There are hundreds, if not thousands of fly reels on the market. Choosing one that's right for you can be a daunting task. Aspen Reels produces several innovative, durable reel models that can make that decision easier for you.
I began looking for an alternative to the Teton Tioga reels after that company shut its doors a few years ago. The Tiogas were never the most fancy choice, nor the lightest on the market, but they were always a solid, bulletproof option for all of my flyfishing needs. Another selling point was the fact that Tetons and Tiogas were made in the USA. Over the years, I collected several in different sizes.
While searching current reel makers for "Made in the USA" models, I stumbled across the Aspen Reels website. After some reading and examining the photos and information, I emailed to discuss obtaining a demo model to test out. Don Prosser responded and was happy to oblige, insisting that I keep the reel afterwards. My Aspen reel showed up a week or so before my yearly day trip to the Betsie River for early-run kings - a great way to torture-test any new piece of equipment.
Upon inspecting the reel, I was impressed by the simplicity of design and it's light weight. It does lack a full cage, and the model I received (RE-1057M) was only available in grey in late 2011. I prefer black reels, as they seem to ice up less in winter conditions - this is strictly a personal preference, and the full line is now available in either grey or black. Problem solved there. Aside from those two small issues, I could find nothing wrong with the reel in terms of construction or finish.
Per the manufacturer, the features of these reels are as follows:
Designed and manufactured in the USA
4 stainless steel ball bearings for smoothness and durability
Body and spool are CNC machined out of solid 6061-t6 aluminum
Oversize Ultra-Strength Alloy 7068 main shaft and disc
Fully sealed but serviceable drag mechanism for trouble free operation
Large disc drag for powerful fish stopping action
Extreme-Temperature PTFE drag system provides low friction
Easy to use, sure grip drag control knob
Hollow main shaft cools drag heat faster than conventional solid shafts
Custom stainless steel/aluminum one-way clutch for reduced weight
May easily be changed from left to right hand retrieve
Pop-on, pop-off spool for easy cleaning and line changing
Reel foot is machined as one with reel body (no screws to come loose)
Non-glare finish on all exposed parts (great for stealth fishing)
Handle, counter balance and drag knob are inset/skirted. (no line snags)
Clear Creek™ neoprene case can be used on or off your fly rod
A few of the features I found most interesting were the reel foot (machined with the frame as one piece), hollow spindle, and machined skirting on all projections (handle, counterbalance and drag knob) to prevent line from hanging up in the usual spots. Reminder - it's still the angler's job to prevent line from whipping up around the rod butt. Also notable for 2013 is an optional drag knob extension that allows you to adjust the drag with your reel hand, rather than switching hands to do so. I have this option on my new RE-1079M and I highly recommend it.
My reel was quickly spooled with a hundred yards of backing and my favorite 8wt line, and prepped for a day on the Betsie. Late August reports of hot silver fish running upstream sounded good, so I packed up for an early morning drive. My plan was simple - throw my pirogue in at Homestead Dam and paddle upstream a few miles, scouting holes as I went, then drift back down and hit the holding water hard with streamers and nymphs. I gassed up and hit the road at 3am, hoping to be on the water by sun-up.
When I got to Benzonia, there was a light mist in the air and the sky was overcast, perfect for potentially spooky fish in low water conditions. I got my pirogue unloaded, rigged up both fly rods, and started my paddle upstream. It was quickly apparent that large numbers of salmon were running, breaking out across sand flats and along undercut banks to slink from hole to hole.
I resisted the temptation to hit the first few holes, but beached my pirogue and unstrung my flyrod when I came across a nice deep hole that three or four fish slid into while I watched. An occasional glimpse of these chrome beasts milling around over the sand through the stained water was enough to get my heart pumping.
I had a Great Lakes Deceiver rigged up, so I freed it from the hookkeeper and worked out some line for a cast. Even after a half-hour in between my feet in the bottom of my boat, the Aspen didn't protest about ingested sand when I stripped line off. The short sink tip quickly plumbed the bottom of the hole I was addressing, and I threw a downstream mend to help the fly swing up and out, hoping that the "pull-through" might attract attention. No one home. After waiting for
my line to clear the pool (to avoid a snagged fish when I picked up), I rolled the line back out, picked up and cast again. And again. Light mist was turning to almost-drizzle, and I thought about my raincoat, balled up in the backseat of my car.
A few feet into my fourth drift, my fly got hammered hard. There was no headshake or pause, just a fast, heavy hit that translated immediately into speed. I hauled back and set the hook, then felt the burn as I let line slip under my index finger to get the fish on the reel. Line was ripping throug the surface, not even pointing at the fish, and the reel started to sing. Not wanting to fumble with the drag knob, I slid my left hand down to palm the spool. There was a huge
crash as the king vaulted out of the water, swapped ends in midair, then came unpinned as it re-entered the water.
Left with shaking hands and the sudden drop of spent adrenaline, I reeled up to see if I had anything left. The Deceiver was still knotted to the leader, a little ragged but usable, so I worked out some more line to try again.
I didn't know it at the time, but that scene would repeat itself four or five more times by lunchtime. I had several other hits, two broken leaders and two or three other salmon that jumped and ran until the hooks pulled out. While the reel was never subjected to an extended beating, I couldn't find any issues with the drag system or basic reel design. It may have been slightly undersized for the fish I was chasing that day, but more than adequate nonetheless.
Since that first outting, I've used the Aspen reel on many other trips, mostly for bass, steelhead, pike, musky and carp, without issue. Overall it's a sturdy, lightweight reel that's affordable, well-made, offers good value and is made in the USA.
Aspen Reels are machined at the Barrel Service Company in North San Diego County, California. The operation has sixteen CNC Lathes including two 4-Axis Lathes plus four Machining Centers. These are complemented by horizontal and vertical conventional mills and two large automatic band saws.
Many of the employees at Barrel Service are avid fly-fishermen. In 2009, the company decided to design and create some very capable and yet affordable fly fishing reels. 60+ years of contract machining experience helped build a high quality product without an outrageous price tag.
Whether you are looking for your first fly reel, a new reel for a new rod, or another reel to add to your stable of fishing gear, take a minute to check out Aspen Reels. They are well-built, offer innovative features and a great value for your flyfishing dollar. Tight lines!