Moving from the Rocky Mountains to the Cascades requires a major change in fishing equipment. I grew up thinking “the big one” was a 21″ rainbow trout caught in Fish Lake, Utah. Now I’m fishing for salmon and steelhead that make those trout seem like small fry. (Oh, so that’s where that saying comes from!)
My 5wt fly rod, reel, and line setup wasn’t going to cut it out here in the Pacific Northwest, so it was time to build up a second rod for the big ones. I’ll be reviewing all of the components of the rig over the next month, but first up is the reel.
We’ve done a number of reviews of affordable, high performance reels on this site (here, here, and here), so it felt only right that I get a similar reel in a larger weight and compare it to the others we’ve featured here.
Enter the Okuma Helios h89a.
I normally thought of Okuma as a mostly spincasting company, but was surprised to find that they have a very complete line of fly reels as well! Overall I’ve been very impressed by the Helios h89a. It’s a beautiful reel, very lightweight for its size, has a huge arbor, and performs wonderfully. I’ll try to structure this review similar to our past reel reviews so you can do an easy apples-to-apples comparison.
The Okuma Helios h89a fly reel is a solid machined (not cast) aluminum reel. No cheap plastic parts in this one. Don’t believe me? Here, I pulled mine apart so you could see (Okuma offers the full blow-out schematic of the reel in case you want to pull yours apart for cleaning/servicing):
Solid drag washers and solid aluminum shafts. This rod was built to take a beating and keep going. The reel feels very solidly built, but it’s also very light for its size. The 8/9 wt version I fished weighs in at 6.2 oz without line (for a closer comparison to our other reviews, the 4/5 wt version is 5 oz even), and I found that it actually weighs less than my cheap plastic/cast 5/6 wt reel when loaded.
The machined aluminum finish has a duller matte look to it, so you won’t look quite so pretentious out on the river (and you won’t spook the fish) but it still looks great attached to your rod. There were only two problems I noticed with the appearance of the reel. First is that the aluminum of the spool seemed a little soft, because it got chipped the first time I set it down a little too hard on the rocks.
Badges of honor, right? Second, the “extras” on the reel don’t seem well attached. After one use on the beach I could see bits of sand stuck behind the “Okuma” badge on the reel, and for all of the high quality look and feel of the reel, the black reel handle felt a little cheap.
I think a textured aluminum reel handle would look nicer, the black one just felt a little out of place. Minor details given the quality of the reel.
When I first pulled the reel out of the box I was surprised that the arbor didn’t look as large as I had expected. I think it’s due to the rounded edges on the spool that make the spool feel a little more “filled out”. However, it holds plenty of line: 250yd of 8wt line. I filled mine with 100 feet of InTouch Rio Gold WF8F (review coming soon!) and it’s nowhere near full.
The Okuma Helios has a one way clutch drag system, so reeling in line is completely silent. Honestly, after fishing my cheap 5/6 click-and-pawl reel, I thought something must be wrong with the Okuma when I pulled it out of the box it was so quiet! The spool spins very smoothly on the shaft, no grinding, clicking, or whining. There’s so little drag in the spool-up direction that you can actually spin the reel with a quick flick of a finger, and get multiple revolutions of wind-up.
Switching retrieval directions is easy as well, with a small lever on the inside of the spool that unlocks the spool from the reel.
The Okuma Helios features a waterproof, sealed, multi-disc drag system. Drag is adjusted by twisting the large drag knob on the back side of the reel. The drag wheel is slow to twist: they’ve put some great feedback on the knob, so you can’t unintentionally lock your reel out in a panic. Since it is slow to turn, a small adjustment can really up your drag.
A quarter-turn of the drag wheel gives you a very noticeable increase in the drag on your reel, which is great if you’re in the middle of a fight with a big steelhead and you need to add or reduce drag quickly. For you OCD fishermen out there, the drag wheel also gives a quiet click as you turn, letting you keep track of exactly how much drag you’ve added or removed. And you can add plenty of drag. The drag wheel will go far enough that you can basically lock the reel out completely. There is plenty of strength in this reel to hold on to a big one.
The Okuma Helios fly reel is a beautiful reel. It is a solid, machined aluminum reel with sturdy construction that will last for a very long time. At $200, it’s a great quality reel for the price. As I was looking through our other reviews and admiring this reel, the one thing that struck me as out of place was the warranty on this reel. Okuma provides only a 5 year warranty on the reel. I love the quality and the craftsmanship of the reel, so I was a little surprised at how short the warranty was.
- Machined Aluminum, beautiful presentation
- Sturdy construction, few moving parts
- Multi-disc drag system with a very easy to access drag wheel
- Plenty of drag for big fish, quick drag adjustment
- Large arbor
- Light weight
- Waterproof drag assembly
- Aluminum reel can scratch easily
- “Ornaments” don’t seem well attached
- Short warranty