Expert Review: Orvis Clearwater LA Reel

Published on 11/23/2022 · 4 min readThis review is my honest opinion of the reel, which I purchased with my own money in 2017.
Baily Dent, Fly Fishing Expert
By Fly Fishing Expert Baily Dent

All photos courtesy of Baily Dant

About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the reel, which I purchased with my own money in 2017.

My take

The Orvis Clearwater LA Cassette Fly Reel is a great introductory reel, kids reel, or back-up reel for someone on a budget. It’s not particularly high-performing, but it gets the job done and is tough.

About the reel I own

  • Model: Clearwater
  • Reel Size: 2
  • Backing Capacity: 150–100 yards 20lb dacron
  • Arbor Size: Large arbor
  • Construction: Cast
  • Drag System: Disc Drag
  • Drag Pressure: Approximately 5lbs

About me

  • Preferred fishing style(s): Hopper dropper, Dry flies
  • Experience: 26 years of fly fishing

Test conditions

  • When I bought this: 2017
  • Rod Paired with Reel: Clearwater 9’ 5wt
  • Line Paired with Reel: WF5F Clearwater Fly Line.
  • Days tested: 100
  • Waters I’ve used it on: Freshwater both warm and cold
  • Species targeted with reel: Bass and trout

How it performs


What I was looking for

This is a good, cheap reel I use for teaching classes with beginners who have never fly fished before or cast a fly rod. I wanted something that I wouldn’t care if someone dinged it up or dropped it and that would stand up to quite a bit of mistreatment from people new to the sport and without knowledge of how to properly care for or handle fly fishing gear.

Why I chose this gear

I chose this reel for the price point and its durability. It also had a drag system, unlike a lot of other reels at this price point that are only click pawl. I considered a reel from Cheeky also, but the convenience of having an Orvis store in town won me over.

What I love about it

  • Quality: This reel has been dropped a lot and still holds up and performs the way it needs too. It can really take a beating. It’s a heavy reel since it’s fully cast.
  • Durability: This reel has a full lifetime warranty, so it can be repaired if needed. But the drag is not complicated and is easy to clean, so I have not had to utilize that. It is also super tough, and other than some scratching on the cage, it has held up to hard use.
  • Use Case: I use this reel to target bass and trout. The drag system is not super powerful, but because this is a rod I use for beginners, most of the fish are small and we don’t really need a drag system. The drag does work and can teach someone how to fight a fish, but I wouldn’t want to have to rely on it all the time or for a decent-sized fish.
  • Feel: This rod balances a heavier, full-graphite rod perfectly.
  • Features: This reel is super easy to switch between left and right hand retrieve, and I can buy spare spools to have an extra sinking line or nymphing line on hand.

Issues I’ve encountered

  • Performance: The drag on this must be engaged somewhat all the time. If not the reel will just spin and the line falls off as I cast, which can be troublesome for new anglers that don’t understand this. Though it pairs perfectly with the matching Clearwater rod.
  • Versatility: This reel doesn’t have a fully sealed drag, so I really would only use it on freshwater and I do need to clean it out frequently to keep the drag from getting gummed up.
  • Size: This is a Clearwater 2, which fits a 5–7 weight rod. I have it paired with a 5wt rod and it’s a great all around size for targeting bass and trout. This size two is great for a 5wt or 6wt, but one really needs to go up a size for a 7wt. It’s classified as a large arbor reel, but compared to others it's quite small.
  • Drag System: The drag is not very strong and it’s fully exposed. If I am going for larger fish where I need a smooth, strong drag, this reel is just not going to perform for me. It's fine for those just learning, but if one’s really catching fish, this just isn’t going to hold up.

Favorite moment with this gear

Every time I put a new angler on their first fish it’s with this reel, and that’s an experience that never gets old!

Value for the money vs. other options

For this price point this is a great reel and it can really take a beating. It has stood up better than Lamson Reels that might have a stronger drag but have had handles break off of and Rim Fly reels that I’ve had the reel seat detach from.

Final verdict

I use this reel hard in the spring and summer with total beginner anglers that beat it up, and it has held up extremely well to the abuse without any major failings for many years. This is a great reel for anyone just learning or for young kids getting into the sport that aren’t going to take the best care of their gear.

  • We price match
  • Returnable
Baily Dent, Fly Fishing Expert
Baily Dent
Fly Fishing Expert
19 Reviews
218 Customers helped
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Written by:
Baily Dent, Fly Fishing Expert
Baily Dent
Fly Fishing Expert
19 Reviews
218 Customers helped

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