Orvis Hydros Reel Review

Any product that bears the Orvis brand name is bound to be worth the expense, and the Hydros SL fly reel is no different! In this review we'll take a closer look at the reel's features, construction and many more.
Orvis Hydros Review

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Any product that bears the Orvis brand name is bound to be worth the expense, and the Hydros SL fly reel is no different! This affordable yet powerful reel stands up to the high Orvis standards, just like you’d expect it to, and it won’t set you back too much money.

A lot of time and effort went into perfecting the design of the Hydros SL reel. The result is a low-cost but high-performance product that will impress almost all anglers, from beginners to pros. If you’re on a tight budget, the Orvis Hydros is one of the best fly reels in it’s price range on the market today.

Available Sizes

  • 3/4
  • 5/6
  • 7/8
  • 9/10


Coming in at around $200, the Orvis Hydros SL reel is a very affordable product with impressive features (more than you’d expect for the price tag!) So it’s not hard to see why it made a huge splash in the market when it was first released back in early 2016. Many anglers were eager to get their hands on such a hyped-up reel.

But does it live up to all the publicity? That’s what we aim to find out in this detailed review! Read on to get a better understanding and whether it’s the right reel for your set up.

First, we’ll take a quick look at what the Hydros SL is and what it has to offer. Then, we’ll examine the different features and benefits of this fly reel. The Hydros SL has a super large arbor and a narrow spool. This superb combination leads to improved line retrieval rates – 8.25 inches every second in the SL III model, according to the company.

The Hydros SL comes in five different models, which are:

  • The SL I for 1-3 weight rods
  • The SL II for 3-5 weight rods
  • The SL III for 5-7 weight rods
  • The SL IV for 7-9 weight rods
  • And finally, the Hydros SL for your heavyweight 9-11 rods

Prices start at just $198 for the SL I, while the most expensive reel will set you back just $260. These prices make the Hydros SL attractive not only for beginners looking to upgrade their entry-level model, but anyone who needs a spare or a workhorse reel.

So as you can see, there is the perfect Hydros for every angler. Whether you like to play small but wily trout or catch trophy-worthy whoppers, a Hydros will serve you well. If you find that it ticks all the right boxes, you could even buy more than one reel to cover all possible fishing situations!

Looking For Another Reel for Comparison?

Orvis SL Rights Reserved


The Hydros is constructed from sturdy barstock aluminum, with a carbon/stainless steel disc drag. It’s fully machined, which makes it very strong compared to diecast reels (but without a lot of added expense).

In my opinion, the large arbor and narrow spool are some of the best features of the Hydros SL. These improvements speed up retrieval rates and fix any line stacking issues, one of the major frustrations fly anglers have to deal with on the water. You’ll appreciate that super-fast retrieve most when fishing for big saltwater beasts, but it also comes in handy for trout and bass. So, using Hydros SL is enjoyable, fun, and practical!

But the Hydros SL was also built to last! The new reinforced spool edge creates better rigidity for durability, and there’s minimal wobbling. A matte type II anodized finish completes the Hydros, adding even more protection against the elements, as well as bumps and scratches.

While this product is manufactured abroad, we didn’t find any differences in the quality and craftsmanship of this reel. It meets the high standards that company requires of all its products.

Not only that it is new and improved, but it looks flashy, too! It comes in the standard black and silver colorways with logo detailing in contrasting colors. Or you can snag it in the brighter purple edition if that’s more your style!

Drag System

As you’d expect from any reel review, we wanted to take a close look at the drag system to see how it fares. This model boasts a fully sealed carbon drag system, so you won’t need to baby it. The comnpany knows that fly fishers want to spend their time out on the water, not taking apart and cleaning their gear.

As it’s fully sealed (including the clutch bearing), you won’t need to worry about sand, grit, and saltwater getting inside and gunking up the delicate internals. Corrosion shouldn’t be an issue, either.

I was pleased to hear this smart fly reel has almost nonexistent startup inertia (and you should be, too!). This low startup inertia will protect your tippet and prevent you from losing fish after a fierce battle. This factor, combined with robust drag, sets the Hydros SL apart from other products in the same price range. It engages in such a smooth way, with no jarring or bumps, that it can easily compare to much more expensive reels. Very impressive!

Overall, the drag system on the Hydros SL is robust and low-maintenance – much better than you’d expect when you see the price tag. It packs up to 14 lbs of drag, which is more than you’ll need for even the feistiest fish in the river! When it comes to the drag, it’s comparable to the Mirage and other well-known (and popular) reels.

It’s also straightforward to adjust the drag. While everyone will appreciate this feature, it makes this reel ideal for beginners and amateurs who are just getting the hang of fly fishing.

Orvis SL


This reel comes in at just 7.7 ounces, an impressively low weight (especially for the price). And I know that we keep coming back to the cost of this reel in our review, but it’s hard to ignore when it far outstrips any other models in the same price range.

We expect a lightweight reel with a powerful drag, zero startup inertia, fast retrieve, and a durable build if you’re paying $500. But at this low cost, this powerful combination of features is astounding!

Back to the weight, this reel balances out lightweight rods beautifully, and it won’t weigh you down too much.


The updated drag knob on the new Hydros was designed with ergonomics in mind. While it’s not as big as the oversized drag knobs we’ve come to love, it has a neat asymmetrical shaping. Plus, it won’t get in the way, which is always good to know! The thumb location indent is a nice feature, and the knurling ensures that you get a firm grip every time.


Like all Orvis products, this reel comes with a lifetime warranty, which offers extra peace of mind. Accidents can happen, but they will replace or repair your reel for you if anything happens. You’ll only need to pay the $30 processing fee.

Pros & Cons

If you’re short on time, don’t worry. In this section of our review, we’ll sum up the positives and negatives of this reel, so you can quickly decide if it’s right for you!


  • Affordable price
  • Very little line stacking or line memory
  • Fast line retrieve
  • Sturdy build
  • Zero startup inertia
  • Ergonomic drag knob


  • It’s resistant to reverse spin to collect slack line
  • It doesn’t have the most audible sound – you might miss that reassuring click!
  • The drag knob is smaller than we’d like

Orvis SL

The Wrap Up

So there you have our complete review of the Orvis Hydros SL! If you’ve been looking around for the best fly reel for under $250, this product fits the bill. It’s constructed to the highest standards by one of the best names in the fly fishing world – Orvis products generally don’t disappoint!

This particular model is hardwearing and powerful – it performs every time out on the water! That super-fast line retrieve is a welcome addition, and it’s great that you don’t have to worry about line stacking. Grab this excellent reel today – it’s a bargain!

Let us know what you think of this reel in the comments – we’d love to know! And if you found this review helpful, head over to Fly Fisher Pro for more guides, tips, and reviews for avid fly anglers.

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