My recent review of Orvis' Clearwater 9-foot 4-weight fly rod right here was overwhelmingly positive. They simply did a great job upgrading that rod and it was totally satisfying to fish with. One thing I didn't mention in that review was that Orvis actually sent me that rod as part of a combo paired up with their new Clearwater large arbor reel and Clearwater fly line. Despite everything arriving as a combo, I wanted to review the rod and reel separately so could dissect both without having an incredibly long-winded review. At the risk of having an equally long-winded intro, let's get right to it!
Line Size: 4–6
Weight: 5.5 ounces
Diameter: 3 1/2 inches
Spool Width: 1 3/16 inches
Backing Capacity (20 pound): 100 yards with WF5F
Drag: Rulon/Stainless Discs (not fully sealed)
Tested Max Drag: Approx 5 pounds
Easy Release Spool: Yes
R/L Conversion: Yes
Colors: Matte Grey
Reel Pouch: Yes
Spare Spool Available: Yes ($49)
Tested Reel Price: $89
As expected due to the budget price, Clearwater reels are die-cast aluminum and given a stealthy matte-grey powder-coated finish. Depending on what section you run your fingers over, the reel's surface ranges from pretty smooth to slightly textured. While the overall finish looks good, don't expect the level of refinement you'll get from a quality machined reel.
Despite its lack of bling and elegance, the Clearwater pulls off a utilitarian look that held my interest. It's got a very open, airy design with a lot of clean edges and flowing lines. Just like the Clearwater fly rod I reviewed, the reel doesn't feel or look outwardly cheap despite the very low pricing.
The biggest question mark for me when reviewing a reel is drag smoothness. I've tested a bunch of reels here on Demystifly so far, with some doing very well and others lacking consistency and smoothness. Although pricing isn't necessarily an indicator of performance, I naturally worry more about the drag of a cheaper reel than that of a higher dollar model. Well, with this reel, those worries were quickly extinguished.
I didn't hook anything that took more than a few feet of line at a time, but my tests both on and off the water confirmed that this thing has a very smooth drag setup. Consisting of a Rulon/Stainless drag stack, I couldn't detect any startup inertia and the drag was smooth and consistent at all settings including full lock. It also provides some nice acoustics, with a composed, modest clicking sound that doesn't sound cheesy.
There's a nice tall drag knob on the back frame that's super easy to use and offers very good grip. It takes nearly two full turns to go from zero to max drag, and along the way there's good audible clicks/detents to help gauge adjustment.
The spool of the Clearwater is "loose" enough so that smacking it spins it several times to allow for quick pickup of loose line. There's a fairly solid overall feel while cranking the reel, but there is just a tinge of looseness in the handle that can be detected if you really concentrate on it. The handle itself features a comfortable taper and feels just fine to grasp.
Taking the spool off couldn't be easier. The button/switch located on the center of the spool is easily accessible and operates effortlessly, allowing the spool to slide off the shaft. When putting the spool back on, it clicks back in quickly to get you back in business without delay.
Durability-wise, I've found die-cast reels to lack a little bit in this department when compared to ones that are machined. This reel appears to be no different. While the outside received no scuffs during testing mainly due to me being pretty gentle on it, I did poke at the inside of the frame in a few small areas and found it scratched pretty easily.
For $89 this reel was better than expected. The Clearwater II was really a delight to fish and matched up extremely well to the 4-weight rod that it came paired up with. It's obvious that Orvis really did their homework when it came time to revamping both the rod and reel. I won't deny that I am partial to the high-end stuff, but this would absolutely be a candidate for me as a backup or perhaps mounted on a rod that is only used occasionally. The Orvis Clearwater II totally surprised me and proved to be a wonderful value!
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