Expert Review: Orvis Hydros Reel

This review is my honest opinion of the fly fishing reel, which I bought with my own money in December 2020.

Fishing the Orvis Hydros IV for Trout with a Hopper Dropper set up on the Jackson River in Covington, Va.

Fishing the Orvis Hydros IV for Trout with a Hopper Dropper set up on the Jackson River in Covington, Va. Photo courtesy of Baily Dent

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About this review This review is my honest opinion of the fly fishing reel, which I bought with my own money in December 2020.

My take

The Orvis Hydros IV Reel is an ideal option for anglers of all skill levels who want a high-performing fly reel at a great price. These reels offer a high-quality, smooth, and strong drag system for a fraction of the cost of most similar quality setups; plus, they are lightweight, and come in several fun color options!

Landing Big Bass on the farm pond with the Hydros!

Landing Big Bass on the farm pond with the Hydros! Photo courtesy of Baily Dent

About the reel

  • Model: Hydros IV
  • Reel Size: 7-9 weight
  • Backing Capacity: 225 yards 30lb backing with 7wt line.
  • Arbor Size: Large Arbor
  • Construction: Precision machined and anodized aluminum
  • Drag System: Fully sealed stacked carbon and stainless steel disc drag
  • Drag Pressure: 14lbs when fully engaged

About me

  • Preferred fishing style: Hopper Dropper or Streamer setups
  • Experience: 27

Test conditions

  • When I bought this: December 2020
  • Rod Paired with Reel: Helios 3D 7wt
  • Line Paired with Reel: Hydros All-Rounder Saltwater WF7F
  • Days tested: 150
  • Waters I’ve used it on: Freshwater
  • Species targeted with reel: Large and Smallmouth Bass, Trout and Gar.

How it performs

Durability
4/5
Performance
5/5
Quality
4/5
Versatility
5/5

What I was looking for

I was looking for a larger reel for primarily bass fishing in lakes and ponds and to use streamer fishing for larger trout. I needed something that was going to have enough finesse to handle lighter trout tippet but that could pair with a rod and line suitable for turning over bigger streamers flies and heavier hopper dropper set ups; yet still tough enough to fight bigger, warm-water species like bass and gar during the summer months.

Why I chose this gear

I chose this reel because of the quality of the drag system it offered for the price. Also, the weight is considerably lighter than others at this price point, so I knew it wouldn’t overbalance the lighter Helios rod I was pairing this reel with. Not to mention the colors it comes in are super cool!

I considered the Battenkill 3 reel, which is less expensive and has a more classic trout styling, but I liked the large arbor of the Hydros when dealing with species that you’re going to have more line out on the water when targeting, and actually be utilizing the reel more when fighting the fish. Also wanted the option to eventually pair with a 9wt rod and have a spare spool with a skagit setup to use as a single hand spey rod. The larger arbor style of this reel is going to handle a larger line far better.

Geared up and Ready to Go float the Jackson River.  Fishing a Hopper and double nymph droppers with the Helios 7wt 3D and the Hydros IV Reel and looking to find some big Browns!

Geared up and Ready to Go float the Jackson River. Fishing a Hopper and double nymph droppers with the Helios 7wt 3D and the Hydros IV Reel and looking to find some big Browns! Photo courtesy of Baily Dent

What I love about it:

  • Performance: This reel matches really well with my Helios 3 rod. It’s not as perfect of a match as some of the reels that are twice as expensive, but for anyone on a budget or not willing to shell out $400+ it’s a great value. The line strips easily off the reel and is super smooth.
  • Quality: Given the price point of this reel, it’s very high quality in my opinion. The drag is really what I was paying for here and it’s just so good for the price point. The aluminum is not as high quality as might be found on a more expensive reel, but it is well constructed and sturdy given its lightweightedness, but does make it easier to dent.
  • Versatility: This reel is super versatile. I can use it on both fresh and saltwater since the drag is fully sealed. It has the finesse to protect lighter trout tippet with its smooth starting drag, but has the poundage there to still fight some large fish. It could easily handle Steelhead, Muskie, Pike, or salmon, and I plan to add a spare spool with a skagit set up and use it as a single-hand spey rod.
  • Durability: This is a tough reel—I use it almost daily and it performs great each time I take it out. It’s easy to tune up with a little water proof grease once or twice a year. It does have a full lifetime warranty and Orvis will repair it if anything does come up.
  • Use Case: I primarily use this reel as a fresh water set up fishing for Largemouth Bass and gar. The drag on it can stop one of these fish easily and has really reduced tippet break-offs while fighting fish. I am definitely landing larger-sized bass since I upgraded to this reel, because of how smooth the drag is and that lack of start-up inertia on it.
  • Size: This is a 7-9wt. I chose this size as I needed a 7wt set up for bass fishing, and wanted the option to eventually have a second spool with 9wt line when I get a 9wt rod, or do a skagit set up so I could use this as a single-hand spey rod.
  • Drag System: This reel has far more drag on it than I actually have ever had to use. I don’t think I’ve ever had it set beyond the midpoint. It’s easy to adjust with the drag knob. It’s not a one click to full engagement which would be a nice feature for it, but it’s a large knob that is well-placed and easy to adjust if needed. The fully sealed drag feature makes it virtually maintenance free. I usually open it up and wipe everything down and add oil once or twice a year as I do with all my equipment, but I have never had a reason to do so, other than as regular annual maintenance.
  • Aesthetics: I have the Matte Blue reel. The color looked super sweet on the Helios 3D and I like the flare for a bass rod! The finish has held up well after a year-and-a-half of hard use. There is some wear along the edges of the rim of the spool and case.

Issues I’ve encountered

  • Build: Because this reel is fully aluminum, it is easy to ding up. The reel seat has a good bit of wear on it after a year-and-a-half and there are quite a few nicks on the rim of the spool from use. It’s not quite as tough as the more expensive reels, but it is half the price.
Showing some of the wear after 1.5 years of hard use on the Hydros IV.  Some paint coming off along the rim of the spool and reel as well as some nicks on the reel seat.

Showing some of the wear after 1.5 years of hard use on the Hydros IV. Some paint coming off along the rim of the spool and reel as well as some nicks on the reel seat. Photo courtesy of Baily Dent

Throwing big swim ponds on the farm pond with the Hydros IV Reel and Helios 7wt 3D rod.

Throwing big swim ponds on the farm pond with the Hydros IV Reel and Helios 7wt 3D rod. Photo by Baily Dent

Favorite moment with this gear

There is a farm pond I fish on almost a daily basis in the summer, as it is on my way home from work. There are some good-sized 5-8lb bass in the pond that I had seen and even hooked into several times, but had never been able to land, as at some point in the fight they would make a run and break my tippet off. The first time I fished this pond after I bought this Hydros reel, I landed my first one, after a great fight. I was throwing rubber-legged buggers and felt him hit my streamer about 20 feet off the bank, fairly close to the bottom. I felt him strike, and when I set the hook he took off out into the pond, ran all my fly line out and left me in the start of my backing. I cranked down on the drag and felt him stop. He then tried to give a couple jumps but was so fat he couldn’t get but so far out of the water. He made a few attempts to run again, but each time the drag let him run a few feet of line out, protecting that tippet at the point where I’d always had those bigger fish break off. After a few attempts I got him to the net!

Value for the money vs. other options

This is the value reel in the Orvis lineup— no question about it. The drag on this reel is so much smoother than the Clearwater or the Battenkill reels, and you’re going to find you experience far fewer breakoffs with this reel. It’s not as durable or high quality as the Mirage or Mirage LT, but for half the price it’s going to still give a great performance, though it might show more signs of wear and tear. The drag on this reel is real where the value is, and other options such as the Sage Spectrum can’t come close to the amount of power that this reel offers—and they are still at least $50 more expensive.

Final verdict

In my opinion, this is the highest performing fly reel at this price point on the market. It’s a reel that is going to last for a lifetime and with the Orvis warranty, I fully expect to be fishing it forever. I wanted value and performance, and this reel delivers on both fronts 100%!

Selling Orvis on Curated.com
Orvis Hydros Reel
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Written By
I started fly fishing when I was in my teens with my Grandmother on family trips. Over the last 25 years I have been lucky enough to fish out west in Colorado and Wyoming as well as the Adirondacks in New York. The list of places I hope to go is growing ever longer with New Zealand and Iceland with...

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