As saltwater fly fishing has increased in popularity, the demand for decent quality reels with less-than-breath-stealing price tags has also grown. Recognizing the opportunity, some tackle manufacturers have taken a shot at producing economical reels fit for saltwater duty. Most have struck out, but a few companies have gotten it right. Let's take a look at two reels I believe are leaders in their class for performance, reliability, and value.
Imbedded in the center of the Okuma fly reel lineup is the Integrity. The Integrity is a large/wide arbor, powder coated, die-cast, disc drag reel offered the in 4 sizes for line weights 5 through 11. The 8/9 model (suitable for 8 or 9 wt. fly line) weighs 8 oz. and retails around $70.00. I own several of these reels and love them. The Integrity is outfitted with a decent drag that is easy to adjust, and a one-way roller bearing which provides silky silent retrieves. The spool, frame, and spindle are solid and strong. The Integrity is definitely a meaty reel. All the screws and small machined parts are stainless steel and the oil-impregnated hardwood handle is one of the most comfortable I have found on any reel at any price.
The oldest of my Integrity reels was purchased about 6 years ago and has seen hundreds of hours on the water and plenty of encounters with rocks, mud, and sand. It still works as good as the day I bought it. Hard knocks and serious use have sanded away the black powder coating along the outer lip of the spool but the mechanics of the reel have never failed in any way. Nor have any of the Integrity reels I own. They have all been tough and reliable.
Thus far, I have found only two minor flaws with the Okuma Integrity. First, the slender gap between the large flat drag adjustment knob and the frame of the reel is just wide enough to allow a thin fast sinking fly line to slide inside it and hang up. Second, if the reel is completely dunked, the drag slips more easily and is more difficult to accurately adjust than when it is dry. Other than that, these reels have performed flawlessly. I have heard a few ultra-light junkies complain the Integrity is too heavy (8 oz.), but to me it feels like a solid reel rather than a heavy reel.
If you are looking for a tough inexpensive saltwater reel with no weird quirks or weak points, check out the Okuma Integrity. With reasonable care and a shot of Corrosion X now and then, it should last for many years. At $70.00 dollars it is a great value.
Lamson recently introduced their Konic line of reels, offering 4 models for line weights 3 through 10. The Konic is a large arbor, pressure cast reel with the same sealed maintenance-free conical drag used in Lamson's high end models. The frame and spool of the Konic are anodized and finished in a tough polyurethane coating for ultimate resistance to scratches, dings, and corrosion. The Konic 3.5 model (for 7 & 8 wt. lines) weighs 6.9 oz. and retails for $139.00.
I have been using a Konic 3.5 for several months and I really like it. In spite of its relatively light weight, the Konic has a nice large and wide arbor and it feels solid and strong. The drag is extremely smooth and can be adjusted with pinpoint accuracy even with cold or slimy fingers. Under fast runs, the Konic is perfectly balanced and it has a reassuring feel found in much pricier reels. Like other Lamson models, the spool is secured with an internal o-ring and pops out neatly with a little thumb pressure. There are no troublesome pins, levers, or screws associated with removing the spool. The only complaint (a minor one) I have about this reel is that the handle, although solid and smooth, feels a little thin. Otherwise my experience with the Konic has been stellar.
If you are in the market for a solid capable saltwater reel, check out the Lamson Konic. It is anodized, well balanced, and armed with a proven drag system. At $139.00 the Konic is a great value.