Expert Review: Orvis Hydros Fly Reel

This review is my honest opinion of the reel, which I purchased with my own money in September of 2020.

The Orvis Hydros Fly Reel.

The Orvis Hydros in the limited release purple. All photos courtesy of Jacob Jesionek

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

My take

The Orvis Hydros fly reel is my favorite mid-class reel good for the angler that's looking to step their game up from their beginner setup. It's great for handling fish of all sizes and it comes in some pretty sweet colors for those who want to stand out on the river.

A fish being held over a river in one hand as the other hand is holding a fly fishing rod with a Orvis Hydros Fly Reel.

About the reel I own

  • Model: Orvis Hydros
  • Reel Size: Hydros III (5-7), Hydros IV (7-9)
  • Backing Capacity: 200 yards 20lb w/ WF8 line
  • Arbor Size: Large arbor
  • Construction: Bar-stock aluminum machined
  • Drag System: Fully sealed disc drag
  • Drag Pressure: 14lbs of drag with zero start-up inertia

About me

  • Preferred fishing style(s): Nymphing, dry fly, streamers
  • Experience: 15+ years of fly fishing

Test conditions

  • When I bought this: September 2020
  • Rod Paired with Reel: Orvis Recon 8wt
  • Line Paired with Reel: Orvis Pro Textured WF8 Floating
  • Days tested: 100+
  • Waters I’ve used it on: Rivers and lakes in Ohio, Oregon, Washington, and other states as well as saltwater fishing in Florida and Martha's Vineyard, MA
  • Species targeted with reel: Steelhead, stripers, bass, rainbows and browns

How it performs


What I was looking for

The Hydros was the first “serious” fly reel I purchased as I was getting into fly fishing. What I was looking for was a reel that was going to be worth the money and would last me a long time. It also needed to work for a variety of applications, as I fish both salt and freshwater. This was during the previous edition of the Hydros reel (they updated them a few years back), so I now have one of the old editions (2017) and two of the newer versions (revamped in 2019).

A man holding a fish with the Orvis Hydros Fly Reel on his neck.

Why I chose this gear

I ended up going with the Orvis Hydros because all of the online research I did kept bringing me back to extremely positive reviews on Orvis gear. There were other fly fishing companies that caught my eye—as almost any reel manufacturer has a reel for around the same price range—but the combination of positive reviews as well as design and color variations brought me to purchase the Hydros reel. The Orvis employees were also extremely helpful in store when I went to see which version of the Hydros would be right for me.

The Orvis Hydros Fly Reel attached to a fly rod.

What I love about it

  • Performance: The Hydros is a slightly heavier reel than Orvis’ more expensive Mirage LT, but not by much. It still balances very well with a light, carbon rod like the Orvis Recon. Line comes off the reel extremely smoothly and the thin spool keeps line stacking tight so that there is no looping on the reel.
  • Quality: The quality is excellent, and Orvis took into account minute details: changing the drag knob to make adjusting drag simpler as well as making the reel with a strong yet lightweight aluminum.
  • Versatility: I consider these reels to be very versatile because of the sealed drag system and strong drag system. I can change from targeting steelhead in freshwater to redfish in saltwater without worrying about whether the reel will be able to hold up to either the fish or the conditions.
  • Use Case: The Hydros comes in sizes for line weights 1–11, so it offers the ability to fish for almost anything except for the largest of saltwater fish like trophy tarpon or deep-sea fish. I fish it in a 5wt and 8wt. I normally target rainbows and browns with the 5wt, whereas the 8wt is my steelhead and saltwater reel.
  • Size: I own the Hydros in a 5wt and two 8wts because I enjoy the reel so much. This allows me to chase a variety of species in waters varying from creeks to oceans.
  • Drag System: Orvis’ fully sealed drag system gives me the peace of mind to fish this reel in whatever water I like. Saltwater is not going to get into this drag system and will not be able to damage the reel. A quick rinse with freshwater is still always a good idea after fishing saltwater.
  • Feel: The feel of the reel is well-balanced and makes it seem like I’m fishing a class above what the Hydros costs. It's ergonomically designed and keeps me comfortable the entire time on the water.
  • Build:** **In terms of build, I was looking for a reel that had a strong drag, stylish design, and was a large arbor system: and this reel provides that.
  • Aesthetics: For those looking to get a stylish reel, look no further than the Hydros. Orvis is constantly dropping new colorways for this reel that really pop—as well as the classic colors. Currently they are featuring five colors, including a bright green and teal blue.
  • Features: There are spare spools available for purchase for this reel. This allows me to add different types of line depending on the fishing style I am looking to utilize. Also Orvis will ship the reel out right- or left-hand retrieve and then it’s easy to switch between if a friend is using it for the day.
A man holding a fly rod with a Orvis Hydros Fly Reel over a river.

Issues I’ve encountered

  • Durability: The structure of the reel is durable and I have had no problems with anything breaking or bending. However, the finish has taken some damage as I’ve used it and set it on rocks in the river while releasing fish.
A fisherman using the Orvis Hydros Fly Reel to fish on a body of water.

Favorite moment with this gear

In 2021, I took a trip to Pyramid Lake in Nevada. On this particular lake, people wader up, grab a ladder, and walk as far into the cold water as they can before setting it up and climbing to the top to fly fish from it. After hours of fishing and a few spot changes I finally hooked up to a 9–10 pound Lahontan cutthroat trout. I fought the fish for maybe 10 minutes. It pulled tons of drag then I finally landed it on a rocky shore. Kneeling in the waters of Pyramid Lake holding the biggest cutthroat trout of my life was a memory I will never forget.

Value for the money vs. other options

The Orvis Hydros sits in the middle of the price range for fly reels. It's not a cheap reel by any means, but when I bought this reel I knew it was something that will last a long time and won't fail me on the river. In my mind, it's always better to go with quality for a little more money versus trying to cheap out and having to replace the reel down the road. Reels like the Redington Rise are comparable in price, but the drag system on the Orvis Hydros being sealed and stronger is what sets it apart.

Final verdict

The Orvis Hydros is my go-to when it comes to high-quality, sealed drag reels that are still a reasonable price. This reel will catch fish anywhere I take it and won't complain whether it's salt or freshwater.

Selling Orvis on
Orvis Hydros Spare Spool
From $119.00
Meet the author
Fly Fishing Expert Jacob Jesionek
Jacob Jesionek
Fly Fishing Expert
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Written By
Jacob Jesionek
Jacob Jesionek
Fly Fishing Expert
Throughout my life, I have been driven by my love for nature and exploration. At the center of all of my adventures is fishing, the biggest constant in my life. I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the country chasing countless species and learning from every trip. Hit me up and let me he...
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