About a year and a half ago I wrote my review of the Orvis Battenkill Disc reel. Since that time I have fished the beejesus out of it,
And it has yielded many fish, ranging from tiny
To, “DON’T BREAK, BELOVED 4 WEIGHT.”
Over that time my review has also become one of the most popular posts here on LP. As such, I thought it was a good time to step back and revisit this miracle of modern manufacturing to let you know how it has held up to a year and a half of hard southwestern fly fishing.
First, I want to open with a caveat: southwestern fly fishing is not for the faint of heart, at least not the way I do it. Sure, we have our fair share of nice, easy streams, but you are far more likely to find me fishyoneering deep within one of Arizona’s countless wilderness areas. This means that when dropped reels fall directly on rim rock, not some fancy grass. It also means reels are often tossed down short scrambles and drug through long swims through slot canyons. It’s a hard knock life.
With that being said, let’s address the main benefit long term testing can provide: durability.
I will break this section into two categories, first, function, and second, asthetics.
Most importantly, despite the stupid abuse that I described above, my reel still functions perfectly. The drag feels like it did the day it came out of the box, the detentes on the drag knob are still crisp, and neither of my spools wobble. My only quibble is that the handle has more play in it than I would like, though I am not sure if this is a problem that has developed over time or if it was like this out of the box. This is kind of a big deal, however, as play in the handle makes the reel feel sloppier than it is. Were I Orvis remediating this problem would be my number one concern on the reel. The “step-up” market, where this reel undoubtedly falls, is fickle and full of consumers (and significant others) who are wondering whether spending the extra money was really worth it. Better to throw away a few knobs during the manufacturing process than have the customer go back to a cheapy with their next purchase.
Aesthetically, the story is not as positive. I still love the classic lines of this mid-arbor look, but, to be blunt, the reel has scratched a lot, especially around the edges.
Of course this has to be contextualized within the (ab)use the reel has gone through. I know that it has not lived an easy life and I suppose with more care it would look better. However, for what it is worth the two rods it has lived on look no worse for wear, which makes me suspect that better anodizing is in order. On one hand, some scratches seem like a silly complaint on what is a very reasonably priced machined reel. On the other, a primary reason many step up to a machined part is for better durability, and if that durability isn’t there, well, there are a lot of cast reels in this price range. On the whole, I remain neutral, neither pleased nor displeased, with how the reel has worn aesthetically.
While we are on the topic value, the Battenkill Disc remains at or near best in class. Yes, if you want a large arbor you can go to the slightly pricier, heavier, and uglier, Hydros SL (review forthcoming). Reddington offers the i.D. and Behemoth, neither of which have sealed drags and both of which are cast. Lamson offers the Liquid, which has a sealed drag, but is cast, not machined. The closest competition I can think of is the Cabelas WLX II, which is machined and sealed, but is the same price and doesn’t come with the Orvis name behind it (for whatever that is worth). If there is a reel that obviously beats the Battenkill on value, I don’t know what it is.
On other topics, my feelings remain the same. The reel is clicky, but could be clickier (Editor’s note– all reels should be clickier). The drag is smooth, but adjustment takes far to many turns of the knob. The mid-arbor is a wonderful combination of looks and practically. In short, it this reel looks and performs like a classic because it is a classic.
I want to close on a decidedly non-fishing topic: change. If you don’t like non-fishing topics on your fishing blogs, you know where the x button is.
What I’ve written here should make it clear that the Battenkill Disc isn’t perfect. It is, however, is very, very good and only $150. Just a few years ago a very, very good fly reel at $150ish dollars was simply unimaginable. The existence of this reel is made possible by the fact that under those classic lines hides a great deal of modernity. Designed on a computer, carved from a brick of aluminum by a machine more precise than all but the most expert human hands, and shipped across the ocean to a store where it sells for a price reflective of the fact that few people interceded in it’s manufacture, all while performing better than anything we used to have, the Battenkill Disc is the kind of product that makes you step back and realize just how powerful a machine modern life is. This reel is an incredible technical achievement, the latest in a series of steps moving fly fishing from an stuffy-rich-guys-club sport to something more democratic. Is that a good thing? Yes– unquestionably yes — but it is also a sign that the world is changing and, as the Red Queen says, “…it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Fly fishing is in for a wild ride over the next decade or so, and I, for one, am excited to see what’s next.
You can follow Lesser Places by email, or on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram using the menu at the top of the page. Or, you could click the links below to share with your friends directly. Or, copy and paste the URL someplace you think people will find it useful. Or, print the story, place it in a nice envelope, and send it to one of your friends. Basically we support any way you want to share. No, we aren’t above begging.
Max Wilson is a born and raised Arizonan with a love for all that is beautiful and strange about the Southwest. He studied at Arizona State University, where he received his PhD in ecology. He writes here at Lesser Places, occasionally for Backpacker, and even more occasionally for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.