Expert Review: Orvis Clearwater LA II Fly Reel

Published on 08/24/2022 · 5 min readThis review is my honest opinion of the reel, which I purchased with my own money in May of 2018.
Joseph Smith, Fly Fishing Expert
By Fly Fishing Expert Joseph Smith

All photos courtesy of Joseph Smith

About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the reel, which I purchased with my own money in May of 2018.

My take

The Orvis Clearwater LA II Fly Reel is a budget-friendly, entry-level reel that beginner fly anglers will enjoy. Unlike other budget reels, this reel has a smooth drag and solid construction that even advanced anglers will appreciate.

About this reel

  • Model: Orvis Clearwater Large Arbor II
  • Reel Size: Size II (pairs with a 4-6 wt)
  • Backing Capacity: 100 yards of 20 lb Dacron backing
  • Arbor Size: Large Arbor
  • Construction: Die-cast aluminum
  • Drag System: Inline disc drag system (carbon-to-stainless stacked discs, not fully sealed)
  • Drag Pressure: Approximately 5 lbs

About me

  • Preferred fishing style: Dry flies, nymphing, streamers, freshwater, and saltwater
  • Experience: 40+ years of fly fishing

Test conditions

  • When I bought this: May 2018
  • Rod paired with reel: Orvis Clearwater 5 wt and Sage DS2 5 wt
  • Line paired with reel: Orvis Hydros Trout Line WF 5
  • Days tested: 250+ days
  • Waters I’ve used it on: Eastern trout streams, farm ponds, local lakes in Pennsylvania
  • Species targeted: Trout, largemouth bass, bluegill, and smallmouth bass

How it performs


What I was looking for

I was looking for a budget-friendly reel for use on some older fly rods that were lent to friends and family members. I wanted a rod that could take a bit of abuse and still perform.

Why I chose this gear

I ultimately chose this setup because, when compared to other entry-level reels, this felt more durable. I liked that the drag was smooth even though it is a die-cast reel. Many of the other entry-level reels have graphite composite bodies and therefore did not strike me as durable. I have purchased other Orvis gear and was impressed with the level of workmanship and customer service behind the product. I also considered the Orvis Hydros reel, but chose the Orvis Clearwater because of its lower price.

What I love about it

  • Performance: From a performance standpoint, this reel has done everything expected of it. For most of the fishing I did with it, testing the drag did not matter but in the rare instances when the drag was needed, it was able to protect a 7X tippet without difficulty.
  • Quality: This is an Orvis product and therefore matches the company’s standard of quality. It is not as refined as some of their higher-end reels, and it is heavier than more machined reels, but for a budget-friendly reel the components are well made.
  • Versatility: This reel was bought primarily for trout fishing. It can handle most trout fishing situations easily, but has also battled with larger bass and been able to withstand their pull. This is not a saltwater reel though as the drag is not sealed (Its size would also make it too small for most saltwater applications).
  • Durability: As a die-cast reel, I am always nervous that the wrong fall against a rock will break it but fortunately that has not happened. There are a few blemishes from drops, but they are strictly cosmetic and have not affected the reel’s function at all.
  • Use Case: This outfit was fished in the rain and sun during summer, spring, autumn, and winter. Dry flies, nymphs, streamers, bass bugs have all been fished with this reel.
  • Size: As this is a size II large arbor, it is perfect for quickly picking line up.
  • Drag system: This system has stopped trout and landed big bass. The positive click drag knob is large and easy to adjust. The drag goes from zero to all the way in about two full revolutions.
  • Aesthetics: The pewter gray finish is basic, giving the reel an entry-level appearance.
  • Features: The reel comes with a protective sack for storage when not in use.

Issues I’ve encountered

  • Feel: This is not as lightweight as some of my higher-end reels, but it is not overly heavy. It balanced very well with the Orvis Clearwater and Sage DS2 rods, however if I were to fish for an entire day I would want a lighter reel.
  • Build: This die-cast, aluminum-built reel is sturdy. Although it probably does not make much difference with a reel of this size, I am still partial to machined aluminum reels as they tend to be lighter and slightly more durable.

Favorite moment with this gear

Any time I lend the Clearwater LA II to a family member or friend who goes fishing with me, and they are successful, I consider it a standout moment. Seeing their faces beam with satisfaction after catching a fish is precisely the reason I bought this reel.

Value for the money vs. other options

For an entry-level reel, this cannot be beaten for the quality that comes with the price. There are more expensive advanced reels on the market whose performance is inferior to this reel. Any anglers looking for a starter reel, or a reel to use as a backup, will not be disappointed.

Final verdict

This is a well-built budget reel that will allow anglers to enjoy fishing without worrying about their gear holding them back. Even with the lower price, anglers will have no complaints about the type of quality they get with this reel.

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