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Place the Ross Evolution R Salt in the hands of a crusty veteran salt angler for the first time, and you’ll probably hear a response like, “there is no way I'm putting a tarpon on this thing.” Without looking more into the reel, it’s easy to come to this conclusion. The Evolution R Salt is sleek, light, minimal, and the antithesis of classic Tibor and Abel reels. 

The Evolution R Salt did perform well in our 2018 8-Weight Reel Shootout, but this is a shootout to weed out the pretenders from the contenders and find the baddest reels on the planet built to subdue the gnarliest gamefish like tarpon and GT. Has Ross delivered a true powerhouse in a lightweight package? Read on because you will not want to miss this review- the final result is surprising!

Big Game Reel Shootout Full Results


Tipping the scales at a lean 8.9 ounces, the Ross Evolution R Salt was the second lightest in our test next to the Orvis Hydros V. Ross delivers on this front, but what about the drag?


First things first, the max drag on the Evolution R Salt is significantly large. When Ross claims the reel provides the greatest ‘power-to-weight’ ratio ever seen in a fly reel, they could be telling the truth. We just weren’t able to find out how strong it truly is. How can that possibly be, you’re wondering? Fair question. And unfortunately, it’s not one we can answer because the reel foot bent in half as we attempted to max the drag out! While this may seem like a bad thing, the spool remained intact and unharmed, which is what you would want to have to happen as the reel rips through your guides and leaves you holding nothing but a rod handle and a great fish story.

We didn't deduct many points for this. There's hardly a fishing situation where one *could* crank down the drag that much, let alone one where someone would actually *want* to do it. But it is fun to see what reels are capable of in a lab testing situation.

Ross should have put an upper limit on this drag for many reasons. That said, the accessible drag on the R Salt was still massive and came in at over 20 lbs - besting every other reel. Turn it down halfway (from the accessible mark), and you’ll get 2 lbs of drag or roughly 10 percent.  Dial it back all 3.5 turns, and you’re left with a mere 1.07 lbs.

Drag Test Graphics


If you’ve ever put a fish on a Tibor’s drag, you know what a great-sounding reel sounds like. Unfortunately, The Evolution R Salt isn’t one of them and doesn’t produce much noise at all. This is pretty disappointing; we want to hear a reel designed for big game to scream!

Spool & Retrieval Rate

Ross packs a whopping 358 yards of 30-pound Dacron backing on the Evolution R Salt’s 4.5-inch diameter spool. What we found surprising was how wide the spool is! At slightly over 1.25 inches, only two of the reels in the shootout had a greater width- the Redington Grande and Galvan Grip. Not surprisingly, the line retrieval rate was in the bottom half of the shootout, averaging slightly over eleven inches per turn. 

Looks & Ergonomics

The Evolution R Salt is a sharp-looking reel that blends the best aspects of Ross’ trout reel heritage with a touch of influence from its sister brand Abel. The reel feels comfortable, but some might have issues with the unconventional wheel-like drag knob that looks right at home on a pirate ship. However, it’s easy to adjust even when fighting fish, and you don’t have to worry about getting your fingers crushed in the wheel’s spacing if a fish is ripping drag. Still, there will be those who won’t trust it. 

Ross doesn’t offer the same color and customization options as Abel, but both the Matte Black and Platinum finishes are sleek. Another nice touch is the Micarta handle which is as functional as it is attractive. 


Limited lifetime warranty to original owner.

Price: $895


Ross has proven quite capable of building a lightweight, salt-friendly reel with an extremely powerful, fully-sealed drag. The Ross Evolution R Salt hit these marks high. Unfortunately, Ross got a little too big for their britches, or in this case, machining. The drag was so powerful that the reel couldn’t maintain its structural integrity before we reached its max. We were also left disappointed with the lack of noise on both the incoming and outgoing, as well as the below-average line retrieval rate.

If you are the half-glass-full type, the takeaway could be that we pushed it to a point far past any fish could take it. But this was a test to determine the contenders from the pretenders, and the major drag issues prevented a higher score. It’s too bad because Ross gets a lot right with the Evolution R Salt, like the ample backing capacity and great looks coupled with an excellent power-to-weight ratio.


  • Lightweight for a tarpon and big game reel
  • Powerful drag
  • Ample backing capacity


  • Unconventional drag know will turn some away
  • Pretty muted