Cork, Delrin, Rulon, graphite – drag systems are constantly evolving. One of the biggest developments in our view is synthetic materials creating drags that are lighter and require little or no maintenance. For this reason, cork drag reels such as Abel and Tibor (while still great reels) have been largely superseded by reels that employ synthetic drags. Having read numerous reviews online regarding saltwater reels, we’re yet to see one that pressure tests the drags to ensure they’re impervious to saltwater. When we finally figure out the best way to do this we hope to publish something on the subject because we believe this is singularly the most important attribute of any modern saltwater fly reel. For now we can only speculate but here is our experience with a small selection of the top saltwater reels.

We’ve been fans of Hatch Outdoors reels for many years and we still have a soft spot for them. They remain a great reel that performs well in most situations however like most fly reels, they leave something to be desired. The reality is there have been some pretty big developments from other reel companies since we first brought Hatch to Australia nearly a decade ago and we’d like to shed some light on the subject.


Hatch 11+ on the lookout for Tarpon.

This is not an effort to bag one brand over another but simply to present what we know and have experienced. It wasn’t till reading Gink and Gasoline’s blog that we realised there were others out there having mixed experiences with Hatch reels. Along with selling Hatch reels, we’ve been fishing them for years on our saltwater trips. For us, shop returns are one thing but nothing compares to your own experience on the water. When you’re fishing the flats, it’s inevitable you’re going to dunk your reel in the water and drag it through the sand. In doing just that, Andrew’s Hatch 7+ reel took in saltwater on a bonefishing trip at Christmas Island. This led to a sticky drag that wasn’t much fun to fish with for the remainder of the week. This was a rare case but over the next couple of years we had a small number of reels returned that required full drag replacement. Fortunately, Hatch is excellent to deal with and everything was covered under warranty. However it raised concerns over the “waterproof drag” feature of the reel. On a later trip to Costa Rica fishing a Hatch Finatic 11+ for big Tarpon, the combination of heavy drag setting and a lightning fast run was sufficient pressure to buckle and deform the spool just enough for it to start making contact with the frame of the reel. This created a concerning screeching sound that only metal on metal can make. On this same trip, Andrew fished a Nautilus NV-G reel and the combination of a big handle, extra large arbor and a silky smooth drag, quickly made it the preferred reel to fish – so much so that it led to line changes one evening – Andrew wasn’t interested in touching any other reel from that point forth!

Gin-Clear Media's Nick Reygaert puts the Nautilus through its paces.

Gin-Clear Media’s Nick Reygaert puts the Nautilus through its paces.

Waterproof drags are nearly as important in freshwater. We’ve lost count of how many reels with sticky drags we’ve opened that have silty dirt left in them from past trips.

Top reels come with high price tags and so understandably there’s a heavy expectation the things are going to do what they say they’re supposed to. For us in the shop we feel totally responsible when a customer has a mishap with an item we’ve recommended and our store’s reputation relies on anglers having a good experience with the gear we sell them. We won’t tolerate gear failure and nor should you. For now, Nautilus and Einarrson reels sit proudly on the top shelf. Einarsson are an Icelandic reel brand not often mentioned in Australia but they’re rapidly growing in popularity. So far so good with their waterproof drag doing what it claims to do. In three weeks the International Fly Tackle Dealer Show takes place in Orlando, Florida. For us, this is a time to hunt for reliable gear we can feel comfortable recommending. In the realm of saltwater flyfishing this task is getting easier every year as the gear continues to improve.

Read Andrew’s gear column ‘Behind The Line’ in each issue of FlyStream magazine.