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(Reels listed in alphabetical order)

Abel Rove 7/9 $925

Click this link to refer to our discussion in the main Roundup.

Abel SDS 7/8 (Ported) $1,025

Click this link to refer to our discussion in the main Roundup.

Abel Vaya 7/8 $625 in black, ($1350 as shown)

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The Vaya is Abel’s lightest large arbor reel, incorporating a disc drag, (rather than their TR’s non-adjustable click-pawl drag). The Vaya is a sexy reel with a heavily ported spool and a partially-ported frame that cuts down on weight, while still offering increased rigidity and enough real estate to incorporate Abel’s hand painted graphic finishes. The Vaya also looks great in solid colors and fades, which you can pick to match your favorite 7 or 8-weight rod. Be sure to check out Abel’s Build Now page as the color options are the best in the business. The arbor is well ported, which will help air dry backing quickly.

Each Vaya reel comes with a “bonus” set of fly engravings that are located on the inside of the frame. You can see these through the ported spool but they are most noticeable when you take the spool off, a nice touch that reinforces Abel’s reputation for attention to detail. 

There is no spool release cap on the Vaya, instead you simply use enough force to pull the spool off the frame, (or you can use your thumbs to push the spool off from the back of the frame). The counterbalance is built into the spool rather than using a weight opposite the handle. This seems to work perfectly with both the wood or aluminum options, although we like the larger aluminum handle for better durability. We saw some circular machining lines left over where the counterbalance is, something we were surprised to see on a $600+ reel.

We prefer the louder incoming sound of the metal clutches hitting the drag engagement disc, although we were surprised to hear some Vaya 7/8’s are louder than others. The medium size knurled drag knob is easy to turn and has solid detents to keep it in place. Two solid screws are used to attach the foot to the frame.

The Vaya has a large arbor and thinner spool width, which means it doesn’t hold a lot of backing. The good news here is that this keeps the reel exceptionally light when fully loaded with line and backing, and for trout (when we rarely see our backing without a “bar story”) it won’t be an issue. We do question however, if 65 yards of 20 pound backing, 40 yards of 30 pound backing, or 75 yards of Hatch 68 pound backing is going to be enough for double digit bonefish. It would be a shame if it’s not! Abel includes one of the fanciest and most durable reel cases we’ve seen on the market. Be careful not to let it blow out of the boat however, or it will cost $90.00 to replace it.

Bauer RX5 $755

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Bauer RVR 6/7 $755

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An “all-star” reel, the Bauer RVR is a beautifully machined reel with many star shapes, including on the outside and inside of the spool, as well as on the drag hub, matching its all-star performance. The first thing we noticed with the RVR is how amazingly light it is, undoubtedly one of the best lightweight reels we’ve ever had our hands on. The second is how smooth it feels, both reeling in and when the drag is engaged. It’s a bit of a spinner, meaning it reels in with very little resistance. The RVR has good counterbalance, insuring very little lateral spool wobble at high speeds. The max drag is only around 5 pounds, but the oversized rim makes it very easy to palm, should you want to add a little more manual resistance.

Although the Bauer RVR is listed as a 6/7, it might be better listed as a 6/7/8, as it has plenty of backing capacity for an 8-weight line. It would be an excellent choice for a very lightweight reel that holds aggressively-tapered lines like a Scientific Angler’s WF-7-F Anadro, that is a full line and a half size heavy for turning over streamers, poppers, or double nymph rigs under an indicator.

The knurled spool release cap is easy to turn and is kept on by a small rubber o-ring, so you won’t drop or lose it. The wooden handle is one of the smallest of all the reels we tested but it is still easy to find without looking, and the flared shape makes it easy to hold. Anglers with smaller fingers might appreciate this handle in lieu of the oversized handles found on most of the 8-weight reels we tested. The knurled drag adjustment knob is also on the small side (and perhaps harder to turn for anglers with big or arthritic hands). Solid detents are used to keep it from getting bumped off the desired setting. Two screws which appear rock solid, are utilized to attach the foot to the frame. Bauer includes a neoprene case that is different from others. The Bauer cases include “ear flaps” on the sides, which are excellent at fully covering and protecting the reel.

Additional Bauer RVR notes by Chloe Nostrant:

There is no doubt that Bauer RVR is one of the prettiest reels on the market. The black with gold trim and star like machining is a beautiful combo. Now Bauer offers a black and silver edition as well. I was a little wary at first of the reel since it is marked a 6/7 and was advertised to hold around 100 yards of backing. We were able to load the RVR 6/7 with an 8-weight MPX line and 170 yards of Hatch 68lb. backing, plenty for even the hardest pulling ice age browns. I wouldn’t hesitate to put this reel on any 8-weight rod for trout.

Cheeky Limitless 425 $449

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There is a lot to like about the Cheeky 425. It has a super large arbor, (only seven other reels we tested were larger), which equates to excellent retrieval speeds. Fully loaded with backing and line, the Cheeky weighed 10.1 oz, similar to the Redington Grande, Bauer RX5, Galvan Rush, and Nautilus CCF-X2, while holding more backing. The 425’s maximum drag tested over 22 pounds, making it a strong fish stopper to say the least. The large handle, although thinner than many, was easy to grab. The counterbalance wasn’t great but the 425 maintained an acceptable amount of wobble at high speeds. Both the knurled spool release cap and drag knob are easy to turn and use.

We noticed porting “scours” on the gold frame, which look like thin topo map lines in just about all the corners. The lasered Cheeky logo and added “Limitless 425” writing also make the reel appear less expensive. While the blue and gold/orange frame will appeal to a younger demographic it would be nice to see a solid muted color for the older crowd. The 425 has a very narrow range of drag adjustment between half a pound and 3 pounds, only half a turn. For saltwater anglers this may be a plus, for freshwater anglers a wider range would be preferred to dial in tippet protection. A chartreuse green neoprene case is included that nearly covers the entire reel (it would have to be a very unlucky drop to ding the edge of the frame).

Einarsson 8 Plus $650

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Einarsson Invictus 8/10 $950

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From the intricate cutouts and tight tolerances to beautiful curves and great sounds, Einarrson’s top-notch machining gives the Invictus a BMW look and feel. The striated spool release cap unspins but stays on due to a thick rubber O-ring. The spool itself is extremely light yet durable, with a full frame design that is great for fishing two-handed rods, eliminating the possibility of thin running line escaping through the spool. The frame is also rigorously cut out, however it maintains a fair amount of weight due to the substantial fully-sealed drag. The Invictus has a large reel handle that utilizes an outward taper that is easy to grab and spins smoothly. The counterbalance is perfect, ensuring you will never experience any awkward wobbles should an Atlantic Salmon scream away from you at high speed.

The Drag of the Invictus is unique, utilizing Einarsson’s SAB (Shock Absorbing Brake), resulting in virtually zero start-up inertia. In between the stacked discs and the spool, the Invictus utilizes a torque spring that levels out the shock waves of jumping or fighting fish, ensuring a smoother fight and better chance of landing a large wild fish. We hear it also helps with hooking more Atlantic salmon, as anglers no longer have to manually let a couple of feet of line slip through their hands to smooth out a hook up. The only downside to this incredible drag is the weight, (and perhaps the fact that it is difficult to work on, and requires a different shaped spring should you wish to change the drag’s direction – so be sure to order a reel specifically lefthand or righthand wind). Although heavier than most every reel we tested, the Invictus is not unbearable on single handed rods, and is actually an asset to balancing most two-handed rods. The Invictus is the pinnacle of reel technology for chasing steelhead, salmon, or other large species that run into rivers from the oceans or massive lakes. 

Galvan Grip G-8 $590

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With excellent machining the Galvan grip has a good balance between strength and lightness. It is cut out drastically, even on the arbor where your backing will sit, allowing it to dry quickly and easily. The knurled spool release cap is easy to turn and stays in place when you remove the spool. Note there is a plastic ring below the spool release cap that is split. This is by design and isn’t broken, as the split allows the ring to expand when fully tightened, keeping the spool on perfectly. A similarly knurled but larger drag knob is used to tighten the drag, which we all found easy and pleasant to use. The large handle is especially easy to grab, (without looking) and the counterbalance on Grip reels was perfect, meaning you won’t find any high-speed wobbles with this reel. Three screws are used to tighten the reel foot to the frame. You will see a size designation (G-8) engraved near the reel seat for ease of identification. 

The Galvan Grip 8 utilizes a stacked carbon disc drag system, which is encased in a waterproof, sealed housing. We have never had a Galvan Grip returned with a burned out drag. With a maximum drag of over 26 pounds Grip reels have been used to catch tarpon, billfish, and giant trevally. The Grip has a medium/loud drag sound reeling in and going out. The black neoprene reel case fully covers the reel for safe transit.

While we fully endorse using your Galvan Rush and Torque for saltwater fishing, the Grip offers an even more bombproof, maintenance-free drag for saltwater anglers at an affordable price. 

Galvan Rush Light R-8 $400

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The Galvan Rush Light is a true sleeper. It is one of the best value reels we’ve found in terms of quality machining, great drag function, extremely low maintenance, with the durability to last generations. You’re getting most all of the benefits that you get with the Torque at nearly $100 less! ($105 to be exact in sizes R-3, 4, 5, $110 in the R-6 and 10, $85 in the R-8, and $135 in the R-12). The reason Galvan is able to charge so much less for the Rush is the significant amount of time reduced on the CNC machines. For this reason, the Galvan Rush Light has always been one of our favorite “Best Buy” reels in all sizes, especially the R-5. 

That said, there are slight differences, which may be worth it to you to upgrade to the Torque.  The biggest difference is that the Rush’s arbor (where the backing will sit) is not machined or cut out, which means air will not be able to dry the backing very easily if your reel spends some time underwater. The handle of the Rush is also slightly different, instead of an outwardly increasing taper like the Torque, the Rush’s handle is more or less even with a concave cutout in the middle. We noticed on our samples the Torque had a higher max drag than the Rush, although the range of drag between half a pound and 3 pounds was the same. Although the Torque is lighter with more aluminum cut out, the weight is nearly the same in the 8-weight version. The Rush Light comes with the same neoprene case that fully covers and protects the reel during transit. 

Galvan Torque T-8 $485

Click this link to refer to our discussion in the main Roundup.

Greys Fin 7/8 $100

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We received a couple of reels that were less expensive than the Greys Fin 7/8, however we did not include them because we were not confident in their durability. While the Fin definitely does not fit the bill as an heirloom reel, we feel it is well-built enough to last many years of hard fishing. The Fin also offers some modern technology, including an ultra large arbor for increased retrieval rates, a reel foot that is die-cast into the frame, (eliminating any screws that could become loose over the years), and a “half frame” that helps to prevent line escape and also adds to the rigidity and durability of the reel.

A medium sized handle is utilized with a slight taper towards the outer edge. No counterbalance is used, instead two parts of the spool have more material. We noticed, however, significant vibration and lateral movement between the spool and frame at high speeds. For most freshwater use, this should not be a problem, except when targeting large carp, steelhead, or salmon. The knurled spool release cap and drag adjustment knob are both pretty small but easy enough to turn. The range of drag adjustment is narrow, which some will like but we would prefer more range. That said, for $100 it is hard to complain about much! A quality reel pouch is provided that fully covers and protects the reel during transit. Easily the nicest reel case we have seen at this low price point.  


Greys Tital 7/8 $260

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The Tital is Greys fully machined flagship model, constructed of high quality barstock aluminum. A well-ported, ultra large arbor is utilized that increases line retrieval rates and allows backing to air dry quickly. Although the knurled spool release cap is small, it is still easily turned due to the space cut out around it. The large textured handle is easy to find without looking, and the wide un-ported section of the frame opposite the handle works well to counterbalance the spool, insuring no high-speed wobbles. A wide palming rim is fitted over the full frame cage, making it easy to add manual resistance to the Tital when needed. The full frame construction adds to durability and also insures no line can escape between the spool and frame – making the Tital an excellent choice for spey or trout spey, (where thin shooting line can often sneak out on non-caged reels). The medium sized, knurled drag knob is harder to turn than others, especially when the drag pressure is increased. Slight machining lines are left on the back of the frame, (where it says 7/8 and Tital) but not a big deal and forgivable at this price point. Two screws are used to secure the foot to the frame. A quality reel pouch is provided that fully covers and protects the reel during transit.

Hardy Fortuna Regent 8000 $750

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Hardy Zane Carbon 8000 $495

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The Hardy Zane Carbon is a solid mid-priced reel, designed for the flats angler. The spool and frame are both heavily ported, and Hardy even goes so far as to incorporate carbon fiber spokes to help cut weight while maintaining rigidity. Interestingly enough, the Zane Carbon is not very light. It does have a powerful max drag at a tested 13.6 pounds, which comes fully sealed and is maintenance free. We like the large “flat” handle, that is easy to grab without looking. We noticed the counterbalance is not perfect, as we felt significant wobble between the spool and frame at high speed. The spool release cap has some large cutouts to help with turning it, however, we wish it were more knurled for a more positive grip. The large star-shaped drag knob does have a knurled rim on the bottom, but most anglers will end up turning this knob by grabbing between the star cut outs. There are strong detents, which will keep this knob at your desired setting, especially as you get closer to max drag. Two screws are used to secure the foot to the frame, which we have seen loosen over time, and you will need the right size Allen wrench to turn them. A nice neoprene case is included that fully covers and protects the reel during transit.

Hatch Iconic 7+ $815

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Lamson Guru S -7+ $340

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The Guru S is Lamson’s least expensive, fully-machined reel. There is some good value here for an angler who desires a super light reel with a fully-sealed drag. The Guru S holds an ample amount of backing with an 8-weight reel, and for most anglers is a better size than the -9+ which holds an excessive 350 yards of 20 pound backing, 215 of 30 pound backing, and 440 yards of Hatch 68 pound backing. The Guru S has a non-flared, medium sized handle that isn’t quite as easy to grip as the larger flared handle on the Litespeed M8. The Guru S doesn’t have a traditional counterbalance, instead, Lamson doesn’t port as much metal out of the spool opposite the handle, which actually works quite well with no high-speed wobbles detected. Lamson also doesn’t use a spool release cap – instead you simply pull the spool off the frame or you can use your thumbs to push the spool off the frame. The drag knob has 7 large grooves that work well at lower drag settings but are increasingly more difficult to turn at higher ones. We also noticed at lower drag settings the drag knob itself “wiggles” back and forth too much for our liking, however a drag setting around 1 pound or so eliminates this wiggle completely. A neoprene case is included which nearly covers all of the reel. It would take the perfect drop to accidentally ding it.

Lamson Litespeed M8 $700

Click this link to refer to our discussion in the main Roundup.

Lamson Liquid -7+

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We sell a lot of Lamson Liquid reels, and for good reason – they are great reels for the money!  Lamson is able to get the Liquid’s price down by using a die-cast construction for the spool and frame, (rather than fully machining it out of a puck of aluminum). We have noticed that Liquid reels can show a lot more scratches over the years, so you might be more careful with the Liquid and not set it down on the rocks when you are fixing a tip tangle. The good news is that the drag components are machined, just like Lamon’s more expensive conical drags found in the Guru, Speedster, and Litespeed. The Liquid’s conical drag is fully sealed and is maintenance-free. Surprisingly the Liquid’s drag maxed out at over 10 pounds, which was nearly 3 pounds more than the Guru S.

The Liquid’s medium size handle doesn’t flare at the end, and it would be nice if it were a little larger for a 7/8 size. Like many Lamson reels there is no spool release cap, you simply pull the spool off the frame, (or use your thumbs to push it away from the frame). The star-shaped drag knob is easy to turn at all settings, except for the highest settings. No detents are used, but the drag knob is stiff enough that it won’t easily get knocked off your desired setting. Like the Guru, there is a little wiggle on the drag knob on the lowest settings, but turning it up to around a pound of drag results in no more wiggle. The Liquid has a very large arbor for a reel this price, which we like a lot for its fast line retrieval rates. The plastic noise maker makes a little more sound when reeling in than when line is getting pulled out. For those who don’t want any sound reeling in or going out, you can cut the plastic noise maker out completely, but you will not have sound again unless you order another noise maker from Lamson. A pull cord thin cloth bag is included that fully covers the reel, although we can’t promise it would protect the reel if you dropped it. 

Nautilus CCF-X2 6/8 $525

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Nautilus CCF-X2 8/10 $620

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The CCF-X2 6/8 and 8/10 are essentially the same reel, and differ only in size, weight, and spool capacity. Their maximum drags are basically the same.

The 8/10 looks much larger than the 6/8, and it also holds a lot more backing even though the spool widths are both about 1 inch. Without line and backing, the CCF-X2 6/8 weights 8.2 ounces, the 8/10 weights 9.1 – a difference of .9 ounces. However, loaded with backing and line the 6/8 weights 10.1 ounces, the 8/10 weighs 11.9 – a difference of 1.8 ounces. So, if you feel like you don’t need the extra backing capacity, the 6/8 is likely the way to go. If you are looking for more capacity the CCF-X2 8/10 holds 330 yards of 20 pound backing, (155 more yards than the 6/8), 190 yards of 30 pound backing, (90 more yards than the 6/8), and 390 yards of Hatch 68 pound backing (180 more yards than the 6/8). Visually, the 8/10 looks more “normal” to us than the shorter, stouter 6/8. Both reels are more equal when it comes to max drag and the range of drag adjustment. All else being equal, if you choose the 6/8 size you will save $95.00, or $30 on extra spools. A neoprene case is included that fully covers and protects the reel during storage and transit.

Be sure to check out Nautilus’ Custom Shop where you can virtually visualize 8 different spool/frame colors as well as 8 different “small parts” colors. You can easily choose a color that will match or highlight your favorite 8, 9, or 10-weight rod. 

Nautilus NV G-7/8 $725

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Nautilus NV G-8/9 $765

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The NV G-8/9 is not much larger than the NV G-7/8. If you are looking for a little more backing capacity with an 8-weight line, or plan on using a 9-weight line, then the 8/9 is likely the perfect reel for you. When both reels are fully loaded with backing and an 8-weight line, the NV G-8/9 only weighs .8 ounces more. This small amount makes sense since you are only going to get an extra 50 yards of hatch 68 pound backing, (or 30 more yards of 30 pound / 35 yards more yards of 20 pound backing). For all practical purposes these reels are virtually the same, which means if you find an NV G in either size at a fly shop or on Ebay – snap one up immediately – you won’t regret it! A neoprene case is included that fully covers and protects the reel during storage and transit.

Nautilus XL $425

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The Nautilus XL and XL Max spools are interchangeable on the Nautilus XL frame. The easiest way to tell the difference in the spools is the XL Max has the words “Max” laser etched across from the handle, just below the counterbalance. The XL Max spool also has a medium arbor instead of a large arbor, resulting in a much greater backing capacity. The XL is lighter, but not significantly so. Fully loaded with line and backing the XL weighs 6.5 ounces, the XL Max weighs 6.8 ounces – only a difference of .3 ounces. We chose the XL Max for Iceland as it offered more backing capacity for browns that have the capability to run 150-200 yards into your backing. The XL Max comfortably holds 240 yards of Hatch 68 pound backing (90 more yards than the XL), 90 yards of 30 pound backing (35 more yards than the XL), and 175 of 20 pound backing, (55 more yards than the XL). For most saltwater anglers, the XL Max is going to be a better choice. For trout anglers the XL is likely the best choice – unless backing capacity is an issue. The same size handle is used on both spools. Nautilus might look into making a bigger handle / counterbalance for the XL Max spool. A quality neoprene case is included that fully covers and protects the reel during transit.

Be sure to check out Nautilus’ Custom Shop where you can virtually visualize 8 different spool/frame colors as well as 8 different “small parts” colors. You can easily choose a color that will match or highlight your favorite 6, 7, or 8-weight rod. 

Nautilus XL MAX $455

Click this link to refer to our discussion in the main Roundup.

Orvis Battenkill Disc IV $198

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The Orvis Battenkill Disc IV is certainly one of the best value reels on the market today and is our pick for the best inexpensive fully-machined freshwater reel. It is hard to imagine that Orvis is able to get a fully machined reel under $200.00 but they have done it, and done it well. The Battenkill Disc is a medium arbor reel, so if you are especially concerned with reeling in quickly you might look at a different reel. Still, you can always strip line in (more quickly than any reel could ever bring in line) and then reel up your slack.  

We love the handle on the Battenkill Disc, which is actually a little thicker and easier to grab than the Hydros. The ported jewel finish looks classic and is very durable, machined completely out of high-grade aluminum. The drag system is based on the Hydros series, which includes stacked discs encased in a waterproof sealed housing. The striated drag knob is a little small, and it is a little harder to grab as it is also thinner than most drag adjustment knobs. The drag knob does have nice detents however, so once you find the exact drag you are looking for it won’t bump out of place. The small spool release lever takes a little getting used to, but works well once you get the hang of it. The counterbalance is satisfactory, although it has a slight wobble compared to other reels. A Delrin (plastic) pin noise maker hits the top of the aluminum housing, producing a medium-loud sound that is consistent whether reeling in or out going. The Battenkill Disc reels come with a nice neoprene pouch that covers and protects the reel in transit. Orvis includes a tool which is used to open the waterproof housing if you desire to change the drag direction. 

Additional Orvis Battenkill Disc IV notes by Mike Warnick:

The reel I used in Iceland was an Orvis Battenkill IV; 7-9 weight. I liked it! I had never fished with any rod or reel above my 6-weight, so it was a new experience for me. It seems to me that the larger the rod and reel set, the more adjusting you do with the drag. A few times the guide would tell me to ease up on the drag and let it run. Other times it was to tighten the drag. In both cases, the reel was easy to use and easy to adjust. The best part was that it never tangled up. Since it is the only 7-9 weight reel that I have ever used, I cannot compare it to others. I did use it one or two days on the Madison and it worked great there too.

Orvis Clearwater IV  $119

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The Orvis Clearwater is a good reel for the money and certainly one of the more solid “kit” reels on the market, should you opt for buying a rod/reel combo kit. Orvis is able to keep costs low by employing die-cast construction. We like the large arbor, which is cut out for less weight and enables backing to dry better. The matte-gray powder coat finish is a plus, stealthy on the water, but prone to showing more scratches over time. We like the thick, easy to grab handle and the counterbalance is good. The drag knob is on the smaller side and although striated, it is still a little slippery to grab and twist due to the powder coating. The spool release button is easy to use. The one thing we noticed in taking the spool off is the brass bushing can come off and easily could be dropped (and lost) if you aren’t careful. This will causes the reel to fail as the spool won’t lock into the frame. The reel foot is attached with two screws that appear to work well. A cloth pull-string bag is used which covers the reel nicely but doesn’t offer the same protection as a thicker neoprene case. 

Orvis Mirage IV $698

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The Mirage is Orvis’ high-end saltwater specific offering, which is quite a bit larger (and heavier) than the Mirage LT. Nearly 100% made in New Hampshire, (other than the tiny Japanese-made bearings), the Mirage is machined out of lightweight 6061 aluminum and employs type III anodization, making it a very durable reel. It is one of the few reels that incorporates titanium, which is used in the spindle/shaft for extra durability while saving weight. The Mirage has a very large arbor and is one of the faster reels at retrieving line. The arbor is heavily ported to reduce weight, although we noticed some of edges were rather sharp.

The Mirage utilizes a knurled drag knob that is easy to grab and turn. By design the Mirage has a narrow range of drag, which many saltwater anglers prefer as they can back their drag off from full power to almost no drag in half a turn. While this may help when landing a tarpon as it suddenly goes around the poling platform, for trout fishing a wider range of drag would be our preference. Although we saw the max drag published at 16lbs. (which could be for larger models), our Size IV sample maxed out at 10.3 pounds, which is ample. Drag sound is more muted than most reels, which may or may not appeal to anglers depending on how much sound they want from their reel. The large aluminum handle is easy to grab. We felt the counterbalance was slightly off, causing the reel to wobble more than others at higher speeds. The neoprene case nearly covers 100% of the reel, but the perfect drop could scratch the reel accidentally.

Orvis Mirage LT IV $479

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The Mirage LT is the lighter version of the fully sealed Mirage, designed primarily for freshwater instead of saltwater use. Like the Mirage, the Mirage LT is also machined in New Hampshire from 6061 T6 aluminum bar stock but with type II anodizing instead of type III. We noticed the spool release cap can be difficult to untwist, (using a leader straightener to grab it makes it easier). The handle is a little smaller than we prefer but in line with other 8-weight freshwater reels. The counterbalance is better than the Mirage, although we still notice a slight wobble at higher speeds on our line winder. The Mirage LT also uses a very large arbor, making line retrieval quick and easy. Like the Mirage, we noticed the ported arbor still has some sharp edges. The knurled drag knob is a good size and easy to turn, but we wish there were more range of drag between half a pound and 3 pounds, (we acknowledge some saltwater anglers may appreciate this shorter range of drag). The drag sound is a little louder than the more muffled sound of the Mirage, but still considered on the quiet side compared to most reels. The neoprene case nearly covers 100% of the reel, but the perfect drop could scratch the reel accidentally. A tool is provided to change the winding direction.

Orvis Hydros IV $289

Click this link to refer to our discussion in the main Roundup.

Redington Behemoth 7/8 $130

Click this link to refer to our discussion in the main Roundup.

Redington Grande 7/8/9 $330

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Here is another terrific reel by Redington for anglers that want a reel that performs well but is far less expensive than most other 8-weight reels. The big difference between the Behemoth and the Grande is that the Grande is a fully machined and anodized reel rather than a die-cast reel. The Grande is therefore much stronger, and will take a lot more punishment, especially for anglers that want to fish in saltwater.

The Grande comes in three colors – Black, Champagne (gold) and Marine (blue). I think the Champagne reel is the best looking one, by far. The Grande uses a totally sealed super torque drag system, so you’ll never have to worry about saltwater getting into it.  

This is a half frame reel that has an oversized palming rim, nice when you are playing strong and fast running fish like bonefish that are going to take you a long way into your backing. Line capacity on the7/8/9 Grande is 200 yd of 30 lb. Dacron. 

Another thing that impresses us is the reel foot is positioned closer to the heavy side of the reel to make it balance better on the rod. An easy to grip plastic handle is used with a counterbalance on the opposite side. The spool is a deep V design, similar to the Behemoth. A big, easy to grip drag knob is on the side opposite the handle, and like the Behemoth, this reel provides an incredible amount of drag on the higher settings.

For any angler that wants an inexpensive, terrific performing 8-weight reel that can be used in saltwater as well as freshwater, it is hard to beat the Grande!   

Redington Rise 7/8 $250

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As one of the lightest and least expensive fully sealed, fully machined reels on the market, the Redington Rise is an impressive reel for the money. Highly ported, the Rise is very light. Fully loaded with line and 195 yards of Hatch backing the Rise weighed only 7.4 ounces – one of the lighter reels we reviewed. While the spool to frame tolerance is very good, we question the durability if this reel is dropped. The push button spool release is very easy to use and the knurled plastic drag knob is easy to grab and turn with strong detents to hold it in place. The large handle is also easy to grab, and while thinner than others, it does maintain good grip due rubberized inserts. The counterbalance and startup inertia are good for its price range, but not perfect. The large arbor allows for quick line retrieval rates. The fully-sealed, compact carbon disc drag system appears maintenance-free and solid for both fresh and saltwater. A nice nylon case is included that fully covers and protects the reel.

Ross Animas 7/8 $385

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The Ross Animas is lightweight, affordable reel. Although Ross markets the Animas as ready for any fresh or saltwater excursion, we feel with its limited backing capacity and maximum drag of just over 6 pounds, that it is geared more towards freshwater use. 

The Animas is most certainly light; in fact it was the lightest reel we tested. Naked it weighs a mere 4.6 ounces and 6.2 ounces fully loaded (with an MPX WF-8-F line and 140 yards of Hatch backing). For older anglers who are starting to develop a case of lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), having a lighter reel might be more important than a stronger drag or greater backing capacity. Ask us how we know.

For freshwater use, the Animas is a great value at $385. It is fully machined and highly ported while still maintaining the strength and integrity of the reel – meaning it can take a drop without denting easily. The Animas uses the same style handle (although notably smaller) as the Evolution R Salt, machined out of a canvas phenolic rod for increased grip when wet. The counterbalance is excellent, insuring no high speed wobbles. The large knurled drag knob is easy to use, and while the detents aren’t significant, the drag seems to be “stiff” enough to turn that it won’t easily be knocked off your desired amount of drag.

There is no spool release cap. Similar to other reels, to remove the spool you can either use your thumbs to push the spool away from the frame, (when the frame is facing towards you), or you can simply use enough force to pull it off the frame. The improved composite drag sounds a lot like the former Evolution LT or Cimmaron reels, which have a delightful “purr” to them while reeling in and a slightly louder plastic sound going out. We have seen the Delrin clutches on past models eventually wear out (the black piece that makes noise when reeling in that looks like the cap from a cap gun), however Ross will replace these for little to no charge.

This reel has a nice “spin” to it which can reel up slack line quickly, although it doesn’t have too much spin to allow line to creep in while casting.

There is great value here, especially for any angler looking for one of the lightest reels that is durable enough to last a long time.

Ross Evolution LTX 7/8 $475

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An upgrade from the already killer Ross Animas, the Evolution LTX is one of our favorite 5-weight reels. For anglers who are looking for a lightweight but durable freshwater reel in a 7 or 8-weight size, the LTX is a great choice. Ross markets the LTX as a true light saltwater contender. For saltwater crossover, we’d like to see a more powerful drag, as well as more backing capacity – where the Evolution R and Evolution R Salt do not disappoint. 

You will be hard pressed to find a lighter large arbor reel than the LTX, especially one with the structural integrity to take abuse if dropped, dinged, or smashed into things by accident.  Like the Animas, the LTX uses a handle machined from a canvas phenolic rod, for increased grip when wet. The counterbalance is excellent, insuring no high-speed wobbles. The large knurled drag knob is easy to use and while you can feel the micro-detents, it is the stiffness of the drag knob that will keep it from getting bumped off the desired drag setting. Like the Animas, the LTX employs a push off spool (like Lamson) rather than a spool release button. You can use your thumbs to push the spool off the frame, or simply use enough force to pull the spool off (by holding the foot and top of the frame with one hand and the spool in another). The foot by the way, is secured to the frame with 4 screws instead of just two, a nice touch that we wish other reel companies would endorse.

It has been fun to see the development of this reel from the LT to the LTX. The Evolution LT used to be our best-selling reel years ago, and the LTX has stepped up the game. Ross has re-engineered the same ultra-smooth drag of the LT and made it four times stronger, all while retaining the same great “purring” sound that made the Evolution an icon years ago. Both the Platinum and Matte Olive color ways look sharp, but we love the way the Black version makes your line and backing pop, especially when paired with an Airflo superflo power taper.

Ross Evolution R 7/8 $695

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In the process of testing the max drag on the Ross Evolution R we ended up breaking two reels. In both cases, we sheared the spindle in half, which is normally attached to the top of drag hub’s spindle housing. This will likely be a non-issue for 95% of anglers, since for normal angling situations you would never crank your drag resistance up over 30+ pounds. If you do see yourself needing a powerful drag like this, (perhaps for billfish or GT’s), then we highly suggest you upgrade to the Evolution R Salt instead. The Evolution R Salt has a similar construction, however, the spindle is much thicker and can’t be broken as on the Evolution R.  

Another reason to upgrade to the R Salt is more backing capacity. While the Evolution R has a nice large arbor for reeling line in quickly, it only allows for 95 yards of Hatch 68lb. backing, 50 yards of 30lb. or 90 yards of 20lb. This is plenty of backing for most trout, but could lead to trouble if you happen to hook King Kong on 4X tippet.  

This is a great large arbor reel as long as you don’t crank it all the way up to maximum drag.

Ross Evolution R Salt 7/8 $695

Click this link to refer to our discussion in the main Roundup.

Sage Enforcer 7/8 $575

Click this link to refer to our discussion in the main Roundup.

Sage Spectrum 7/8 $325

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The Spectrum is a fully machined reel with a sealed drag at a reasonable price. At $325, the Spectrum 7/8 is $5 less than the Redington Grande. The Grande however, has a much stronger drag capacity. While few anglers will ever use the 40+ pounds of drag pressure the Grande is capable of, we think many saltwater anglers will want more than 3.5 pounds of max drag on the Spectrum. Of course, you can always palm the reel to increase drag.

We like the width of the tapered handle, although it is a tad short. The counter balance is solid and the large knurled drag knob is easy to turn. For freshwater use we’d like to see a little more range of drag adjustment. That said, the added numbers are a nice touch for a reel that offers barely one rotation of adjustment. The spool to frame tolerance is very good, although we could see the spool denting more easily than others if dropped. There is no spool release cap, you simply pull the spool away from the frame. The spool and frame are heavily ported which greatly reduces weight, however the arbor is not ported like the Spectrum LT, so it will take a while for backing to dry with this reel. A neoprene reel case is included that fully covers and protects the reel during transit.

Sage Spectrum LT 7/8 $425

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For a $100 upgrade fee, the Spectrum LT feels like a far superior reel to the Spectrum. The LT utilizes a matte/satin finish, giving it a more attractive (and expensive) look. The large arbor is well ported, making the LT lighter as well as allowing backing to dry faster. The reel foot and drag knob are also ported to help lighten the reel. We like the width of the tapered handle, although it is a tad short. The knurled spool release cap is easy to turn. The counterbalance is solid and the large knurled drag knob is easy to turn with detents that keep it in place. Many anglers will like the one revolution drag adjustment, although we’d prefer more drag adjustment to dial in the perfect amount of drag pressure for the size tippet being fished. Maximum drag is boosted to 4 pounds, ½ pound more than the Spectrum, perhaps making this reel best suited for freshwater and light saltwater use, such as targeting smaller bonefish. A neoprene reel case is included that fully covers and protects the reel during transit.

Shilton SL5 $754

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In a word, the Shilton SL5 is reliable. “Bulletproof” is often the word you will find associated with Shilton reels. The Shilton SR reels have become one of our favorite GT (Giant Trevally) reels for this reason: they simply hold up in extreme conditions and hostile environments when other reels do not. The SL5 has acquired a reputation with fly-fisherman for over 20 years and is most certainly considered an “heirloom” reel that can be passed down through the generations. 

The main difference between the SL series and the SR series is utilize a single one-way plunger to engage with the cork disc instead of three plungers.  For those who are looking for the ultimate in zero start up inertia, consider upgrading to the SR series which always has at least one of these plungers engaged, essentially giving the reel zero start up inertia.  That said, we are still satisfied start up inertia of the SL5. 

The SL5 utilizes 6082 T6 high grade aluminum that is very well machined. Like the Tibor Everglades, the SL5 utilizes a draw-bar and cork style drag. To remove the spool, you must use either a flathead screwdriver or a coin to remove the nut which holds the drag knob in place and allows it to pull the spool into the cork disk. For reliability, we’ve found this style of drag to be far more reliable than a “hub” style drag system, which can get hotter. If you do have a problem with a draw-bar and cork style drag it is almost always fixable on the boat. (Even if you manage to lose the locking nut for the drag knob, the drag will still work). If you have a problem with a hub drag system, (it is likely water got into the “sealed” housing or the stacked discs got too hot and melted). Neither of which are easy to fix and likely require a re-build from the manufacturer. For this reason, we love the Shilton SL and SR reels, as they are some of the most reliable reels on the market.

The SL5’s large concave handle is easy to grip without looking and isn’t slippery when wet. The counterbalance is near perfect, meaning no high-speed wobbles when that double-digit bone takes off for Cuba. The arbor is cut out, enabling backing to dry easily. The large, striated drag knob is easy to grab and the detents make it so you won’t easily “bump” your desired drag setting off. 4 screws are used to secure the foot to the reel, which is one more than Galvan uses and two more than most everyone else. This is nice since it guarantees the reel foot won’t wiggle loose, but if you accidently drop and bend the foot, you can replace it since it is not machined into the frame like the Hatch Iconic. Lastly, Shilton includes one of the best reel cases we’ve seen, which is similar to Abel’s but with a more water-resistant outer fabric. Shilton charges $50.00 more for red, gold (orange), or blue reel colors. Shilton even includes a small bottle of drag lubricant that fits in its own stretchy insert/housing on the side of the reel case. 

Taylor Revenge Z 7-9WT $529

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The Revenge is Taylor’s high-end reel, which will replace the Revolution Z, (the industry’s first carbon fiber spoke framed reel). This innovative design increases stiffness and rigidity while weighing 50% less than aluminum. At 8 ounces naked and 10.2 ounces fully loaded, the Revenge nevertheless lands somewhere on the heavier side of the pack as far as weight goes. Regardless of weight, the carbon fiber looks aggressively high-tech and cool. Since the Revenge employs a full frame design, it would be great choice for anglers fishing two-handed rods, as the extra weight might perfectly balance out a longer rod, and full frame construction would eliminate thinner running line from ever “sneaking out” between the frame and spool. The Revenge also has a fair amount of “spin” which makes reeling slack running line a quick task.

The knurled spool release cap is thinner than the Revolt, and easier to turn. Taylor utilizes the same speed handle set up as the Revolt, which definitely takes some getting used to. The large tapered handle is easy to grab, however. Like the Revolt, we did notice a slight wobble in the counterbalance. The knurled, medium sized drag knob is easy to grab without looking and the strong detents keep it in place. The range of drag is a happy medium, (one full revolution from. Half a pound to 3 pounds), which should keep both freshwater and saltwater anglers happy.

The primary change from the Revenge over the Revolution Z was in the drag. Taylor increased the range of drag adjustment which created a more linear progression to allow better control of the drag pressure. They also improved the detents so the setting can’t get bumped or moved while fishing. The outer rim of the reel was reinforced to make it more durable (from hard drops). In the 10-12-weight size the spool is even bigger for better backing capacity, bumping the reel up to a 5” diameter.  It is in this size where the speed handle is likely most efficient.

Taylor offers the Revenge in 3 sizes, 4 staple colors, plus 9 other custom finishes. Custom color options will add anywhere from $80 to $199 but look spectacular. A quality cordura/neoprene case is provided that fully covers and protects the reel during transit.

Taylor Revolt 7-9WT $359

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The Taylor Revolt utilizes an X frame similar to Nautilus, however the Revolt is significantly heavier (and seemingly more durable). The knurled spool release cap can be difficult to turn, partly because it is hard to grip, and partly due to the speed handle and counterbalance’s close proximity, (thick fingers will have a harder time). We like the idea of a speed handle, however, in the 7-9 size it feels as if the handle is too close to the center of the reel, making it feel like you are reeling up a 3-4 weight reel rather than an 8-weight. We detected a slight wobble in the counterbalance. We like the large sized handle and easy to grab flared shape, however.

The Revolt is an attractive reel. The heavily ported spool looks awesome with line and backing on it. In addition to their standard Stealth Black; Ice Blue, Ultraviolet, and Champagne, Taylor offers some really cool custom colors – so be sure to check these out. A classy cordura/neoprene case is included that fully covers and protects the reel during transit.

Taylor Series-1 7-9WT $275

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The series-1 is a nice reel for the money. It is the lightest and the least expensive of the all the Taylor reels we tested. The Series-1 has a very large arbor, which retrieves line at a rapid rate. The knurled spool release cap is easy to twist and can’t fall off. The similarly knurled, medium sized drag knob is easy to turn as well, with detents that will keep it in the desired position. The handle is a little smaller and skinnier than we like for an 8-weight reel, but perfect on the lighter 4-6 weight version. The counterbalance is excellent, insuring no high-speed wobbles on a big fish run. When the drag is cranked down to its higher settings, we noticed the startup inertia is more significant, but acceptable when used in the half pound to 3-pound range, (where most anglers will be using it). Be sure to check our Taylor’s custom shop, as they have some fantastic new custom colors. Talyor Fly Fishing includes a nice cordura/neoprene case that fully covers and protects the reel during transit. 


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The BVK is TFO’s top of the line fly reel and quite affordable for an 8-weight reel at $250.  BVK SD stands for Bernard Victor Kreh Sealed Drag, since this reel was named after the legend Lefty Kreh. This second generation BVK reel adds a fully sealed drag system to the old (green) BVK, without raising the price of the reel. We applaud TFO for making good fly-fishing gear that anyone can afford, something we have always admired.

One thing we noticed right away in reeling in the BVK, is that there is a slight resistance.  In this sense, the BVK is the opposite of a “spinner” (like the TFO NXT), that spins in line at the flick of a wrist. The advantage of this resistance is that the BVK will never “creep” line in while casting, meaning the action of casting itself will not accidentally reel in a little line with each stop of your forward cast. Assuming the captain or rower can keep the boat the same distance away from the bank, saltwater anglers can be more accurate casting into the mangroves, and freshwater anglers can get their streamer closer to the bank more consistently.

The plastic, knurled spool release cap is easy to unscrew. We like the size of the large handle, although we wish the concave cut outs continued around the entire circumference of the handle rather than in two spots. The counterbalance is excellent, insuring zero high-speed wobbles during a big run. The knurled drag knob, also made out of plastic, is relatively thinner than other drag knobs, and harder to twist than others. The detents are strong however, and you can’t knock this drag off the desired position. 

The BVK has a large arbor and is fast at line retrieval. TFO has ported some of the arbor on the edges, but none in the middle, which will help backing dry. The fully sealed drag utilizes Delrin and stainless-steel discs that includes a wider range of drag than the original BVK reels. We consider the BVK’s range of drag adjustment to be on the narrow side, which some anglers will like and others won’t. A quality reel case is included that fully covers and protects the reel during transit.   


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As the name suggests, TFO’s NTR III, (No Tools Required) is a simple reel that doesn’t require any tools, even to change the drag direction. The first thing we noticed with this reel is how effortless it spins! A flick of the handle will send this reel spinning like crazy. For anglers who like to reel up slack line quickly this is a great fit, especially in the size III and IV, where the reel could be used on a spey rod to quickly reel up excess shooting line. The downside to this amazing amount of spin is reel creep, where each time you make a forward cast and stop the reel continues to move and can involuntarily reel in a few inches of line. For some anglers this can be a nuisance, as it messes with their distance and accuracy, say when fishing towards the mangroves or a rip rap bank. Personally, this doesn’t bug us much as we are usually shooting line and snubbing it short anyway (which helps turn the leader over better).

The large, tapered, aluminum handle is easy to grab and has a nice shape to it. The counterbalance is not perfect by any means, but doesn’t wobble too terribly for a reel that spins so effortlessly. A large, heavily ported arbor design is used, which means you’ll be able to reel in quickly and your backing will be able to dry easily. The knurled spool release cap is easy to untwist, although the cap can sometimes come off the o-ring if you are not careful, and pull too hard. A similarly knurled drag knob is used that is large and easy to turn. The range of drag adjustment is on the lower side, which some salt anglers may appreciate more than freshwater anglers (as far as lighter tippet protection goes). We noticed there is definitely more startup inertia with this reel, especially when you are using it at higher drag settings. A neoprene case is provided that fully covers and protects the reel during transit. A fully machined reel at an affordable price! 


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Another no tools needed reel, the NTX can be worked on without tools, even to change the drag direction. At $120, the NTX is the third least expensive reel in the Roundup, just after the Orvis Clearwater IV at $119 and the Grey’s Fin at $100.  Parts of the NTX are machined while the frame and spool are cast. 

The NTX has a smaller handle than most 7/8 reels. The counterbalance is slightly off but definitely something we could “live with” considering the price. The spool release cap, although thin, is easy to turn due to the knurled edge and the negative space around the cap. An O-ring helps keep the cap on so you can’t drop or lose it. The knurled drag knob is on the thin side, but still easy enough to turn. The drag detents are secure and will do a good job at keeping your drag setting in place while fishing. Although TFO markets this reel as having no startup inertia we definitely detected some, especially at the higher drag settings. Still nothing to complain about, with a reel this inexpensive. The NTX comes with a neoprene case that fully covers and protects the reel during transit.


Click this link to refer to our discussion in the main Roundup.


Click this link to refer to our discussion in the main Roundup.

See more photos and videos of our reel testing in Iceland and Argentina

We Appreciate Your Support!

We hope you have enjoyed reading our 2023 Reel Roundup.  These reviews take us a lot of time and effort. With your support we can continue to give you more reviews and head to head comparisons on tackle and equipment in the future. So if you like what we are doing, and found this review helpful, the best way to thank us is to buy a rod, reel, or outfit from the Yellowstone Angler.

You can shop for reels on line, call us at 406-222-7130, or e-mail us at [email protected] and we can discuss your needs and wants. We’re confident that we can get you set up with the perfect rod, reel, or outfit that best fits your needs.

If you are purchasing one of our ultimate outfits, we’ll throw in a free line of your choice ($79.95 value). If you would prefer a more expensive line, (normally $129.95), we’ll upgrade you for only an additional $50.00.

We’ll also ship it to you for free, and since we’re in Montana there is no sales tax.

Once you get your new rod or outfit, do some casting on the lawn, and if you feel it is not just what you wanted (and it has not been fished), we’ll allow you to return it for a full refund, less the shipping charges.

Use this link to go to Our Favorite Outfits. If you are looking for that perfect saltwater set up, then click on this link for Our Favorite Saltwater Outfits.

If you get to Montana, we invite you to stop at our shop and do your own rod and reel comparison right here. We have several reels rigged with the various line sizes and leaders all ready to go. We’ll come out with you and give you some help to fine tune your casting stroke, or just help you with the basics if you are new to the sport. And once you’ve picked out the perfect rod and reel, stay and enjoy a few days on the water with one of our top guides.

We value your comments about our reviews and invite any questions or ideas you might have. Please e-mail us anytime at [email protected].

– James Anderson, George Anderson, and the Yellowstone Angler crew