Expert Review: Orvis Clearwater LA Fly Reel

Published on 08/21/2022 · 4 min readThis review is my honest opinion of the reel, which I purchased with my own money in May of 2020.
Matt Beam, Fly Fishing Expert
By Fly Fishing Expert Matt Beam

Orvis Clearwater LA Fly Reel Tuckaseegee River Sylvia, North Carolina with KBD Guides. All photos courtesy of Matt Beam

About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the reel, which I purchased with my own money in May of 2020.

My take

The Orvis Clearwater LA (Large Arbor) fly reel is more than one would expect at this price point. It is a solid reel that can take abuse and has a best-in-class drag system. Any fly angler would be happy with the Clearwater as either a backup or as their primary fly reel.

Trout on with KBD Guides on Tuckaseegee River, Sylva, North Carolina

About the reel I own

  • Model: Orvis Clearwater LA Fly Reel
  • Reel Size: II (4-6 weight fly lines)
  • Backing Capacity: 75 to 125 yards of 20 pound dacron backing depending on fly line weight
  • Arbor Size: Large arbor
  • Construction: Die-cast aluminum
  • Drag System: Capped carbon to stainless stacked disc drag
  • Drag Pressure: Approximately five pounds

About me

  • Preferred fishing style(s): Euro nymphing and streamers
  • Experience: 30 years fly fishing and 17 years guiding

Test conditions

  • When I bought this reel: May 2020
  • Rod Paired with Reel: Orvis Clearwater 10’ 3 weight
  • Line Paired with Reel: Orvis Hydros Tactical Nymph fly line
  • Days tested: 300+ days
  • Waters I’ve used it on: Large and small freshwater streams, and freshwater lakes
  • Species targeted with reel: Trout, bass, and panfish

How it performs


What I was looking for

I ended up with the Orvis Clearwater LA fly reels on multiple Orvis Clearwater fly rod outfits that I purchased for my clients that take guided fly fishing trips with me. I needed some good priced outfits for my clients that could take lots of abuse through many days of use.

Why I chose this gear

The Orvis Clearwater fly rod outfits are available in multiple sizes that directly fit my needs as a fly fishing guide. I wanted fly rod outfits that were all the same brand in the sizes I needed. The Orvis Clearwater LA reels are the reel that is included with the Orvis Clearwater fly rod outfits.

Wear and tear on Orvis Clearwater LA Fly Reel

What I love about it

  • Performance: The performance of the Orvis Clearwater LA fly reel is a lot more than any fly angler would expect at this price range; the drag being the best part. The carbon to stainless-stacked disc drag system is really smooth and packs a lot of power. The reel also feels good on the Orvis Clearwater fly rod.
  • Durability: Surprisingly, this die-cast aluminum reel has been very durable. My clients on guided trips have really put this reel through a rigorous durability test, to say the least. The capped drag system has stayed clear of dirt and debris, and the reels have suffered very minimal scratching.
  • Drag System: This reel has an amazing drag system. It's a capped drag system that is carbon to stainless stacked discs. It has a lot more power than I expected and also is extremely smooth. The drag knob is oversized and easy to adjust on the fly when quick drag adjustments are necessary.
  • Features: This reel is pretty simple to switch retrieve directions on. Just pop the spool off, flip the clutch bearing over, and it’s done.

Issues I’ve encountered

  • Quality: As any fly angler would expect from a die-cast aluminum fly reel, the Orvis Clearwater LA fly reel is susceptible to scratching and dings. The frame and spool are both pretty soft and can't withstand major drops. The low-ported design of the reel also allows quite a bit of water build up on the fly line.
  • Versatility: These reels are definitely not designed for saltwater use. The capped drag system isn't sealed and can easily be ruined by exposure to saltwater and sand.
  • Feel: The Orvis Clearwater LA reel is for sure one of the heaviest fly reels in this class. It has very minimal porting which adds to the overall weight of the reel.

Hooked up on a trout with KBD Guides and the Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod outfit

Favorite moment with this gear

As anyone can imagine, being a fly fishing guide awards us with a lot of great moments. My most fond memory while using the Orvis Clearwater LA fly reel is exactly one of those guided-trip moments. The top of my list is always the youngsters getting on great fish. Just this May, one of my young clients, who was only nine years old, landed a 25in rainbow trout on the Raven Fork River in Cherokee, NC. To say the least, he was ecstatic and hooked for life on fly fishing!

Value for the money vs. other options

The Orvis Clearwater LA fly reel is a great value for the money. I would rank it in my top two reels in this price range. The only other I would recommend over this reel is the Lamson Liquid. In my opinion, it is more versatile and better designed.

Final verdict

Any fly angler would be happy with the Orvis Clearwater LA fly reel. It handles normal fishing abuse well and the drag system is much better than I would expect in this price range. I would recommend this fly reel to a new fly angler or any angler looking for a reasonably priced back-up reel for freshwater.

Best seller
  • We price match
  • Returnable

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