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Back in our 2015 5-weight shootout, we noted that the Hydros LA was a solid reel, but it didn’t really fit into the Orvis line up well. It was a little too expensive and didn’t offer any real advantages over the Access Mid-Arbor. Orvis took that feedback to heart and came out with the Orvis Hydros SL a few years later.
Since they had essentially fixed all of our complaints, we’ve been selling tons of these and they’ve been one of our top sellers. Until today, however, we haven’t had a chance to do a proper review of this reel. I can tell you, it does NOT disappoint.
7.7 ounces. Much lighter than any reel with this much power.
The drag on the Hydros SL was the best in our test. It not only bests its big brother the Mirage (which is also great), but it beats out reels like Hatch, Abel, and Nautilus. Am I convinced that this is a truly sealed reel? No. However, from what we are able to measure in this test, the Hydros comes out on top. Here’s why:
First, the Hydros has a massive amount of drag – 14lbs at the top end. However, you can’t quite use all of it, so when we backed it off ¼ turn, it still maintains over 12lbs, which puts it second only to the Hardy Fortuna. Next, it’s got a super linear drag, so you can really adjust it to your specifications. It retains almost 50% at the halfway mark with nearly 7lbs. Finally, at the bottom, Orvis keeps you from free-spooling with .2lbs.
Like the Mirage, there’s nothing special here. It’s not bad, but it’s fairly muted in both directions.
The spool on the Hydros is also epic. It takes 3rd place with a retrieve of over 10” per turn and it does that with a nice narrow spool (under 1”). The only area where the Hydros doesn’t dominate is volume. It’s got plenty of capacity for standard 8-weight lines, but you’ll want to go for a gel-spun if you’re going to put a thicker line on.
We tested the Citron version of the reel, which I personally think looks pretty good, but it also comes in a more toned down grey. It’s a good looking reel, but it lacks the finer touches of some of the higher end reels.
While the looks of the SL are fine, the ergonomics are not. Ok, the handle is ok, but the drag knob is horrible. It’s way too small and someone had the not-so-great idea of adding an indent for your thumb. It’s sharp, it doesn’t work well. Too bad. This alone takes the reel out of contention for me. It’s that bad.
The finish on the Hydros is also excellent. Even in the green color, it’s hard to find the scuffs on most of the reel. Its lighter weight helped too.
Lifetime to the original owner + $30.
Several weeks ago I was asked by a customer which saltwater reel I would recommend that “wouldn’t break the bank” – since it came out, my answer has always been the Hydros SL. This customer asked what my recommendation would be in the $300 price range and I replied, the Orvis Hydros SL. What about the $400 price range? The Hydros SL. I stand by that statement.
Simply put, this reel has the best drag in the test. If we did a “performance only” category, this reel would have scored the highest. At a $240 price point, it’s so much better than anything else out there that you’d have to drop 10 places to get to a reel that’s in the $300 price point.
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