Choosing the Right Reel for Trout Spey

by | Mar 4, 2021 | 0 comments

The world of Spey gear is confusing.  It’s unfortunate, because I think that more people would be less intimidated, and be more excited to get into the 2-handed game if it wasn’t for all the odd lingo, seemingly mismatched tackle arrangements, line choices, etc.  Even something as simple as choosing the right reel to put on your new Trout Spey rod isn’t that obvious, because it turns out that putting a “4wt Reel” on a “4wt Trout Spey” IS NOT the right thing to do.  Yeah.  Annoying.  With this post, I’ll hopefully clear up some of the confusion related to reel selection.

First, let me lay out a few facts about Trout Spey gear, as is compares to your typical single handed gear.

  • 2-handed rods are longer and heavier than single-handed rods
  • Spey line systems are longer and bulkier/thicker than single-handed fly lines
  • For both single and 2-handed rods, a reel that “balances” the rod at or very near the point where you hold the rod for casting and fishing will make the rod feel “lighter in hand” and also reduce fatigue over a long day of casting and fishing.

The result of these facts is that a reel designed to pair with a 3, 4, or 5wt single-handed fly rod will NOT effectively pair with a 3, 4, or 5wt 2-handed rod respectively because the reel will not have enough line capacity to hold the longer/bulkier Spey line system, and will not be heavy enough to properly balance the longer and heavier 2-handed rod.

Like I said.  Annoying.

But all is not lost.

Remember that the goal is to find a reel that is large enough to hold a modern Spey line system and that is heavy enough to balance your 2-handed rod comfortably, so that it doesn’t feel “tip heavy” while casting and fishing.

Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to have access to a huge variety of 2-handed rods, and have noticed that overall there are a some simple guideline that can help a person choose the right reel for their 2-handed rod on the first try.  I’m not going to talk about brands, makes, models, arbor sizes, or drag mechanisms because everyone has their own preferences there.  Finding a good quality trout reel with a smooth drag these days isn’t hard. I’m simply going to talk about the numbers – line capacity and weight.  From there you can go and do your own research, or visit your favorite fly shop armed with the information you need to ask them the right questions.

Capacity Issues?  “Add 3”

Finding a reel with appropriate line capacity is by far the easier of the two tasks.  My rule of thumb for converting single-handed line capacity to Spey line capacity is to simply  “Add 3”.   An example will serve us well here.  Lets say I have a 4wt 2-handed rod that needs a reel.  I take the number 4 from the rod and “Add 3” and I get 7.  So, a reel designed to hold single hand lines in the 7wt size should provide adequate line capacity for the 4wt Spey lines. 

Many modern reels are listed as being good for multiple single-hand line weights with varying backing capacities.  In those instances, I always refer to the smaller of the two numbers.  So, a reel rated for a 7-wt or an 8-wt single-handed line is likely best for a 4-wt 2-handed rod.  This is a conservative approach that results in the selection of a heavier reel (more on that very soon) and extra capacity can always be filled up with extra backing.

Weight, Weight, Don’t Tell Me.

Finding a reel (that isn’t huge) with the correct weight to balance your 2-handed trout rod is by far the trickier of the tasks, and often the deciding factor in reel choice.  Some 2-handed rods are inherently lighter based on materials, while others require a heavier reel to balance them based on additional length alone.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple rule-of-thumb here.  That said, by casting and fishing a ton of rods, through trial and error, some math, and of course a spreadsheet, I’ve managed to come up with a table that summarizes reel weight and capacity pairings based on 2-handed trout rod weights and lengths.  This table has greatly simplified my own process of reel selection and suggestions for both myself and our customers at Big Sky Anglers.  I hope it helps you as well.


Spey Rod
Spey Rod Length
Matching Single-Handed
Reel Capacity
Matching Reel Target Weight
2-weight10’6” to 11’6”5-weight5.0 to 6.0
3-weight10’6” to 11’6”6-weight5.5 to 6.5
4-weight10’6” to 11’11”7-weight6.25 to 7.25
5-weight10’6” to 11’11”8-weight6.75 to 7.75
5-weight12’+8-weight7.25 to 8.5
*NOTE:  This table is relatively simple because the modern 2-handed trout rods don’t yet come in a wide range of lengths.  Modern 2-handed rods in weights from 6 to 9-wt come in lengths ranging from 10’6” to well over 13’, making the reel match even more complex.  If you’d like to see some of that info, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.


Great!  There it is, all in a simple table.  You will see, however, that when you go out looking for reels that match the table perfectly the choices are actually rather few.  If you have a favorite reel, or brand that you like to support, you simply may not end up finding a perfect match.  That’s where tinkering can come into play.  Generally speaking, the issue you will run into is a reel that has enough capacity, but is simply too light for a give 2-handed rod.  The easiest way to add weight is to simply buy the next bigger size reel.  You’ll achieve more weight from having more metal and from spooling it with more backing.  There is no such thing as too much backing!  Another way to dial in reel weight is to add lead-core trolling line like Cortland LC-17 onto the reel first, before spooling on backing.  As a guide, LC-17 weighs 17 grains per foot, so, 25-feet of LC-17 weight approximately 1 ounce.

As a final word, I would like to mention that some reel manufacturers have caught onto the popularity of Trout Spey and are now making reels designed specifically to pair with light 2-handed rods.  These reels strike a balance between overall size, aesthetics, line capacity, and weight.  Generally speaking they are mid-arbor designs with less porting in the frame and with full cage designs that keep thin shooting lines from inadvertently getting into places where you don’t want them.  I’m personally looking forward to a time when more reel makers offer Trout Spey specific reels.  It will make gear selection a lot simpler, for sure, and who doesn’t like buying a new reel from time to time!

Take care and Fish On,