Machined aluminum construction throughout (from 6061-T6 bar stock aluminum)
Self-lubricating drag system
Heaviest reel in the test class
Looks like it should be in a showroom instead of a drift boat
It’s big and it’s heavy. But it’s also beautiful and, best of all, it performs better than most reels in the class. The ‘painted’ designs come from a selection of some of the best angling artists in the business. The brown trout design on our test sample came from the artwork of Josh Udesen (www.tightlinestudio.com) drew the eye of anglers wherever we went.
The large arbor design speeds line pickup, and the unique drag system kept our lines taut but accessible when fighting big browns on the Snake River. The reel performs better than most, but even considering that, the star feature of this outstanding reel is its artwork.
Size and Weight
While classified as a large-arbor reel, the Madison IIa lacks the over-sized look and feel of many big arbored reels. The smallest size in the lineup (4/5) fit nicely on all the 4- and 5-weight rods we’ve tested without looking like a large wheel on the end of the stick. The weight of the reel did draw some attention, but the reel isn’t so heavy that it makes casting uncomfortable or cumbersome.
Montana Fly uses terms like “G-tail fiber disk” and “Triple-pin engagement” to describe the drag system—catchy phrases to describe a sealed carbon disk system with a pin-click control. Forget all that. The reality is simple: the system works perfectly. The reel controls line tension precisely, whether you need to fight a big brown trout while using delicate 6X tippet, or you’re cranking in a feisty Columbia River Carp hooked on 10-pound leader. The line-play is smooth and drag does not drift out of the position you set. It’s among the best drag system we’ve used.
Style and Design
Since we were testing the artist series, we got the Madison IIa reel, which includes a solid back to better display the reels’ artwork. The standard Madison II features a perforated back. This reduces weight, but all those holes in the aluminum frame limit the art’s visibility.
That said, our testers gladly accepted the extra ounce or so of aluminum because it just plain looks so good. The brown trout ‘skin’ that covered our test sample came from Idaho artist Josh Udesen, but there are also painted finishes featuring artwork from other artists, including A.D. Maddox, Bern Sundell, Travis Sylvester, and Bob White.
Indirectly, the great looks of the artwork on the reel aids in its durability since our testers seemed to take extra care to ensure nothing blemished that fine finish. Still, it did get used and suffered no lasting ill effects from dunks in salt water, though a little grit from the beach did collect inside – due in part to that solid back which limits the ability of the material to be flushed out naturally.