2014 8 weight reel shootout 

We have wanted to do a Reel Shootout since we started doing fly rod shootouts back in 2005.  Time was our main issue but also the fact that fly rods, by nature, are easier to compare and evaluate.  While we could “feel” the real world difference between a winning rod and a losing rod, reels on the other hand are more difficult to compare.  

We know that there are lots of terrific fly reels on the market and we wanted to see how they would perform on big bonefish as well as big trout.  During our recently released 8-weight rod shootout we had the opportunity to try the best 8-weight reels on big bonefish, permit and redfish.  Bonefish in the 6-10 lb range can peel some line off your reel in a big hurry.  You get a quick education about why any start up inertia is bad (it can cause line-jamming backlashes) and how important it is to be able to fine tune your drag settings.  For big, fast bonefish you must set the drag at a very light setting and over-ride it with your palm. Permit are much the same, just bigger and seemingly faster.  

We also wanted to see how these reels would perform in freshwater too, since that's where the majority of our fishing occurs. We already had a trip planned to Argentina’s Jurassic Lake, and what better a place could we find to test the best 8-weight reels?   We’re talking about a lot of hot 10-20 pound plus rainbows that look like silver bullets and fight like chrome steelhead. As we found out, they will peel a lot of backing off nearly as fast as bonefish.  Of the 25 reels we tested in the shootout, we threw a dozen different reel contenders into our bag and headed to Calafate, Argentina.   The fishing was fantastic and you’ll see the reels in action in both our still photos and video.  


As with testing fly rods, the real meat of the shootout is in our performance figures, which we awarded double points to.   Below you’ll be able to see two tables with finishing orders for both the overall Final Results as well as the Performance Only categories.  The finishing order didn’t change as much as we though it might.      

We felt that it was critically important to have all the best reels in the world in this comparison.  My friends from Europe have told me a lot about how good the Einarsson reels from Iceland were, as well as the Danielsson reels from Sweden.  We stock the Loop reels from Sweden so we know they perform very well too.  So we went to great lengths to include all these reels and compare them to the best reels from the US, Canada, and the Orient.  More and more reels are being manufactured in Korea and China for companies like Orvis and Hardy, and the quality for the most part is extremely good.  But everyone wants to know how the top US brands like Tibor, Nautilus, Hatch, Lamson, Bauer, Galvan, and Ross stack up against all the competition.  We had fun finding out and hopefully you'll enjoy reading our analysis, even if you don’t agree with our opinions. 

Einarsson Reels
The Einarsson reels from Iceland.  The 9plus is in front with the Invictus six9 in back. 


Unfortunately there were a few reels, (like the Mako by Jack Charlton) that we were unable to get for the shootout.  In trying to keep this reel shootout to a reasonable number of reels (25) we eliminated others that didn't make the cut.   

Real Talk

Forget about all the promotional BS you’ll find in magazines or online about fly reels.  When is the last time you remember reading a bad review about anything in a magazine?  You won’t, because it’s bad business.  Editors don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them and as a result, magazine product reviews are almost always positive or at worst, sugar-coated with "glass is half full" comments supporting their advertiser's products.  

The format of our Yellowstone Angler Shootouts hasn’t changed since we first started doing them back in 2005.  We’re here to cut through the BS and give you straight answers - our own honest opinions, at the risk of offending manufactures and loyal customers alike. While we're not out to hatefully burn anyone in the process, we’re also not about to pull any punches.  If we feel an issue with a certain reel needs to be addressed, we'll let you know about it.  

Real World Testing

As in our rod shootouts, we feel that it is important to come up with real world tests that you can duplicate yourself.  So you aren’t going to see a lot of laboratory tests, computerized graphs, or other propaganda we get from the manufacturers themselves.  They all believe they make the best reels in the world, and rightfully so.  It’s our job to sort them out.

all reels

General Observations


Categories Explained 

Overall Weight 

The last thing we are going to do is take the manufacturers word for what these reels weigh!  They tend to fudge figures to make their reels look lighter than their competitor's, (although we were pleased to see that quite a few manufacturers actually did report the correct weight).  We used our “official” digital postage scale that reads to .001 oz.   We then rounded these up to .1 of an ounce to make it easier to read on our charts.  You will find the overal weight in both our General Observations table and our Final Results table.  

Perhaps we should have made weight a performance category, since at the end of a long day of casting, fishing, and playing fish one is usually more fatigued by a heavier reel.  There are times however, depending on which rod the reel is used,  that more weight is actually desirable to counter the swing weight of the rod.  In the end we just made a compromise and stuck with 10 points available, although in general we felt that lighter is usually better for 9 foot rods.   


Overall Diameter in Inches

This measurement refers to how wide the reel is from one side of the frame to the other.  The Loop SpeedRunner was easily the largest reel in the test in this category, (not necessarily the best as we found out), while the Nautilus FWX, Ross Momentum, and Rugged Creek were some of the smallest.  Again we didn’t rate this category in points, but in general the larger diameter reels work better since they retrieve line more quickly.   

Arbor Size in Inches 

Here we are referring to how large the arbor is, that is to say how many inches wide is it from where the backing hits the spool to the other side where the backing hits the spool.  One would immediately assume that the larger the arbor size the faster the line retrieval would be.  This is not necessarily true.  Spool width is a factor but even more important was having zero (or very little) retrieval resistance.  The thing that is more important is how much capacity the reel has when you include an adequate amount of backing with the line and not have the reel so full that it gets jammed up easily when you are reeling in line.

Spool Width in Inches

This is easy - here we measure how wide the spool is (not including the frame).  In general we found that narrow spools were more of a handicap since you had to use your pinky to level wind the line back onto the reel when retrieving line, otherwise it could jam up more easily, especially in the heat of battle when you are excited and not paying attention.  Wider spools on the other hand required little or no concentration to reel your line on evenly.   The optimal size seemed to be somewhere between 1 to 1.5 inches.  


Backing Capaity (20 lb. Micron with a WF-8-F line)

Here’s another place where manufactures almost always fudge, in order to beat their competitors.  From our experiences while fishing in both salt and freshwater, we have found that the optimal amount of backing is a good 25-50 yards less than what the manufacturers recommend.   Here in our shop, we use a  "reel notebook" where we keep track of what we feel are the optimal backing capacities for every single reel we sell with standard Cortland 20 or 30 lb. Micron, which is Cortland Dacron backing. We also note how much of the new PE backing to use.  Today many people are going to Gel-Spun and PE backing materials since they are smaller and far stronger.   Until recently we found that they were too abrasive, and would cut you very easily.  But in this past year Hatch and others like Cortland have introduced new 8-strand PE backing that is extremely good.  The Hatch backing is every bit as smooth as Dacron, the size is smaller than 20 lb. Micron, but the test is 68 lb!   However, the cost is a bit more – like $24.95 per hundred yards vs. about $9.00 or less for dacron.  So we suggest the standard Micron unless you need more capacity.  

Here is a good example - For the Tibor Everglades, Tibor recommends 200 yd. of 20 lb. Micron.   We found that 185 yd. is a lot better.   But if we use the Hatch backing, we get the equivalent to 185 yd. of Dacron using 225 yd. of the Hatch PE.  For bigger fish, especially when you are using heavier tippets that are 18 lb. or greater, we go up to 30 lb. Micron.  For PE we jump up to Cortland Superbraid, which is 80 lb.  This is 16 strand and again much smoother than most other Gel Spun so it won't cut you as easily.  Our Cortland 80 lb. PE is about the same diameter as 30 lb. Micron.   

In our chart we have given you the figures for what we feel are the best maximum capacities of these reels with 20 lb. Micron, loaded with a standard Scientific Anglers WF-8-F line.   As it turns out, the freshwater GPX lines we use take up about the same amount of space on a reel as the SA Saltwater Bonefish lines.   


Maximum Drag Strength in Pounds

No explanation is needed here, except for our procedure.  We first wrapped about 20 yards of 30-pound micron backing to the arbor of each reel tested.  We used a triple surgeons knot to tie a loop at the end of the backing, which we then hung over our trusty “real world” Cabelas sliding spring scale.  We then got a good grip on the Cabelas scale and pulled hard, reading the max amount of pressure in lbs.  When we backed off on the pressure a sliding piece of plastic on the scale marked the max drag pressure, just as the reel started to slip at it's maxium drag.  Now people are going to say that reels with very narrow arbors are going to give you more drag without the line installed, and this is true but we tested a couple of reels with line and backing and without, and the difference is negligible.   

The Hardy Fortuna did bust our Micron, so we had to resort to some 80lb Cortland backing.   Still we couldn’t get the drag to hold past 17 pounds on the Hardy Fortuna X1, despite Hardy claims it will lift 32 lbs.  Who cares? 17 lbs. of drag is still about three times more than you could ever need, even when fishing for billfish with 20 lb. class tippet.

We did not give Max drag any points since this is senseless. The range of drag adjustment is far more important to us than the maximum drag pressure, (as long as it is over say 4 lbs).  

Country of Origin

In a global economy less and less people are being sticklers for goods made exclusively here in the US.  But there is a very good reason to buy US made reels that very few people know about. The Pittman–Robertson Act was so successful that in the 1950s, a similar act was written for fish. This one was titled the Federal Aid in Fish Restoration Act.  As with its wildlife counterpart, the name of this act is generally shortened by reducing it to the names of those who sponsored it, and so it is generally referred to as the Dingell–Johnson Act.  

This law stipulates that reel manufacturers must pay 10% of the first sale to the US government.  This provides each state valuable financial assistance for fish restoration and management plans and projects. The sticking point here is that for most of the US manufacturers, their first sale is directly to retailers. For reels manufactured offshore, the companies selling import reels have invented very innovative ways to reduce this “first sale” 10% to a much more minimal amount.    

So by buying US made reels, you are not only being patriotic and providing more jobs for US workers, you are also helping support our fisheries. The next time you are out fishing, look around you and realize that you and your gear contribute to sustaining the fisheries you love. 

That being said, does buying American make sense?  Yes and no.  Many anglers are looking for the absolute best reel out there, regardless of what it costs or where it is made.  Look at car buyers – a lot of sucessful people are riding around in a Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche or Ferrari because they are generally rated better than anything from our American manufacturers – regardless of the cost or origin.  Fortunately for us, most of the very best fly reels are still made right here in the old USA. 


jurassic lake reels


Explanation of the points categories

Price – 10 points available

This is pretty simple.  The least expensive reels get the highest points.   Price is certainly an important factor for basing your decision on purchasing a reel, but keep in mind that the higher priced reels are usually worth it in the long run, even if you have to take some time to save up the money to buy the reel you really want.   Buy the best reel you can afford and you will never regret it.  Hopefully after you've used it for 10 years, or even 20, you'll pass it on to your kids or someone who will really appreciate it.  

Overall Weight (in Ounces) - 10 points available

(From above): The last thing we are going to do is take the manufacturers word for what these reels weigh!   We put more trust in our “Official” digital postage scale that reads to .001 oz.   We then rounded these up to .01 of an ounce to make it easier to read on our charts.  You will find the overall weight in both our General Observations table and our Final Results table.   

Perhaps we should have made weight a performance category, since at the end of a long day of casting, fishing, and playing fish one is usually more fatigued by a heavier reel.  There are times however, depending on which rod the reel is used, that more weight is actually desirable to counter the swing weight of the rod.  In the end we just made a compromise and stuck with 10 points available, although in general we all feel that lighter is usually better.

Spool to Frame Tolerances - 10 points available

Here we are looking at how close the tolerances are between the spool and frame.  Reels with larger tolerances often have a large enough gap to risk having the running line or shooting line get caught between the spool and frame, or worse getting behind the spool or in the case of half frame reels, getting outside the frame.  When any of this happens you are forced to stop fishing, remove the spool and get things straightened out.  Otherwise you will break off the next fish, ruin your line, or both.

For most reels, taking the spool off is easy.  For reels like the Tibor Everglades or Abel Super 7/8N you better have a coin handy and hope like hell you don’t lose any important parts during disassembly and re-assembly.  For saltwater fishing this is less of a concern since most of the time you are using only a floating line and you’ll never have to change spools.  But in trout fishing you’ll often want to be changing lines from floating to sink tips or intermediates and changing spools is far quicker and easier than changing out lines on only one spool, even if you are using loop to loop connections between your backing and line. 

In general, closer tolerances are best, but if they prove to be too close, any little fall in the rocks can bend the rim of your spool enough to cause it to lock up or rub badly on the frame.   This is never easy to fix, even in the shop, much less on the stream.

This was a subjective observation.  I guess we could have used a feeler gauge, but eyeballing it seemed to work fine.  


Drag Sound - 10 points available

This is another point category we seriously considered giving double points.  We like louder reels that give you audible feedback while the fish is running.  This allows you to make a better judgment in terms of how much or little pressure you should be using while a fish is running away from you.  We feel silent outgoing drags are a disadvantage since you have to rely solely on feel, and in the heat of battle you might not realize you are over powering the fish until it’s too late. 

In examining the drag and retrieve sounds a given reel is making we also took into consideration how pleasing to the ear these sounds were, especially the outgoing drag sound.  The Tibor reels like the Everglades, Riptide and Gulfstream have one of the sweetest drag sounds when you have a big fish on and running.  Then when you are reeling line in there is a very audible click.  Ted Juracsik decided from his fishing experiences in a flats skiff that it was important for the guide to know exactly what was happening from the sound of the reel, and often he could not see it with the angler facing away from him while playing a fish.  With the two fairly loud and distinctly different clicker sounds, the guide knows immediately if the fish is running on the drag, or if the angler is retrieving line.  This is why we rate the Everglades a 10.  The other reels that impressed us with their drag sound were both the Einarsson reels and the Islander.  They all rated an 8 or better.

As far as line retrieval goes, sound is not nearly as critical as fish running on the drag, and I can get along with a fairly silent retrieve just fine.  Also, if you have a fish that is coming back at you faster than you can reel in line, you must be ready to stop reeling and start stripping.  This happens a whole lot more in freshwater fishing than on the flats.  

Reel Case Design - 10 points available

Reel case design is perhaps the least important category we gave points to. Having a good reel case will help protect and preserve your reel and this can be important when it's kicking around in a flats skiff or drift boat.  Most reel cases today are neoprene and these are very effective at protecting reels.  But these should be easy to get on and off, especially when you are in a flats skiff.  Our all time favorite here are the Abel reel cases.  We also liked the TFO BVK reel case, which is very similar to the Abel reel case.  We continue to be disappointed with the fact that TFO still does not give you a reel case with their wonderful 375 reel.  What gives, TFO?  A reel without a case is like ice cream without the cone.  Other favorites included the Loop cases (which is like the Abel but includes straps for breaking down your rods and keeping them together) and the Danielsson.  The Hatch reel case had some of the coolest color combinations, but sadly doesn’t cover your reel completely.  In the event that you should drop it, it might get "dinged" even while nestled in it’s case.  

Warranty - 10 points available

Just like rods, if you fish hard and long enough you may eventually run into problems with your reel.  Accidently dropping your reel when it is not on the rod can bend the foot.  On the reels that do not have totally sealed drags, saltwater can get into even sealed ball bearings. You can trip in the rocks and bend something beyond repair or even break your handle clean off.  Luckily all of the manufactures offer a Lifetime Warranty (for the original owner only) against all defects or problems that might arise, like water getting into the bearings.  We take a closer look to see how much it will cost you (at minimum) to send your reel in and have them return it.  In many cases you are responsible for the return shipping, anywhere between $10-45.  In the best cases all you have to do is get your reel to the factory and the rest is on them (including parts, labor, and return shipping). 

Although we scored them the same as other top manufactures, Orvis had the best warranty policy.  If you sign up on their website (on-line repairs), you can obtain a pre-paid shipping label that allows you to ship your reel to their repair facility on their dime, costing you nothing but your time.

In the event that the customer was at fault for damage (Ex. they drove over it with their pickup), most all the manufactures offer inexpensive repairs or replacements at very little cost to the customer. For these kinds of repairs, each repair requires a case-by-case evaluation. However, we feel most all the manufactures are being more than fair with these fees.


Craftsmanship - 10 points available

We are pleased to tell you that craftsmanship has improved remarkably over the past ten years.   All of the 8-weight reels we tested are machined out of a solid block of high-grade aircraft aluminum and then anodized with very hard finishes.  Even the relatively inexpensive reels made in Korea or China and elsewhere in the Orient offer quality machining and attention to detail.  Still, craftsmanship varies and is very observable.  As you’ll see, nearly all the manufacturers rated a 9 or 10.  We gave out a lot of perfect 10’s here and we felt they were justified since the quality of machining and anodization was superb.  If we had to single out a few reels as the best of the best, Nautilus, Einarsson, Danielsson, Tibor, Abel, Loop and the Lamson Vanquish would be easy choices.  The others would be right on their heels.  


Durability - 10 points available

We’ve all bought less expensive products, only to find out that we would have been happier with the best, or to have the cheaper stuff fail.  With fly reels, durability can be a big factor.  Durability is definitely somewhat subjective, but it isn’t rocket science either.   Machined reels are going to be tougher than cast reels.  Remember how easily those old Hardy spools and frames got bent?  That was because they were cast aluminum, not machined, (the new Hardy's are machined).  We found in general that durability in the new reels very good but it is still a compromise.  The heavier reels will generally take more abuse when it comes to slamming them into riprap or dropping them in a paved parking lot.  The lightest reels will require more caution for sure, but they are often more delightful to fish - especially when fished in combination with a very light rod.  But accidents happen.  Usually a good shop will be able to true-up a bent spool (in the same way a good mountain bike shop might true up your wheel).  That being said, if you are traveling half way around the world on a trip and to a destination where there is no fly shop, it’s a good idea to take along a reel that is going to be tough, durable, and reliable.  


Maintenance Free - 10 points available

Most of the reels we tested have well sealed drags and require very little care to function perfectly.   Reels that utilize cork drag systems like Tibor, Abel, and Islander require a little more TLC.  To maintain their smooth drag you’ll need to add the right kind of lubrication to the cork drag surface. This will not have to be done often, but at least after each week-long fishing trip.  Also, if your reel gets submerged it doesn’t hurt to take it apart, clean it up and re-lube.  Those clicker pawls in both the Tibor and Abel reels need lube occasionally, and the little ball bearing detents need oil.  Tibor uses a silicone grease to lube the cork itself, while Abel uses Neatsfoot oil.  The drag surfaces on the Islander reels also need the same kind of TLC - at a minimum, a couple of times a year.

Check to see what kind of bearings the spool runs on.  In most instances, in the well-sealed drags these are ball bearings that never need attention.  The Tibor, Abel and TFO 375 utilize sealed ball bearings but even these sealed bearings can be affected by salt water exposure, which will cause them to get rough or even seize up.  For this reason you must be more careful not to submerge these reels in water for any length of time.  Other reels run on bushings and they may need lubrication, usually oil.  However some of the new bushings like Nautilus and Ross are using don’t require oil.  Bottom line, if you like to play with your gear (and you’re mechanical by nature) you may enjoy a reel that requires more up keep.  Otherwise, maintenance free is the way to go...  

jurassic lake

Performance Categories - Double Points

Range of Drag Adjustment - 20 points available

Here is probably the #1 factor in the performance categories, along with smoothness of drag and start up inertia. In order to determine the range of adjustment, we decided that the usable range to measure would be .5 lb. to 3 lb. of straight-pull drag pressure.  For bonefish I normally never use much over .5 to .75 of straight-pull drag pressure.  Once you put a bend in the rod the drag pressure goes up substantially.  Here's a test we ran in the shop, using a Loomis NRX 9 foot #8 rod and the Nautilus G-8 reel (Our shootout 2014 Shootout Winners):  We set the Nautilus drag at .5 lb. on our trusty Cabelas scale with the line running straight out through the guides with the rod held horizontally.Then I put a big hoop bend in the rod and again read the the drag pressure on the scale.  It was now was slightly over 1lb.  Then with the drag set at 3 lb., which is what we might set it for tarpon, putting a big hoop bend in the rod gave us 6 lb. of drag pressure.    I know from experience that if you try to use much more than that on a big hot tarpon, when you first hook it, you can get blown off very easily.  Once you get through that first run and jumps, then you can over-ride the drag and put on 10-15 lb. of pressure by palming the reel or locking your thumb over the handle.  With bonefish, using more than that ½ pound of drag (or 1 lb. with a bend in the rod) can be risky.  It seems crazy but a hot 6-8 lb. bonefish can break 14-16 lb. tippet if you are putting much more than a pound to a pound and a half of drag pressure on the fish - at least on that first smoking run.  After that you can over-ride the drag a bunch or adjust your drag as needed.  On the big trout of Jurassic Lake, I was using not much more than ½ lb. of straight pull drag, but then later in the fight I would jack it up to say 2 lb. to make landing the fish a little easier and quicker.

So, to get these figures we first set the reel at ½ lb. of straight-pull drag.  Then we cut a sticker and pasted a narrow piece to the drag adjust knob so that we could easily see how much we were rotating the drag adjust knob until we got the straight pull pressure up to 3 lbs.  Then we estimated the amount of rotation down to .1 of an inch.   The best reels gave us an adjustment range of more than one full revolution.  The very best reels had a drag adjustment around 1.4 - 1.5 revolutions.  The worst were the Sage 6080 at .35, the Orvis Hydros at .35 and the Hardy Fortuna X1 at .5 revolutions.

Reels with a smaller range of drag adjustment have far less ability to fine-tune your fight while playing a fish.  We could really care less about a reel’s maximum drag capacity.  We’re not trying to stop a taxicab here.   What we want to see is a wider range of drag adjustment (say from .8 to 1.4) in that .5 to 3 pounds drag range  –  the normal range that you’d be playing at fish 95% of the time.  For these 8-weight reels we could have probably capped the max at 2 lb. rather than 3 but some people preferr to fish with a relatively stronger drag.  

Ease of Drag Adjustment - 20 points available

How easy is it to adjust your drag while you are playing a fish?   It’s one thing to set your drag to your preferred resistance level before your start fishing, but an entire different situation arises during the heat of battle.  Sometimes you need to reach over and make a quick and precise drag adjustment.  The reels that have easy to grip drag knobs were often the easiest to manage.  Smaller drag knobs were more difficult, as were drags that were so difficult to turn (i.e. Lamson Guru).  The Bauer CFX5’s star drag had the drag adjust on the same side you reel.  We don’t like this design since trying to adjust the drag when a fish is running hard results in a knuckle buster.    



Start up Inertia - 20 points available

Start up inertia refers to the initial amount of drag a fish will feel upon taking off.  The best drag is one that has zero start up inertia. The line peels of your reel smoothly, without any tendency to release quickly and perhaps cause a backlash.  A drag with close to zero start up inertia allows you to gain perfect control of the fish immediately once you have allowed the fish to run out all the slack line that you have stripped off of the reel.  Once you have the fish on the reel, you want to try to play the fish off the reel.   If the fish runs back at you very quickly and you cannot keep up by reeling, then you have to start stripping and repeat the process of getting the fish on the reel once more.  Drags with zero start up inertia result in a smoother fight.  

Most of the reels in our test got perfect scores here.   Maybe if we had used some very sophisticated laboratory measuring equipment we could have seen some minor differences, but to the hand and on our Cabelas scale all the best reels were very smooth and exhibited little to no start up inertia.  The Tibor and Abel did show us a very slight amount more start up inertia, but nothing that was a problem.  However we know from experience that these cork drag designs can pose problems if you do not keep them lubricated properly.  With no lubrication, the start up inertia can increase substantially. The drags that impressed us for start up inertia and smoothness were the Nautilus G-8, the Ross F-1 and the Einarsson reels.  

The most unique drag system was the Einarsson Invictus, which has a spring loaded drag that smooths the initial take off / hook up even more drastically than reels with no start up inertia. Our European Atlantic Salmon friends tell us that this system is a dramatic improvement over all the other reels on the market.   We are hearing figures like 30-50% more hookups.   Atlantic salmon have very delicate mouths compared to trout.  Getting them hooked solidly without the hook pulling out is far more difficult.   I proved that to myself on Russia’s Ponoi river years ago after I lost the first ten salmon that took my fly!  I finally gave up trying to set the hook and just let them ease into the drag, going away, which is precisely what the Einarsson Invictus is designed to do.  A lot of serious Atlantic Salmon fishermen are using the Einarsson Invictus reel now and I can see why.  It is a very ingenious drag system.  The only knock on it is the extra weight (when fishing a 9 foot rod), but while using the Invictus on a bigger two handed rod, the extra counter-weight is actually a plus.

Smoothness of Drag - 20 points available

As we mentioned before, a smooth fight is a good fight.  You need to be in complete control and not have to worry about massaging a crappy drag.  Big fish don’t like any kind of hurky-jerky action and this will often result in jumping, tail walking, death rolling, or diving deep to scrape your fly off on a rock or stick.  While the visual effects of these harsh moves can be stunning, they are often the cause of a break off or shake off.

In addition to the fight, a smooth drag gives you confidence, and puts you in control much like having a set of perfectly balanced tires on your car.  

When we cranked the drag upwards towards 3 pounds of drag, smoothness (or lack thereof) became much more apparent.  Originally we thought the cork drag reels were going to mop the floor in this category, but we were surprised to see modern drag designs like the Nautilus and the other top reels did better.  


Retrieval Resistance - 20 points available

Retrieval resistance refers to the tension one feels when reeling in.  The best reels had little or no resistance.  (Like the Nautilus, Einarsson plus series, Galvan or TFO 375 eels).  Resistance when reeling in eventually adds to unnecessary fatigue. The spey guys love to have a freewheeling design so that they can whack the handle or spool and spin up a bunch of running line quickly.  This is impossible with a reel that just does not turn easily.   More and more trout and saltwater anglers are using techniques like this.  The reels with very little retrieval resistance were more pleasant to use and presented few problems that we could identify.   


Handle Design - 20 points available

As soon as we fished the best reels with good handles we began to realize how important a category handle design is.  Reels with large, easy to grab handles were a godsend, while shorter, thinner, or smaller handles proved to be unnecessarily difficult to grab and crank on while fighting a fish.  You want to have a handle that you can grab quickly, and one that you can crank on hard without your fingers slipping off or getting fatigued.  Longer, larger handles that were concave or with an outwards taper felt and performed the best.  Our favorite was definitely the Nautilus G-8. This reel has a larger knob on the outside of the handle.  Our other favorite handles were on the Tibor, Einarsson Plus and Invictus, Galvan T-8, Hardy Fortuna, and the Ross Momentum.  On 8-weigtht reels handles that are one inch long are a lot more desirable than the shorter ones.  Also, the very thin handles were not as pleasing as the thicker ones.  In playing big fish, we quickly decided a bad handle design was detrimental and in some cases even a deal breaker.

Some manufacturers like Tibor offer larger handles as an accessory.  These make good sense.  We also found that several handles were interchangeable between manufactures. Abel offers different reel handles according to an angler’s preference for wood or metal. 

Ease of Spool Removal - 20 points available

The ease of spool removal is important.  We’ve found if something can go wrong in the field it will, (usually right near that section of river you’ve been waiting to fish all day long).  Should your line, and especially the tippet on your leader accidently slip through one of the spool to frame tolerance spaces, or should you get a tiny rock or sand stuck in your reel inhibiting it from turning, you are going to need to take your spool off, fix the problem, and put the spool back on.  Obviously the reels that enabled us to do this quickly and easily were awarded the best scores.  Reels like the Tibor and Abel (that require a penny, screw diver, or perhaps a stout hook) lost a lot of points here. Also, when you must take reels apart or if they have a cap that comes off if you unscrew it enough, parts can fall out, or even go overboard and get lost.  (Ex. Danielsson L5W, Loop Speedrunner ) Loosing any parts can make your reel unusable, and turn your trip into a disaster. The Lamson reels are designed so that you have to pull hard to take the spool off.  Too hard.  We have also seen Lamson reels that have seen a lot of use get even more difficult to pull the spool off and this can be frustrating.  


nautilus nv


Drag Detents - 20 points available

Drag detents are small divots machined into the drag system into which fit tiny spring loaded ball bearings.  In other designs some other sort of friction device is used that will help your drag knob retain its set position.  Should you accidently bump your drag knob, or rub it against your clothing or jacket, the last thing you want is for it to turn from your set pound and a half of drag to zero - immediately causing your reel to freespool and backlash.  Reels with secure drag detents were awarded the most points while drags with little or no detents were penalized accordingly.   


Fun to Fish / Got to Have - 20 points available

As with our rod shootouts, we got this category from the original Car and Driver automobile shootouts.   We found that some of these reels were just a lot more fun to fish than others.  Any reel that rates a 16 or better here is a real pleasure to fish.  If the reel looks like a million bucks and performs like it too, any normal fly fishermen is going to want it.  For many, the most expensive reels are perhaps a status symbol even if they aren’t the best in performance.  For others, they see how the reel performs in their guide’s hands, and think that it is going to make them great anglers too, or at least take them to the next level.  Surprisingly enough, they are often right.  Don’t let the price slow you down.  Too many people get an inexpensive reel and then find that they made a mistake and go right back out to buy the best.  That is the kind of money you don’t want to waste.  A good reel will last a lifetime, so don’t skimp.  Get a good reel the first time and you won’t regret it.  


Final Results

performance only





Below you'll find our finishing order as well as comments from both myself (GA) and my son, James Anderson (JA).  We wish we could have included comments from more anglers, as deciding which reels are the best and why is a very subjective manner. Hopefully for our future reel shootouts we will be able to include more opinions.

Remember to click on the individual reel photos as this is a link to many more photos of that reel...


#1 Nautilus NV G-8   $670 - Our 8-weight Reel Shootout WINNER!

Nautilus NV 10/11G-8 Shootout winner

Buy Now

GA:  I’ve been a Nautilus fan since their introduction about ten years ago, but until this year I’d never really fished them a lot since I’ve relied on Tibor reels for nearly all my saltwater fishing, as well as for big rainbows in Alaska.  On a visit to the Nautilus factory in December I couldn’t resist having them put together one of the cool looking new orange G-8’s - their NV ten-eleven frame with a very wide Giga 8 spool.  The first time I’d use it would be at Jurassic Lake on huge rainbows.  I just fell in love with this reel.  I'll sure miss the sweet sounds of the Tibor's drag when a big fish is hooked up and running hard, but otherwise everything else about the G-8 is magical.

The Nautilus NV G-8 reel is light, and the drag is as smooth as anything in this world.   I also loved the size.  It is larger than most 8-weight reels and I can retrieve line at a very fast pace, which is usually not a big deal on bonefish, but on big hot rainbows that are going crazy and swapping directions quickly it sure helped.  I could reach around and adjust the drag very easily and the drag adjust held its position perfectly once set.  The retrieve was as smooth as silk, and the handle, with its large knob on the end, was the killer handle of the shootout.  Backing capacity is perfect too, with room for up to 220 yd. of the new 68 lb. PE backing.  As a bonus these Nautilus reels are available in lots of gorgeous colors for an additional $100.  You can also color customize other reel parts too.  Kristen Mustad took the time to take apart one of his terrific NV drag systems and now I can see why it is so smooth, with the four sets of ball bearings they use and the carbon fiber drag disc.  It is a much different design than most of the other good drags found on reels today.  The drag on the larger NV’s are all very powerful – really overkill.  One thing you can do is to swap out the normal drag for the slightly smaller drag they have on the NV 5/6 reels.   You still have plenty of drag force and it is every bit as smooth, but the whole drag is smaller and lighter and you can save a half-ounce going this route.  One thing we should mention is that this reel cannot easily be converted from RH to LH.  You need to have your dealer do this and normally the drag hub must be swapped out.  Bottom line is that this reel works better and is more fun than any 8-weight reel I’ve ever used.  I’ll just have to learn to live with less drag sound.

Everyone is going to want to know why we didn’t have the new CCF-X2 Nautilus in our shootout.  Well, there are two reasons.  First, only one prototype reel has been completed and we wanted to test a production model.  Two, this reel is heavier than the G-8 we tested. It is also available in only one arbor style, but it does have some very good features.  The drag system has twice the drag surface so you can apply far more max drag (why anyone needs more than the G-8 is capable of is a mystery).  Also the price is less at $435 for the X2-68.  These reels have not yet been released for sale.

JA: The Nautilus NV G-8 was my #1 pick as well...  As the saying goes, "look good, feel good, do good."  I gave it the edge over the Tibor mainly because it had a quick-change spool, but it had other attributes that were better than the Everglades as well.  First it was SO smooth, both in reeling in and with big fish running.  It was perhaps the perfect blend between having a reel with decent sound while also maintaining very little retrieval resistance.  I would say it was the third easiest reel in the test to retrieve line quickly, (the TFO 375 being the best, followed by the Loop OPTI Speedrunner 7-8-9).  The ergonomics on the handle were perfect in every way.  It just seemed to fit my style of reeling perfectly, allowing me to reel in quickly, eliminating any unnecessary jerky movements that big fish hate.  

Perfect in arbor diameter and width, the NV10/11 G-8 spool holds plenty of backing.  On top of that it was the best spool in the test for holding your backing in a way that allows it to dry quickly, Nautilus claims up to 14 times faster than traditional spools that are not ported.  Take a close look at where the backing sits on a Giga spool and you'll see what they are talking about. If you're spending $24.95 per 100 yards for the new trick Hatch 68lb. PE backing, the last thing you want to do is have it get messed up.

I can't emphasize enough how fun it was to fish with this reel.  I felt like the King of the world with this reel in my hands as a hot rainbow tailwalked away at high speed.  With other reels, I might have felt worried or distressed but this reel allowed me to produce my smoothest and quickest landings, no doubt a result from its smooth, powerful drag.  About the only thing missing was that sweet Tibor sound and perhaps a little more range of drag adjustment between .5 and 3 pounds. 

Show up at the dock:  Ready to test animals.  


#2 Einarsson 9 Plus  $732

Einarsson Plus

Buy Now

GA:  We have heard a lot about how good these Icelandic-made reels are from friends in Europe, so we worked hard to get out hands on two models for ou32r shootout.  This is another relatively new company and they started building fly reels in 2007.  Steingrimur Einarsson, the founder, had a goal of producing the highest quality and best performing reels in the world.  It looks to us like he hit the mark dead center.  We can tell you, these reels were every bit as good as we had heard.  The craftsmanship is absolutely superb and the designs are unique.  The Plus series is designed as a lighter reel, with a very strong, yet lightweight construction aimed for anglers primarily using single-handed rods.  The Invictus has a totally different drag design and heavier, but as a reel for double handed rods it’s in a class by itself.  

One thing that sets this reel apart from most of the competition is that it is designed with a full frame, to give it more rigidity and strength.  Yet it is still very easy to palm to apply more drag pressure.  The full frame also helps allow the spool to keep from locking up when you are pressing the reel against your shirt or jacket.  This is another reel, like the G-8 that we rated a perfect 20 for Fun to Fish.  Everything works perfectly.  And I love the drag clicker sound.  Why can’t everyone come up with something like this?  It is a simple design with a plastic clicker as a noisemaker.  If it wears down, it costs almost nothing for a new one!   Also, it has two distinctly different sounds – one for the fish running and another for the retrieve.  The handle is easy to grip and tapers out to make it easy to hang onto when you playing fish.  The drag knob was also very easy to grab and adjust and it held its position very well.  This is also a very handsome reel, especially in the clear color.  It is available in Black, Champagne or clear at no extra cost.  We only had the 9plus for our shootout testing, but this reel is really more of a 9/10 weight reel in capacity.  It was still quite light for a reel this large, weighing just a little over 8 oz.  If we had the 7plus this would have been even better as a bonefish 8-weight reel and the weight for the 7plus is only 6.7 oz.    

This reel impressed us so much that we are in the process of becoming a US dealer.  We are still working out the details, but we should be able to start stocking these reel within a couple weeks.

JA:  The old man was really hot on this reel and after hogging it the first couple days he wanted me to try it.  Right away I was amazed how light it was for its size, which was about like the Nautilus NV, only wider.  If you have a need for a lot of backing capacity and are looking for the best lightweight reel, this is going to be a serious contender.  The sound was definitely the best of the plastic noise making reels, but still nowhere near a Tibor Everglades.  I liked the intricate machining on the front of the spool, and the back of the frames 4-leaf clover looked cool as well.  I really have nothing to complain about with this reel. It performed great, and never had any problems whatsoever.  In the end I think this reel was overshadowed by my infatuation for the Einarsson Invictus and its totally unique spring-loaded drag.  

Show up at the dock: and intrigue your guide.


#3 Galvan T-8  $400

Galvan T-8

Buy Now

GA:  Well, here’s the real sleeper of our shootout.  We were surprised at how well this reel finished in almost every category, and it certainly deserved to finish this high if not even higher!  It is a very clean design, very light - and another reel that functions perfectly.  The size is just right too.  It is a little smaller in size than the G-8 but it has a nice wide spool, that at 1 ¼ in. is wider than most.  This makes it very easy to wind the line back on without getting jammed up.  We especially liked the big wedge shaped handle that was very easy to grip.  Another thing that we loved is the large, easy to grab and adjust drag knob.  One of the best in our shootout for sure.  In looking at the main bearing, Galvan is using one of the new polymer/roulon bushings that require very little maintenance, and no lubrication.  Nautilus also uses one of these in their FWX reels.  This bushing system is very light and also very reliable.  Also, no ball bearings to worry about.  The drag seems to be extremely smooth with an adequate amount of max drag power.  This is another very handsome reel and you can get it in Bronze, Green, Clear and Black at no extra charge.  Our test reel was a beautiful green, (one that would match up to a 9'#8 G. Loomis NRX perfectly).   We really liked this reel and as a bonus it is only $400.00 – a true bargain for a reel this good, and it is made right here in the US by a family-owned business. 

We have carried Galvan in our shop for many years, but for whatever reason we had stopped stocking them the past few years. After seeing how fantastic the T-8 did in the shootout you can be sure you'll be seeing Galvan in our reel case again! 

JA:  I can't believe we didn't take this reel with us to Jurassic Lake - what a mistake!  I've tried it since here on the Yellowstone, but needless to say, January on the Stone isn't exactly a great place to test out a reel's drag.  It did however, feel light and pulling line off the reel felt exceptionally smooth.  The Galvan definitely wins the shootout category for ease of spool removal, (perhaps tying with the Ross F1) - just push the center button and it's as easy as that. 

I like the fact that Galvan isn't being greedy with price on this terrific reel too.  This is one of the few reels in the shootout that felt like it could cost $250 more than its actual list price.  Although $400 is still not cheap, it's definitely a bargain for what you are getting.  Match it with a St. Croix Legend Elite and you've just saved enough on a saltwater outfit to buy your wife some diamond earrings (or your husband a new flat screen TV) - that way you'll get the green light.  Good show Galvan.

Show up at the dock: ready to fish hard (and with extra cash in your pocket).



#4 Tibor Everglades  $640

Tibor Everglades

Buy Now


GA: This has been my go-to reel for bonefish for nearly 20 years, since its introduction back in 1995. Ted Juracsik designed this reel with some help and feedback from Lefty Kreh and also Flip Pallot.  His previous Billy Pate reels were winners for sure, but his new Tibor is even better.  A larger arbor design was used and these reel are all direct drive, which has proven to be better for nearly all anglers than the anti-reverse Billy Pates.  Ted took the drag system from his Billy Pate reel and this, like the Abel uses a cork drag running against the aluminum spool.  The result is a very smooth drag.  Two large clicker pawls are used in the Everglades and these, along with the spring loaded detents in the cork drag face produce some sweet sounds.  There really is nothing that sounds as good to the ear as Tibor Everglades, Riptide or Gulfstream when you have a big fish running hard.  Ted felt it was important to come up with two distinctly different drag sounds that a flats skiff guide could hear from the poling platform to let him know if the fish was running or the client was retrieving line.  This makes all the sense in the world.   I guess the only gripe I have with the Everglades is that the spool is narrower than many of the other reels we tested, and if you are not paying attention to level winding the line back on during a fight, you can get it all wound on one side, jamming up the reel.  This happened to me a few times at Jurassic Lake.  It’s hard to pay attention when you are fighting 15-pound rainbows!  The wider spool reels were better in this regard.  The Tibor reels have become so popular that they can claim over 250 world records – far more than any other reel manufacturer. Ted Juracsik has come up with another series of reels lately, his Signature Series.  These are good, but I still like the old Tibor designs better for their simplicity and their durability.  Also, the Everglades will cost you about $135 less than the Signature 7/8.   In addition, the standard Tibor reels have proven themselves to be bulletproof in any conditions and extremely reliable.  Tibor reels come standard in either Black or Satin Gold, but Royal Blue, Crimson, Moss Green and Graphite Gray are available at an additional 10% in price. 

JA:  The Tibor Everglades is my #2 reel.  If Tibor still offered their quick change Everglades, it would have been my #1. Thankfully Tibor still offers their Tibor Spey series (which are basically the quick change series) in a Riptide and Gulfstream size but unfortunately not in the Everglades size, which has been discontinued.  The quick-change style has the identical sound as the regular Everglades, Riptide, and Gulfstream, a zing to the ears that is far sweeter than any other reel on the market, including Tibor's own Signature series.  While the Signature reels offer a sealed drag with a quick-change system, unfortunately the sound is different and for me, not nearly as sweet.  

Even with a frustrating method of changing spools the Tibor Everglades is still my number two pick.  It's bulletproof on a long trip, the weight doesn't bother me, and the sound puts a smile on my face like no other.  To put it simply, this reel just makes my fishing experience that much more fun, and in the end that's what I'm out there for.  Plus in the back of my mind I have the added confidence that nothing is going to go wrong.  This means a lot, especially when you are a long way from home or the nearest fly shop.  


In addition to a brand new 2014 Tibor we also brought along one of my Dad's 18-year-old Everglades reels.  I have to say I was even more impressed with this reel since it performed flawlessly.  If anything I would say it performed even better than the 2014 version since it had a slightly better range of drag adjustment (perhaps about 1.6), which would have been the best in test.  It was cool to know that even after nearly two decades of HARD fishing this reel STILL out performed everything but the Nautilus NV. To me, that's really saying something.  


About the only problem I've ever encountered with my Tibor has been in transit.  Somehow, even while my reel has been in its neoprene case, the tippet or leader has worked its way between the spool and frame, getting snarled up in the drag mechanism or clickers.   If it's only a wrap or two I can generally pull it out easily, but more often than not it requires me to remove the spool, which is a pain if you don't happen to have a penny in your pocket.  This is why the quick change reel to me, is important, even if you aren't planning switching extra spools with different lines.  If you are listening Tibor, please bring back the old quick-change reels, at least in the Everglades size.  


- A great tip from Capt. Bill Blanton after reading the shootout: 

I meant to say something about this when we wrapped the leader in one Everglades reel during the rod shoot-out. Check the spool on any Tibor reel. Those little holes around the edge are not just for weight reduction; they can also be used to safeguard your leader tip in transit. Stick the leader tip through one hole going from inside to out, then back through another hole, from outside in. Instant tippet security!  I use this all the time when I’m storing or traveling with Tibors. Works great.

We did bring along a Signature 5/6 reel to test at Jurassic Lake, but 75 mph winds and blowing sand were a problem (jaming up the drag) so I just went back to the Everglades, which was bulletproof as usual.

Show up at the dock: ready to break a record.


#5 Hatch Finatic 7+ $600

Hatch finatic 7+

Buy Now

GA:  Hatch has gotten a lot of press lately by being a sponsor with Confluence Films and they look pretty cool so you see a lot of young guides using them.  Are they as good as they are cracked up to be?  I’m giving this is a no.  The Finatic 7 plus we tested was one of the few reels that did not have a silk smooth drag.  When set at 1-2 pounds, there was a noticeable judder.  Nothing intolerable mind you, but certainly not in the same class with the smoothest drags like the Nautilus, Einarsson or the Ross F-1.  Maybe this was caused by landing a lot of big rainbows, but we were using the other reels just as hard.  The craftsmanship is good but I’m not crazy about the handle design.  The four reels ahead of the Hatch all had far better handles.    One of the things that Hatch does is to offer the different size reels with two different arbor sizes.  Either a mid-arbor, which has more capacity, or the large arbor is available.  This is the best way to come up with exactly the right amount of backing you need for a given situation.  We tested the Finatic 7 plus with the mid-arbor spool and was the right size with a WF-8-F line.  You could also jump up to the 9 plus with the large arbor but this is a much larger reel.  

Be careful with Hatch’s backing recommendation figures - using as much backing as they recommend is asking for jam-ups!   Our estimation is that the 7plus with the mid arbor spool will be good for 185 yd. of 20 pound Dacron backing.  This is allowing you plenty of room so that the reel isn’t getting jammed up easily.  Hatch’s figures say 270 yd. of 20 lb. Dacron. This is crazy.   Even with the Hatch backing we wouldn’t want to put on more than 250 yd. and Hatch is telling us 380!  Colors are limited to either black or Silver but you can customize these by using different color arbors, with a choice of blue, red, or green at no extra charge. 

JA:  The Hatch was actually my #3 pick, despite the old man's reservations.  I'll be honest and admit that the thing I like best about this reel is the looks, but it has a lot of other great things going for it as well, including its wide range of drag adjustment.  I was able to fine-tune my drag just the way I wanted it, which meant I was able to land fish quickly and efficiently.  However, in testing the reels back at our shop after the Jurassic Lake trip we noticed the drag on the Hatch wasn't nearly as smooth as the others, (in fact, it was one of the few that didn’t remain totally smooth under 3 lbs of drag pressure). I didn't really notice this lack of smoothness in the field.  I do have to admit there was a tiny bit of water in the reel when I disassembled the drag at the shop, (two days after we had returned from the trip). Not much, but enough to say that the drag wasn't 100% watertight.  Perhaps that was the reason for the drag's slight judder when we tested it, but later, after it was completely dry the judder remained.

Another problem we’ve had with the Hatch reels is having the cap that holds on the spool lock up.  We had several reels in the shop that required us to use a rubber leader straightener and a pair of pliers to and twist them loose.  One reel, (an older 11 Plus), no one could get the cap off so we had to send it back to Hatch. At least we got a quick and friendly replacement.  The last thing I want to do with a new sexy reel is to ding the spool cap with my flats pliars, and unfortunately I could see it coming down to this, especially with saltwater grime building up over time.  Last on cons, I've seen that the spools can get bent if dropped, (on a 12 plus actually) so user beware and take care.

The Finatic reels have a large metal handle that is easy to grab, (I can't believe it only scored a 16). Supposedly they are maintenance free, (at least if water doesn't get in to the sealed drag).  I definitely prefer the mid-arbor over the large arbor, mainly because you get more backing capacity with almost zero extra weight.  The Finatic 7+ was my favorite reel to photograph if that says anything... 

Show up at the dock:  looking bro, and ready to go!


#6 (tie) Ross F1 #4  $575

Ross F1

Buy Now

GA:  The Ross F-1 was one of the first reels to use a totally sealed, very sophisticated drag system with an extensive use of multiple carbon fiber washers.  It is indeed a very smooth drag and performed perfectly for us.  This is a nice light reel with a pleasing overall size of 4” and wide spool of 1.38”.  The arbor size is quite wide also, however the overall capacity is a little less than most of our other 8-weight reels.   We felt that the capacity of this #4 is only 150 yd. of 20lb. Dacron.  We’d like to see this closer to 180 yd. of 20 lb.   Using 68 lb. PC backing would be the best choice on this reel and then you would be back up to 190 yd. or more.  Colors available are limited to Black or Nickel Silver.  Spools are easily interchangeable by just depressing the large graphite center button.  The plastic clicker doesn’t make a lot of sound, and when it breaks it is going to be difficult to replace without sending the reel in for repair.   I like the stylish looks of this reel and it’s a big step up from the Ross Momentum series. 

JA:  The Ross F1 definitely deserves some props for being one of the first reels to steer away from a cork drag system, and design a very smooth drag using stacked carbon fiber washers.  I was surprised just how smooth this reel felt, even when cranking the drag up towards its maximum 4.25 pounds.  Like the Galvan, the F1 makes removing your spool as easy as pie by depressing the center button and lifting out the spool (much like the Ross Evolution, if you've ever owned one of those).  The F1 received a lot of other perfect scores as well, and in my opinion deserved all of them.  Ross has a maximum 5 day return policy, which means once your reel arrives to the factory they will it will be back to you in no more than 5 business days.  I like no-nonsense companies like this.  I think I would put a bigger custom handle on this reel, which is an easy fix.  In an ideal world, the F1 could use better detents and an upgrade in sound.

Show up at the dock:  keepin' it old school...


#6 (tie) Orvis Mirage IV  $495

Orvis Mirage

Buy Now

GA:  We’ve always been impressed with the Orvis reels, and here’s another good one.  These reels are made in Korea for Orvis, but the craftsmanship is excellent and this is a high quality reel for not too much money.  About the only thing you need to keep in mind on these Orvis reels is that the backing capacity is a bit less than other 8-weight reels.  We checked these with a WF-8-F and 160 yd. of 20 lb. Dacron was all you would want to put on the reel without having it too full. So if you want more, go with one of the PE backings.  The handle could be a little longer but it’s not too bad.  This is a classy looking reel, finished in a dark gray color with silver highlights.  The drag was excellent and the adjust knob is a lot better and easier to use than most, with good detents.  The price?  Well, for a reel made in Korea it might be a little high, but it’s sure a lot better reel than the Sage 6080 at $100 less.  You should look hard at the Orvis Hydros IV since it tied the Mirage overall and actually finished ahead of the Mirage in our Performance scores and the Hydros is only $290! 

JA:  The Orvis Mirage actually reminded me a lot of the Hatch, with its sealed and stacked carbon fiber drag system.  It's not one of the most expensive reels out there, but for an import it's a little on the pricy side.  Since its performance nearly matched that of the Orvis Hydros, the main reason to get the Mirage is because you like the looks.  Otherwise, for my money the Hydros is the way to go. 

Show up at the dock: at an Orvis Endorsed lodge.



#6 (tie) Orvis Hydros IV $290

Orvis Hydros

Buy Now

GA:  Here’s the killer inexpensive 8-weight reel in our shootout.  There are a couple of reels that are less expensive, but only by $30-$50.  In looking at all the reels that are under $350, this reel is the standout for both quality and performance.  We actually rated this reel higher in performance than the Orvis Mirage IV, but only slightly.  One of the important factors is the range of drag adjustment, and in this category the Mirage was much better (.6 to .35 for the Hydros). The lack of drag adjustment on the Hydros is somewhat of a problem, but at least this reel does have a very good detent system that is very positive and better than most reels, so once you have the drag set it should stay there.  The drag itself is quite smooth, with no noticeable start up inertia.  Another plus for both the Orvis reels is their light weight. We like the longer, concave shaped handle on this reel, but I’d like it even better if it was thicker.  This reel is available in gold, black or titanium.

JA:  $260 is a great deal for a reel this good.  About all you're missing is a sweeter sound, a better handle (this is fixable), a little more range of drag adjustment, slightly better tolerances, and a reel that's made in the USA.  Is it worth spending the extra dough to get these things?  For me, the answer is yes, but that's just because I eat, breath, and sleep fishing.  On the other hand, if was going on a bonefish trip to Belize and had never fished before, I'd be clicking the buy now button on the Hydros.   If anything goes wrong, you know Orvis is going to back it 100% and it won’t cost you a dime to send it in.  

Show up at the dock: ready to rock it with cheddar in your pocket...


#7 (tie) Lamson Vanquish 8$799.009

Lamson Vanquish

Buy Now

GA:  Lamson says that they created the Vanquish with one thing in mind – total victory.   I like the way they think big, and I like this reel a lot.  It isn’t the victor however and getting beat out by a $290 reel, the Orvis Hydros, has to be a little unnerving.  The Vanquish is a beautiful reel, in both design and appearance and it works very well too.  At 6.4 oz. this is one of the very lightest reels in our Shootout.  Don’t equate this to being fragile, as this reel is beefy and I’m sure it will be tough.  The foot is integrated into the frame itself, a unique feature that eliminates any chance of this getting loose and falling off over time.  The drag is a very simple but unique design, developed, patented and used only by Lamson.  Rather than a stack of carbon fiber washers like most drags, the Lamson drag works by using a pair of precisely matched conical elements, which are drawn together with spring tension to produce variable rates of smooth rotational braking.

This Roulon drag surface is a Teflon based space age polymer that is designed for constant operating temperatures as high as 550 degrees F and as low as -400 degrees F.  Rulon has zero water absorption and requires no lubrication, which makes it ideal for a drag surface.  A simple one-way roller bearing is used to control the direction of movement and it's an easy procedure to swap the reel from L.H.  to R.H. wind.   About the only thing I don’t like is the way you change or remove the spool.  This requires a good amount of force to pop out the spool (new) and we’ve seen this be a problem in the past on other Lamson reels - it was almost impossible to get the spool off a used Guru we had here at the shop.  On the other hand, once the spool clips in there is absolutely no way that any dirt or grit is going to get into the drag system or disable this reel.  This reel is made in the Lamson factory in Boise Idaho. 

JA:  This reel has a serious presence to it, especially without any line or backing on it.  The ported spool looks like something you'd see in a sci-fi flick.  I really like how the foot is built into the reel since I've had reel feet loosen on me before, (and I didn't have a Philips on me to fix it).  I also like how light in hand this reel feels.   For those who need a lighter outfit to keep fishing hard, this is going to be right up your alley, (along with the Nautilus FWX, TFO BVK, or other Lamson reels). The sealed drag is great for avoiding saltwater troubles and the range of drag adjustment is quite good.  The main down side to this reel is the price.  Also I don't think I'd give this reel a 9 for durability, more like a 7.  I fish a lot of riprap banks here on the Yellowstone where I think I'd eventually slip and end up denting this reel badly.  

Show up at the dock:  and fish a lightweight outfit all day.



#7 (tie) Nautilus FWX 7/8   $350

Nautilus FWX

Buy Now

GA:  Like the Nautilus G8, this is a terrific reel, just a lot smaller.  I just can’t figure out why the price is so low.  Well, it doesn’t have the super sophisticated drag of the NV series, but the drag seems to be smooth and adequate as long as you aren’t looking to use a lot more than 3-4 lb. of max drag. This is a smaller reel than just about any of the other reels in our shootout, but the backing capacity seems to be adequate.  The drag is somewhat similar to the NV internally, but with the FWX, the spool rotates on the arbor, which is screwed directly to the frame of the reel.  Nautilus uses a trick polymer/roulon type bushing inside the spool that works perfectly and requires no lubrication.  This is sure a lot better and a lot lighter than the old brass bushings reel manufacturers have used in the past.  This reel is the absolute lightest in our Shootout, at only 4.9 oz.  I’m going to have fun this next year combining this FWX with Sage’s Method 9 foot #7 (with the 8 line) to come up with a really delightful bonefish outfit.  For anyone that wants the ultimate lightweight set up, this is the way to go.  Like the other Nautilus reels, the FWX is available in lots of neat colors, other than either black or silver, at an additional $100.  The FWX reels can be switched from RH to LH very easily by just flipping over a one-way roller bearing that sits on top of the arbor.  I liked the wider spool of the Nautilus G8, and also the larger handle.  But for $325 this reel is tough to beat.  


JA:  Nautilus brings a lot to the table with their ultra light weight and sturdy FWX.  Anglers looking for a nice light reel are going to love this one - especially for anglers with a case of “tennis elbow” or an injury where a lightweight outfit can make a big difference at the end of a hard day’s fishing.   It also makes a great light reel to stick on a bonefish rod for a yonger angler or a lady.  FWX stands for Feather Weight Extreme, and after fishing this reel at Jurassic lake I’d say Nautilus is right on.  For the trout angler who hits the salt every now and then, this reel makes a lot of sense.  With a max of 4.5 pounds of drag this reel provides more than enough stopping power, (if you need more you’ll have to palm it).   Downsides definitely existed, but no deal breakers.  While no reel is perfect (especially one that costs only $325) this is still a great bargain and easily worth the bucks, especially for a reel manufactured in Miami.  


Show up at the dock: with a trout reel that is good enough to double on bones. 



#8 TFO Large Arbor Reel 375  $350


Buy Now 

GA:  Here is a very good reel at half the price of the best reels!   I know this reel well as I’ve used it as a backup on many bonefish trips and it has performed wonderfully.  So good in fact that I’ve had to leave it as a tip with a lot of the Caribbean guides since they wanted it so badly after using it.  This reel has an impressive design.  The spool runs on two ball bearings just like a Tibor or an Abel, and it has another ball bearing running the carbon fiber drag plate.  They are using carbon fiber rather than cork, but it provides a very smooth drag.  This is not a sealed drag reel so you do have to be a little more careful as you do with a Tibor standard series or and Abel. With this 375, you just clean up the drag surface, you do not lubricate it.  The one thing I like best is the size.  This reel has a good wide spool and will hold a lot of backing, a good 250 yd. of 20 lb. Dacron and still have plenty of room for your 8-weight line.  With the wide spool I’ve never gotten jammed up when retrieving line.  With the spool running on all these ball bearings, the retrieve is about as smooth as it gets with very little resistance.  About my only gripe is the almost total lack of drag sound.  That and the fact that TFO doesn’t even give you a reel case with this reel.  What gives there?  This is crazy since they give you a pretty good case with their cheaper BVK III.  Current colors are Black, Red, or Gold.

JA:  TFO's Large Arbor reels are some of my favorite reels on the planet (at any cost) due to their unique zero-friction, lightning fast method of line retrieval.  Their reels utilize three sealed ball bearings to allow them to spin as smooth as silk.   While no angler, (other than perhaps a centerpinner) wants a free spooling reel going out, it can be a huge advantage to have a reel that will free spool while REELING IN.  With the flick of the wrist I can create enough torque on the reel handle to get the spool to revolve about 12-15 times empty, or with line on the spool, about 7 or 8 times.  With Spey running line, about 10 revolutions - without having to touch the reel again!  Do that twice and you have over 20 feet of running line in.  This is a huge advantage over other reels, which require me to reel them in normally, which not only takes longer but also more concentration.  With the TFO Large Arbor Reels, I can either flick the handle or smack the face of the spool with my hand, and retrieve a lot of line while completely focusing on getting all that slack line on the reel in a hurry and then playing the fish. The Loop OPTI Speedrunner 7-8-9 was the second best at “free spooling” line in, followed by the Nautilus NV.  I don't know how we messed this up in the retrieval resistance category but we did.  The TFO375 would have been the only true 20, the Loop a 19, and the Nautilus NV an 18.  Everything else would have scored a 16 or less. 

I have noticed in highly humid conditions, like the NW coast where it raining half the time,  sometimes this reel will squeak when I’m pulling line off.  It doesn't affect performance, but the squeak sound can get old.  Perhaps TFO has a remedy for this?

Spey anglers, if you haven't already, be sure to check out this durable and affordable reel. You will love how easy it is to reel in your running line or backing.  But you’ll want to buy it it in the larger 425 size, for an extra $25.00.   

Show up at the dock: with one of my all time favorites. 


#9 Ross Momentum LT #4 $470

Ross Momentum

Buy Now

GA: Ross claims that this is the strongest reel on the market, and I wouldn’t dispute this.  This is a tough reel that works well.  Its design is getting a little long in the tooth now, and this is one reel that still does use a bronze bushing with a steel arbor shaft.   So there is a little maintenance involved and it’s called oil, (even though Ross claims the bronze bushing is impregnated with its own oil that is released under high heat).  Otherwise the drag appears maintenance free.  It’s nice and smooth and utilizes carbon fiber for the drag surfaces.   Ross claims that LT series has three times the stopping power of other reels they tested.   They need to go back and do more testing.  The max we got for the Momentum was 8 lb. of drag force.  No more than many of the reels we tested and far below Hardy’s 17lb.  This reel is fairly small in size compared to the newer designs and the arbor size is pretty small at 1.75 inches.  This reel has plenty of capacity though and is a pleasure to use.  I especially liked the large concave plastic handle.  The drag knob is big and pretty easy to grab, but it doesn’t have any real detents like other reels.   The drag sound is not loud but as good or better than most.  However, if you are a Ross fan, do yourself a favor and get the newer F-1.  

JA:  Ross has had a good amount of success with their Momentum series, and both saltwater and fresh. Spey anglers have taken a particular liking to the Momentum Lt series.  It was one of the first no non-sense drags that required no maintenance, yet still could be trusted with larger fish and also in saltwater conditions.  Like the Ross Evolution, the Momentum purrs nicely while reeling in.  The outgoing drag sound is distinctly different and loud enough for most anglers.  The spool is easy to remove, and you won't ever loose the cap.

About the only down sides to the Momentum are no drag detents, (making it easy to knock the drag off its desired position), and it’s range of drag adjustment isn’t very wide.  Other than that, the Momentum is a very well made reel at a reasonable price.  We think you'll like it.

Show up at the dock: equipped to get the job done, but to some degree with "last year's" gear.



#10 Hardy Fortuna X1  $695

Hardy Fortuna X1

Buy Now

GA: To me, the best thing about this reel is its looks.  Otherwise it is only mediocre at best.  Andy Mill helped Hardy design this reel and his saltwater experienced certainly helped.  But I cannot fathom why they designed the smaller Fortuna reels with so much absolute drag pressure. Having up to 32 lb. of drag force is almost totally senseless.   Why, when we would never use more than 2-3 lb. of drag pressure, with an 8-weight reel, do we need 17 lb. that we are getting with the X1!?  This is crazy. Sure for some of the larger reels that guys are using for GT’s, Marlin or Tuna, I can see using a lot more drag, but if you start cranking in 10 lb. or more of drag pressure you are going to have to be very careful of breaking even the heaviest rods.  Some people are going to tippets of 30 and even 40 lb. for these powerful fish and then you want more drag pressure from a reel for sure.  But only the most experienced anglers can get away with this kind of drag pressure without blowing up even 15-18 weight rods.  If you are fishing using IGFA 20 lb. class tippet, you are never going to need a reel that has a drag capability over 4-6 lb of straight pull drag pressure.  Also, the trade-off in having this much absolute drag is that the range of drag adjustment (from .5 to 3 lb.) on the Fortuna X1 is only .5 lb -  lower than most reels we tested.  

At least the drag was smooth and had no start up inertia.  The drag adjust knob is big, but it’s also hard to turn.  The arbor is quite small on this reel too, at 1.63”, and the spool width is too narrow, at .88”.  There is plenty of capacity though at 190 yd. or more of Dacron with a #8 line.  This reel had one of the better handles and the slight outward taper and groves made it easy to hang onto fighting fish.  This reel comes in only one color but it is a very handsome dark grey.  The inside arbor is gold and this spices it up a little.  

JA: I'd have to agree with the old man here.  Overall I like the Hardy Fortuna reels, but I feel they could be better.  The reel is on the heavy side for its size, but that doesn’t bother me much.  The ported out spool looks great and also helps to let your backing dry more quickly.  It is easy to remove the spool, and like the Nautilus you’ll never loose the spool cap.  Hardy did a great job at getting the ergonomics of this reel right. It feels very comfortable for me to reel in, and reel in quickly.   Making fly reels for nearly 100 years certainly gives them an idea of what is needed for everything from trout to saltwater species that are going to dish out some punishment.

Here's where Hardy could do better.  The drag knob is quite large, yet surprisingly difficult to get ahold of and adjust while fighting a fish.  It is too smooth with little to grip. There is a sound for the detents but I don’t feel any detents.  The sounds of the drag – both reeling in, and with line being pulled off, are pleasant, but too quiet.  Finally, while this reel might be able to stop a bus, the range of drag adjustment is inexcusably low.  Hardy should forget about the maximum amount of drag, especially anything over 10 pounds, and work on fine-tuning their ease and range of drag adjustment.  If they did that they would have a real contender.  For now your $700 is better spent elsewhere. 

Show up at the dock: looking for tuna or Mako sharks.



#11 Lamson Speedster 3.5    $350

Lamson Speedster

Buy Now

GA: This is a pretty slick reel and I like almost everything about it.  For one, it is really makes a statement in terms of design.   Like the Vanquish, it’s a whole lot different than anything out there.  Also like the Vanquish, Lamson uses it’s simple but very effective drag system, different from any other reels. You can read about this above in my notes on the Vanquish.  The drag is totally sealed and never requires any maintenance.  We also found it to be quite smooth.  The drag on the Speedster is a whole lot smaller than the one on the Vanquish, but it seems up to the task, especially for an 8-weight reel.  The thing that you notice first is the very wide arbor spool.  At 2.75 inches, there is nothing any wider other than the Loop Opti Speedrunner.  This reel feels a lot more comfortable to use than the Speedrunner, because of both its size and weight.  This is a very light reel at only 6 oz.  Removing the spool is not as easy as with other reels but if you follow the Lamson instructions on their website, this makes it easier.   Rather than try pulling the spool off, use your thumbs to pop it out from the back of the frame.  The capacity is good at 185 yd. of 20 lb. Dacron.  The drag is easy to adjust but there are no detents, so you’ll have to be more careful not to get the adjustment knocked out of kilter. The plastic clicker doesn’t make a lot of sound (it was about average) but at least you can replace it easily.  This is a hotrod of a reel, and for not much money. 


JA:  Aside from the Vanquish, Lamson’s reels are all supposed to have the exact same internally sealed, conical drag.  They all look the same, yet in our test we noticed the Speedster tested had a 5-pound max and the Guru tested had a 4.5 max.  I’ve noticed myself in the shop, that when selling Lamson reels that the drag of a Konic is not nearly as smooth as a Lightspeed. Of course the Konic is a lot cheaper reel.  Is it just me who feels something different?  Try going into your local shop and see if you can tell a slight difference.  This is where I wish we had the right kind of laboratory equipment to test these drags in a more scientific manner.


I do like the looks, reel in feel, and the speed of retrieve of the Speedster better than the Guru.  If the drags really are the same then it only makes economic sense to get the Guru, but I’m not convinced they have the exact same drag.  The Speedster has a nicer handle than the guru, and a larger arbor for very quick line retrieval.  It’s lighter and the looks are dynamite.  It also looks like the drag knob is much easier to turn and adjust than the Guru because of the style.  This alone would be good reason to upgrade.


One thing I will say is that you have to be a little more careful with Lamson reels, especially with the Speedster, ULA, and Litespeed models.  While they are nice and light, we’ve accidently dropped them in the shop when rigging lines and dented the rim badly enough that it jammed up, requiring us to replace the spool. 


Show up at the dock:  looking sharp and feeling light.


#12 (tie) Einarsson Invictus Six9 $979

Einarsson Invictus

Buy Now

GA: This is another sweet reel from Einarsson in Iceland.  This reel would have finished far higher overall, but it got clobbered in points for price, weight, and range of drag adjustment.  This is a reel primarily designed for use with double handed rods, where weight is much less of a factor.  The weight comes primarily from the robust drag, but this drag is something special.  In designing the Invictus, the Einarsson design team wanted to come up with a better drag design to handle Atlantic Salmon, which are notorious for having soft mouths, making them a lot harder to hook and hold onto than trout.  They wanted to design a drag that would help anglers hook and play big fish with the most softness, and care, which equates to anglers landing a lot more fish.  This new drag system dramatically reduces start up inertia overcoming the breakaway friction as the reel spool begins to spin.  This SAB (shock absorbing brake) system is a radical departure from all other reels on the market. The main drag is set up much like the disc brake on a car, but the really ingenious thing is the addition of a big spring that must tighten to a certain point before the actual drag is brought into operation.  This system is designed to level out shockwaves during a take or fight, such as those from jumping and head shaking of the fish.  


Einarsson drag

Einarsson has an excellent video on-line that explains how their reels are made and how this SAB works:   http://www.einarsson.com/?cat=technical

This system works so well that a lot of the serious Atlantic Salmon anglers are now exclusively fishing these Invictus reels, and with good success.  This drag works great once you apply over one pound of drag; say one and a half to two pounds of straight-pull drag, which is what most anglers are using on Atlantic Salmon.  At lighter drag settings, like I’m normally using on bonefish, the Plus series reels work better.  Also, the Invictus has a poor range of adjustment at these very light settings.  Also at these light drag settings, the lack of detent pressure can cause your drag setting to get knocked off more easily than with the Plus reels.  Like the 9Plus the clicker gave us a nice loud sound.  The handle design is excellent – large and easy to grab. With the outwards taper, it was easy to hang onto when playing fish.  Craftsmanship is some of the finest we’ve seen in fly reels.  Only one color is available - jet-black.

JA:  I actually liked the Einarsson Invictus more than Einarsson Plus; perhaps because the spring-loaded drag was so new and different that it was more fun to fish with.  Even just pulling line off the spool was more fun than usual.  To be honest, I don’t think it helped me hook any more fish, but then again we weren’t swinging flies in the river, or fishing for Atlantic salmon. I can definitely see how the trick spring-loaded drag would help you hookup and land more steelhead or Atlantic salmon on the swing.

Although this Invictus was the heaviest reel in the test, the extra weight didn’t bother me at all.    And for a switch or Spey rod, (which is where I'd be putting this reel), the extra weight will help counter- balance a longer rod’s tip heavy swing weight. I loved the detailed machining that went into this reel; it looks fantastic, especially with a colorful line on it.   I also love how smooth the drag was and how much control I felt while playing fish -  it definitely seemed like I had the upper hand with this reel. While the sound of the drag was certainly no Everglades, it was the loudest (and most pleasing) of the plastic clicker-style noisemakers.  I never had any sand or grit get stuck in either of the Einarsson reels, but if I did I like how easily the spool comes on and off, and like the Nautilus, you’ll never loose the cap.

There were a few downsides for me.  The first was that I couldn’t reel in line nearly as quickly as with the with the TFO375, Loop OPTI Speedrunner, or Nautilus NV because of the increased reel-in resistance.   Also, the range of drag adjustment was definitely on the narrow side.  The reel didn’t have drag detents either, but that didn’t really bug me much as the drag knob seemed to stay in place and retain its setting.  The big downside for this reel is how long it’s going to take to save up the money to buy one!  

Show up at the dock: at an Atlantic salmon lodge.


#12(tie) Danielsson L5W 6Nine $601

Danielsson L5W

Buy Now

GA:  This Swedish reel that has a great reputation in Europe was definitely one that we needed to have in our shootout.   We have used some of the Danielsson reels in the past, when they were manufactured for Loop.  Back then the quality was good but the drag was not strong enough.  Today all this has changed, and the new Danielsson reels are both light and tough, designed for hard fishing anywhere in the world.  They re-designed the drag system in 2009 and now it’s touted for both smoothness and strength. The max amount of drag on the 6nine was only 4.5 lb. but that is plenty for all of the fishing anyone is likely to do with an 8-weight rod.  This new drag system incorporates two ball bearings placed far away from each other, taking up high loads.  Then they put the drag unit, a stack of carbon fiber discs, between the bearings.  The whole unit is sealed and protected, making it maintenance free.  We found the drag adjust knob very easy to grip and adjust, with the best drag detents going.  The range of adjustment however, (between .5 and 3 lb.) was not as good as the best reels in our Shootout.  One thing that is handy - you can easily set the minimum drag adjustment to suit your own personal needs.  Danielsson says that the drag systems on their reels are waterproof and they go to great lengths to test this, placing the reels for hours in a water pressure chamber that simulates a depth of 100 meters under water.  Then they run them through dishwashers and do more checking.   This is a pleasant reel to use with a nice wide arbor, but the capacity is somewhat limited at only 150 yd. of 20 lb. dacron. You’ll want to put on some of that 68 lb. PE backing if you need to get the capacity up closer to 200 yd.  These reels come in a pleasing titanium color. 

JA: We heard from several creditable sources that we should have a Danielsson in our shootout.  As it turns out, it was a pretty darn good reel.  Like the Sage 6080 however, I didn’t expect to see such a high price tag on it.  I thought it felt more like a $350 reel than a $600 reel, with nothing special to put it in the same category as the top high priced reels.   

The drag detents felt pretty good on this reel.  While the drag knob was easy to adjust, the range of adjustment wasn’t very wide.  I didn’t like the way this reel sounded at all, either incoming or outgoing - the clicks were not very loud and seemed rather bland compared to the Einarsson, Tibor, or Islander.  Another thing that I wasn’t thrilled about was the way the spool comes off… too many things to loose, especially if you unscrew the cap all the way off.    Last but not least, I didn’t care for it’s tiny reel handle.  I was surprised to see the L5W place as high as it did. 

Show up at the dock: Anywhere in Scandinavia


#13 Lamson Guru 3.5  $249

Lamson Guru 3.5

Buy Now

GA:  We’ve always liked the Guru, and it has been our best inexpensive reel in the past.  Its still a very good reel.  It is nice and light, and has a good smooth drag.  This reel is Lamson’s lowest priced, fully machined reel, cut out of a block of aluminum like the very best reels in our Shootout.  The drag is similar to the Speedster and Vanquish, using a conical piece of Roulon to provide friction rather than a set of carbon fiber plates.  The spool removal is a little trickier than most but once you get the hang of it, there are usually no problems.  To get the spool off you simply pull it off, or better yet pop it off with your thumbs from the backside (as we mentioned before over time this can become more difficult).  Once the spool clips in, there is absolutely no way for any grit to get inside, making this reel maintenance free.  One thing I love about the Guru is the width of the spool.  This one sure isn’t going to jam up very easily.  About my only criticism is the fact that the drag adjust knob is very stiff and tough to adjust quickly. Once it’s set though, it won’t easily get knocked off.  I’d prefer a larger handle, but this one is OK.  This reel is available in only one color - a pleasing clear type 2 anodize. 


JA:  The Guru is Waterworks Lamson’s least expensive fully machined reel.  I own a Guru and find it to be one of the best all around value reels out there for trout fishing. That being said, it wouldn’t be my first pick for the best reliable saltwater reel, nor the most durable reel.  If you’re only going to go to the salt here and there, then you might try to get by with a Guru, (especially for smaller bonefish). Personally, I feel the extra money spent on a TFO 375 ($101 more) or a Galvan T-8 ($151 more) are dollars worth spending, especially in the long run.


Pros to the Guru include it’s large, wide arbor as well as it’s impressively light 6.2 oz. overall weight.  It also has a wider range of drag adjustment than most reels we tested and the drag tends to stay in its set position.  Obviously the price is a plus, second only to the Rugged Creek EVO.  Oh, did we mention it’s made in Boise Idaho? 


Cons include the fact that the drag is stiff and more difficult to adjust than other reels while you are fighting a fish.  The Guru doesn’t have any detents.  The plastic drag clicker sounds are not especially loud, nor pleasing to the ear.  If you want you can remove this plastic noisemaker, converting your reel into a silent “poachers” reel.  The handle could big bigger.  Also, without occasionally adding oil to your handle, the salty grime tends to make them sticky or even jam up completely.  Be careful not to drop your Guru, as they tend to dent easily.  Lastly, (from years of working in the shop and putting new lines on for people), we've noticed they way the spools pull off the frame can become harder and harder over time. For the price, this is a great reel.


Show up at the dock: with one the world's most versatile and inexpensive reels.


#14 Islander LX 3.8 $715

Islander LX 3.8

Buy Now

GA:  Here’s a fine reel made in Canada.  They have been around for years, and a lot of people and guides swear by them. They are definitely not as trick looking as a Nautilus or Hatch, but they get the job done nicely on an 8-weight rod.  I’ve used Islanders before for both bonefish and tarpon over the years.  The drag system utilizes a cork drag disc somewhat like Tibor and Abel, but Islander uses their proven Teflon and graphite impregnated cork disc that provides excellent smoothness and no start up inertia.  The large arbor spool could use a little more capacity.  You can get 150 yd. of 20 lb. Dacron on with an 8 line but that’s about all.  Another reel you’ll want to load with the new 68 lb. PE backing.  To remove the spool you’ll have to unscrew the drag knob all the way off so be careful it doesn’t get lost or you are definitely out of business.  It is easy to adjust the drag knob but there are no ball bearing detents like a Tibor or Abel.  This would be a lot nicer reel to use if it had a larger handle.  It has a nice looking Dymondwood handle and slightly concave but it is too short, and my fingers slip off too easily. This would be a good candidate for swapping out the handle from another reel.  Standard colors are Black, clear, gold and silver.  Pink and blue are available on special order for more money. 


JA:  I liked the feel of this reel a lot and wish we had brought it with us to test at Jurassic Lake.   It reminds me a lot of the Abel Super 7/8 N, only with an easier way to remove the spool if needed.  The quality of machining appears to be top notch, and the LX tied the Ross F1 for the best range of drag adjustment.  If you like smooth cork drag systems, great sound, and no nonsense you should check one of these reels out. 


About the only things I might change with this reel is a slightly bigger reel handle and perhaps adding better drag detents.  Otherwise, I thought this reel should have been another top finisher.  


Show up at the dock: with class and respect.


#15 Abel Super 7/8 N $700


Buy Now

GA:  When we decided to do the 8-weight reel Shootout, there was no way that I would have thought that the Abel would place so far back in the pack.  Why?  There are a lot of devout Abel fans out there and I’ve been one of them.   I’ve used Abel reels for the last 25 years.  3N’s, Standard 3’s, and the 4N has always been one of my favorite tarpon reels of all time.  So what's with my change of thinking?  Well, there are plenty of reasons.  The arbor size is good, but the spool is too narrow.  The capacity is only about 140 yd. of 20 lb. Dacron.  The drag is not nearly as smooth as the better reels and in fact tied for the lowest in our comparison.  The start up inertia was higher than most other reels.  The ease of spool removal was not good and you can definitely lose parts if you are not careful.  (Be sure to get yourself another spare drag knob nut).  Then the drag sound is neither pleasant nor very loud.  I used to think the wood handle was great, but I’ve seen too many break, and it is just too short.  On top of all this there are two drag pawls with all those little springs that tend to get lost easily.  And if you don’t get those pawls screwed in just perfectly, they jam up...   So there you have it.   It does have the best reel case we’ve seen though.


JA:  Ouch.  I can’t believe where the Abel finished in this test, it just doesn’t make sense to me.  Clearly the spool removal issue is a valid reason to knock it down a notch or two, but this reel deserves at least a top 5 finish in my book.  The machining is heirloom quality and it’s proven to be an extremely reliable saltwater reel over two decades, who else can say that but Tibor? To have several cheap reels under $300 beating it is an outrage.   


I know for a fact the old man still has several Abel reels in his saltwater arsenal, some that he has used for nearly 20 years.  Do you really think he’d be fishing a Lamson Guru for tarpon, much less keep it for 20 years?  Give me a break!  Since I was knee high to a grasshopper, the only two reels I’ve seen him put on his saltwater rods have been either a Tibor or an Abel.


There are several things I really like about my Abel reels.  First, I love how they just purr while reeling in, (although I do wish they had a louder outgoing drag sound).  I like both the wooden and metal reel handles, and I like how strong the drag detents are.  I also like how many cool color options Abel gives you from their solid colors, to their artistic finishes like the hand painted Grateful Dead reels.  And these reels are bulletproof.  I’ve literally smashed my Abels on the riprap to save a fall, but I have yet to dent one...  I think they make the best reel cases in the business.  I even like how these reels smell with their neatsfoot oil and the Abel reel grease.


I will say that I have had slight performance problems with Abel reels in the past.  While the spool to frame tolerances scored a 9, I have had my running line “sneak” between the spool and frame at least 2 or 3 times a year.  This normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but since the spool is so difficult to take on and off (especially in the winter and if you don’t have a penny or screw driver with you) that I have given up fishing for the day, only to deal with fixing it later.  I have also had the running line get jammed up in the drag knob (especially with the older models) which pinches the line, and also somehow manages to gives the reel zero drag, so that the next time I pull line off, the reel free spools and I get a terrible birds-nest backlash.  Normally this isn’t that big of a deal, but I would sure hate for it to happen just when the only big permit of the trip was heading towards the flats skiff and I was trying to get stripped out.    


For whatever reason Abel got rid of their quick-change reels.  I think they should seriously consider making a new quick-change reel that would eliminate a lot of unnecessary hassle in the field.  Heaven forbid you were ever to loose a nut or spring while removing the spool – that could quickly ruin a fishing trip.


Show up at the dock: with a painting on your reel, (or in black - ready for business). 




#16 (tie) Cheeky Mojo 425   $380

Cheeky Mojo 425

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GA: Wow, this is a pretty snazzy looking reel.  People are going to walk up to you just to see what the hell this is.   It’s another cheap reel from China and it doesn’t rate too highly.  I do like the size however, and I can recover line quickly with the 2.5-inch large arbor.  The spool is fairly wide too, slightly over one inch in width.   But there were a lot of things that kept it from running up a high score.  The ease of drag adjustment was lousy.  The knob was stiff at higher settings and the knurling should be a lot heavier.  It was tough to get a grip on.  They need to check out what Tibor is doing here.  There are no drag detents so at low drag settings where the drag was much looser it is very easy to knock the drag out of adjustment.  For me this is usually a deal breaker.  If you remove the spool, the cap comes completely off, and if you lose it, your day (or trip) is done*. The handle is plenty long enough but it feels a bit narrow.  I sure like the color but the rest didn’t turn me on much so the fun to fish factor was low. 


*Note:  Cheeky contacted us after reading the shootout and stated that they have a rubber o-ring (like Nautilus) that does in fact keep the spool cap on.  For whatever reason, our sample reel's o-ring was not in the correct spot, and hence the spool cap was able to come completely off.  When the o-ring is installed properly the cap stays on. 


JA:  Cheeky is a relatively new reel company with a fresh, cool vibe offering anglers a solid product at a reasonable price.  By bringing ski industry style and energy into fly fishing world, Cheeky has gained a younger, more “bro” following, similar to Hatch.  Like Hatch, Cheeky remains in the spotlight by sponsoring F3T, (the Fly Fishing Film Tour) as well as other fly fishing events throughout the year.  They have done a fantastic job with their marketing, even their boxes look sharp.  


I thought Cheeky’s Mojo 425 was the perfect size and it was lighter that most other reels.  I liked the Mojo’s drag knob, which was easy to grip and adjust, although it could have better detents so your drag setting stayed where you wanted it.   The range of drag was satisfactory as was the handle.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the drag sounds, but for $380 I could learn to live with them.  Spool to frame tolerances were good, and the spool was quite easy to remove if needed.   At the end of the day, I’d say the Mojo is a pretty solid reel, especially for the price.


FYI - If you don’t care for the two-tone colors of their reels, Cheeky also offers a solid silver color reel for each of their 5 sizes…


Show up at the dock:  with a flat cap and big shades, bra!


#16 (tie) TFO BVK III  $260


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GA: Although we like the TFO 375 a lot, this reel is not something to write home about.  We are giving this one of the lowest scores for durability since it looks like it might bend if you run over it with your bicycle!  The only reel any lighter is the Nautilus FWX, but the FWX is far, far stronger.  There are a few things we did like, like the smooth drag and ease of spool removal and the handle size.  The drag will give you a max of 4 lb. but I suspect that it will not hold up nearly as well as the FWX on hot bonefish.  Getting a grip on that drag knob was very difficult, making it almost impossible to adjust the drag in the heat of battle.  This is another import reel, made in Korea. Incidentally, we know these BVK reels are made at the same factory in Korea that kicks out the Ultralite Hardy DD reels.  But the Hardy reels look ten times as good.  They DD’s aren’t any beefier either, but they sure look like they are.  The BVK III’s are available in Silver, gold, green, and black.  The price is good, but if you are a TFO fan, you are much better off getting the 375, even if you have to pay extra for a reel case.  The BVK III reel case is actually quite good (similar to the Abel) so hopefully we’ll have these to sell in the future. 


JA:  I actually thought the BVK, (like the Orvis Hydros) was one of the best inexpensive lightweight reels in the shootout.  While it doesn’t exactly have that heirloom quality feel to it, the BVK’s numbers don’t lie - scoring a perfect in maintenance free, start up inertia, retrieval resistance, and ease of spool removal.  Also impressive are its relatively high scores in overall weight, range of drag adjustment, smoothness of drag, spool to frame tolerances, reel case design, and warranty.  Of course when it’s all said and done, the number one thing this reel has going for it is the price.   If you’re on a budget and can't budge, $260 is a good way to go. If you can afford a little more, definitely upgrade to the 375, which is a lot more durable and also one of my all-time favorite reels.


Show up at the dock: with dollar, dollar bills y'all...



#17 Bauer CFX5  $415

Bauer CFX5

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GA: This is really a very nice reel.  The only thing that bugs me is having this star drag inset on the same side as the reel handle.  This is fine for adjusting the drag and even maybe easier when the handle isn’t turning, but when you have a big fish that is peeling off line too quickly and you want to crank down the drag, there is just no good way to do it with this reel without getting your knuckles busted.  Inside the sealed drag the spool and drag run on ball bearings. This is a very smooth reel with a good smooth drag and no start up inertia.  It also had an excellent range of drag adjustment (from .5 to 3 lb.)  To remove the spool you must unscrew the star drag knob all the way but at least it won’t fall off.  To get it back on just apply a little inward pressure as you screw it on.  Colors available are black, pearl gray, and titanium.  Gold, green and bronze are available at an additional $25.  This reel has a silent retrieve and a very soft sounding out-going click.  A nice wood handle is used, much like the Abel.  


JA: Its 19th place finish definitely does not reflect the overall quality and smoothness of the Bauer CFX5.  Personally, I think it should have placed much higher.  What killed the Bauer’s score was the fact that it’s unconventional drag adjustment knob was on the same side as the reel handle, making difficult to adjust while a fish is running hard.  Is that really such a big deal?  I’m not so sure it is, since you can just set the drag relatively light and palm the reel during a hot fish run.  Then, after the fish calms down a bit you can adjust the drag accordingly without getting your knuckles wrapped.  With a little practice adjusting the drag is actually easier for me than reaching over to the other side. 


I think Bauer has done a good job changing the fact that the star drag can no longer spin off and get lost like previous models.  Also, I like how smooth this reel feels.  The handle is on par with an Abel and the machining quality is excellent.  The range of drag adjustment was one of the best in the test.  Bauer makes a great reel and I think their asking prices are pretty darn fair.


Show up at the dock:  with confidence.



#18 Loop Opti SpeedRunner $665

Loop Opti Speedrunner

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GA: I had high hopes for this reel, but after using it at Jurassic Lake, it just seemed too big, too heavy and too bulky.  Sure, you can retrieve line very quickly, but not really that much faster than say the Nautilus G8.  This never became a factor, even on those big hot rainbows.  One nice feature is that even though the spool is very large in diameter, the handle is inset so you do not have to wind any differently than with the other reels.  The drag was nice and smooth but reaching across all the bulk to get my fingers on a small and hard to grip drag knob was a task.  This made it very difficult to adjust during the fight.  There is almost no drag sound, and the retrieve is totally silent.  I didn’t like the small diameter handle much either, and they tapered it the wrong way to boot, making it more difficult to hold on to.  At least the rubber inset was easier to grip than other surfaces.  This is a heavy reel though, and one of the heaviest reels in our shootout, just behind the Einarsson Invictus Six9.  This reel has a fairly wide spool at 1 inch in width, and plenty of capacity for at least 185 yd. of 20 lb. Dacron.  Removing the spool did require you to take off the cap completely, so be careful not to lose it or you’re done.  I must say the design is striking, another reel that people are going to see and ask you about.  Available in high gloss black only.  


JA:  This reel looks and feels like a BMW.  The quality and precision machining are as good as it gets.  I love how smooth this reel feels while reeling in and I really like how I can "slap" the spool's edge to bring in line quickly - only the TFO 375 was better at retrieving tons of line quickly by slapping the spool or "flicking" the reel handle and letting the reel “coast” in line effortlessly.  Spey anglers, (especially Skagiteers) are going to love how quickly and easily this reel will pick up running line.


There are a few things I would change to make this reel even better.  To start, I think this reel needs a little more maximum drag.  It was the only reel I fished at Jurassic Lake that I wanted more stopping power, (funny since we were staying at the Loop camp).  Not much more, but a couple more pounds would do it.  Next, the size of the reel is TOO big, (at least for single hand rods).  It took me quite a while to get used to the look and feel of the Loop’s super large arbor.  Personally, I’d rather have a slightly smaller arbor and a little wider spool for more backing capacity.  This would also make casting feel less bulky on a single-handed rod.  A longer and fatter reel handle would also be nice, (although I loved the rubber grip and how smooth the handle rotates).  Both the range of drag and the ease of drag adjustment could be improved.  Also a more scratch resistant anodization process could be used on the drag adjustment knob, since our test reel’s knob looked trashed after only 2 days of fishing at Jurassic Lake.  A more secure spool cap might be nice too, (like the Nautilus NV’s), just to avoid accidently loosing it in the field.  


Here’s another reel I thought should have finished in the top 6 or 7. Seeing this reel finish below the TFO BVK, Cheeky Mojo 425, Lamson Guru, and Orvis reels seems ridiculous.  Maybe I should do the overall shootout scoring and send the old man off fishing……. 


Show up at the dock: ready for questions. 


#19 Sage 6080  $600

Sage 6080

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GA: This is another import reel built in Korea for Sage.  The only thing I can’t figure out is why it should cost $600.00 when it doesn’t seem nearly as good as the Orvis Hydros that costs $290.00!?  There are many reasons why the 6080 ended up close to the bottom of the heap, but primarily it got hurt for low scores in range of drag adjustment (tied for the least at .35), ease of drag adjustment – it was way too stiff, drag detents – very little, price – the price is way too high for what you are getting, and handle design – too small, and too short.  The spool removal system was not great either – a pretty odd design that allowed you to unscrew this triangular piece, that holds the spool in place, creating some play.   All this contributed to a low fun to fish score.  Once you did get the drag set it seemed smooth and had no start up inertia.  Colors available are:  Stealth, Storm, Azure, and Ember, although our test reel was gold.  

JA:  We had the chance to fish the Sage 6080 at Jurassic Lake and while it got the job done, I wasn’t overly impressed. On the plus side, this reel is light, has a smooth drag, and virtually no start up inertia.  I had zero complaints on it’s overall size, weight, or backing capacity. Still, it somehow feels and sounds more like a $350 reel to me than a $600 reel.   Personally, I think you’d have to be out of your mind not to spend the extra $40 and get a Tibor Everglades, or an extra $70 and get a Nautilus NV G-8.  Considering what those reels have to offer, Sage is asking a lot for the 6080.  For die-hard Sage fans, you're better off dropping your coin on an Evoke ($575-$595) or a 3200 series ($199-$239).  

Show up at the dock: feeling kinda jipped.  


#20 Rugged Creek EVO 7/9  $240

Rugged Creek Evo 7/9

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GA: Here is another inexpensive import reel, we think from Korea.  The price is good – the lowest in our Shootout, but we didn’t get very excited about this reel for a lot of reasons.  As you can see it finished dead last.   But this doesn’t mean it is junk.  There were a whole lot of other reels that didn’t make the cut.  Just go to Walmart and you’ll see a bunch of them.  This is actually a very usable reel – it just didn’t compare quite as well to all the other reels in our shootout.   Nothing that just jumps out at me as being aweful, but the generally low scores in almost all categories did it in.  It was maintenance free but the smoothness of the drag was not great, and it did exhibit more start up inertia than other reels.   This reel did have a full frame design, and it looks pretty tough.  Removing the spool is easy but again this is one that the spool cap comes right off and you could lose it and then your experience with this reel is over.  There is very little drag sound, either on the retrieve or drag.   Capacity is not too good either, only about 150 yd. of 20 lb. Dacron.   

JA:  Although the Rugged Creek Evo 7/9 finished last in our shootout, it beat out a lot of reels that didn’t make the cut.  If all you have to spend is $100, you aren’t going to get a decent saltwater reel for this kind of money.  If your budget is limited, but you can squeak out another Franklin and couple Jacksons, this looks to be a pretty good reel - As long as you don't loose the spool cap.  With it's lightweight feel, it would make for a great streamer reel. Throw on a WF-8-F 24' sink tip and you'd have a nice reel for pounding the banks of the Yellowstone all day.  We liked it enough to add it to our reel case as a good inexpensive option, if that says anything...

Show up at the dock:  Hey, you're the dock aren't you?  

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We hope that you have enjoyed our 2014 8-weight Reel Shootout.  With your support, we can continue to give you more shootouts and comparisons on tackle and equipment in the future.  But this takes a lot of time, so if you are in the market for a new rod or outfit, or other flies and tackle, we would love to have your business!  If you're buddy owns a fly shop and stocks the equipment you want, buy the gear from him and consider coming out fish with us this summer - we book Montana's best fly fishing guides and outfitters.

Be sure to e-mail us your comments and any questions you have about the exact tackle you need for the fishing you are doing.  We’ll be happy to help.


                                                    George Anderson