Since I started guiding a few years ago, I realized how much I need a dependable reel that won’t let a client down when they hook into a decent fish. For new clients especially, a good reel can help avoid getting schooled too much by a big trout that knows our specific rodeo. So, when my buddy Brad Smith, a co-owner of Walton Rods, let me know he was launching a line of reels, I had to give them a look.
Machined from a solid piece of bar-stock alumnium, the Avail from Range Reels is one of the best fly reels I’ve used in recent memory. It’s lightweight, with a timeless design that looks great on bamboo, glass, or graphite.
And at $219, it’s priced exceptionally well, too. But what exactly makes buying a Range reel worth it? Well, let’s take a look.
What I Like
Build Quality and Design
I’m a sucker for classically-designed reels. There’s something romantic about the simple, but effective, curves and features of the old Hardy Princess, for example, that can’t stop me from collecting as many as my bank account will allow.
While no one would call the Avail an “old” reel simply on aesthetics, it looks at home on just about any fly rod. From my Orvis H3 and Winston AIR 2, to the bamboo rods I build myself, the Avail just looks gorgeous on anything. It’s currently only available in a chrome finish, though I suspect the folks at Range Reels will add more colors in the future.
Range Reels builds their products by machining a solid piece of aircraft-grade aluminum – the same material used for reels from folks like Lamson, Abel, and Ross. That lends the Avail reel reassuring heft, but doesn’t make it so heavy that it throws your fly rod off-balance.
Of particular note is the Avail’s innovative “grooved saddle spool.” Instead of a flat-bottom spool, the Avail sports a deep groove, which is designed to hold copious amounts of backing. That means a minimal amount of fly line itself is coiled tightly around the spindle, theoretically reducing line memory. In addition, if you consistently target fish that necessitate lots of backing, the grooved spool will certainly help you pack more into a lightweight reel.
This design is similar to what we saw from the Redington Behemoth, but I think it improves on that design by providing a solid, flat bottom to at least part of the spool. You may lose a bit of space, but I think Range’s design on the Avail is superior for line management, and durability.
Any new disc-drag reel is measured against what’s currently hot on the market. Right now, in the Avail’s price range, the Orvis Hydros and Redington Rise are the only reels that really compete as far as drag is concerned.
One of my good fishing buddies – a fisheries biologist who does his fair share of hook-and-line surveys in the high country – even went so far as to say that he felt the Avail had a smoother drag than the Hydros. The same Hydros, mind you, that’s been lauded with rightfully-earned praise since its introduction. My buddy made this observation after a 13-mile float on the South Fork of the Snake River in Idaho.
The Avail does have a smooth drag, and very little – if any – startup inertia. The Avail sports a grooved drag knob that’s infinitely adjustable, so you can dial it in to just the right setting for any fishing situation. I was surprised at how much torque the 5-6wt version I tested was able to produce.
I hate to recommend light tackle for big fish, but you could realistically use the 5-6wt reel to tame the big Lahontans at Pyramid Lake, some salmon, and even small steelhead. It’s that solid of a reel. Generally, I like to err on the side of using heavier gear than I need, especially where big fish are concerned. But I have a feeling the Avail is up to just about any challenge I could throw its way. Certainly, in the 7-8wt configuration, this reel would be a go-to in the salt.
North-American Made and Price Point
Normally, you pay a hefty premium for USA-made gear. Range Reels circumvents this a bit by designing the reels in America, but manufacturing them in Canada. That brings the final price for a 5-6wt reel to $219. That’s wallet-friendly, especially when you consider reels from other companies go for more than $700.
What I Don’t Like
Lack of Color Options
Honestly, the only area the Avail falls short in is color options. Fly fishing has turned flashier lately, and while I don’t want to pay the premium for hand-painted trout designs on my reels, I do love a wide variety of color options.
The Avail from Range Reels is one of the most impressive reels I’ve ever used. From its classic styling and bombproof construction, to a drag that’ll handle fish well above the usual for its weight class, the Avail is a reel I feel comfortable recommending to anyone. The wallet-friendly price of $219 helps, as does the lifetime warranty. While Range Reels might be new as a company, you’d never know it from how well the Avail functions on the water.
And for readers of Spencer Durrant Outdoors, the folks at Range are offering 10% for anyone who buys an Avail. Simply use the code “SDOUTDOORS” at checkout, and you’ll get a 10% discount on your next favorite fly reel.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer and guide from Utah. He runs the Utah Fly Fishing Company, is the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a columnist for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.