We're approaching that time of year again. The Christmas credit card bill slamming our bank account is now in memory not prospect, and the green shoots of financial optimism are sprouting in step with the snowdrops. The primroses will be out soon and the first swallows have already left Nigeria. Just as the signs of spring emerge and the sun gives some warmth, the attraction of new equipment once again threatens to trump our 6 week old resolve.
The Market Context
As you will know from Reel Value, I've spent most of my life at the bargain end of the reel market. Trusty old friends like the Vision Koma and the Loop CLW continue to give me excellent service. But scanning the catalogues that are arriving on my doormat to coincide with the annual salmon-fisher spring madness, it's clear that there's a strong market in more expensive reels. Certainly the manufacturers think so, as you can see from the table below which shows what's in the shops at the intermediate price point between bargain and exotic.
The first point that stands out is that every major manufacturer has a product in this range. Second, the tight clustering in the £200-300 band recognises that buyers at this level still retain a degree of price sensitivity. They've done well economically; can justify spending this order of money; want something good and aesthetically pleasing; but don't wish to go up to the exotic range (where the price band is 5 times wider). That recognition drives competition to the benefit of the buyer, yielding an excellent engineering quality - price balance in very good looking packages. If you exclude the idiosyncratic click-check Hardy Marquis (the 'singing reel'), there are great technical similarities across the range in terms of the specification and use of materials, machining processes and sub-assemblies. There's lots of contrasting finishing, weight saving perforations and other eye-catching features that are more to do with product differentiation than any difference in function.
Many of them are made in South Korea. The choice of location has nothing to do with cheap labour. South Korea is one of the most advanced manufacturing economies in the world, competing on quality with the EU, US, UK and Japan. The fishing reel business is all about design, limited volumes and flexible manufacturing. The production runs are very short in engineering terms: once set up, a pair of multi-station CNC machines could make most of the frames and spools for a year's sales of one of these reels in little more than 72 hours. Subsequent powder coating/enamelling, assembly and finishing would keep half a dozen people busy for a week on each phase. As a result there is unlikely to be a single plant making uniquely Brand A and nothing else. With a proven track record in making fishing reels, the factory will bid competitively for work from the big brands, re-tooling between each batch, in order to reach economic volumes. Set-up and re-tooling represent significant costs, which in part explains why the brands re-use components across their ranges (e.g. drag assemblies).
At various times over the past 5 years I've used about half of the reels in the table (6/13). Some have been just for the odd day, whereas I've owned a Lamson Konic and a Guru for some years. Last autumn I succumbed to the temptation of a Loop Evotec - it was in a discount sale at a lower price than a Multi (a first class reel) - and used it for 5-6 days at the back end of the season. Based on that experience I thought there might be some merit in doing a detailed comparison of the Evotec with the Guru, because they straddle the price range and mark the opposite ends of the spectrum of design philosophies.
|Respectable working clearances|
The first clue to the differing design philosophies is in the overall weight, and specifically of the bare cage: the Loop is 25% heavier overall; in the cage the margin's 60%.
You can summarise the 2 approaches as 'Just Because' and 'Just in Case'. Lamson is subsidiary of a design company (they do lots of other things) with a strong suit in material sciences. They first came into reels via Sage. The elegant symmetry of the Guru's open frame design gives maximum strength with minimum metal to satisfy its design brief as a salmon and steelhead reel. If you wish to go after bigger fish then you have to upgrade to the full-frame ARX at £450. In contrast the Loop is a full-frame design with lots of extra metal, just in case you wish to mount the 9/13 spool and chase serious fish (like this). That said, the asymmetric 'double L' strut is a bit of form over function, which isn't an efficient use of metal and so adds weight to achieve the required strength.
The Loop's 'just in case' mode is plainly visible in the drag (which you will also find in the Multi and CLW/Xact). Not only will it stop serious fish (and the odd truck), it is capable of doing it with respectable frequency. It is not, however, in the really big brake league alongside the classic 'flats' reels like the Tibor, Abel and their ilk. Like the disc brakes on high performance cars it's all related to contact area. With the 'centre contact' drag designs used in these 2 reels, that translates into the diameter of the spindle and its internal surface area. Once I'd overcome the incorrect factory setting of the Evotec's drag (3 minutes with a supplied fine hex key) full happiness was restored. With a selection of fish in various water states it was smooth and importantly, uniformly progressive in adjustment.
The Lamson's elegant and efficient theme extends into its drag system, which is based on pressing one metal cone into another (with all manner of clever coatings). There are no fibre or ceramic washers. However, its smaller contact area might be a limiting factor if you had to fight lots of very large salmon in heavy water. For those who don't fish in Russia, the Guru will subdue 99% of what we're likely to encounter. If we did hook the 1% monster of our dreams, the leader would give up long before the Guru. I find it a nice fighting reel with a smooth drag progression. Its open frame allows palming of the rim, which is handy in the closing stages when you don't want the drag too tight. For me it's handled fish up to 19 lbs with ease and passed the stress test of a silver fresh 15 pounder in a confined space - rapids below, right angle bend and overhanging trees upstream, and a big sharp rock in the middle.
Quality & DurabilityBoth reels are very well made. The quality of machining is excellent and the surface finishing good. The black gloss on the Loop is, however, vulnerable to 'gravel rash'. I treat my kit with care, but after only 5 days' fishing the marks are clearly visible owing to the high contrast between the black surface and the underlying aluminium. The Guru's clear epoxy coating is highly effective: where it has been breached the rash doesn't show up, even after 3 season's use.
BalanceThe final issue to consider is balance. The best reel in the world is no use if it doesn't sit well on your rod in a gentle horizontal balance with one hand on the cork and the other on the line. If the reel's too heavy the rod tip keeps drifting upwards and you have to move your hand back. More inconveniently, if it's too light the rod tip keeps catching the water, which requires hand movement and positive effort to correct. If it's too pronounced you have no choice but to add weight to the reel or rod butt with lead tape.
I bought the Guru to go with a bespoke 13' #8/9 Charles Burns ('Ure Celebration') enabled by a bequest from an aunt. By virtue of sound advice from the reel dealer and checking the balance in the shop, the overall balance is perfect. But the Guru is not a happy union with any of the family's 14 footers: it's just too light. With the Loop the position is completely reversed: it's too heavy at 13' and spot on at 14'. It's an ideal match with the Cross S1 - they'd be daft if it wasn't - which leads me to suspect a connection with some of the Evotec's additional mass. I don't own a 15' rod, but it would be interesting to check its balance with the Evotec with the bigger #9/13 spool.
ConclusionsIn summing up it's interesting to reflect that in their boxes these two reels have near identical headline specifications in terms of function, line capacity and arbour dimension. They are both first class products, but when you take them apart you expose markedly different design philosophies that extend into every aspect of their construction and operation. Those engineering differences have effects that become apparent once you reach the river. I'm also very aware that at this price level it's not all about engineering: aesthetics and personal taste are major factors in the purchase decision. With that in mind, I offer the following thoughts:
- The Lamson Guru 4 on a 13' #8/9 is a delightful combination for mid-size rivers. The elegant design is pleasing and the finish excellent. The minimal parts count bodes well for long term reliability. My only minor gripes relate to the handle and drag knob. It is too light to balance most rods of 14' or longer.
- The Loop Evotec G4 belongs on 14' rods, and probably up to 15' with the larger #9-13 spool option. Its design is workmanlike and sturdy but lacks the original aesthetics of Loop's early models. It's smooth, capable, gripe-free and a pleasure to use in a very Volvo sort of way.
- Both reels fall short of their declared line capacities when filled to practical rather than theoretical limits. This is quite common with large arbour designs, something you should bear in mind, irrespective of what the retailer may say. Remember that over-filling a reel with perfectly wound line is a recipe for losing fish late in the fight.
- Try before you buy is as important with reels as anything else in fishing, and at this price level you want to be delighted. Put it on the right rod to do an approximate balance check; explore the feel of handles and knobs; and check the drag progression because half a turn between free run and dead stop will cost you expensive fish.
- And then there's the Yorkshire question. Do these reels justify the extra cost above their value engineered cousins, the Konic and the Multi? After all, they share the same vital organs of drag, bearings and spindles. I suppose it all depends on what that extra money means to you in exchange for better finishing and looks. It's a economic issue and even a Yorkshireman yields to temptation sometimes, especially if they're paying below the RRP of the lesser reels!