Not that it matters, but my first fly reel was a Perrine Automatic. Black. Spring loaded. One lever to initiate the retrieve by engaging/releasing said spring, and another lever to put the brakes on any trout that tried to swim away with my fly. That is sort of a funny premise because by the time the fly line was 30′ out, the reel spring was wound so tight that any line-off-reel pulling was under maximum tension. Oh yes, there was no room or apparent need for backing.
Fast forward to 2012, and I find myself lining up a boat-load of Echo ION fly reels. I laugh at myself, because after decades of focusing my attention on high-end, high performance, high tech, high priced fly reels – here I am fishing some of the least expensive fly reels on the market today.
How come? Why fish day-after-day with sub-hundred buck fly reels? Just what gives with this? Whether I am casting a Burkheimer, a Sage ONE, or an Echo 3 Saltwater fly rod – there is a very strong likelihood that I am going to sling on an ION fly reel. Makes it simple, dependable, and economical.
Don’t think for a minute that I have abandoned my appreciation of highly engineered, high performance fly reels. I still love ‘em, every one of ‘em, and fish my best, finest fly reels on what I consider special occasions.
With time at a premium, day in and day out, I like to be able to toss my gear in the boat, fish it in fresh and saltwater, hardly ever rise my gear, and would rather not worry about issues like ‘boat rash’ on my fly reels. Those reasons, and more, are why I have come to appreciate the Echo ION series of fly reels.
I first saw an Echo ION 10/12 fly reel in the spring of 2011, when I was up visiting friends at Rajeff Sports. I picked up the reel, gave it a spin, and asked what the price point was going to be. Ninety-nine bucks. (Insert an imaginary photo of raised eyebrows here.) The reel had great heft, smoothness and decent spool tolerances. This is a winner, I said, straight up. So I had to get one to fish.
A year and many ION fly reels later, I am still amazed at the quality of these reels and confident recommending them to anyone, beginner or expert.
Are Echo ION fly reels perfect? Not at all. As the saying goes, these reels are perfect for me, and I bet that there are circumstances where they will be perfect fly reels for tons of anglers.
Performance. I have fished ION fly reels for King salmon, silvers, sea run cutthroat, steelhead, river and lake dwelling trout (8″ – 14”), rockfish, and crabs. I have fished these reels in estuaries, in rivers, in lakes and out in the deep green ocean. I have never had an equipment failure with an ION reel. Never.
Heft. I do not care for the trend to ultra-light fly reels, although I know that this is a general fashion in the fly fishing industry. My preference is for a fly reel with weight that I can feel, and I will chose a reel that may be on the heavy side over one on the light side, even though industry prattle says I should be looking for light.
Construction. Echo ION fly reels are die-cast and then machined. The high-end, high performance fly reels on the market today are classified as fully machined from very classy aluminum bar-stock. That’s great. Those fly reels start with one honkin’ big solid aluminum bar and then are lathed and otherwise machined into race-car tolerances. The ION reels aren’t built that way, but they have stood up just fine to all of the mistreatment I have been able to dish out over a full year.
Finish. The ION fly reels have a matte black finish, and this is an impact resistant finish, but yes, if you let it bang around the gravel bar or boat you will ding it. I have several ION reels I have fished in fresh and salt for a year, only infrequently rinsed them, and the finish is still holding up very well.
Freshwater environs – are where the IONs are intended to be fished. That is what our friends at Rajeff tell us. I routinely ignore this well informed advice, but please don’t complain if the finish on your ION suffers from the salt brine. Do as I say, not as I do, and kindly rinse these reels after salt water exposure, OK?
Internal Components. Stainless steel and a magic plastic called Rulon (I have no idea what this is nor do I care, because the drag works just fine for me).
Spool tolerances. Good. Not as fine a fit as you will see on multi-hundred-buck fly reels, but good enough for me. On occasion, I have had my fly or shooting line slip through the reel frame and scare me half to death. This required me to remove the reel spool, re-seat the line where it is supposed to be, and replace the spool. I have had this happen to me while fishing seven-hundred buck fly reels about as often as when fishing Echo ION fly reels; while this always makes me mutter, the hazard seems about the same fishing IONS than with many of the more expensive fly reels on the market, and line handling is something we all need to pay attention to.
Start up inertia. Virtually none. This is my way of saying that the drag on my Echo ION fly reels has been unequivocally smooth. Start-up inertia is what can happen when a fish first takes off on a run and the reel drag has that fraction of a second to decide whether or not to grab the spool or to just let it start spinning off. Click-and-Pawl drag mechanisms are very dependable and do not require a big jerk to set the spool in motion. The drag mechanisms of various high tech reels also tend to be very smooth on start up. Cork drag mechanism can be touchy especially when the drag is tightened down, and sometimes require a big pull to get the spool unwinding. No so with an Echo ION. The drag on the ION starts off smooth and I have not ever had a sticky start-up in a year of fishing all sizes of IONs under harsh conditions.
Drag Consistency. I have experienced some inconsistency with my ION reels, when I have had them submerged in saltwater and kept in service all wet and salty. This inconsistency can be characterized by the drag pressure decreasing from the level where I had adjusted it to a lighter setting. Since the inconsistency has been minor, and I have been able to compensate with a little finger pressure applied to the spool side pressure, this has not been a serious issue. Line Capacity. The Echo ION reels carry PLENTY of backing and large lines. The big IONs are well suited to Spey fishing with heavy Skagit heads. The 6/7 will carry plenty of backing and a floating line to fish silvers.
Drag control. The nob on the back side of the reel is simple and positive to adjust.
Reel song. Yes, this refers to the sound of the reel retrieving or on the run of a fish as line exits the spool: I like the subtle click of the ION. Silly, but yes, I like the reel song.
A word of caution. Every fly reel has its quirks, and this is true for the thousand buck reels as is it for these hundred buck (or less) reels. When removing and replacing the ION spool, keep your eyes on the little “O” ring on the spool shaft. If it drops in the bottom of the boat (mine has) or on the sand (mine has), just pick it up, and slip it back on the shaft. Now, pay attention here. When you re-seat the spool, engage the drag, and tighten the end-cap on the shaft and “O” ring smartly. If you don’t get this part right, no worries, the spool will just fall out in the boat or on the sand, and all you need to do is rinse it off and install it right this time. Yes, true story. And I really honestly love these fly reels.
Echo ION 4/5. I fished this ION with an Echo Shadow PE 3106-4, Echo Edge 590-4, and a Fenwick GFF 906-3. The reel was perfect and the drag smooth on 6X tippets. Small and medium trout were a perfect match. The
Echo ION 6/7. This was initially my sea run cutthroat fly reel, then a rockfish reel, and then a coho fly reel. Fished it in fresh, brackish, and saltwater. Like every ION I fished, the drag is smooth and consistent. Line capacity is generous, and this would make a good summer steelhead reel matched with a 7 w.t line.
Echo ION 8/9. This is my day-in, cay-out estuary Chinook and winter steelhead fly reel. Used this baby in the ocean bucktailing silvers and chucking heavy sinking lines for rockfish. I cast Poppers on heavy floating shooting heads and magnum tapers to lure boiling Coho. The ION 8/9 is a perfect match for an Echo Switch rods too. This has been a great reel for me.
Echo ION 10/12. This is my big-boy-pants ION fly reel, reserved for heavy Skagit head lines, ocean fishing with 300(+) years of backing, and deep sea lines.
Hope these thoughts help. I think it is difficult if not impossible to find a rly reel of the ION’s caliber at a lower price, or sometimes at twice the price. Just my opinion, though, consider seeing for yourself .
JN, June 2012
Bias disclosure: I have a bunch of great friends at Rajeff sports. I fish their gear. I fish lots of other rods, reels and lines too, as anyone in my boat can relate. I just yesterday fished an Echo ION on a Burkheimer 995-4 and a Hatch Finatic 11 Plus on an Echo 3 Saltwater rod. I focus my reviews on gear that I fish and appreciate. Simple as that.