Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Gear Review: L.L. Bean Ultralight Combo

It's been a slow few weeks as far as fishing is concerned, but I'll still get some new stories up soon (and eventually return to the original idea of this blog, which was to write up some of the old stories, rather than just provide outing reports).

Anyway, thanks to dumping a canoe, I've now managed to own two of L.L. Bean's Angler Spin Series Outfit, 5' Two-Piece Ultralight. The obvious review is that I re-bought it the day I sunk the first version, so it must be great. Well, yes and no.

I originally set out to simply replace my current ultralight reel, part of a combo I stole from my dad years ago. My biggest complaint was that it didn't have infinite anti-reverse.

It turns out that that's not as standard a feature as you would think on ultralight reels. Yet it's absolutely essential -- the first thing I look for in a reel (I'm not a gearhead by any means, so retriever ratio, ball bearing counts, etc. take me some more time to parse). Reels were getting more expensive than I thought, and I was beginning to see that a combo might be a smart way to go.

Then I found L.L. Bean's offering for about $35. Bean isn't known for underpricing, but they aren't known for making junk either. I ordered one. Not surprisingly, it was backordered for over a month. When I finally got it, I was pleased, but I need to offer a few caveats.

The rod is great -- no issues there at all. I've got fish ranging from half a foot to 23 inches and the rod's proven to be very sensitive and capable of protecting the line.

I was waiting to review the combo until the reel had a workout. The big catfish should have been that, but it never took line from the drag (even though I felt like I had it set light). I'm not sure what to make of that, so no news here on how smooth or loud the drag is.

The reel is truly infinite anti-reverse. So big plus there. Unfortunately, both reels I got came with too much line spooled on, and I wasn't a big fan of the curly line in general (I think it's Sufix, which should be a good choice). With both reels, I had a few snarls until I got down into it a ways. I'm not sure if this is from overspooling, improper spooling, line choice, or reel design, but my suspicion is it's some combination of the first three.

The other, more serious problem, involves the drag knob. Three times in one outing, I found the line catching on the drag knob, and winding on top of the reel instead of on the spool (leading to obvious problems). Even factoring in for user error as I was "guiding" and not fully attentive, it's still not an issue you should have to deal with. High-memory line, however, could contribute to the problem.

So, my conclusion: better than you might think. At $35, this combo is an absolute steal (unless the reel gives me further problems, which I doubt, considering I gave the first one a pretty good workout without this issue). It's an entry-level price for a better quality combo. If you're a hardcore ultralight enthusiast, it's probably not the combo for you. However, if, like me, you like an ultralight for occasional forays, or if you're a newcomer to the style looking for some inexpensive-but-quality equipment, it's a good place to go.

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