Gear Review: The Orvis Battenkill Reel

All images courtesy Orvis
I’m a huge fan of simplicity. Click-and-pawl reels are about as simple as it gets in the fly fishing world, and they’re my go-to reel. In fact, I honestly don’t remember the last time I used a disc-drag fly reel.

With that in mind, one of my favorite reels I own is the Orvis Battenkill (Size I). It’s drag system is simpler than what Orvis says on its website, and after owning the thing for nearly a year, it still performs flawlessly. I use it primarily as my 3wt reel, though I throw an extra spool packed with sinking line on it when I want to fish streamers on my heavier rods.

The Battenkill is machined aluminum, and that shows in terms of durability. If it weren’t for the bit of sand currently in my reel, you wouldn’t know my Battenkill is a year old.

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This reel features a four-position drag system, allowing you to adjust (in a limited fashion) the incoming and outgoing tension of the reel. After fiddling with the settings for a few minutes on multiple fishing trips, I’ve left it at factory settings and the drag has yet to fail me. It won’t put the brakes on angry trout, but it’ll slow them down enough to allow you to reel in line, chase after them, or a combination of both. In fact, I’ve landed multiple 20+ inch trout on this reel using the looser drag setting and palming the spool on the longer runs from big fish.

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The click sound produced from the Battenkill is nice, but a bit more metallic than my Abel TR-2 or 1970 Hardy Princess. That being said, it still sounds great, especially when a fish is tearing line with reckless abandon.

Ranging from $98-$149 in price (depending on the size of reel you want – the Battenkill series will support line weights up to 11) the Battenkill is one of the best low-cost fly reels on the market. In an age where the biggest disc drags are all the rage, it’s refreshing to see a classic company like Orvis produce such a quality reel that reeks of simplicity and does all you need a trout reel to do 95% of the time. There are situations in which it’d be nice to have a reel with a more advanced drag system (The Abel TR series is an example of such a reel, but starts at $300) but overall, the Battenkill will satisfy most of your fly fishing needs. Aside from the newly-back-on-the-market Pfleuger Medalist, I don’t think there’s a better click-and-pawl reel in this price range. And the Battenkill wins out, in my mind, due to the weight of the Medalist.

With that general overview out of the way, let’s jump into what I love and don’t love about the Battenkill.

What I love

The build quality

I paid, including tax, $110 for my Battenkill. It doesn’t look like a $110 reel, and certainly performs far above its price point. It’s built from machined aluminium, and I don’t think I’ve managed to scratch it – yet. It spends most of its time on my Winston IM6 3wt, a rod it complements perfectly in terms of weight and performance.

The simplicity

The Battenkill is probably the most simple reel I’ve ever used in my life, and that’s quite a statement considering the bevy of ancient click-and-pawl reels my grandfather gave me. The drag system can be disassembled in less than a minute, and put back together in that amount of time as well. Adjust tension on the drag is as simple as turning the square knobs, and the deep, narrow spool stacks line efficiently.

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It’s designed to be palmed

I love palming reels when fish take off on big screaming runs. The Battenkill is designed to be palmed – Orvis’s website even says so.

“A minimalist’s dream, the all-new Battenkill features a classically styled, yet technically enhanced, four-position click-and-pawl drag system that is adjusted internally and is designed to work in tandem with the palm of your hand on those sizzling, screaming runs.”

This method of fighting fish hearkens back to the bygone era of fly fishing, and I love feeling that connection when fighting big fish on this reel.

What I don’t love

Limited backing capacity

The backing chart Orvis posts on their website is a tad misleading. I couldn’t get Cortland 333 line and 50 yards of 10lb backing on my Size I reel. Granted, if you need 150 extra feet of fly line for a 3wt setup, I want to come watch you fish – because you’re fighting far bigger fish on a 3wt than I ever do.

Spool size

I understand that Orvis wanted to make this reel work in tandem with the palm of the angler, and I love that aspect of the reel. However, the spool on the Battenkill is just a tad too narrow for my liking. Expanding it just a bit would give more room for bigger double-taper fly lines, and more backing.

Final Word

I’d recommend this reel to anyone looking for a simple, affordable reel to pair with their lightweight trout outfit. I don’t think there’s a better lightweight reel available on the market (and yes, I’d fish this before the Redington Zero, which is an incredibly fabulous reel) at this price point.


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Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer and novelist from Utah. His debut novel, Learning to Fly, is due out from GenZ Publishing in later 2016. Spencer writers multiple fly fishing columns for national publications such as Hatch Magazine and the Orvis fly Fishing Blog, in addition to columns for local news outlets in his home state of Utah. Connect with him on Twitter and Instagram @Spencer_Durrant, or on Facebook

Posted in:Gear Reviews

2 comments on “Gear Review: The Orvis Battenkill Reel

  1. My first click-and-pawl reel was a Cortland Crown II reel (Made in England), that I purchased back in 1983 when I was first starting out. I still have that reel, and likely will till the day that I die — as it was my first real reel, and it has many fond memories associated with it.

  2. I have an old Cortland Crown II reel as well! It wasn’t built in England, though. At least, I don’t think it was. The spool doesn’t sit straight on the spindle so the drag doesn’t engage all the time. I need to smith it a bit and it’ll be back in perfect working order, for use on my glass and bamboo rods. They’re awesome reels.

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