Wednesday , July 18 2018
Home / Reviews / Gear Review / Fly Reels / ORVIS® HYDROS SL II REVIEW – PART 1 BY VAGABOND FLY
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Editors’ Note: Part 1 of our review on the Orvis® Hydros SL II Reel is focused on the fishability & versatility of the reel throughout an array of conditions, against several different species and all this after putting it through the hands of several reviewers. In Part 2 we will be combining it with the Orvis® Helios 2 4-weight 10’ Rod (Tip Flex) and rate the overall outfit’s technical prowess and ability used in Euro-style fishing against South Africa’s very own Smallmouth Yellowfish.


We caught our first glimpse of the Orvis® Hydros SL range of reels mid-July 2015 at IFTD in Orlando and from the outset we knew it would cross the line ahead of many reels purely based on looks alone (sex appeal is actually more fitting). Vagabond Fly and a our team of reviewers were fortunate enough to play with some of the earlier prototypes, but in February 2016 we received our review model to throw at various review conditions and situations. Initially we got caught up on the aesthetics of the reel and our initial photographs were evidently biased, so we had to step it up and throw the reel through a series ofVagabond Fly Review Lab Tests…


ScoreCard_REELS_RSA_Hydros SL II-01

Rated for rod weights 3 – 5 with a claimed weight of 5.6 oz. the Orvis® Hydros SL II Reel shrieked versatility across the range of the most popular light-freshwater outfits. To review this component, we tested it on both 8’6” & 9’0” 3 and 4 weight rods within a backcountry small stream environment on our indigenous Natal Scalies. For the upper-end of the scale we wanted to see how the reel performed on our local Trout stillwaters when paired with 4 & 5 weight rods. We opened up the review process to our audience and, to our joy, Roxanne & Wayne Stegen got the nod – upon closer inspection we not only noticed that they spend every available second chasing down trophy stillwater Trout as a dynamic duo, but they have extensive experience with Orvis®’ older ranges of reels. They proved to be the ideal crew to comment on the improvements and advancements of the Orvis® Hydros SL range. They took the reel for a stroll on several KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, stillwaters in winter to tame some crystal-clear-water-bank-cruisers that the area is so renowned for.

These conditions called for a reel that has

  • Low to zero start-up inertia
  • Smooth unflinching drag to protect nerve-wrecking thin tippet (4-7X)
  • A sealed drag – though not tested in the salt, the reel was constantly submerged
  • Fast retrieve rate to pick up any loose coils QUICKLY when the fish take off
  • Durable finish – we were asked to test not cuddle the reel


You already know our first impression on this – sleek and sexy design, fully-machined in a low-flash black nickel color. TheOrvis® Hydros SL II Reel looks right at home no matter how bold or understated you want the overall outfit to look. For lack of better a description, the drag-knob shape is interesting – large enough that you have no problem to locate-&-grip it during a fight (if need be) and shaped so that it allows a firm and comfortable grip.

The super large arbor design Orvis® claims increases retrieval rate by 12% and though we have no basis to compare it to, the size is realistic and in line with what is deemed practical on the stated rod weights.

We effortlessly changed the retrieve to right-hand (yes we know!) which required us to use the included tool to open the drag hub, flip the bearing, and tighten up. Post the 5-month long and varied review we opened up the reel again to find ZERO moisture inside the drag hub attesting to the fully sealed drag mechanism.



For the conditions and when used in a more traditional setting (not on overly long rods or for Euro-style nymphing) theOrvis® Hydros SL II Reel balanced beautifully on 9’0” rods in the 4 – 5 wt range. Its fast paced retrieval rate was instantly noticeable; with fish roaring in the opposite direction we were able to get them on the reel in what felt like minimal turns every time. Orvis® has managed to strike a sweet balance between arbor size and width – 3 weight lines do not require you to load excessive amounts of backing to fill up the arbor and 5 weight lines do not require you to sacrifice backing for those “just in case” moments.

Unless you get extremely scientific with it, testing zero start-up inertia is a very subjective matter. Factually though, with the drag set and fishing light tippets, not one fish was lost due to a ‘sticky’ or unpredictable drag – it ran smooth and true with the counter-weight expertly balanced to the frame.

Our Vagabond Fly Audience Reviewers, Wayne and Roxanne Stegen, also sent us their review notes and summary on theOrvis® Hydros SL II Reel and we could simply nod in agreement:

  • Looks: Beautiful and has very little shine (love it)
  • Durability: We think it could take a hammering. No paint to flake off either…
  • Drag knob: Well designed and only changes settings by hand and is not knocked into a different setting as some other makes tend to do!
  • Drag:
    – Zero fish lost in the fight. With it being winter and in 7 C° water those first and final runs are violent. So testament to the drag!!!
    – We fished it on the lightest drag setting and it is as smooth as a baby’s bottom. We imagine you could stop a car on the highest setting



All reviewers agreed that the Orvis® Hydros SL II Reel is perfectly suited to 9’0” rods and more so from 4wt up. On the 8’6” 3wt we initially tested it on it felt unbalanced during the casting stroke.

It is down to personal taste and feel; the Vagabond Fly Editors love our reels with a big and overstated arbor size and found the Orvis® Hydros SL II Reel the perfect match on our 4 & 5wt outfits. Our Audience Reviewers, Roxanne and Wayne, felt theOrvis® Hydros SL II Reel to be better suited to rod weights 5 – 7.


We left the best until last – at an extremely competitive $198 you get stellar performance in a sleek, sexy and well thought-out package that will land you countless trophy fish, in various conditions and for years to come.

With a cocky grin, the Orvis® Hydros SL II Reel confronted all our requirements stated upfront and surpassed these.

In Part 2 we look forward to report not only on its performance and fishablity on longer rods (10’0” up) but also its ability to handle the blistering runs of spring-time Smallmouth Yellowfish as they surge down rain-swollen rivers. We will also provide feedback on the long-term durability of its finishes.

RRP : $198

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