The World of Bonefishing Reels

If you have, oh, $24,000 or $25,000 and some free time, I’d like you to spend a few months testing reels. Sound good?  Great.  Here’s what I’m looking for. The world of gear is… well… full… it is full of makers and brands and marketing hype and really, really short on objective comparisons.  If you were to take all the bonefish-ready reels out there right now, I count 69, the price-tag would come to $23,264 (before taxes).  There are reels under $50 and there are reels over $800 and the only thing you have to guide you in purchasing is name-recognition and brand reputation… which, in my mind comes down to marketing.  What kind of performance do you actually get from the $800 reel?  What kind of risk are you running with that $150 reel?

I wish Consumer Reports would pick this up and run with it, but I doubt that will happen.  I wish Fly Fishing in Salt Waters or Fly Fisherman would do this, but that’s equally unlikely.

Here are some tests to put these reels through…

Durability –

  • Drops – That 3 foot drop off a table would be good to see tested.
  • Sand – How does it work if you drop it in the sand, just for a second.
  • Salt – Well… there is a lot out there and it is generally bad for gear.
  • Big game pulls – If the thing breaks on a 10 pound bone… that would be good to know ahead of time.
  • Heat – Sitting in the sun… heating up… might be bad for some reels, I’d guess.

Performance –

  • Smoothness of the drag – speaks for itself, really.
  • start-up inertia – this gets talked about a lot… I’m not sure how that is measured though.

I want to see this done.  I do wonder if gear makers would actually want their gear tested in some kind of objective way.  What if the $200 reel and the $700 reel are identical in terms of performance and durability?  Maybe the gap is huge.  Maybe it would be really clear.  Maybe the winners would be clear and the cork vs. carbon fiber debate could be settled.  Of course, Middle East peace could break out too.

Field testing is just never going to do it.  A week or a month or a season with a reel doesn’t really tell you anything because you have no real comparison… what you did in that week or month or year didn’t happen to the other 68… you didn’t put them through the same things.

So… if you find an extra, oh, $25K sitting around… let me know.

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  1. Okuma SLV, Cabellas xss1, both field tested at over 200 days on the flats both still ticking. Save the $500 you didn’t spend for air fare ……

  2. Hey Bjorn!,

    The topic of “Reels” is a very subjective one. For many years, saltwater anglers had to basically make due with reels such as the Pfleuger Medalist series. Those folks caught fish no doubdt. Is that reel a saltwater die-hard?…not in the least…but, with care and diligent cleaning…it preforms it’s purpose…that being a “line-storage-device”.

    Five or so years ago, I came across a manufacturer of fly reels in Taiwan (Omoto). Apparently at the time, they were represented here in Canada by “Pure Fishing”. When I contacted Pure fishing and asked where I could look at their product “in-person”…they couldn’t answer. So!…I fired off a generic E-mail to “Omoto” asking what was going on?. I wanted to lay hands on one of their reels to see what it was like, but nobody had any. To my surprise!, I actually got a reply and “thank you” for interest in their product from the “Western World”. The kind young lady I corresponded with said that she could send me some sample products for evaluation if I should wish. Her only caveat was that I would be charged the mil-rate for each reel/spool as if it were a production run of 3oo units.

    Okay?…how much is that? I asked. She said…”$23.00USD for each reel and $16.00USD for each extra spool…how many would I like?


    Now hear me on this!…these reels are fully machined from Bar-stock “cold-rolled” Aircraft T6161 aluminum. They receive hand finishing/buffing then are treated with type-2 anodization. Two of the reels have an absoultely huge cork composite disk drag, and the other two feature a fully sealed Delrin drag system. 3-Ball bearings with and additional one-way 4th bearing.

    I scored big time!…I sold one reel to my best friend (now wish I didn’t) and kept the three others…(each with extra spools).

    That was the best (fishing equipment) deal I ever made of my life.

    About a year or so later, I discovered that the reason these reels weren’t aggressively marked in North America was because there was concerns about Patent infringements against the “Bauer” reel corp. True or not?…I don’t know…what I do know is that the reels fish beautifully and have been maintenance free from the day they arrived.

    Google “Omoto” and check out their new lines as well as other spinning and deep-sea fishing reels.

    Regards and tight loops…(don’t forget!…”strip-strike!!!”)

    You can see pics of the reels here…

    Henry Will
    Oshawa, Ontario

  3. I will be using my old 3M system 2 reels. I’ll let you know how they do.

  4. I’ve got an Okuma and I had a Cabellas, but the Cabellas got destroyed by a 12 pound Jack… DESTROYED… “chunk, chunk, chunk, chunk.” It wasn’t pretty.

    I’ve had people talk about reels breaking down, but they never seem to mention which reels.

  5. Man, for some reason your comment went in my spam filter. Glad I checked! Good stuff Henry… I’ll check them out for sure.

  6. Bjorn, here’s my history of reels. Started with a Bauer M3. I thought that was fine for steelies, but when I tried it for bones, it didn’t have enough drag. I could NOT stop a medium sized bonefish at Christmas Island. Then I got the Super 10 from Abel. I’ve had it for 10 years and I still don’t think there is a better reel made today. My only complaint is that it is silent going out. I want to hear the reel scream. Small issue, and I think Abel has made an outgoing click for stupid people like me. Ok. But why stop at the best? I then got a Ross Canyon. That one started to crap out on me, noisy drag not smooth. Ross fixed it and it’s ok now, but I still don’t have a good feeling about using it on a big fish. Let’s keep it as a back up. I have a Waterworks reel, size 4 I think. It has the sealed drag and outgoing click. I like this one a lot. Strong drag and it’s nice to look at. For my trip to the Seychelles, I needed something really strong and durable for GT’s. I got the Billy Pate tarpon reel with antireverse. I’m a dentist and didn’t want to bust a finger trying to fight a GT. For those of you that are thinking, “what a pussy” , you have to hook one of those to understand. They will break a 12 wt with minimal effort on their part. It’s heavy and kinda outdated in design, but that’s my favorite. It’s just a cool reel.
    That’s my $2000 contribution to the reel test fund.

  7. By the way, love the website. You should come to Los Roques with me and Vince in a couple of weeks. Biiiiiiiig bones there. I’m just sayin’…………

  8. I use a GLoomis Venture 7.
    It has held up so far.
    The drag is smooth enough and the start up inertia seems to work.
    I set the drag just like Lefty explains it:
    put the line between your lips and have the drag just tight enough so that you can barely pull line out with your lips
    I can’t wait to catch my next bone on it!

  9. That would be awesome. Alas… not in the cards right now.

  10. Over the last number of years I have learned to pay more attention to what the guides are using than the reviews and promotional material. Like some of the other posters, I have had difficulties with reels that were “supposed” to be good! The ramifications of a reel packing it up at Christmas Island or the Seychelles are huge. For big game fish I use Tibor, Billy Pate, and Islander.

  11. So far I’ve landed waaay more than my fair share of big bones (yes, double-digits) on my Lamson Lightspeed. I’ve got 2 of the suckers now (3.5’s, I think), one the old ‘guide finish’ and the other the newer ‘hard alox’ (whatever the heck that is). Both have been superb (ever since Lamson fixed the nagging clutch issue that was a problem with the originals), and the guide finish one is about 8 years old and looks newer than many of my other actually new reels. That finish just says NO to saltwater. But, there are a few downsides: 1. the reels are tough, but delicate. I mean, they resist corrosion better than anything out there (the surface isn’t even metal anymore but some kind of crazy ceramic) but if you drop them they can bend. I bent the spindle of my first a few years ago so that the spool rubbed against the housing. I was able to bend it back (by hand) so that it didn’t rub but it wasn’t perfect until I sent it back for maintenance (which they are AMAZING at).

    Now for reels that HAVE died… mostly from an overdose of speed under the influence of bonefish. The Harris Solitude, a solid brute that is now marketed under simply Solitude Reels, has failed me twice. On the first one the drag simply failed and the reel went into freespool, no drag, no clicker, no nothing. LOTS of fun when you’ve got a fish on. Second one the innards just seized up… can’t reel in, can’t pull out. Done.

    I also fried my first reel, an Orvis Battenkill, on a 20-30 pound tarpon that turned that little cork washer into a crispy piece of nothing. I kept using it until the corrosion got too bad.

    Speaking of corrosion, Okuma’s work great, but being not-so-anozided they’ll corrode pretty quick. My dad’s take many bones on his.

    Lessee, whatelse. Oh, yeah, there’s his old Redington LA Gold that has kept ticking like a champ for nearly 10 years. Tough as nails and build like a tank. No worries there and never a problem.

    I’ve got one of those Abel super-8 deals, but frankly use it as little as possible. It’s just too heavy (this IS the 21st century, right?) and I don’t find the drag at all smooth. Also, I don’t like that there are little ‘click’ settings on the drag. On mine there’s no setting between too light and almost too strong for bonefish on a standard tippet. I always feel like I’ve got to adjust the drag light when a fish gets way out there or I’ll pop it off. However, this reel is a BEAST. Drop it, (I have), use it for a small anchor (not yet), or fish it (if you have the forearm strength), and it’s all one to that reel. On the downside, if you dunk it the reel WILL slip and the drag will be looser for that setting until it dries out.

    I’ve also just started using Galvan Reels. I’ve got a couple of their HUGE, light beasts and they perform wonderfully. A couple seasons ago I took a 90-100 pound tarpon off Key West on their 10-weight reel. Drag cranked, no worries. But, I’ve honestly not used them enough to give a real evaluation.

    Now we come to what I feel is the best bang for your buck out there in terms of reels (not my favorite). I’m referring to the Ross CLA. I’ve had their 8-weight for about 5 years and it has never offered a single hickup. I’ve dunked it dozens of times (and I’m sure my clients have done much worse to it). It’s battled bones, tarpon, snook, and big jacks. I’ll put it this way, that Solitude reel lasted about a year on the flats with me here. The Ross is still purring.

    That’s my input: get a Ross CLA. It’s light, big, smooth, strong, and it runs between $195 (for the 5-7 weight) and $230 (7-9 weight). This is opposed to the $275 tag on a solitude that is smaller, heavier, and (if my experience holds) will probably die on you. Or… you could spend about $550 for an Abel Super 8 and still have a reels that’s smaller, heavier, arguably as smooth and strong, but only MIGHT last longer.

  12. BTW, Bjorn, you are right! One of those fly rags SHOULD do a test of as many as they can. THAT would actually be useful. I mean, spinfishing mags do tests of lines all the time… although I suppose a spool of mono IS a lot cheaper than a fly reel.

    Still, this is a great idea. Good call.

  13. Awesome reply… just awesome. Thanks for putting your gear history out there. I’m sure it will be educational for many folks… it was for me.

    Merry Christmas (if that’s your bag).

  14. I remember checking out a test Field and stream did a while ago before buying a Nautilus CCF. Looks like they have taken it down from the field and stream site but I found a bunch of the vids on you tube here. My 2 cents is Shilton Shilton Shilton!! Abel / Tibor grade at old CCF prices.

    Imho for strictly bonefish you could get away with most half decent reels as the way you fight em is Just let them run on a light drag and do what they do best but if you are going anywhere like Christmas or Sey where you might be firing at big bluefins or even GTs you want proper stopping power and bullet proof reliability. My CCF has had its drag burned out a bit from playing with big sharks and cuda and has loads of flat spots now. Still fine for bones but you cant put the brakes on with it like you can with a decent cork. Wonder what that new Tibor carbon is like though.

    Please Santa!

  15. Great comment Rich. Thanks.

  16. Bjorn,

    I have recently run into some extra money and am going to spend it on a dream reel for bonefish. I think I will have a Tibor Signature 7/8 (Tibor’s take on a sealed cork drag system) in a couple of weeks. I don’t think that I will be doing a “drop test” on it, but I fish hard and am hard on my equipment. I plan on putting it through the ringer! Being Florida resident everything from Snook to juvenile Tarpon to Bonefish will be on the table. I will let you know how it performs.

  17. I’ve never heard a bad word uttered about Tibor reels… they can be a bit heavy, but they don’t seem to break down. I’m working on getting a bonefish reel test done and may get some Redington and Sage reels… now I need to work on the rest and we’ll see how it goes. Enjoy your new reel. I’m sure it will treat you well.

  18. Great blog, you have got to try the new loop evotec lw g4! amazing .

  19. I wouldn’t mind trying that at all. I’ve never fished a loop.

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