Expert Review: Orvis Battenkill Disc Reel
This review is my honest opinion of the fly fishing reel, which I purchased with my own money in December of 2020.
About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the fly fishing reel, which I purchased with my own money in December of 2020.
The Orvis Battenkill Disc is a great option for a high-quality reel that isn’t going to break the bank. It has a good-looking, classic-trout-reel styling and a high-performing, fully sealed disc drag system that won’t quit. It’s a reel that can take hard use and still perform as well as it did the day I bought it.
About the reel I own
- Model: Battenkill Disc
- Reel Size: III 5-7wt
- Backing Capacity: 150–200 yards of 20lb backing
- Arbor Size: Mid-arbor
- Construction: Machined
- Drag System: Fully sealed disc drag
- Drag Pressure: 7lbs of drag pressure when fully engaged
- Preferred fishing style(s): Dry fly, hopper dropper
- Experience: 28 years of fly fishing
- When I bought this: December 2020
- Rod Paired with Reel: I have paired it with many rods. A 10’ 5wt Moonshine Drifter and an 8’6” 5wt Superfine Carbon have been the rods I mostly fish with this reel
- Line Paired with Reel: Orvis Pro Trout WF5F smooth fly line
- Days tested: 200
- Waters I’ve used it on: Fresh water both warm and cold
- Species targeted with reel: Rainbow trout, brown trout, bass
How it performs
What I was looking for
I wanted to upgrade to a new reel with a disc drag instead of the click pawl 1990s Martin Reel I had been using. I also wanted something versatile that gave me the ability to buy a second spool which I could put bass line on and also pair it with my 7wt rod.
Why I chose this gear
For a great price, I got a reel with a fully sealed disc drag system and a great history of withstanding hard use. Orvis has been making this reel for over 70 years, so I knew this would be something I would buy and then have for a lifetime. I like the classic look to it, and pairing it with my trout rods definitely gives a nostalgic look to my setup. I considered a Cheeky 2 reel but decided I wanted to spend a little more on a higher-quality reel that I knew was going to last a lifetime and not just a few seasons. I also considered the Orvis Hydros, but I liked the more classic look of the Battenkill at a lower price.
What I love about it
- Performance: This reel is super smooth and feels great when I am stripping line off. The drag is very smooth for the price point and plenty strong for trout. I have to engage it almost to full when I bass fish with it and ultimately ended up buying another reel for my bass rod with a heavier drag on it. As a trout reel, it’s smooth and has good tippet protection for the price point. Being fully sealed, I clean it once a year, and even if I set it in the stream to land or release a fish, I haven’t had any problem with debris getting in it and affecting the smoothness or performance.
- Versatility: Having a fully sealed drag system at this price point gives this reel a lot of versatility. It’s hard to find something in this price range with this level of performance that can be used in both saltwater and freshwater applications. One is also able to buy spare spools, meaning the ability to pair one rod with multiple rods for many uses—including having a full sinking line and floating line without having to purchase a second reel.
- Durability: Orvis offers a 25-year warranty on this reel, so I know I am going to have it for a long time. I fish most days of the year, and my 5wt is my primary rod, so this reel has seen really hard use in the two years I have owned it, but I have not had any issues with its performance. There are some nicks on the spool, reel seat, and case from where it's been dropped and the finish has worn in places, but unless one looks closely, it’s hard to see.
- Use Case: I bought this primarily as a trout reel for my 5wt rod and it’s the perfect reel for that job. I was planning on getting a second spool and putting 7wt line on it to pair with my bass rod, but the few times I used this reel for bass fishing, it really didn’t have a great drag for fighting a heavier species. It was fine for sunfish and smaller bass, but when I was fighting a 18- or 20-inch bass, I had to tighten the drag down to almost full to be able to put the brakes on a big fish.
- Drag System: The drag is easy to use and fine tuned on this rod. It has a nice feel and I can twist just subtly to adjust the pressure as needed when fighting a fish. I have caught some big trout on this reel and it is super smooth, so I have never felt like I was in danger of breaking off or having it jam on me while I was fighting a fish. I have not used this reel in saltwater, but it is fully sealed, so I can use it as a backup for my 7wt reel if I need to.
- Aesthetics: I love a classic cork handle or wood inlay on a rod grip and reel seat. This reel has such a nostalgic and historic look to it that it makes me feel like I am fishing an heirloom piece. The finish has held up fairly well after hard, almost-daily use, but there is some wear on it. I find this just adds patina to the reel and gives it that much more of a well-loved look to my set up.
- Features: Spare spools are available for this reel and are reasonably priced. It’s very easy to swap spools (small lever on the side you hold with a finger and then pull to release). It’s also very easy to convert the retrieve from left to right hand. A tool to loosen the seal on the drag is included with the reel, and once open, I just flip a nut to change the setting before tightening back up.
Issues I’ve encountered
- Quality: This is not the highest-quality reel in the Orvis line up, and it does show. It did not take long for me to see signs of wear on this reel. It’s not horrible, but it is there. Some of the higher-quality reels they make don’t develop quite as much signs of wear so easily and quickly. The finish was definitely the first thing to go, and I imagine it will eventually become more of a silver color, as I expect the pewter finish to fully wear off.
- Size: I chose the Battenkill Disc 3 for 5-7wt line so I could have a spare spool for my bass rod and use it on both. The drag really wasn’t as tough as I needed for bass, so I never did that. As a result, the Disc 3 is a little heavy for my 5wt rod. The Battenkill Disc 2 would have been a more ideal reel for pairing with the 5wt rod.
- Feel: The reel is going to be a little heavy for anything other than a classic graphite rod. I would recommend going with a smaller size.
- Build:** **The biggest downside to this reel, in my opinion, is that it is made in China and not built in the USA.
Favorite moment with this gear
My favorite moment with this reel was definitely when I landed my personal-best rainbow trout with it. I was fishing a very technical limestone creek and hooked up with a 24in rainbow. I was fishing in a flat pool that was long but not terribly deep when I hooked into the fish. At the far end, there was a limestone shelf he kept trying to run under, and I was afraid he would break me off, as I was using a very light tippet. I was able to get the drag set so he could run a little and wear himself out but not very far and maneuver him away from the danger. It was about a 10-minute fight, but I was able to land him and my reel definitely was the star of the show.
Value for the money vs. other options
For the money, this reel is hands down a great value. Plus, if damaged, Orvis will send a brand new reel for the $35 warranty fee if they can’t fix it. Having the fully sealed drag also makes it a stand out in this price point, as it gives versatility in that it can be used on both saltwater and freshwater. It's also fully machined instead of cast and machined like the Sage Spectrum C. I like the classic trout styling of this reel and the price point of the Battenkill is several hundred dollars less than the Sage Trout reel or Able or Ross reels that could provide that similar look.
This isn’t the lightest reel I own, or the heaviest drag, but it’s a total work horse that stands up to hard, consistent use and keeps going. It’s a perfect trout reel, especially when paired with a full graphite rod.