thin and extra-large arbor allows anglers to catch fish quickly, and makes fighting freshwater fish longer rods a lot more fun and easier. The reel is built with a full-frame design that keeps lines and fine leaders from getting into the frame.

The SAGE ESN works on the Sage Sealed Carbon System (SCS) drag system that’s fully sealed. This helps in quickly dissipating kinetic energy from the drag system’s high pressure, contributing to the great performance and durability that it provides.

This SAGE ESN also has a balance system that enables anglers to examine, assemble, and fine-tune any weight in order to balance Euro rods. It comes with a hard-anodized finish that prevents any form of wear and tear, especially corrosion. This model is built with a fully machined 6061-T6 aluminum that has been cold-forged and tempered to further increase its rigidity and strength. 

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Conclusion on the Best Sealed Drag Fly Reel

Finding the right equipment for fly fishing is not as easy as it sounds, because you have to ensure that your investment would be worth it in the long run. But now that you have ample knowledge of sealed drag fly reels, it’s a matter of weighing your preferences and needs and putting them above the aesthetic value. That being said, which one do you think would be the best for you?

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