I should probably admit that I had a poor attitude going into this review. Frankly, there’s a lot of junk out there in the world of fly fishing gear and I tend to stick with the big names in the industry (you know who they are) when it comes to my rods and reels. With the larger companies you can generally count on getting quality stuff. Yes, you’ll pay a little more for that, but I happily spend the extra cash for gear that I feel I can count on. Buying gear from a smaller, less established company, well, that can be a bit of a gamble. I’ve bought great gear from small companies over the years, but I have also been stuck with a lot of inferior products as well.
Anyway, that was my mindset when Carl Craig, the owner of Fly Fishing Benefactors, asked us to take a look at one of his new reels. Carl is a good guy and clearly has a lot confidence in his products, but honestly, I wasn’t optimistic about putting his reel through its paces. Since it didn’t have Abel or Lamson or some other big name stamped into it, I assumed the
Deschutes 1 would likely not perform well.
If nothing else, I had to admit this is a good looking little reel. The reel Carl sent has the titanium finish (the other available finish is gold) and it looked pretty sharp on my 4 weight. The FFB web site describes this reel as a large arbor, although I would consider it a mid-arbor. Either way, it’s a real knockout. But looks don’t mean squat as any serious angler will tell you, so I got down to business and took a closer look.
Deschutes I is machined from a solid block of high grade aluminum (T6061 aircraft aluminum to be exact), which is a good start. This automatically puts this reel in the better class of reels in my opinion. The tolerances are tighter on machined reels as opposed to die cast reels and as a rule function more smoothly. Virtually all of the upper tier reels on the market are machined.
I like the way the reel is put together as well. The drag knob is large and easily adjusted. I was able to crank the drag down from no resistance to completely locked down with a few easy turns. Another knob on the other side of the reel allows quick removal of the spool. Nice features for my fat clumsy fingers. The retrieve on the Deshutes 1 is smooth and quiet. I prefer a noiseless/clickless retrieve on my reels, so the “silent retrieve system” on this reel is a good deal.
Ok, fine, but what about performance? By which, of course, I mean the drag system. The
Deschutes 1 sports an enclosed disc drag, which is a big plus. Most quality reels these days have disc drag systems in one form or another. That said, there are some poorly designed disc systems out there as well, drags with shoddy components that will seize up or become “loose” with even moderate use. So I think it’s important to put the drag on any reel to the test to see how it holds up under stress. I had to get a bit creative here to give the drag on the Deschutes 1 a decent workout. I recruited few of the kids in the neighborhood and told them to bring their bikes to my house. I spent the better part of an afternoon tying the end of my line their bikes while they took turns tearing down my driveway. Cost me nearly twenty bucks in Kool-aid, but I definitely learned something about this reel – mainly that it has some guts in the drag department. In a just a couple of hours, this reel endured more blistering runs into the backing than most reels see in a lifetime. I tried the drag on several settings and it operated smoothly in every case with no wobbling or seizing. Overkill? Maybe. This is a ¾ freshwater reel - the drag system on a reel like that likely won’t see anywhere near that kind of use. Still, the hallmark of a quality reel, I think, is a good drag system. And it’s nice to know it’s there when you need it.
Finally, I took the thing fishing. Several times in fact. This is important, not only from a performance standpoint, but also from a comfort standpoint. I have owned reels that were simply not comfortable to fish with. A few months ago, for example, I tried a reel from a well-known manufacturer that seemed to be a bit heavy to one side. Not a big deal when I was making a few dozen casts on the practice field. But a HUGE deal over the course of a day’s fishing when I made hundreds of casts. As the day wore on, the imbalance of that reel became more and more noticeable. Fortunately, the
Deschutes 1 had no such issues. It balanced well on my 7 ½ foot 4 wt. and fished comfortably over several full days of fishing and casting.
The only question at this point is one of durability. How will this reel hold up under the various bumps and dings that come with several seasons of hard fishing? Can it withstand a few drops, a few bounces off of rocks, a few tumbles into mountain ravines? Time will tell of course, but I’ve subjected this reel to several season’s worth of abuse in the short time I’ve had it and still operates as smoothly as it did on day one. I plan on doing a follow-up review for the
Deschutes 1 a few months from now once the question of durability has been better answered, but I’ll be surprised if the reel doesn’t do well here.
I figure I owe Carl an apology at this point. My initial skepticism was unfounded. The
Deschutes 1 is an excellent reel. Throw in a one year warranty, custom reel pouch, and a retail price of 79.00, and you’ve got a winner. If you’re in the market for a new reel, the Deschutes 1 definitely deserves a look. You can check it out here.