By Kirk Deeter. Photos and video by Tim Romano

Introducing the first of the Fflogger “what they won’t let you do out back of the flyshop” gear tests …

The Premise: The most important factor for me in selecting a reel is how smooth the drag is … particularly in the startup, when a fish makes its initial run. A smooth reel will pay out line evenly as the fish pulls against the drag; the rod responds by flexing at a fairly constant arc. A bad reel leaves the rod bouncing as the drag hiccups along. The hiccups are bad, because a bouncing rod might cause the fish to come off, and if the reel is “sputtering” you have less feel and control as you fight.


The Test: We chose 15 of the most popular brands and models of fly reel, in three different size classes (trout, bonefish, and big game), then took them to the street. Specifically, we tied them up to the ass end of a street bike, burned a little rubber, then watched — and felt — how each reel reacted. We paid close attention to startup drag performance, that initial acceleration a fish makes at the critical moment of going from zero resistance to outward line acceleration.

Was it scientific? No. But we did do our homework, learning that a max trout burst is about 9 mph; bonefish race at around 23 mph; and big game fish like mako sharks can reach speeds of 50-plus mph. Was it fair? We tested each reel only at the top speed of the fish it was designed to handle, but we’ll let you debate that question. Was it honest … hell yeah. And we’ve got the videos to prove it.

Trout Reels Hatch 3-Plus Nautilus 5 Abel Pt. 5 Ross Evolution Orvis Battenkill Mid Arbor Scientific Anglers System 2L Model 45L Bauer JM2 Bonefish Reels Sage 3400 Nautilus 8 Bauer MX4 Orvis Battenkill Large Arbor **Big Game Reels ** Orvis Vortex (VO2) 8-11 Nautilus 12 Hatch 9-Plus Abel Super 10

The Takeaway: At “trout speed” the drags were usually comparable and adequate. Factors like price, aesthetics, and functionality probably should weigh more in the purchase decision in this range. But as the reels got bigger, drag performance and tolerance became more and more the deciding factor. Click on a reel’s name to see how it held up.