When I go fishing I may fish one rod but always have at least two and the further I travel the more rods accompany me. My mid-June to mid-July Idaho/Montana trip included a kit of five rods...but seven reels. I fished with all of them. No, nothing broke requiring back-up equipment, to the contrary, everything worked splendidly in diverse habitats ranging from meandering little meadow streams to the mighty Missouri river. However, I enjoy experimenting and if I am going to compose a post on our Forum about the virtues of RIO Gold in its limited stretch InTouch form, I have to have that line on one reel and the standard braided Nylon core Gold on another...how else can I compare them on the same rod to formulate a critically astute opinion?

My brand new Allen Atlas II enjoyed the envious task of having Cortland's Omni-Verse long head, long rear taper presentation line mounted on it. I could not have known this in advance, never before having fished it, but both the line and the reel represented a distinct and clear enhancement of performance for Douglas's SKY 9'/#5, a very good fly rod made more so in harmony with this reel/line combination.

During the second week of our month-long camping/fishing adventure, we camped on the banks of a medium sized river in Montana. Where we first fished it was in a large sweeping bend with a sharp corner eddy in its apex. As was true in much of the West this spring, the water was high and depth limited my wading. SKY was rigged with RIO Gold which I have used on it for two seasons but the 65 foot cast that was required to present my little PMD dun imitation to a nice fish in that challenging corner felt a little overloaded with so much line out the tip-top. I switched to the Atlas mounted Omni-Verse which is a lighter, true to spec line and instantly the outfit felt sharper and more precise. More communicative enough that I was actually able to achieve the short but natural drift beneath the overhanging alder branches on the far bank. The brown revealed himself from beneath his secluding weed mat lie and sipped in the fly.

The rod, new line and long leader had done their job with blended power and finesse and now it was Allen's Atlas's turn to illustrate its prowess. A river like this with width, depth and 800 CFS of pushing current is no place for a reel to be a mere "line holder". When he felt the metal, the fish bolted from his shadowy lie and leapt into the sunlight spraying sparkles of water from his deep buttery flanks. He rampaged down river toward more entangled willow and alder brush but I swept the rod sideways and added a couple of detents of drag to the reel steering him off his bank. Now he sounded to the deeper center of the river and I knew I could not follow him much further downstream. Changing angles of pressure and striving to direct the give and take instead of giving him free rein, I worked him toward the shallower bank to which I had retreated. Soon I was able to slip my net beneath him. Revived and released I proceeded to strip some line off the reel and was surprised by how much drag I had dialed into it, more than I had thought but it was so smooth with no perceptible start-up inertia that the 5X tippet and #16 hook held and I simply landed him a bit faster. I also noted that though I was totally focused on the trout and wading depth, the Atlas's just right aspect ratio with a width of 1 inch had the line perfectly and intuitively uniformly retrieved, no errant build up toward a frame pillar.

There are so many reels with drags today varying in open or sealed drag designs, drag materials, diverse proportions and price points. A core group of design elements though has come to the fore of performance and reliability though and they are embodied in Allen's Atlas as well as in their top-of-the-line, more big game oriented, Omega. Machined from quality aluminum bar-stock and hard anodized in a large arbor configuration that is narrow enough for intuitive, uniform line retrieval yet deep enough for high backing capacity. Spool engagement to the frame is via a knurled, threaded, captive knob that has no springs to fail and cannot be removed thus lost. The drag features stacked, multi-carbon-discs sealed from the elements in a module for large sweep area, smooth yet strong performance. I don't know how much drag pressure headroom Atlas has but more than I would need not merely for trout but even for bonefishing. Since the drag elements are stacked, they form a compact design that contributes to the reels mere 5.5 oz. weight without sacrificing structural rigidity. Atlas is a satisfyingly solid feeling reel in a proportion, weight and ample capacity to balance a comparable high performance 9'/#5 graphite fly rod.

Allen did not invent this design, many of these characteristics go back a couple of decades and are incorporated to one extant or another into reels ranging from inexpensive, mass produced, re-branded items to $1,000 works of art. What Allen has achieved is to combine their depth of evolved experience in designing their superb, US built, Omega model with their expertise in cost saving Asian production to bring us Atlas, a handsomely well crafted, high performance reel, built to exceed the demands of hard-core fly fishing in both fresh and saltwater for a very reasonable $329.