Best Fly Rod and Reel Combos for Saltwater Fishing

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Best Fly Rod and Reel Combos for Saltwater Fishing

Choosing the best fly fishing combo is a very important part of starting your career as a fly fisherman. We are going to dive into what to look for in a fly rod and reel package and what some of the best options are for your style of saltwater fishing.

June 2, 2020
Fishing 101
Cover image for the post Best Fly Rod and Reel Combos for Saltwater Fishing

Fly fishing is generally seen by most as a sport for big western mountain streams, you think of old men in waders casting a beautiful line through the air for large trout ready to sip a dry fly off the surface. Though people fly fish for nearly all species, freshwater trout seems to be the first thing people think of, but saltwater is beginning to grow very quickly. Fly fishing on saltwater is nothing that is relatively new. It is however growing in popularity, thanks to social media, especially for species such as redfish, speckled sea trout, tarpon, permit, bonefish, and some sharks.

If you’re like me and love to fly fish but new to the salt, finding the right gear is very important. A lot of changes are made between fresh and saltwater. The biggest of those changes is cleaning your gear. Saltwater will destroy pretty much everything it touches, so if you’re not cleaning your gear very well after each use it will not last nearly as long. Along with cleaning your gear after every use, you should invest in true saltwater gear. The most important thing is the reel; if your reel is not sealed it will allow salt to get into the gears and totally ruin your reel.

Redfish in man's hand.

The longevity of your gear is why choosing the correct combo is so important. When it comes to saltwater gear, going with the cheaper options may cost you more money in the long run, unlike freshwater. We will look over several options for great saltwater fly fishing combos that if treated right will last you a lifetime. Before we get into gear some quick tips on how to avoid making the mistakes many new saltwater fishermen make, which lead to damaged gear.

Gear Cleaning Tips

1. Clean everything immediately with freshwater. Do not let stuff sit over night because this will be plenty of time for rust to form and your gear to be ruined. When you get off the water, if you can, go ahead and spray everything down. If you must wait until you get home, it’s best to spray water gently into the reel and I personally like to strip the fly line out and make sure it’s good and clean too. Wetting the rod and then giving it a good wipe down with a microfiber cloth is always beneficial.

2. Flies of all sorts are expensive, but I have found saltwater flies are even more ridiculously expensive. You’re looking at around $10 a fly at your local fly shops. You do all you can to retrieve your flies if they get hung up, so do what you can to protect them too. When you get home gently spray out your fly box with freshwater and then let is sit outside and air dry. I have found this will help keep your hooks from rusting. If you toss one wet fly in your box it’s going to get all your flies wet with saltwater. You’ll open your box up a few days later to find now you’ve got several flies with rust and it’s going to cost you again at the fly shop.

3 Cleaning your tools. If you’re coming from freshwater and have all these handy tools that you love, do yourself a favor and leave them in your freshwater bag. Find yourself new tools for saltwater, regardless of how well you try to wash them they’re going to rust. You will be replacing them each season. Invest in aluminum tools, these are not going to rust very easily, they’re lighter, and you won’t need to replace them each season. Just know aluminum tools are going to be costly up front but it’s better than buying new gear constantly. You also need to treat these like everything else and give them a good bath when you get home.

4 Last little tip is, a good friend of mine told me just shower with your gear. If you’re worried your stuff is not getting really clean from the hose out back just grab your bag and your reel and put it in the shower with you. Everything will get cleaned off nicely with some warm freshwater and you can leave it all to dry overnight. I personally like to just wash it down outside, I lay all the small pieces on my truck bed, give them a good bath, and then put them on my porch to dry (side tip, make sure your wife is okay with this.) Then I wash off my boat and put everything up for the evening.

With those few tips on how to clean your gear you are now ready to start investing in your new rod and reel combos. If you read our freshwater combo article, you’ll notice a lot of the choices are going to be similar. Companies like Orvis make all of their reels sealed so no water is ever getting inside. Also, like our freshwater article, there are still a few things you want to consider when purchasing your outfit.

The Most Important Features of a Good Fly Rod and Reel Combo

Men fly fishing in Sportsman 214 Bay Boat.

1. Warranty: You always want a warranty on your gear, it will break, I promise. Your wife, kid, or maybe you will close the door on your rod once or twice, mine has been shut on twice. Then, if you do happen to not clean it well enough and it gets rusted or ruined somehow by salt, you can replace or fix it. A good rod and reel come with a lifetime warranty, most name brands back their gear and will either fix or replace your rod very quickly so you’re not missing out on fishing.

2. Target Species: What fish are you targeting? If you’re fishing saltwater and say you want to fish for redfish, trout, or bone fish, a solid 8wt fly rod is going to be best. If you plan to target permit or striped bass you’re probably going to want a 10wt. Anything larger like tarpon or sharks I would suggest going with a 12wt. If you get offshore and start targeting sailfish or dolphin you may want to go with a 14wt.

3. Rod Material: The most common rod material for saltwater is going to be graphite, this will make casting big flies and heavy line much easier while also giving more support for those strong fish. If you want to use glass you’re going to be having a lot of fun fighting fish, but you won’t want to blind cast. You’re going to use this strictly for sight fishing, otherwise you may find yourself very sore the next day. A good 8wt glass rod for redfish and trout can have you leaving the water at the end of the day happy with the amount of fun you had fighting fish, even the smaller ones.

Now that you know what to look for in your outfit and how to take care of it lets get to what we are here for. These choices are in my opinion the best choices for saltwater fly fishing. I have used, or know those who do use, each of these products and would highly recommend any of them regardless of price.

Our Top 5 Choices With Pricing

1. Orvis Recon Rod & Orvis Hydros Reel:: You can get the Recon Rod and Hydros Reel in 8-12wt and you can get a matching Hydros Reel for each. This is going to be a perfect all-around combo and is my personal favorite. You get a 25-year warranty, plus the price isn’t going to totally break the bank. You’re going to spend roughly $830 on this combo but it’s going to last a lifetime if taken care of.

Orvis Helios 3 Rod and Hydros Reel Combo.

2. Orvis Helios 3 Rod & Orvis Mirage II Reel:: If you want to go with the best of the best and cost is no issue, look no further than this combo. The Helios is going to be the best graphite rod that Orvis has to offer. The Mirage reel, just like the Hydros, is sealed and will be protected in saltwater. You’re going to receive the Orvis 25-year warranty and your cost is going to be roughly, $1,700.

3. TFO Axiom II-X Rod & TFO Power Reel: : Don’t let the price of this one fool you, it’s one of the most comparable rod and reel combos to the Orvis Helios on the market. TFO manages to keep their prices down by selling online only with no TFO retail stores. Therefore, their lack of overhead helps keep the cost down for you as the angler. Plus you’re going to be backed by TFO’s Lifetime Warranty and it’s only going to cost you around $750.

4. G.Loomis NRX Saltwater Rod & Nautilus X-Series Reel: The NRX is lightweight but incredibly strong, it’s going to easily handle whatever you throw at it whether you’re sneaking around the flats with an 8wt or chucking giant flies on a 12wt at hungry tarpon. As for Nautilus, this new X-Series will hold up and help you bring in the big saltwater fish you’re after. It won’t be the cheapest option but do know, these are two highly sought-after brands for saltwater fly fishing. This combo is going to come in at roughly, $1,250.

5. Sage SALT HD Rod & Nautilus X-Series Reel: Sage has been around the fly-fishing industry as long as most. They’ve got an excellent product that will make casting and fighting fish so much easier. Your cost for this combo is going to be roughly, $1,300.

Redfish in man's hand.

These are a few of the great options you will find for saltwater fly fishing combos; however, it’s all up to you as the buyer. Price is going to be a bit more costly on the saltwater side but it’s because the product is built to withstand stronger fish and harsher conditions. The best way to figure out what you will need and like the best is to visit a local fly shop and try them out. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at a local shop, contact an online retailer and see if they have any way for you to test their product. Most will help you find a way to try it out as they all know it’s an important and expensive purchase. Places like Orvis and TFO will most likely have a local guide in the area who has a knowledge of all of their products and will happily let you try some stuff out before you make that purchase. If you make friends with that guide too, they may be able to help you out with a little deal, but you didn’t hear that here! The most important thing I can say is, find something you like and can afford but won’t need to upgrade too quickly, and you’ll be out on the water catching fish in no time. Tight lines!