2015 5-weight Fly Reel Shootout & Review: What's the Best Trout Reel?
When we released our 8-weight reel shootout, we began to demystify fly reels. We proved that cork drags didn't perform as well as modern disc drags. We also showed that it was possible to create a reel with virtually no startup inertia. It was not only was it the first reel shootout that was widely published, but it remains the only scientific test to date. This year, we tested a reel that many more of you will use: the trout reel. More specifically, the 5-weight trout reel (for your 9' 5wt rod). We also wanted to take our testing to the next level, so we added a couple innovative categories, including a never before done freeze test to see if drags were truly sealed. All in pursuit of one question: What's the best fly reel for trout? As with all of our reviews, we'll try to remain as objective as possible, and we’ll give you all of the raw data to draw your own conclusions, if you wish. But, we’re also going to tell you which reels we like best. We couldn't have done this test without your support. Help us by buying your next fly reel here.
Why does it matter?Thousands, if not millions of trout have been caught on Pflueger Medalists and Hardy Perfects - reels with no drag and traditional arbors. If you're fishing with one of those reels, we're not here to convince you that you have to switch. You don't. But if you're looking for the the finest and highest performing reel on the market today, read on. The top reels will help you land more fish, have more fun on the water, and give you years of enjoyment. After all, no one needs to drive a Porsche to the grocery store, but it's a lot more fun than a 1990 Ford Tempo.
How we chose reels for our testWe take comments from our readers very seriously (you should leave some at the bottom). One of the most common remarks about our 8-weight shootout was, "I can't believe they didn't test <my favorite reel>." So, we wanted to offer a little more insight into the selection process. Last summer we asked virtually EVERY reel manufacturer to send us a reel. This included small brands that sell to only one shop like Einarsson, to direct sales brands like Allen, to larger manufacturers. We tested at least one reel from every company that sent them to us. Our goal is to test as many reels as we can, so, if your favorite reel wasn't included and you'd like to see it tested next time, CLICK HERE, to send an e-mail to your favorite manufacturer.
So, what makes a great trout reel?When we did our 8-weight reel shootout, we started out with a few basic principles, and we're going to do the same this time around. But trout reels are a lot simpler than saltwater reels. So, what makes a great trout reel? When we asked around, 3 factors stood out as most important. We want our reels to have a fast enough retrieve for any trout that might turn on you, little to no start-up inertia, and the lightest possible weight.
Hey, if you could run down to Cabela's with your Boga Grips to do this test, you wouldn't need us, would you? (tweet this)
Just like last time, all spool measurements were taken using a digital caliper and weights were captured using a digital scale.
Testing drags is tough. But we want to make sure that you have the best possible data. That's why we teamed up with Element to use the most sophisticated testing equipment available to truly understand drag performance. Hey, if you could run down to Cabela's with your Boga Grips to do this test, you wouldn't need us, would you? Each reel was then filled with 75 yards of backing and then mounted to a universal testing machine. The backing was then attached to the load cell. We then set the machine in motion and measured the force nearly 1000 times per second. Rigging Matters.
ScoringIn order to prioritize what was most important, we changed our scoring a bit this year. All three of our key performance factors got double points. Here are the categories:
Drag Strength10 points Sure, every reel in this test can slow down a trout. So why do we care about drag strength? We're not trying to go tarpon fishing with these reels after all. But who would want a Ferrari if it topped out at 75 MPH? We view drag strength as the 'top-speed' in our test. That said, we wanted reels that had AT LEAST 2 lbs of drag (half of 5X tippet strength), and we penalized reels that didn't meet this benchmark. We measured drag strength by averaging the force after the reel hit its peak (about 2 inches). The top reels had nearly 7lbs of drag, but the Galvan Torque, aptly named, was the only reel to exceed the 7lb mark. Winner: Galvan Torque
Start-up Inertia20 points If you troll the fly fishing forums, there's a lot of talk about start-up inertia - and with good reason. But let's back up. What is start-up inertia? All drags work in essentially the same way - two plates create friction which slows the spinning of the spool. There are two types of friction: static - when the drag isn't moving - and kinetic - when a fish is pulling on the drag. Start-up inertia is the initial force required to get the drag started. So, it's actually a bit of a misnomer. It should actually be called "static friction". So... who cares? Because static friction is greater than kinetic friction, it causes a drop in drag force immediately after the fish starts pulling on your line. Here's what it looks like on a drag graph: Nautilus NV-G, Orvis Mirage, Ross Animas, Ross F1, & Sage Domain
Sealed Drag - New for 201510 points A sealed drag is not 100% necessary for freshwater reels. That said, it keeps sand, water, and even ice (when it's cold enough) away from all of the important parts of the reel. This year, we wanted to really find out which drags were truly sealed. So, we did the freeze test. We put all the reels underwater, gave them a few turns, then let them sit for an hour.
Arbor Size and Retrieval Rate20 Points In terms of pure performance, retrieval rate is one of the most important and noticeable features of a fly reel. When a fish turns and starts swimming toward you, you need to reel as fast as you can to keep the fish on. It also means fewer turns to bring in that trophy or just reel up as you change spots. Therefore, bigger IS better, as they say. For those of you who don’t know, the arbor refers to the mid-section of the spool. Think of the hole in the donut. Following the analogy, the larger the diameter of the hole, the larger the arbor. Almost all of the fly reels we tested claim to be “large arbor”, but we discovered that there was quite a variation between reels. The so-named, Orvis Access Mid-Arbor was the smallest at 1.5 inches, nearly 40% smaller than the Hardy DD 4000 at 2.44 inches. But what we really care about is line pickup, and, therefore, that’s what we scored as part of the test. To get this, we needed to determine the circumference at .75 cubic inches. That’s how much space 75 yards of 20lb Dacron backing takes up. The formula is:
Not surprisingly, the results were very similar. The Orvis was the smallest at 5.72 inches, 31% smaller than the winner. While three inches might not seem like much, if you're reeling in 60' of fly line (think about how many times you do this during a day on the water), the Orvis takes 40 more turns of the reel to do this than the top reel: Winner: Hardy DD 4000, 8.34 inches per turn
Spool Width10 points For many years, the trend in fly reel manufacturing was to make the arbors larger and the spools wider. Why? It helps keep the weight down and gives you a fast retrieval rate. This comes at a price, however, which is you having to act as a level wind every time you reel in your line so that the line doesn't pile up. This was disputed in another review, so if you'd like more information on narrow vs wide, check out this article. The narrowest spools came from one of the most classic manufacturers: Abel Winners: Abel SD 4/5 and Abel Super 4N
Spool Volume10 Points Bigger reels are more flexible. They hold more line and give you more options – like being able to put a 6 or 7-weight line on a 5-weight reel. More importantly, you're never going to have to worry about line piling up on a reel that holds 200 yards of backing. We calculated estimated volume using the following formula:
This calculation isn’t exact because some of the spool designs featured arbors that weren’t flat, but it does give us a basic idea of reel capacity. While all the reels we tested were “5-weights”, there is clearly no standard here. 75 yards of 20lb Dacron takes up about .75 cubic inches when wound reasonably tightly. The largest reels could hold nearly 250 yards of backing! Winner: Orvis Mirage III
Weight20 points As fly fisherman, we’ve become obsessed with weight. Rods are pushing the limits, some weighing in at less than two ounces. Reels are getting lighter too. Why are lighter reels better? As rods get lighter, you need lighter reels to balance them. Moreover, when you’re casting all day a lighter outfit is easier on your arms. If you make 100 casts in a day, every ounce works out to over 6 extra pounds you need to move. Winner: Lamson Litespeed IV #2
Sounds10 points Sound is an important, yet often under appreciated, part of a fly reel. Drag sounds provide a lot of feedback when fighting a fish, which is useful, but they also add to the excitement of catching a fish that makes a great run. At Trident, we prefer reels that have both an incoming (when reeling in) and outgoing (when the fish is taking the drag) sound. There was no contest in this category. The Ross Animas and Ross Evolution LT sound like classics!
Look & Feel10 points We can talk about fly reel performance all day long, but when it comes down to buying a reel, look and feel is just as important. That’s why top reel manufacturers offer dozens of custom colors and 100s of possible combinations. This is purely subjective, but there's unlikely to be many people who prefer the feel of a Redington over a Tibor. So, we gave you our opinions on the matter.
Ergonomics - New for 201510 points Another area that we felt wasn't adequately covered in our last shootout was ergonomics. Which is to say, how well is the reel designed from a human interaction standpoint. You interact with the reel at 3 key points: the handle, which you are in contact with most, the drag knob, which is used less frequently, but often requires quick and easy access, and the spool change, which is obvious. We assigned 4, 3, and 3 points for each category respectively (for a total of 10). Handle: The best handles were fairly long - they move your knuckles further away from the spool so you're never touching it. We also liked the curved design on the higher-end Lamson reels, which made it much easier and more comfortable to grasp. The worst handles were really short and hard to grip. Drag knob: When a fish is cruising into open water and you've left your drag wide open, nothing is more important that getting that adjusted back to a fishable level. This year we saw a lot of new reels that really made a lot of headway here. Namely, the Ross Animas and Sage 2250, which had HUGE easy to grab and adjust drag knobs. Spool Change: The vast majority of the reels we tested this year had a quick change spool of some sort, and most work really well, but a few were slightly more difficult to line up. Overall, we don't change spools often, so most reels received full points.
Finish a.k.a. The Drop - New for 201510 points Winner: Lamson Litespeed IV #2
Price10 points When we revisited our testing criteria this year, one of the toughest decisions was about whether or not we should include price, and if so, how many points should it get. On the one hand, everyone has a different sense of value, so it should be assigned by the buyer, not us. On the other hand, unlike our 5-weight Rod Shootout, none of the value priced reels did very well when price wasn't considered. So, we asked ourselves a question: would you rather buy an Orvis Access, or a Nautilus NVG? The answer was resoundingly in favor of the Access, so we knew that we got it just about right. Winner: Sage 2250
What about warranty?Originally, we going to score this just like last time, as a % of the reel's price. However, a few things became clear. First, we were virtually negating all of the points given to the less expensive reels, since they inherently had poorer warranties (It costs the same amount to repair a Sage 2250 as it does an 8000 Pro). Second, manufacturers seemed to arbitrarily assign prices, so it wasn't really a fair way to determine quality. The winners in this category are Hatch, Galvan, and Bozeman, who all have $0 warranties and really stand behind their products. While we didn't score this, it should be taken into account as a tie-breaker.
Last time we did this test, we had a pretty good idea of who would win. This year, there were so many contenders that we had no idea who would emerge victorious. However, when the results were tallied, one reel, above all others, embodied what we were looking for: the Lamson Litespeed IV. It's light, has a huge arbor, and an incredibly strong and smooth drag. Top that off with great ergonomics, Made-in-the-USA quality, and a hard-as-nails finish and we've found our winner!
Picking a winner was easy, but we know not everyone wants to spend $350 on a fly reel. That's where the Orvis Access is really great. It's got a strong, smooth drag and better yet, it's less than half the price of our winner. Now, on to the full results:
The raw data
Reel Notes and Drag Strength Graphs
|1. Lamson Litespeed IV #2|
|2. Orvis Mirage III|
|3. Galvan Torque|
|3. Nautilus FWX 5/6|
|3. Ross Animas 5/6|
|6. Sage 4250|
|7. Ovris Access Mid-Arbor II|
|8. Nautilus NVG 5/6|
|8. Orvis Hydros LA III|
|8. Hatch 4 Plus|
|11. Lamson Speedster 2|
|11. Ross F1 #2|
|11. TFO BVK II|
|14. Sage 2250|
|15. Cheeky Ambush 375|
|15. Galvan Rush Light|
|15. Sage Domain 5|
|18. Abel SD 4/5|
|18. Lamson Guru 2|
|20. Ross Evolution LT #2|
|21. Bozeman RS325|
|22. Hardy DD 4000|
|22. Lamson Remix 2|
|22. Redington Rise 5/6|
|25. Abel Super 4N|
Thanks for the note! The main reason we didn't test the Liquid is because we tested the Remix (and a lot of other Lamsons), which is a very similar reel. I'd say that you can reasonably use that info to make your determination.
About the different drags on Lamson reels, they are both the same, and different. They are the same in that they are all conical, and they are different (particularly the Litespeed) due to differences in tuning, and perhaps more.
I see the Ross CLA was not tested?Why is this considering its a very popular reel?
The CLA is older and less popular than the other models, and we couldn't test every single Ross, unfortunately.
I should have been more specific. Let me give you a better answer to your question:
We wanted this test to find the best 5-weight reel to pair with the top 5-weight rods, which are getting lighter, and lighter. That's also reduced the swing weights on these rods as well. That requires reels that are lighter. So if you're fishing an older rod, these reels are very likely going to feel too light, but for today's rods, your personal preference is going to take over. I think we can all agree, however, that a well-balanced, lighter setup is better than a heavier one.
Which brings me to balance. As I said, it's very personal, and it depends on the type of fishing you're doing. For example, I've been fishing the 3.5 oz Lamson Vanquish for about 3 years and I think it balances very well, and I really appreciate the whisper light feel of the rod. But this is an all-around rod for me, and I am rarely high-sticking with it. On the other hand, I fish a 6 oz reel on my 11' 3wt rod, because it's got a much heavier swing weight, and for euro-style nymphing, my tip is always up, and I need a reel that's heavy enough to keep the tip up in the air, without me fighting it.
So with that in mind, lighter reels are awarded more points because:
1. You're moving less overall weight throughout the day.
2. Lighter setups are more fun to fish!
3. If you don't like how they balance, you can add a butt cap, or a butt cap with some lead tape in it to really personalize your balance point.
4. They add flexibility to your quiver because they are more versatile.
But, your point is well taken :-). Next time we do a reel shootout, we'll definitely have a look at the criteria and adjust it based on feedback like this!
Clearly, high startup inertia means more breakoffs - especially when fishing 6-0 and 7-0 tippets.
But I think there is a real flaw in your startup inertia analysis.
From your graphs, it looks like you only measured the startup inertia on maximum drag.
However, fishing for trout rarely involves setting the drag above 2 pounds.
So in all the reels capable of higher drag, we are not getting meaningful real life information.
For example, when fishing, we all would set the Litespeed drag at only about 2 pounds. The two opposing cones in the drag would not be pressed nearly as hard together as at the 6.78 lbs. used in your test.
So the amount of startup inertia could turn out to be minimal. (Of course it could be anywhere from minimal to the .42 measured in your test at maximal drag.)
This same objection could be made for all the reels with high drag (Cheeky, Abel Super 4N) and maybe even those with moderate amounts of drag (Bozeman, Galvan Rush, Guru, Access and BVK).
Similarly, none of the startup inertia % data that you list is relevant for any of the reels with high drag. It's use would assume that the startup inertia curve is linear. One can not assume that the startup inertia goes up at the same rate as the amount of drag. (I would venture that at low drag, the startup inertia is proportionately quite a bit less - but why not do the test and find out?)
My suggestion is that the next time you run this test (and I hope you do) that in addition to measuring the maximum amount of drag, that you do the startup inertia at some more reasonable level agreed to by the expert fishermen at Trident. Set the drag on some reels like you would for fishing say 4x tippet, and check the startup inertia at that level. (I'll bet your experts vote to check the startup inertia at below 2 pounds!)
[Of course your article is immensely helpful in providing a list of many great reels that you tested that have minimal startup inertia at maximum drag. These are all great candidates for reels to purchase if we are in the market for a new reel. The only problem is that some of the lightest reels - and hence great matches for today's light rods - are in the category I write about above, including your top rated reel - the Litespeed.
Your article is also helpful in excluding from consideration for purchase any of the reels with high startup inertia and low maximum drag - these reels will break your heart with too many breakoffs.]
Again thank you for this great article!
Unfortunately we use a testing lab (as opposed to doing it ourselves), so finding an "in between" drag setting is actually not doable. The first time we ran the test, we did it at the manufacturer and were able to do some of the testing ourselves and we played around with it a bit. Without trying to dive into physics that I don't understand, static friction aka startup inertia, is actually pretty linear, so the data holds fairly well. Unfortunately, I don't have any test data to show you, but you can look up the relationship between force and static friction and there's plenty of data that shows it's fairly linear.
I have to agree with you 100%.
I mainly wanted to add in some information for those looking to balance their reel and rod. (It surprises me many don't do this.)
The new rods are far lighter.
Among 5 weights, the Orvis Helios 2 is 2.4 ounces, Sage One 2.7 ounces, the Hardy Zenith 3.0 and TFO BVK, and Loomis NRX all 3.1 ounces.
[See 2014 5-weight Shootout: Fly Rod Review and Test, http://www.tridentflyfishing.com/blog/2014-five-5-weight-shootout-orvis-hardy-scott-sage-best-fly-rod-review-test ]
These light rods need lighter reels to balance them.
Don't forget, the listed weights of the reels in this reel shootout does not include the weight of the fly line and backing. (My 3.7 ounce Litespeed 2 weighs 4.8 ounces with backing and fly line; it still weighs 4.4 ounces with 30 feet of line off the reel like when I'm casting.)
And the weight of the rod is increased by the weight of the line going through the guides.
So it does get a little complicated.
Certainly all would agree that you can't just match up the weight of the reel to the weight of the rod.
The best way is to simply put the reel (plus backing and fly line) you want to test for balance on your rod, and strip off 30 feet of line.
Check the balance point by balancing it on your finger tip so that the butt end and tip of the rod are level.
The rod and reel are a good match if that point of being level where you hold the grip - actually at the front end of where you grip the rod.
Maybe these examples will be of help:
My 9 foot 5 weight Hardy Zenith rod (3.0 ounces) balances well with a Litespeed 2 reel. (3.7 ounce reel + backing + line with first 30' out = 4.8 ounces)
My 8'6" 4 weight Hardy Zenith rod (2.8 ounces) balances well with a a Lamson Force 2X Lt reel. (2.9 ounce reel reel + backing + fly line with first 30' out = 4.1 ounces)
For my 7 foot 6 inch 3 weight Reddington Classic Trout rod (2.3 ounces) a Lamson Force 2X Lt reel balances well. (2.9 ounce reel + backing + fly line with 20' out = 4.1 ounces)
My 10 foot 4 weight Hardy Zenith rod (3.3 ounces) balances well with a Lamson Velocity 2 reel. (4.2 ounce reel + backing + Rio European Nymphing line with 10 feet out = 5.0 ounces)
My 11 foot Greys XF2 rod (3.4 ounces) balances well with a Sage 1850 reel (6 ounce reel + backing + Rio European Nymphing Line with 10 feet out = 6.8 ounces)
Of course these rods and reels are expensive. So rather than making an expensive mistake, it is best to check with an expert like Ben at Trident for advise on what reel to match up with your rod.
But as you noted in your 3/7/13 "How to read the graphs" blog article, " Keep in mind that these tests were performed at 40 inches per minute. At higher speeds, this effect is greatly exacerbated."
Most information and tests in the literature on static friction is done dragging objects against the constant force of gravity.
From doing wind tunnel tests with plane models, it is at the extremes of speed that the structure and design of the model is stressed, with turbulence setting in and the drag curve incresases exponentially.
So too, at extremes of speed (way above 40 inches/min), I would guess that the dynamic tension and "coefficient of drag" curves would look quite different for reels.
I still wonder if the reels that are capable of high drag that are set at the extremes of their drag settings have a more pronounced "coefficient of friction" because the reel is being tested at more of an extreme of its size, rigidity and design.
Now there is also some interesting information that if fact the the opposite may also be the case - it could be the same coefficient of drag is seen throughout the range of drags used. If you look at the three Lamson reels the coefficient of friction is essentially the same for all three reels (.42 to .53) Lamson has maintained that the same drag mechanism is used throughout its lineup. So it may be that at the Litespeed merely allows the drag to be tightened down more, so the coefficient of drag at 2 pounds of drag remains close to .42. Thus unless you've done the testing, I'm not sure the "startup inertia %" statistic is valid.
Again, thank you for even responding to me above. I realize you don't have the testing facilities to answer all of these questions with more tests. So get out on Sebago Lake and enjoy some ice fishing!
This is Matthew from Taylor Fly Fishing. I cant speak for any other company but on our end we design our reels from the bottom up in house. We design every aspect of our reels in CAD ourselves. On our first two reels we did contract engineering assistance for the drag (both reels have since been discontinued and are no longer in production) as we were still learning the engineering aspects of reel design. Our Revolution reel featured a drag system you won't find on any other reel and the same goes for our upcoming Array 2.0. Our Enigma drag is a progression of some technology that has been available for some time but is also unique in its design and can't be found on other reels. Hours upon hours of design work go into every single product we make. We don't contract any of our design work or engineering. Everything is done by our staff in-house. We pride ourselves on this aspect of our company.
Mathew Taylor, Have you submitted any of your reels to be independently tested?