I don't know who the actual manufacturer is but can say they are one of the finest reels made in my opinion for trout fishing. They are tough, the drag adjustments are quick, smooth and easy to change. I set my drag light and palm the reel when extra drag is needed and prefer to strip in a fish as opposed to reeling in (think I get the fish to hand faster with stripping). I don't have any negatives yet as I have only been using the reel for the last 4 years.
While the earliest Battenkill reels were made by JW Young and Hardy, I believe all Battenkill "Disc" reels were made in England by BFR. Orvis bought BFR in the early 90s before moving manufacturing to China 10-12yrs later, prior to which the BBS (Battenkill Bar Stock) had already taken its place in the lineup.
Personally, I didn't care for the BFR Battenkill design or graphics enough to purchase one. The foot always seemed a bit high off the frame, the exposed palming rim was raised (and thus off-balance to me), and the overall look less refined. But they were affordable, good quality reels, and they still have their fans.
They're the "classic" trout reel yet on the bottom end of the class. Light, small drag (really only good for what it is supposed to do, keeping the spool from over-running...NOT slow a fish, that's what palming the reel is for), moderate quality for what was offered in the day......Made in England, I "believe do not know" I have read that Hardy had something to do with them yet to that end I can't be sure (though the CFO certainly was).
Problems with them range from a rather rudimentary bronze bushing which can taper out (instead of a cylindrical hole it will wear at each end making 2 cones and eventually wobble), an iffy axle base (if it loosens spool will rub).......BUT, you get what you pay for, and for the money it was a good reel and value in its day compared to some other offerings.
However, it is by far not up to modern standards, and even some of those a vastly more advanced at close to the same price......Now of course they are just spring and pawl from china.
All of that said....I fish a 5/6 whenever I fish my 5 or 3wt.. I'm in the process of trying to by an unused 3/4, and just missed out on another new 3/4, 5/6 & 7/8 I was trying to buy....and on the last 3/4 I'm looking at i'm trying to get it w/the spare spool for just under what it would cost to by a more modern reel and spool......So, they clearly work for me.
In the end however.....Spare spools are hard to come by, used reels are iffy at best (bushing and axle wear the issue), the drag is not a drag to fight big fish (which i actually prefer)....and it is very out of date compared to most reels you can buy today for about what they are going for.
But it is a moderate range classic.....and a bit of "old school" has its value too.
They are good reels for the money and I have owned a couple of them for over twenty years. Just do the rudimentary maintenance, wash after using in the salt, back off the drag when storing, and oil the bushing. I have landed lots of steelhead and king salmon and stripers on a Battenkill for my eight weight rod. The drag worked fine for larger fish and never wore out at the bushings. The smaller Battenkill that I have for a five weight does exactly what I need, holds line, doesn't over run the spool. I have never had a fish like a steelhead or a salmon on it to test the drag but for trout up to 25 inches it worked just fine. They are also pretty tough, the painted surface does chip and I have had a small dent in a spool from dropping it on the rocks once. I straightened it back with pliers. Not pretty but it still works. My wife uses one of the barstock Battenkills and it is a nicer reel and works well.
Location: beside the AuSable River in northern Michigan
Re: Orvis Battenkill 5/6 disc reel - maker?
All in all, whether the Young, Hardy or BFR versions, they were tough reels to beat, especially at their price point. I've had a 5/6 kicking around for years-- English made and still ticking as it should, year-in and year-out...
Like any reel/rod/et al, if you do a small bit of maintenance every year before putting it away, thereby hedging your bets against wear and tear when the next season kicks off, one of the old Battenkills will fish well, no matter its age.
And, while I've heard of spool wobble, excessive wear and the like from a few anglers, I've never had a problem with any of that on my older Orvis reels, as I generally like to keep the reels properly lubricated and cleaned.
Last season, I over-heard a guy cussing up a blue streak about what I believe was his "mother's" crappy reel ceasing up on him. As he was fishing within wading distance of the bank on our side of the river, I asked him if I could take a look at his reel. Sure enough... the "guts" were bone-dry-- not a bit of "lube," whatsoever. As he later said, after I applied a bit of lubrication to the reel and worked it in, nobody ever informed him of the fact that a fly reel actually needed lubrication on the gears!!!
Therein lies one of the reasons why I consider a few folks-- especially yours truly --to be "works in progress..."
I have Battenkill click and pawl from the early '90s that I've used consistently since, well the early 90s. Nothing fancy but it's hard to complain about a reel that I paid $89 for 20 years old that has never had a single issue.
Expensive, shiny, fully machined reels serve a purpose and can be pretty to look at, but for general trout fishing I'll keep it simple. I will buy another one of the old clickers on ebay for under $100 just to have another one.
OK, talking about the OP's "Batt. Disc 5/6 England" Orvis reel. I happen to have one open on my desk on it way to back-up use (not by me, heaven forbid) this weekend. I am confident the few I have are built by BFR after Orvis bought it and feature a serviceable "off-set disc" drag design which, I think but am not sure, was Orvis developed. It might have been a BFR design but nothing to be proud of. The reel is typical of BFR's mediocre materials and craftsmanship and less than a poor man's Hardy but Orvis sold boatloads of them and many are still in service. They do need a drop or three of oil now and then which this one is about to get when I am done panning it in print. At max. drag setting (all the way to the + sign) it is strong enough for most any trout fishing applications but this is a reel more at home on the Blue Gill pond than the Battenkill .
Thanks, guys - I appreciate the input. Sounds like a decent, basic reel. I like those. Don't get me wrong - I like the fancy-pants reels, too. But they sure do pain the ol' walletto! If only I had bought that Microsoft stock in '86 .....