Monday, October 19, 2009

Product review - Firehole II reel from Fly Fishing Benefactors (with bonus coverage - updated review on the Deschutes I reel from FFB)

So I’ve been cleaning out my fly tying room to get ready for some serious tying this winter, and I came across an empty box tucked away in a back corner under a mound of paper and old fly line. Turned out to be the box the folks at Fly Fishing Benefactors used to send me their Firehole II reel for a review.  The date on the shipping label was November 2008, which meant a couple of things. One, I’ve now had the reel for nearly a year, more than enough time to put it through the wringer and measure its performance. And two, the nice people at FFB are probably wondering if I’m ever, ever going to write this review. Oops.

Better late than never, I guess. Anyway, about the reel - I could probably boil it down to one word – versatility.  When I received the Firehole II, I immediately spooled it up with WF7F and began packing it along with me everywhere to fish. And I mean everywhere. (Seriously, go look at the trip reports from 2009 on our Finewater blog - this reel is in about every other photo) To date I have used it for steelhead in Michigan, bass in Georgia, stripers in Tennessee and Georgia, trout in any number of big tailwaters in the southeastern US, and more recently, big carp in the lake near my house.  In other words, I’ve had this reel in just about every fishing situation you can imagine. And I have no complaints. Ok, maybe just a couple of small ones, but nothing major. More on that in a bit.

As with the Deschutes from FFB, the Firehole II is a fine looking reel. It has all the right bells and whistles, and a nice titanium finish with “comprehensive corrosion resistance” to boot.  It’s machined from high grade aircraft aluminum which, as we noted in our review of the Deschutes, is a standard feature of higher end reels. It sports a large arbor (2 inch arbor diameter), as well as the same “Silent Retrieve System” as the Deschutes.  At 5.77 ounces, the Firehole II isn’t especially light, but there are certainly similar reels out there that are heavier. We’re talking fractions of an ounce here, so no big deal in my opinion.  It looks great, but really, so what? Does it have the stones to slow down a big fish if necessary? That’s what I really wanted to know.

Like many reels out there, the Firehole has a closed disc drag system.  The FFB site calls it a “powerful disc drag…”.  Well, ok. Let’s see. I didn’t bother testing the drag as I did with the Deschutes. Instead I simply went to the river and fished the hell out of it. I figured that if the drag system on this reel is crap, the local striper and carp populations would let me know immediately and in no uncertain terms. As it turns out, the drag is just fine. 

I have no idea how many times this reel has been into the backing this year, but it was a lot. This reel has endured more hard, brutal runs than Fast Willie Parker and has handled them just fine. Now to be honest, I have yet to hook a truly large striper or steelie on the Firehole.  How would it respond to the pressure a 20+ pounder would put on it?  I don’t know, but I’m optimistic. Even though I haven’t tested it against a bona fide monster fish, this reel has seen plenty of 5 to 12 pounders, and at no time have I felt overmatched. At least not with the reel. (There were a few times when I wished I had my 9 weight rod instead of that 7 weight, but that’s another story.)

All of that said, I do have a couple of nits. First is the low backing capacity.  Per the FFB web site, the Firehole II will hold seventy to eighty yards of 20 lb backing with a 5 or 6 wt fly line ( I assume they mean a WF line here).  Seventy to eighty yards of backing is fine if you’re fishing for bass or trout. Striper fishing, not so much. . I was able to get around this by using gel-spun, which allowed me to put well over 100 yards of backing on the spool. So not a big deal, but worth mentioning. To be fair, the Firehole II is not designed to be an every day big game (read: striper) reel. This is reel for 5 to 7 weight lines and the corresponding fishing situations, so the backing issue may not be an issue for you.  Then again, I use this reel for all of my carp fishing so backing capacity is a definite consideration. 

Also, the drag knob is big and easily adjusted, but a bit sensitive.  As a rule, I try very hard not to adjust the drag while fighting a fish. Sometimes though I have little choice and will try to ease the drag off a bit. With the Firehole II, I found it took a very deft touch to back the drag off gradually. On a couple of occasions, I backed off the drag a bit too much and got some over-run when the fish made another charge. Took some practice to develop that touch.

You can check out the Firehole II and its specs here. I think you'll find that on paper, the Firehole II compares favorably with other reels out there.  When it comes down to it though, I really only want to know three things about a reel –

1.Does it have a quality drag?

2. Does it balance well on the rod?

3. Is it durable?

The Firehole II answers the bell on all counts as far as I’m concerned.  A year of use and abuse allows me to say that with a great deal of confidence.  At 149.00, I think this reel is worth a look if you're in the market.

DESCHUTES UPDATE: Since I have referenced the Deschutes review we did back in October of 2007, I thought I would throw in an update on that reel. It now has nearly two years of use under its belt now.  We have used it both in our personal fishing and also on our guided trips, allowing clients to use it.  This thing has seen literally hundreds of hours of river time.  It looks like hell, but this tough little reel is still going strong.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Let's kick this off with a little fly fishing for gar. That's right - gar.

Rob Prytula with a beauty. Caught on a 6 wt. and a hookless rope fly. Gar have seriously bony mouths and hooks are practically useless.  Serious gar anglers use a short length of old, very frayed rope or something similar. The gar takes the fly, chomps on it a bit, and gets all of those tiny fibers entangled in its teeth. Then, usually, you have him.  No hook-set needed since, well, there isn't a hook. Just gradually remove slack and draw tight to the gar once you know he has the fly.  He'll let you know when the fight begins. I'll post some photos of a few gar flies soon. Thanks to Rob for the photo.  He actually caught a few of these on this trip. And yes, I'm jealous.