Raspberryfisher's Blog

notes on fishing & travel

Fly Fishing Reels – IMHO – Post 4

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Saltwater Reels

When I started these series, I missed one important criteria – backing capacity.  With saltwater and spey rods, I believe backing capacity is important, especially with saltwater.

With the former (spey), where you are likely casting to steelhead or salmon on a river that wants to move and has a river to help it run, but often you are bound by the river  – whether it is bends, trees or other structures – and I have found 150m will usually suffice – or be prepared to break-off.

With saltwater and open horizons and fish that live to run, you will need 150m or more.

Sadly, many reels are optimistic on the backing capacity they have, and please take caution and be prepared to include gel-spun.  In a later post, I will discuss backing solutions.

If backing capacity is important, you can imagine I also believe a fast rate of retrieve is also important.  So running against of requirements, what do I see as important and good attributes.

  • Drag: Supporting pressure got 8-20# tippet is an absolute, and if there is one occasion you may wish to adjust drag during a fight it is with Saltwater. As previously posted, if you want to address drag during a fight, consider a reel where the drag setting is on the reel hand, as you would see on anti-reverse reels. (Oh yes, while I will start with a heavier drag setting in salt, I am not putting a lot of pressure).
  • Noise: Still do not care.
  • Rate of Retrieve: High rate of retrieve with a minimum of 150m of 30# backing. Given manufacturer’s boastful claims, make sure the reel is specified supporting 200m of backing.
  • Weight:  A reel under 10oz will serve you well.
  • Problem Free in a Harsh Environment: Yes, so look for anodized solutions and sealed drags. Unfortunately, what typically rusts is the small things – rivets, screws and parts of the drag. After every daily outing, wash your reel!
  • User Maintenance: Reliable sealed drag has been one of the great advances that has happen, so exploit it. The previous generation of drags, such as my graphite-cork drag on my Islander is very good, but suggest you consider the recent evolution to see drags.
  • Cross-Functional: Nice to have, as these reels can provide good service for streamer and spey fishing.
  • Spool Changes: Nice to have for cross-functional use, but many saltwater reels have spools locked in and require tools to remove.

So the priority is a reel with a fast retrieve and backing that is durable-reliable in a harsh environment (sealed drag) and provide resistance when a fish runs in open spaces.

Good news, all the reels I present here are suitable for Saltwater – at least light duty – but some are better than others.


Saltwater reels is their root, so you should expect them to excel here, and they do.

  • Drag: A. I have hammered Nautilus for abandoning support for their earlier product lines and support for long-rod Spey, but I will acknowledge their drag in this transition migrate from excellent to better. Any yes, I can palm it.
  • Noise: NR
  • Rate of Retrieve and Backing: A
  • Weight:  A
  • Problem Free in a Harsh Environment: A
  • User Maintenance: A and with the open frame, enables a good rinse at the end of the day.
  • Cross-Functional: D, acknowledging they walked away from supporting spey.
  • Spool Changes: D, as stated earlier, as you do not know when they will abandon their product line, eliminate forward-backwards compatibility and obsolete your reel-spool. If you buy a Nautilus, budget for a spare spool.

nautilus 10 2_DSC0224

nautilus nvg_DSC0201

So it may seem harsh my position with Nautilus, given it is a very fine reel, but I value support. If the company chooses to abandon me and my investment in their product, I do respond in kind. My response, is a just a reflection of their action.


Another company whose eye is to the sea.

  • Drag: A, solid and with the discontinue AR version, I can adjust the drag without much distraction.  And yes, I can palm it to!
  • Noise: NR
  • Rate of Retrieve and Backing: B – stated supported backing was optimistic. Be prepared to go one size up or use gel-spun.
  • Weight:  A
  • Problem Free in a Harsh Environment: B – See User Maintenance.
  • User Maintenance: C – you do need to occasionally lubricate the drag AND the closed reel spool base will reduce the ease-effectively of any wash.
  • Cross-Functional: C
  • Spool Changes: D, now, I have not called Islander to see if they can produce a spare spool for me (and they might), but otherwise getting  spare spool is not likely. Add to this limitation and the need for tools to change spools and involves loose parts – screw, washer, et cetera, this is not a task to do in the boat or on the bank.


No qualms with using this reel, but additional care in maintenance and setup needs to be taken.


You can use the traditional reels in saltwater, but I would restrict them to light usage. I would not use them for sharks, tuna, tarpon, et cetera.

My focus is on my L5W, and will note that Danielsson has a heavy duty model as well. If targeting tuna and the like, I would consider the H5D 11fourteen, but consider the additional sidewalls will reduce cleaning and draining of the lower backing. This is a decision that Danielsson to ensure strength in open water.

I note this is my newest reel, and has not seen the decades+ use that the other reels have seen.

  • Drag: A.
  • Noise: NR
  • Rate of Retrieve and Backing: A
  • Weight:  A
  • Problem Free in a Harsh Environment: A
  • User Maintenance: A
  • Cross-Functional: A
  • Spool Changes: A


The traditional reels, suitable for light saltwater fishing.


Yes, the new Danielsson are my goto reels.

Waterworks Force

Beautiful sculpture, but an okay reel.

  • Drag: C, nice sealed drag and the most rough in my collection, but a plastic clicker?
  • Noise: NR
  • Rate of Retrieve and Backing: B – rate of retrieve is great, but backing capacity is understated. I have choose to use gel-spun.
  • Weight:  A
  • Problem Free in a Harsh Environment: A
  • User Maintenance: B, but the lack of an open spool base degrades the rating to a B
  • Cross-Functional: C
  • Spool Changes: D, easy to change, but replacement spools are impossible to locate now.




Written by raspberryfisher

2017/05/25 at 03:01

Posted in Fly-Fishing

2 Responses

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  1. […] everything else, except for long spey rods, look to Danielsson L5W and H5D series.  As Danielsson is producing a great product at a great price, with a Swedish sense of […]

  2. […] Sealed drags are good in tough conditions – Winter and Salt […]

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