Orvis Hydros SL II Fly Reel Review
Updated: Mar 30
It's an especially great time to be a fly angler. Not only do we have access to some outstanding top-tier gear these days, but the amount of high-quality products at very fair prices has never been better. Speaking of which, the Orvis Hydros SL series of reels looks to fit right into that category.
Though not exactly a brand-new offering, I hadn't yet fished a Hydros SL reel before this test. Actually, it's been awhile since I last fished an Orvis reel! To the best of my memory, the last one I fished was over 20 years ago and came as a combo paired up with a Rocky Mountain Flea 4-weight fly rod. To say a lot has changed since then would be an understatement, so I had really high hopes for this slick little Hydros SL II model.
Orvis has made several improvements in this reel over the previous Hydros. The drag and clutch bearings are now upgraded and fully-sealed, the drag knob and handle were redesigned, and design improvements were implemented to shrink tolerances while increasing overall strength and feel. The "super large" arbors are also said to increase retrieval rates by up to 12%.
The Hydros SL sports an interesting physical appearance with lots of openings throughout and neat-looking vertical "braces" in the back of the frame. I was expecting our black nickel-colored test reel to be darker in appearance, but that's not very important here. Color technicalities aside, the reel does look very nice and has a fresh appeal to it. Build quality appeared to be issue-free both inside and out.
The Hydros SL II has a generously-sized arbor and a relatively narrow spool which equates to a good retrieve ratio for the reel's size. The new Delrin handle is nice enough to hold thanks to a gentle taper and modest thickness, but it does exhibit a tiny amount of play on the handle post. However, I didn't find this annoying or really even noticeable when reeling. The connection of frame-to-spool is very solid with no awkward play or looseness to be noted.
Comprised of a combo of carbon and stainless steel, the fully-sealed drag is very good. It ramps up with no detectable startup inertia and stays satisfyingly consistent as line is pulled off—even at a slow pace with substantial drag pressure. The mellow clicking sounds emitted by both the drag and during retrieval sound okay, but are not among my favorites. I have no clue what the exact maximum drag poundage is—it's so stout that I actually had some trouble appropriately testing it when at full lockdown so I just gave up. For a smaller reel like this, who really cares anyway? Let's just say that if you ever feel the strange need to take a trout reel tuna fishing, this one seems like it would be ideal!
One thing I really didn't care for in relation to the drag is the knob. I felt the rounded portion of the knob could use some extra grip and the flat thumb indent felt awkward to me. Basically, I'd rather take a normal round knob with a nice grippy surface any day. Regarding adjustment, there's good firm detents throughout the range with about 2-1/4 turns from zero to maximum lock.
Spool removal is pretty simple. Flip the little switch on the center cap and the spool can be easily pulled off the frame. Likewise, the frame and spool also mesh back together easily and with a nice little thud so you know you got it right.
For the money, this is a really strong value. For just under $200 you get a machined reel that looks good, isn't heavy, boasts a waterproof and very smooth drag system, and has what seems to be a solid, strong design. I enjoyed my very short time with the Hydros SL II and really think most folks that fish one will be equally pleased.
Hydros SL reels come in 3–10 weight sizes and run from $198–$259. Spare spools are available for any model and range from $98–$129.
Line Size: 3–5 weight
Weight: 5.6 ounces
Diameter: 3 1/2 inches
Spool Width: 1 1/8 inches
Backing Capacity (20 pound dacron): WF3F: 150 / WF4F: 125 / WF5F: 100
Drag: Carbon/Stainless Steel (fully sealed)
Tested Max Drag: Very high!!!
Quick Release Spool: Yes
R/L Conversion: Yes
Colors: Black Nickel (tested) and Citron
Reel Pouch: Yes
Spare Spool Available: Yes ($98)
Reel Price: $198.00