The Orvis Hydros SL II Reel was a favorite of many of our test team members, in large part because of its weight, durability, and smooth drag system – though the asymmetric design of the drag control knob raised concerns with some. The Hydros’ balance on the rod was a strong point in its favor, and the Hydros proved to be reliable even after rough handling in gritty situations, such as hiking in to fishing locations in the high desert of Eastern Washington.
The Orvis Hydros SL II reel – sized to handle 3- through 5-weight lines – was compact and lightweight enough to fit comfortable on modern lightweight 5-weight rods, yet with an arbor size big enough for efficient line retrieval and control. While pursuing fish in the spring creeks around Washington’s desert potholes region, and along the deep creeks flowing through lava canyons of eastern Oregon, I exposed Hydros SL II to a lot of abuse. Through it all, the reel performed admirably, with loss of function despite the grit and grime it was exposed to.
Weight & Balance
When compared to the other products in this class, the Orvis Hydros SL II fell in the middle of the pack in physical weight, but it felt well balanced on the rods with low swing weights. That said, the Hydros is about 20 percent heavier than the Sage Spectrum, and that weight was felt by some testers after a long day of throwing flies.
Spool Size and Line Retrieval
The Hydros SL II sports a good-sized arbor – not the biggest in the class, but big enough to efficiently haul in line. The reel’s large crank knob can be felt and controlled easily, further speeding line retrieval.
Durability and Drag Performance
Though I abused the Orvis Hydros SL significantly, it showed little wear or tear at the end of testing. I found a few nicks and scratches after rock-scrambling coulees in Washington pothole country, but the performance of the reel was not affected.
The drag operation was smooth and highly efficient, with no drifting of drag settings throughout the day. The drag tension stayed as set even when jostling and scrambling between river holes. But opinions varied greatly on the control of that drag system. The asymmetric control knob weight was felt by some testers – it features a large ‘cut-out’ on one side – and was loved by some (including me) as the cut-off gave us a sense of the drag setting without looking. But it was not well-liked by a couple of testers who found it awkward to handle.
Orvis designers matched form and function admirably with this reel. The machined aluminum components provide good strength and support as well as looking good. The open frame and spool body allow the line to dry, while keeping weight down. This is an attractive reel, with enough durable functionality to make it a potential legacy item to hand down.