Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nautilus NV - The Big Red Disc

It's not that I have a fly fisherman's version of Tourette's Syndrome which causes me to spout socially inappropriate fly reel reviews in close proximity to one another. I've been using the Nautilus NV for about 6 months now, and feel it represents a key challenge to Lamson's Vanquish lineup.

Why? Simply put, it's excellent and costs less. It's the perfect timing for a back-to-back review.

Nautilus NV Rear Spiral

Nautilus NV 5/6 Reel: $540 (Spool $225)
Lamson Vanquish 5.6 Reel: $599 (Spool $269)
Difference: $59 (Reel) $44 (Spool)

This becomes more significant as you move up the scale:

Nautilus NV 8/9 Reel: $595 (Spool $245)
Lamson Vanquish V8 Reel: $799 (Spool $359)
Difference: $204 (Reel) $114 (Spool)

Light weight is an obvious goal with big reels, and both the NV and Vanquish are heavily machined to reduce weight and maximize strength. The result?

Nautilus NV 8/9: 7.1 oz
Vanquish V8: 7.2 oz

The NV offers a fully sealed disc drag made out of carbon and cork (CCF). This approach eliminates the maintenance needs of typical cork disc brakes and the heat build up of carbon materials. The open-face design of most cork drags such as Tibor and Abel is prone to contamination, hydroplaning, and ice up in cold temperatures. The CCF system eliminates those concerns as well.

Sage Xi3 & Nautilus NV

One down side of this design is that switching from right to left-handed retrieve is best left to the factory or your Nautilus dealer. Most people never change this anyway, but be aware of this gotcha if it's a factor for you.

I love the spool release used by Nautilus. It's a knurled screw knob easily accessible with gloves in any conditions. A few turns and the spool is free, yet it's very secure at high RPM and under stress.

Nautilus NV Front Logo

When I first started using the NV, the drag knob raised my dander a bit. I love numbered drags, or at least any system that allows easily repeatable settings. The Nautilus has a checkered knob with no markings, and for me this is less than ideal. The adjustment tension is excellent and it's hard to accidentally change the setting.

Nautilus NV Roll Rearward

It was not until later that I found out the Nautilus Custom Shop offers a numbered drag option, and not surprisingly it happens to be one of the most frequently requested features among guides and pros. This numbering is beautifully done, and will be on any future reels I order. Nautilus also excels at color anodized finishes, and offers engraving and other custom work. Check out the NAUTILUS CUSTOM SHOP for details.

I was curious to see how the CCF drag would work under extremely cold conditions since I have experienced issues in the past with disc designs.

Nautilus NV Chaos

I went out this winter in temperatures down to -6° F and submerged the reel completely, then allowed it to freeze solid in the frigid air. Each time, a little pressure on the reel handle would easily break the ice build up and the NV would function without a hitch.

Nautilus NV River Ice

Nautilus NV Frozen Falls

The NV is simply outstanding within its price range, and I can't think of any reasons NOT to buy one.

Weight: ☆☆☆☆☆ (7.1oz for the 8/9!)
Engineering: ☆☆☆☆☆ (The CCF drag is a brute, numbered drag available by order)
Price: ☆☆☆☆☆ (Very reasonable at this level of performance)
Overall Design: ☆☆☆☆☆ (Among the best visual designs in the industry)

First ever 5-star sweep.

Nautilus NV Roll Forward

Nautilus NV & Sage Xi3

If you'd like to shop for the NV, or other Nautilus models like the Featherweight and CCF, check out STILLWATER FLY SHOP. They include any fly line up to $75 with the purchase.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


The Waterworks/Lamson has always been a self-professed function over form reel manufacturer. Customers have come to expect toughness and reliability without a price premium from this Idaho, USA-based company.

Lamson's proprietary Hard Alox finish (derived from the aerospace industry) has a reputation for standing up to heavy abuse, but lacks the appeal and variety to be had among the competition. Bringing to mind Henry Ford's famous remark - Lamson customers can have any color they like, as long as it's GREY.

Visual design has also been less of a priority, with performance coming first. This is a strategy that seems to make great sense in the value segment of the reel market, but can be a handicap as prices rise. With companies like Hatch, Nautilus, Galvan, and others offering high performance eye candy, some Lamson models seem lackluster by comparison.

At some point the folks up in Ketchum, Idaho decided enough was enough, and the Vanquish was born. The goal was to create a fly reel without compromises that would out perform anything in the marketplace. Most of Lamson's reel models sell in the $100 to $350 price range, with some ULA Force offerings in the mid $500s. The Vanquish release brought price tags of $800-$900.

These prices are not unusual in the big game reel industry, but what about smaller models? The Vanquish has just debuted for 4/5, 5/6, and 7/8 line weights. MSRP: $550 - $699. I was able to get my hands on a 7.8LT from one of the initial production runs, and I have to warn you that what follows is the full monty...

Lamson Vanquish Rear Quarter

Lamson Vanquish Front View

The amount of machining on this reel is pretty staggering. Weight has been minimized at every possible turn, and the heavily ported spool is absolutely feather light.

Vanquish Spool Ports

The drag knob is large, has just the right amount of resistance to avoid accidental adjustment, and the "V" shape creates a very useful reference point for repeatable settings. I have always loved numbered drags for this reason, and this setup is almost as good.

Lamson Vanquish Rear View

The finish... is Hard Alox - and flawless.

Lamson Vanquish 7.8LT

Ultimately I do think that Lamson would do well to introduce color variations (at least matte black) into the lineup. At steep prices, customers tend to want a little personalization. Still, the Vanquish is a limited production model, and brings with it a certain amount of exclusivity.

After spending some time with this hardware, the Vanquish had a familiar yet difficult to describe presence about it. It finally dawned on me that Lamson's Formula 1 entry was nothing short of tactical in appearance and function. While not fluid in visual design, it has a visceral impact similar to assault weaponry. The Vanquish has the go anywhere, do anything attitude of a military M4 carbine.

Lamson Vanquish and M4 Carbine

You half expect this thing to come from the factory with a picatinny rail mount.

Waterworks Lamson Vanquish & Nighthawk

If you have fly fishing black ops in mind, the Vanquish will perform in the harshest conditions. The fully sealed, conical drag and uncompromising approach to build quality make this reel exceptional.

Lamson Vanquish Assault Set 4

FlytoWater Rating:

Weight: ☆☆☆☆☆ (Incredibly light for a machined, all-metal reel)
Engineering: ☆☆☆☆☆ (No compromises)
Price: ☆☆☆☆ (More expensive than some superb alternatives, but not by much)
Overall Design: ☆☆☆☆☆ (Not sexy and fluid, but so badass it deserves 5 stars)