I had a chance to give the Nautilus XL Max fly reel a test run in the Bahamas this year. The reel is offered in sizes to fit 2wt through 9wt line sizes depending upon the model. The reel is so light my first impression was to put it in a freshwater category. Sizes XS or 3/4 and XM 5/6 will be focused freshwater for sure, but XL 6/7 and XL-Max 8/9 will take line sizes for use in both fresh and saltwater. I used the XL-Max with an 8wt line on a SAGE X 9ft 8wt rod. The reel performed fantastically in the saltwater for bonefish!
The reel is shockingly light, the XL-Max is only 4.7 ounces. Compare that to some classic bonefish reels like Abel’s or Tibor’s and the Nautilus is 40% lighter. I found this weight to be a serious difference maker in terms of balance swing weight with the super light ounce weight of the SAGE X 8wt.
The XL-Max has a super large arbor, with an outside diameter of 4 inches the reel catches up to a fish running at you quicker than almost any reel I have used. The large arbor design does not compromise capacity as it does in other models. I was able to fit an 8wt line and over 100 yards of 30lbs backing on the reel. I find this to be plenty of backing for bonefish if your reel has a quality drag mechanism. Nautilus suggests more capacity is possible but they tend to exaggerate a bit in my opinion.
The Nautilus X series drag was another question I had, again it’s super light reel and it’s drag is the same for all the models XS-XL-MAX. How did it do when a bonefish tried to head from Abaco to Nassau? The drag was super smooth and the fast runs of a bonefish produced a balanced, zero wobble, out going rotation. The drag knob is large and easy to adjust. The drag range is wide, turn it down to accommodate 6x or up to deal with 20lbs hard mono on the flats. The sealed teflon drag mechanism could not have been better. I am seriously thinking about using the XL reel for a 5wt set up, why not it’s super light, the retrieve is great and the drag with be fine for any trout tippet.
The X design or open frame looks super cool but how did it perform? I was a bit worried the fly line or leader would find it’s way between frame and spool with the open frame design. Nope, the machine tolerances and “trueness” of spool and frame prevented this from happening. Another concern I had was the ability to palm the reel and have a solid feel for the rim as it was rotating at mach 3 during a bonefish run. Again not a worry the spools 1/8″ “secondary palming rim” was easy to feel and palm during out going runs. How about overall strength? The reels weight is deceptive, it’s not a solid feeling as a Hatch or Bauer RX but but it’s performance is up to the task at hand. The reel actually felt more solid in the field than I gave it credit for in the shop. This is an arbitrary measure but what I am getting at is although the reel has a “light feel” it’s super solid in it’s strength and performance when in use.
Miscellaneous other items that worked well on the Nautilus X series reel. The spool release is an easy on and off locking mechanism. It differs from the classic spring pin design of the Nautilus FWX or even classic Hardy reels. The old system is proven for sure but the simplicity and lock down sealed mechanism keeps the internal parts of the spool protected from the elements. The super ventilated spool and frame are strong yet light and the super large arbor resembles the Giga arbor series from Nautilus that is twice the price.
In summary the new Nautilus X Series reel exceeded my expectations for a saltwater reel. I would not hesitate to recommend the XL or XL-Max models as bonefish/permit reels. I very much look forward to fishing it in both salt and freshwater again soon!