I recently decided i fancied a smaller lighter weight setup, previously my lightest setup was an 8'6" 5wt. I had my eye on the Orvis Superfine touch 8' 4wt. When i visited the local Orvis store and chatted to the manager there, he suggested that a 7'6" 3wt might suit better for the sort of fishing i had in mind, small streams trout fishing and some panfish closer to home in Houston. So i had a quick wiggle and cast and decided the 7'6" 3wt felt great and i'd buy one.
However what reel to pair with the rod, the obvious choice was the CFO, that Orvis pairs with the Superfine if you buy the outfit. However that reel is $250 and i'm not really convinced on the need for a disc drag on a reel for a 3wt. The manager agreed and so we checked out Orvis' new Battenkill reel. The reel is made abroad (i think China) but is machined from bar stock aluminium, the machining tolerances appear tight with no play in the wrong places. The anodizing appears of good quality, with no signs of scuffs or blemishes so far. The reel is only available in the finish that Orvis describe as black nickel, there is also a Mirage in that colour too. The colour could best be described as a slightly brownish finish. Although the sizing looks a bit weird, it matches the reel seat on my Helios 2 8wt nicely, so i think would be a nice choice for the small H2's as well. It has a nice classic look with the drilled porting on the spool and reel, which should allow it to dry out nicely should it take a dunking.
The reel is available in 3 sizes, for 1-3, 3-5 and 5-7 weight line sizes. I opted for the Battenkill II for line weights 3-5, it's only 0.1 ounces more than the Battenkill I. In a 3wt line, the II reel can take 100 yards of 20lb dacron backing, the I reel has a capacity of 50 yards. Although probably not a big deal for fighting fish, i thought the extra backing would increase the effective arbor of this standard/mid-arbor reel, there by reducing line coiling issues and increasing retrieve rates. I'll post the backing capacities as a photo below as they are not currently on the Orvis website.
The reel is easily to switch between LHR and RHR, by reversing the pawl. From mid July onwards the reels will be sold with a second mirror image spring to improve the check performance when converted to RHR (some people complained it wasn't effective enough in the current design) Orvis have said they'll swap out any reel with the original design for one of the revised reels on request. I wont bother though as I'm LHR.
The amount of 'check' available has 4 settings, changeable by rotating the little square near the pawl inside the reel. So no adjustment while the spool is fitted. I liek the clean look achieved by removing the external adjustment. I have been using it at the factory setting (mid-range), which is enough check to prevent spool overruns when stripping off line. There is a perceptible difference in the strength of the check when adjusted. The reel clicks both ways and sounds good to my ears. The spool is easy to remove, there is a spool release latch at the centre of the spool, similar to the clearwater and Access line of reels.
The reel is super light at 2.9 ounces for the Battenkill II, and seems to balance the superfine touch really well (although i've never been a 'reel balance snob'), it think it would match up well with short rods and modern ultra light carbon rods.
I haven't had anything on it yes that's really tested the click n' pawl, although i did let a couple of small bass pull a bit on it to see what happened, as you might expect, nothing surprising. There is plenty of rim exposed so you can employ some human old skool drag if required.
At $98 I think the reel is a good little product for the money and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it or buy another.