NAUTILUS FWX 5/6 FLY REEL REVIEW
When I began fly fishing,
popular opinion was that a fly reel for trout was simply a
I held to this advice for many years, spending money on
reasonable rods and the best fly lines available, and the
remainder on affordable dye cast aluminium reels. It was not
until I began slipping and falling on rugged freestone
streams,that I discovered moulded aluminium does not excel
in the school of hard knocks - spools often became warped
and jammed against the frame.
In 2001 I splashed out and
purchased my first machined aircraft-grade aluminium fly
reel: a South-African-made Predator 5/6. After more than a
decade of serious punishment the Predator proved to be
almost indestructible and still functions perfectly, its
only limitation being its retrieve rate.
When we moved to New Zealand in
2003 I began fishing larger rivers and catching larger
trout, and discovered retrieve rate was sometimes important.
Critical moments were when a big brown shook its head after
taking a fly and I needed to get loose line onto the reel,
before the fish decided to either run or dash for cover, or
when a fish came barrelling back toward me.
Playing large trout by hand on
backcountry rivers is a risky business, as loose line often
gets caught around a boulder or wading boot when the fish
makes its next run.
My bullet-proof Predator holds
enough backing with a WF5F line to function as a medium
arbour reel, but I wondered if a larger arbour would have
done a better job of maintaining contact with fish -
especially those prematurely released. Without sufficient
retrieve rate I often had to run backwards whilst cranking
madly, which resulted in some frustrating and undoubtedly
Having landed on my proverbial
once too often, I again splashed out on a freshwater fly
reel and this time ordered a Nautilus FWX 5/6.
FWX (left) and Predator (right) fly reels
I chose the Nautilus FWX
because it was the lightest true large arbour reel available
at the time and in my opinion the best looking too. True
large arbour reels are necessarily larger than standard or
mid arbour equivalents, meaning that manufacturers have had
to come up with clever designs and engineering to produce
large arbour reels light enough to balance modern
lightweight fly rods. The FWX 5/6 has a diameter of 3.5
inches yet weighs just 3.8oz.
Spool width can be an important
consideration when selecting a fly reel as wider spools are
more prone to lateral line build up which can jam against
the frame, especially when cranking wildly to stay in
contact with fish. The spool on the FWX 5/6 is one inch
wide, which is just right for me. The arbour of the FWX
spool sports porting and grooves that allow backing to dry
up to 14 times faster than a conventional fly reel – and
given that my gear is dunked several times during a typical
day out, this feature is a boon.
When I unpacked my new Nautilus
fly reel I had nagging second thoughts. Firstly, there was
the sophisticated engineering to reduce weight and produce
its good looks, resulting in a reel that I thought a little
too flimsy in the hand for the hard-core backcountry streams
I intended it for. Secondly, the spool had a hi-tech
self-lubricating plastic bushing, which rotates on an
anodized aluminium hub and I was not sure how durable this
combination would prove.
Loading the reel I was
surprised when 100 meters of Teeny 20lb Dacron backing and
my Teeny La Fontaine WF5F fly line slightly overfilled it.
The FWX 5/6 is supposed to hold 150yrds of 20lb backing with
a WF5F line (or a WF6F with 120 yr 20lb backing); and the La
Fontaine, being a 90 foot presentation line, is not
unusually long, or especially thick.
Thinking that with use the line
and backing might settle down, I tried fishing the outfit
for an entire season; and had some interesting moments
helping line off the spool when it rubbed against the frame
and a fish decided on another run. Big brown trout make a
lot of short runs when they are close in, and most of the
line is back on the reel. I ended up replacing the Dacron
backing with 100m of 50lb braid, and have never looked back.
yards of Dacron backing and my WF5F line slightly overfilled the 5/6
the 20lb Dacron backing with 100m of 50lb braid solved the line
Being on the water was the real test.
The first feature I appreciated
about the FWX was its retrieve rate. It is remarkably
quicker than the Predator, which made a significant
difference when fighting fish - with 15m of fly line off the
spool the FWX picks up 21.5cm of line with every turn of the
handle, while the Predator picks up only 14cm. I also
noticed there was less memory in the line I had stripped off
to make the first cast of the day.
On the FWX’s very first
outing I was standing on a boulder, taking a photo of a fish
I had caught, when I slipped off and onto the reel driving
it with my size 10 wading boot into a rock just beneath the
gravel. I was convinced the reel would be damaged and I
would be reaching for the spare one in my bag, but apart
from a deep gouge on the drag knob, the FWX was still in
The back country rivers where I
spend most of my time are fairly hard on gear. These rivers
require regular swims, some rock climbing to negotiate
gorges and slipping whilst boulder hopping. I am frequently
forced to toss my outfit aside to avoid falling on it and
the reel invariably lands against a rock. Two years of this
backcountry abuse has left a host of scratches and dings in
the black anodising, especially on the lower rim of the
frame, but the FWX continues to function flawlessly. There
is also no sign yet of wear on the plastic bushing or the
red anodized aluminium hub, and tolerances on the
spool-frame connection remain rock solid.
FWX has earned some scars during two years of backcountry punishment
but it still functions perfectly
Drag systems on trout reels are
not usually a priority of mine, as I prefer to control fish
by applying finger pressure to the exposed drum and the FWX
has a lovely wide rim for this purpose. I nevertheless have
found the silky-smooth, inertia-free FWX drag a real
advantage when during summer fighting fast aerobatic
Tongoriro steelhead on 5x tippets. Using a 5x tippet the
drag setting was not that high and I am therefore not in a
position to comment on the stopping power of the drag, or
how it would hold up to torture dished out by a serious
saltwater gamefish. The FWX is nevertheless more than enough
for vigorous trout.
On the down side, when the reel
spends a substantial part of a fishing day submerged in
water the action becomes a little sticky and the drag jerky
- not sticky enough to cause fish to be lost, but a little
disconcerting and not as fun to use. This is presumably the
result of lubricant being washed off the surface of the
self-lubricating bushing, albeit under extreme conditions -
as once the reel dries out, and I assume more oil reaches
the surface, the smoothness quickly returns. I must stress
that dunking the reel for a minute or two here-and-there has
no impact on the action. It is only when the reel spends
several hours submerged on some fairly tough water that I
experience this jerky drag issue.
It’s been two years since I
bought my FWX and it is still one of the lightest large
arbour 5/6 trout reels on the market. A comparatively large
diameter and relatively narrow spool ensures it remains a
top performer. With regard to durability, the FWX comes
through with flying colours on my unforgiving New Zealand
backcountry tests, proving it has the toughness to match its
good looks. A tough Hard Alox coating (Type 3 instead of
type 2 anodizing) may have resisted some of the scratches
the FWX sustained, but certainly would not have prevented
all of them.
All in all the Nautilus FWX is
a brilliant match for modern light-weight trout rods.
For further information on the
technical specifications and features of the FWX series
visit the Nautilus website,