Expert Review: Orvis Battenkill Fly Reel

This review is my honest opinion of the reel which I purchased with my own money in June of 2018.

A fish laying in a net submerged in a body of water.

A coastal cutthroat and The Battenkill. Low light conditions are ideal for larger fish to come out and play. All photos courtesy of Cory G.

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

My take

In my experience, when paired with a light rod, the Orvis Battenkill is perfectly designed for light-duty fishing in small, intimate water. Orvis has put together a reel at an entry-level price that will please both beginners and seasoned anglers.

The Battenkill Reel laying on rocks.

Battenkill on a typical day at home on small waters and dry flies

About the reel

  • Model: Orvis Battenkill
  • Reel Size: III (5-7wt)
  • Backing Capacity: 50-100 yards, 20lb Backing
  • Arbor Size: Mid-Arbor
  • Construction: Anodized, Machined Aluminum
  • Drag System: Adjustable Click-and-Pawl Drag

About me

  • Preferred fishing style(s): Everything! Dry fly fishing on small creeks to surf fishing in the salt.
  • Experience: I bought my first fly rod 12 years ago on a whim and haven't looked back!

Test conditions

  • When I bought this: June 2018
  • Rod Paired with Reel: Homemade 8’ 4 wt Fiberglass Rod
  • Line Paired with Reel: Currently, Scientific Anglers 3WF Creek Trout, In the Past Scientific Anglers 3wt Double Taper, Rio Gold WF5F
  • Days tested: 50+
  • Waters I’ve used it on: Freshwater; small rivers and creeks, lakes
  • Species targeted with reel: Trout, Bass, Sunfish

How it performs

Durability
4/5
Performance
4/5
Quality
4/5
Versatility
3/5

What I was looking for

When I first bought this reel, I had just acquired a light fiberglass 5wt rod for fishing for bass and sunfish in the small creeks and streams in my area. I really wanted a reel that was “no nonsense” and durable.

Why I chose this gear

In light freshwater applications, large reels with robust drag systems are typically unnecessary. Most often I only need a reel that will hold line and be durable enough to take a little bit of beating. The Battenkill has been a mainstay in the Orvis line-up for many generations and has proven itself time after time. Although the current model isn't made in the U.S. or England, it represents a great value with the Orvis name and pedigree to back it up. One option that I also considered is the Redington Zero. The Zero has a larger arbor, but is diecast and has a harsh “click.” Personally, I prefer the sound of the Battenkill much more.

The Battenkill reel with a rainy backdrop.

The classic design and aesthetics of the reel

The Battenkill reel with a rainy backdrop.

Battenkill on a rainy day

What I love about it

  • Quality: The Battenkill feels like a solid piece of kit. The machined aluminum is nicely done with porting on both reel frame and spool to aid in the drying of line and backing. The spool is held on with a small lever at the center of the reel that has a strong connection that is a lot easier than screw-in spools. I would however like to see a higher quality handle on the reel than the current plastic option.
  • Durability: I am not the person to be gentle on their gear, and this reel has taken its share of drops, dunking, and mishaps. The anodized nickel finish shows some wear, but not nearly as much as diecast aluminum and painted reels would after this amount of use. Thus far, general maintenance of the reel like tightening the reel handle screw or a dab of reel grease from time to time has been all that was needed.
  • Use Case: My Battenkill III has gone from my small stream bass and sunfish reel in North Carolina to creek trout and panfish at my home in Washington. It has held a few different types of lines for different applications. Because of the compact size and low weight, my favorite places to use this reel are small alpine lakes and creeks.
  • Size: I choose the “III” model that can carry a 5-7wt line. The 5-7wt class will allow me to target many different species in the smaller waters, giving me a great diversity and versatility of scenarios where I could use this reel. Because of the smaller stature of this reel, I have balanced it well with rods that are smaller 3wts all the way up to 6wts.
  • Feel: The diminutive size of the Battenkill balances small light creek rod or panfish rod nicely, but does not balance heavier or longer rods well. The machined aluminum reel has the feel of high quality and lasting durability.
  • Build: I was really attracted to the simplicity of this reel. I knew that I wanted a reel that wouldn’t let me down whether I was fishing the creek 10 minutes down the road or the alpine lake 6 miles up a mountain.
  • Aesthetics: I enjoy the “classic” look of this reel as it has a certain amount of “class” amongst the bevy of choices that can be considered vulgar by many anglers. The finish is a smooth semi-gloss nickel finish that is neither too flashy or drab.

Issues I’ve encountered

  • Performance: The relatively small package of the Battenkill fits small stream outfits well. I love that loud audible click when pulling line off the reel or playing a fish. When quickly stripping line off the reel there is a slight wobble, however, this is not noticeable under most fishing conditions. Also, these mid arbor reels are prone to line coiling because of how tightly the line is coiled around the spool. I have found with a quick stretch of the line and these coils tend to relax. It also takes a little extra reeling to retrieve your line.
  • Drag System: This is not my go-to reel when I am pursuing fish that are likely to my heavy runs and pull a lot of drag. The drag on this reel is mainly to prevent backlash or over-spooling of the line and to provide a small amount of tension.
  • Features: This is not a feature-heavy reel, but can be easily maintained with cleaning and occasional reel grease. For many anglers, a more modern reel with a larger arbor is desired.
  • Versatility: The Battenkill is easily converted from left-hand-retrieve to right-hand-retrieve for all anglers. The reel can be used in a range of freshwaters from small creeks and ponds to larger lakes and rivers as long as you match your reel to your line, rod, and target species. However, being a light-duty reel, I would not take this for saltwater or heavy saltwater fishing where a smooth drag is necessary.
Close up of a Battenkill fishing reel.

Surface wear and tear from many days on the water

The top of the Battenkill reel with a fly on it.

Surface wear and tear from years of use

Favorite moment with this gear

By far my favorite time with this reel is fishing a local stream with my daughter. The simplicity of the reel and the lightweight, small frame are perfect for younger kids. This gives them the confidence they need and allows them to build skills needed to become successful anglers, and not worry about their gear performance. Anytime I break out the light rod with a Battenkill hanging off it, chances are I am about to have a lot of fun.

Value for the money vs. other options

This is a fantastic reel for the cost and will not let you down as long as you match it to its intended use. This is built for intimate water, whether a small stream dry fly fishing for trout or throwing poppers to hungry bluegill. Compared to other options like the Redington Zero or Sage Click, this reel sits in the middle price-wise, but because of its durability, simplicity, and effectiveness, it represents a great value.

Final verdict

Orvis has had a clear winner on its hands for many years with the Battenkill family. The current model is a durable, simple, and inexpensive light duty reel that would serve bot folks new to the sport and old salts very well.

Selling Orvis on Curated.com
Orvis Battenkill Fly Reel
From $129.00
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Written By
I have loved fishing since I was a kid and solely focused on fly fishing for almost a decade. I have chased fish in many different places, mostly in the South and my home state of Washington. Here, I fish any water, from the upper headwaters to the sea. I am fortunate to live in a place where great...

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