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Review - FFB Snake and Rapidan Reels

Flyfishing Benefactors recently announced the arrival of two new lines of reels; the Snake and the Rapidan.

The Snake series represents the new top-of-the-line for FFB. It's a large arbor, lightweight compelling green color that features all of the advantages of several years of improving technology.  I did a quick head-to-head comparison against the Orvis Battenkill Large Arbor reel in the matrix below based on information available on the Orvis website and you can see how they stack up. While the Orvis comes in more colors - offering the traditional gold, tungsten and black - that's the only advantage. The Snake has the unique characteristic of both being slightly larger and significantly lighter. It weighs in at 3.54 ounces versus 4.1 for the Orvis. In addition, the Snake features the well engineered sealed bearing assembly that excludes sand and silt during normal operation.

I did the best I could at pulling up the key items for comparison. As I gaze down the list of criteria, I concluded that there is a "ticket to play" in this market and that ticket is defined by all of the areas where an "X" appears. We expect reels to be tough and resilient with a robust disk drag for those rare moments when the fish actually gets on the backing. But beyond that, all the reel does is hold line. That moves the amount of line and the total weight to the reel to the forefront as the critical metrics to examine. I routinely fish all day long when I get out. I appreciate the fact that light equipment makes for smooth and easy casting all day long. Therefore, the fact that the Snake is almost half an ounce lighter than the Orvis is a pretty compelling statistic. When coupled with the fact that it is $50 cheaper, it becomes overwhelming as I am still recovering from the dramatic overspending I did when I adopted fly fishing in early 2007.  Heck, at this price, I might even be honest if I had to tell my wife what I spent on it.

FFB lent me a Snake to use so I could write this review. Unfortunately, the Snake was released late in the season and the only place I could take it was to the Rose River on my recent brutal hike in from Skyline Drive. Granted, pretty much any reel can handle fishing for small brookies in remote mountain streams where you're lucky to get a 20 foot cast, but I enjoyed the fact that this reel did not make the Shenandoah rod awkward to manipulate or noticeably heavy.  I would love to be able to try the reel out on the North Branch or even after some tough smallies on the Potomac and I'll ask FFB to lend it back to me next spring when those opportunities present themselves.

 

Orvis Large-Arbor II

Snake I

Orvis Clearwater II

Rapidan

Price

$198

$149

$49

$39

Center line disc drag

X

X

X

X

One-way clutch bearing. 

X

X

X

0 to dead stop drag adjustment

X

X

X

X

Glass composite drag surfaces

X

X

Easy-to-grab drag knob. 

X

X

X

X

6061 bar stock aluminum. 

X

X

Cast Metal Frame

X

X

Easy Spool Removal

X

X

X

X

Durable and lightweight. 

X

X

X

X

Corrosion resistant

X

X

X

X

Low maintenance

X

X

X

X

Stainless-steel gearing. 

X

X

Saltwater-proof

X

X

One Step Change from right to left

X

X

Right or left-hand retrieve

X

X

X

X

Scratch-resistant

X

X

X

Hard-anodized finish. 

X

X

Diameter

3.25"

3.27"

3.00"

3.39"

Weight

4.1 oz

3.54 oz

4.2 oz

4.82 oz

Color: Gold

X

Color: Metal

X

Color: Black

X

X

X

Color: Green

X

Includes reel case

X

X

($45 w/case)


Switching to the Rapidan, it represents a new quality standard at the low end when compared with the Orvis Clearwater based on the data available on the Orvis website. The Rapidan has a number of "ticket to play" features that the Clearwater appears to be missing (or are not documented). It's a little bit larger than the Clearwater and is 0.6 oz heavier. The reason for the extra weight is that the reel was designed to handle abuse as well as mulitiple line weights.  It will accept 3, 4, or 5 wt line and 100 yards of 20 lb backing. Meeting that capacity requirement demanded a wider arbor and greater diameter.

At $39, it's only 80% of the cost of the Orvis and represents a good bargain. I have not actually used this reel yet so I don't have a feel for how it would work in action or whether the extra weight would wear me down. But, just from playing around with it, it looks solid and reliable -- a good entry-level reel. 

Beyond the Rapidan, another option for those who are looking for a bare bones, entry reel that is durable, should look at the FFB Madison reel.

If you're shopping for new gear, I recommend you check out both of these new models as well as the other high quality gear that FFB manufactures.

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The Snake in action on the Rose

Snake I Production shot

Rapidan view of components at various angles

Rapidan Reel


Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore

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