Tuesday 17 March 2015

The Koma is Dead - Long Live the Rulla

Sadly it couldn't last forever.  After 15 seasons my dear old Vision Koma has died.  The fatal fault began to show itself 2 years ago: stripping off line caused the drag to slacken.  A major rebuild attempt with a complete set of drag components gave one season's life extension as the carrier of my Skagit line, but I've failed to work out the cause of the problem.  It's now the end of the road for this cut price workhorse.  At around £60 in 2000 it certainly doesn't owe me anything, and its rubbery handle remained an object of joy to its last day.  The Koma remains one of the best value cheap salmon reels around, which I recommend without hesitation for any beginner on a budget.

The need to replace the Koma prompted me to start my preparations for the coming season.  For whatever reason I've been very slow off the mark this year.  Normally I have my head in the Great Fishing Chest  at the top of the stairs within weeks of the shooting season ending, and my kit outloaded into its car boxes by early March.  Perhaps it's the after-effects of the disastrous 2014 campaign.  On the other hand, unlike last year, I have dug the mud, feathers, blood and unbelievable quantities of labrador hair out of the car.  She's a very pretty blonde and a good gun dog of 2 adult seasons, but for all the hair she sheds it's a miracle she's not bald.  I'll have to see whether I can reduce the temperature of the air conditioning in the back without freezing my wife in the front.

She's not a bad fishing dog either, if a little over enthusiastic on the point at an 8 pounder on the Findhorn in 2013.  A couple of firm words stopped her trying to retrieve and land the fish, as I doubt that she understands the idea of catch and release.

The Vision Rulla

Faced with the demise of the Koma, my first instinct was to look for a Lamson Konic or a Loop Multi, which are both excellent combinations of quality and value engineering (see my Reel Value post).   They're both better value than their up-market cousins, the Lamson Guru and Loop Evotec, which I reviewed in February 2014.  I also recommended the Loop Multi in my 2014 Christmas wish list when it was on offer at Angling Active at £129, but didn't buy one as I thought I could fix the Koma.   A friend recently recommended looking at the Rulla, which Vision introduced in 2014 as a likely successor to the larger reels in the long running GT series.  My experience with the Koma had given me confidence in Vision and some insights into their philosophy as a pure design house.  In common with many fishing companies today, they don't actually manufacture anything themselves.  By any standard Vision is an eccentric organisation, headed by a young man with a pony tail and a Harley; staffed by fishing fanatics; and Finnish to its core. Consequently my insights fall well short of understanding.  Nowhere is that eccentricity more apparent than in their range of reels, except perhaps the Cult reel seat and yellow wading boots (wait for the next post).  But if you look beyond the weird names and some zany ideas, you can detect a coherent strategy covering all the price points from bottom to middle, with a strong emphasis on value for money and competitive pricing.  In that respect the Rulla is pitched at £169, which is £30 below the Loop Multi and Lamson Remix, but it has a technical specification that is superior to both, with fully machined major parts throughout.  Amongst fully machined reels the Rulla is £70 cheaper than the Lamson Guru.  I'm still trying to work out how they've secured the price advantage, because I still haven't detected any major compromises of engineering, materials or finishing.  It's made in Korea, which, as I've pointed out many times, specialises in high quality rather than low cost, so it's not geography.

It bears a passing resemblance to the Guru with an open cage design and neat silver finish.  The quality of machining is excellent.  The bearings and drag appear smooth and progressive, but I'll reserve final judgement until it's handled some fish.  In this photo you can spot one of the clever design features, which spools most of the backing in a relatively narrow and deep channel below the main arbor, in the area that is unused space on most large arbor designs.  Once it's full to the shoulder the Rulla becomes a normal large arbor reel.  You can see here that the last section of backing covers the full width up to the bottom quarter of the outer ring of machined holes. This gives the Rulla a heroic capacity for its #8/10 rating: 200 metres of backing; 30 of Airflow Ridge Extreme runner; 13 of Rio Scandi 37g/10 wt shooting head; and ample frame clearance.  It's nice to find a reel with understated capacity when most fall short.

The finish at the back is similarly pleasing.  The large knurled drag knob falls easily to hand and is positive in operation.

The concave shaping towards the centre is not decoration but deliberate design to add rigidity whilst increasing line capacity.  You can see the 3 layers of backing, running line and shooting head more clearly in this view.

In common with its competitors the Rulla has a fully sealed drag assembly.  It's based on the common multi-plate compression design, but the pad area looks slightly larger than Loop's. Interestingly it uses 4 rounded engagement lugs on the drag body compared to the Loop's single larger rectangular lug. This makes spool replacement and location simpler and quicker than on the Loop.  This view of the back shows the Rulla's primary limitation: it just doesn't have the structural strength and rigidity of a full frame reel, which is essential if you are dealing with lots of very big fish in heavy water.  On the other hand this design should suffice for 99.999% of what one might ever encounter in the UK.

My one reservation with the Rulla was its advertised weight of 201 gm, which translates into  an improbable 7 ounces.  If this was correct I foresaw problems of balancing the 14 foot rod that it was intended to partner.  Once I'd filled it with line I popped the Rulla onto the kitchen scales with the Guru, and found to my relief that it was actually 12 grams heavier.  Just to be sure I headed out into the garden, put up the 13'8" 10 wt Cult and stripped the shooting head out through the rings to check the balance.  It was about as perfect as you could reasonably ask.  However, the clue to the reason for that ideal outcome is in this photo.  You will observe that the Cult's eccentric copper finish, single ring, uplocking, faux wood decorated monstrosity of a reel seat has been replaced by Chas Burns of York with good American common sense in the form of a downlocking ALPS.  I consider it a superb product (it's now on 2 of my rods), a triumph of function over form, right down to the two soft locking washers and the Teflon coated thread.  The reel seats on the Loop Cross S1 (uplocking, stiff thread) and the Hardy Marksman (downlocking but no washers to stop the nuts loosening) are not in the same league.  But to return to the point, fitting the ALPS moved the reel position 3"/7cm backwards, thereby allowing a reel of 13' compatible weight to balance a 14' rod.  Sometimes luck smiles on me, for I claim no deliberate intent in this happy outcome, which has transformed the Cult.  Previously the reel seat spoiled the whole show.  All that remains to achieve perfection is to sort out another Finnish Cult eccentricity - the absence of alignment dots.  Meanwhile I look forward to using the Cult - Rulla combination, which I'll report in my next post.

Looking Ahead

Once again a very kind Yorkshire friend has treated me to a guest day at the end of March at Rutherford on the Tweed, one of the nicest waters to fish.  The anticipation is mounting as I write.  The following week I shall be back for the spring session on the Dee at Waterside and Ferrar, another very picturesque beat.  Fishpal tells me that this year the salmon have reached that level, whereas in 2014 they stopped at Ballogie, so I am a bit more optimistic.

In between those activities I'll endeavour to put up another post to report on the Rulla's performance and anything else that comes to mind.  For those already on the water and those who start on 1st April, tight lines: here's hoping for a silver fish.