Aspen Mid-Arbor Fly Reel Review
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Rods. Reels. Hats. Pliers. The list goes on and on. There's a lot of gear out there! I've been able to fish, use, and test a lot of different items over the years, but nothing piques my interest as much as getting acquainted with a product from a lesser-known manufacturer. One of the major reasons I enjoy looking at items from these smaller companies is because there's a bit of mystery involved since they're simply not available everywhere or seen that often.
Based in California (NOT Colorado), Aspen Reels has been one of these mysterious reel companies to me. I've heard the name occasionally, may have seen one or two before, but overall I wasn't really familiar with them. Fortunately, that all changed at IFTD 2016 in Orlando when I was able to pay their booth a visit in person here. While that visit was nice and all, I really wanted to take one fishing for myself!
This made-in-the-USA reel touts a frame and spool fully-machined from 6061 aluminum with a Type III anodize. Like all Aspens, our black test reel was equipped with modest porting throughout, a one-piece foot/frame connection, hollow main shaft for heat dissipation, a lugnut-style spool counterbalance, easy pop on/off spool, and an oddly-unique rear drag knob. The finish and machining is very good, but the pointed corners of the frame could be softened just a tad. Overall, the reel is simplistic and looks great.
One knock against the Aspen 300 is the weight—it's heavy! Truthfully though, the above-average heft doesn't bother me that much. At 5.6-ounces the weight doesn't exactly jump out at you, but it's noticed somewhat when using a very lightweight fly rod. On a positive note, this reel is solidly built and the extra weight equates to extra toughness.
The Aspen 300 was used to chase small peacock bass, cichlids, largemouth (like the one giving my reel a good splash, below) and whatever-else-happened-to-bite in South Florida canals and ponds. It was affixed to both an ECHO Dry 4-weight along with an ECHO Glass 3-weight. I would've loved to have hooked one of the very few grass carp I happened upon, but the ones I found were in lockjaw mode. Hooking one of those brutes would've been a heck of a drag test!
I have to mention the solid feel here again. This little reel feels like an absolute rock! In fact, it's the most solid-feeling small reel I can remember using. As previously mentioned, this sensation comes at the cost of overall weight, but there's something confident and satisfying about using a reel that feels like this one does. There's no wobbliness, sloppiness, or weak feel to be found.
Retrieval rate of this particular model isn't bad at all. Although this is a mid-arbor reel, it's speed is plenty adequate for what most folks will be doing with a 3 or 4 weight. Slapping the spool to retrieve line works okay, but the spool isn't as "loose" as some so it won't spin as readily. Just as when line is pulled off the reel, the same subdued clicking sound can be heard when line is reeled in. Also of note, the handle size was good and had a comfy slightly-tapered shape.
The drag is easily summarized in one word: excellent! It ramps up with seemingly zero start-up inertia at any drag setting (even after being totally submerged and exposed to grit) and operates without any jerks or hesitations. The maximum drag setting isn't anything spectacular, but it's still far more than I'd ever use when fishing with a 3 or 4 weight rod. The drag is adjusted by a very funky rear knob that I don't love or hate, but I do wish it was just a standard round knob with some outer texture. There's no detents to be felt at all, but there are some numbers on the back to help you adjust more precisely.
Where's the spool release? Do you unscrew something? This is one of those reels that has no release switch or cap to unscrew. Simply pull the spool straight off the frame with some modest pulling or pushing pressure (depending on how you hold it), and the two will separate. To put everything back together, simply re-align the spool/frame, push firmly, and you'll get a nice little pop when they both fully bond together. Very easy, and very cool.
I came away from this test really liking the little Aspen 300. It's just a simple, tough, and refreshingly-different little reel that works well without the added glitz, glamour, and inflated price tag. Give them a look—I don't think you'll be let down!
Every Aspen Reel comes with a neoprene pouch that can accommodate the reel on or off the rod. Mid-arbor models span from our 300 (3/4 lines; $200) up to a 400 (8–10 lines; $280). Large-arbor reels are available in a 325 (3/4 lines; $230) up to the 450 (10–12 lines; $350). Some models are also available in the red/silver/blue "USA" color scheme for a slightly higher cost.
*Reel shown in pictures is not the size we tested
Tested Size: 3/4
Weight: 5.6 ounces
Diameter: 3.0 inches
Width: 1.31 inches
Backing Capacity: WF3F + 75 yards of 12-pound
Drag: Teflon/Stainless (fully-sealed)
Bearings: 2 frame/2 spool
Easy Release Spool: Yes
Colors: Clear (silver), black (tested), matte black, USA (red/silver/blue)
Reel Pouch: Yes
Spare Spool Price: $100
Reel Price as tested : $200