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Shilton has a longstanding reputation in South Africa for producing solid, trustworthy saltwater reels. Only recently have more western anglers begun to choose Shilton’s for their big-game pursuits, and we hope that trend continues. Today, we’ll examine the Shilton SL fly reel, a mid-range cork drag reel from Shilton that offers some impressive features at a reasonable price. Keep reading to learn more about this saltwater-specific reel from Shilton.

Weight

The size 5 Shilton SL (for line weights 7-8) weighs in at 8 ounces, which is pretty light by today’s standards. This is partly due to the relatively small size, which we’ll discuss later. Although there are certainly lighter saltwater-specific reels on the market, the SL would balance well with most premium lightweight rods.

Drag

The most noteworthy feature of the Shilton SL is its incredibly powerful cork drag system. We estimate the maximum drag pressure of the SL to be north of 15 pounds, which is overkill for any possible 8-weight scenario. That being said, dialing in the right amount of drag on the SL is easy with about 4 turns of useful adjustability. 

Another benefit of the cork drag is its field-friendly maintenance. When the reel’s spool is removed to reveal the drag mechanism, you’ll quickly notice the few moving parts. Because of this, repairs are generally easy to do as long as you have a repair kit. The ease of maintenance is a major reason why Shilton’s are one of the most common reels used by professional guides in the Seychelles, and other remote destinations.

Like many cork-drag reels, the Shilton SL is unsealed and should be rinsed thoroughly after each use in saltwater.

Sound

The incoming sound on the Shilton SL is fantastic, producing a loud sophisticated click. Unfortunately, the outgoing sound is very muted and won’t offer much feedback while fighting stout saltwater fish.

Spool & Retrieval Rate

The overall size of the Shilton SL series is relatively small compared to many saltwater reels of today. We measured the size 5 SL to find a max diameter of 3.2”, a width of 1.2”, and a 2” arbor. These dimensions will yield about 8” of line retrieval per turn, and roughly 150 yards of 50 lb backing. While these specs may not be as impressive as the Nautilus’ and the Mako’s of the world, they still offer solid performance at a reasonable price.

Looks & Ergonomics

With its smaller size and symmetrical porting, the Shilton SL looks stout and tough. For those who like a flashy look, Shilton currently offers a very wide variety of anodized color options. Ergonomically, the reel’s drag knob protrudes enough to make it very easy to use, and the handle is also a nice size and easy to grasp. 

Unfortunately, removing the spool on the Shilton SL is no cakewalk. Changing spools requires a screwdriver and extra caution not to lose any screws or hardware. This essentially renders the SL a one-line pony, as switching spools in a hurry is virtually impossible.

Warranty

As of 2024, Shilton provides a lifetime warranty to the original owner that covers the replacement or repair of parts or the reel due to defects in workmanship or materials. Shilton reserves the right to determine how each warranty will be handled, and should you encounter a repair that isn’t covered by Shilton’s warranty, they’ll quote you a price for the repair before proceeding. 

Price: $635

Conclusion

The Shilton SL is a solid saltwater reel that offers excellent features at a fair price, however, it may not suit every angler’s needs. For those who require ultra-fast line pickup or interchangeable spools, there are certainly better options on the market. Traveling saltwater anglers and guides, however, will benefit from the SL’s ease of maintenance, powerful drag, and thoughtful ergonomic design. Overall, we feel the Shilton SL’s benefits outweigh its drawbacks, and we expect more and more anglers to trust the Shilton SL on their next saltwater adventure.

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Pros

  • Powerful drag
  • Field-friendly maintenance
  • The incoming sound is great
  • Solid ergonomic design

Cons

  • Smaller arbor than most salt-specific reels
  • No quick-release spool
  • Outgoing sound is quiet