October 2013

When I began fly fishing, popular opinion was that a fly reel for trout was simply a storage device. 
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 comic sequences. 

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.


Nautilus FWX (left) and Predator (right) fly reels


Why Nautilus?

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.


First Impressions

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.


100 yards of Dacron backing and my WF5F line slightly overfilled the 5/6 FWX


Replacing the 20lb Dacron backing with 100m of 50lb braid solved the line capacity issue

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 FWXs 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 fine shape.

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.


My FWX has earned some scars during two years of backcountry punishment but it still functions perfectly


Drag System

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.



Its 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, http://www.nautilusreels.com