Towards the end of 2011, my good friend Mike Green and I were contemplating where we would travel during 2012 for our annual destination trip, and without me listing half the contents of “Where to fly fish before you die”, it was agreed we would try the East Cape of Baja California Sur, to hopefully land a Roosterfish off the beach on a fly. I’ve always admired this majestic fish, it’s sleek lines and the distinctive dorsal comb, and a picture for the photo gallery would be great.
During the early part of 2012 I booked our guide, our accommodation and the flights to get us there. (It ended up being a two and a half day journey thanks to the greed of British Airways who had in fact over booked the flight, meaning we actually lost a full day of our trip)
Once you’ve got a trip booked, it’s amazing how quickly your attention turns to your gear. Even a very basic list from the guide confirming rod weights, fly lines and the obligatory “decent reel” makes you start to build an armoury in your mind. I own a couple of fly fishing reels with the now common sealed drag, so I was most interested to read that during the spring, Airflo were poised to release a new reel with their first fully sealed drag.
After an exchange of e-mails with my contact at Airflo I had purchased the new Airflo V-Lite reel and it was on its way.
As a bit of a self confessed tackle junkie, I’d already admired the prototype in burnt orange, having seen some great pictures of it alongside a wild brownie and the mere idea of this in a 12 weight in black and silver had me considering the backing I thought might suit it. As luck would have it, I had 250 yards of red 60lb gel spun which actually fell short on the spool of where I expected given the claimed 200 yards of 30lb dacron.
After picking the reel up for the first time you notice instantly that the reel is far lighter than anything else in the sealed drag class or indeed any other class for that matter. Its frame has a matt black finish with aluminium exposed silver spokes. Upon further inspection you notice the distinctive drag casing in a deep red colour which houses a smooth and positive drag. The overall width of the reel is moderately wider than conventional reels, but it needs to be as the claimed backing capacity I feel would fall slightly short of that required for a twelve weight line. The reel has a v groove spool as with the older Airlite model and on the first few revolutions of backing you wonder if the line is laying correctly. Even when the reel was full of backing and a wf11 intermediate line went on, I was still surprised how light the reel was.
For the first day’s fishing, and a chance to try out the V-Lite, I swapped over to a Di7 equivalent and we were encouraged to take a boat offshore to find one of the huge shoals of football sized Tuna. This worked for a number of reasons. I for one, had never caught a Tuna on the fly although I’ve long been assured they’re great fun on a fly rod, it was a golden opportunity to get into the backing on the V-Lite!!
We were told the run out to the Tuna ground was about 40 minutes. Let me set the scene for you. On the Baja peninsular, the most economical boat fishing is in a panga. This is a 24 foot centre console with a 150 Yamaha outboard. Its a fibre glass body with lots of movement and most of them look like they’re 30 years old. The ride isn’t comfortable and on this particular journey we were 12 hours away from a storm which turned into a twister the next day. After an hour we still hadn’t arrived and the rough ride left us with not a stitch of dry clothing on either of us, Mike and I looked at each each dripping wet and just shook our heads before the glum faces turned into two grown men giggling like little girls. By the time 90 minutes had passed we eventually found the tuna. They were smashing bait on the surface flying in all direction, leaping out of the water and generally creating a foam like surface on swells of dark blue water. The captain confirmed there was a mixture of yellow fin and skipjack. Mike and I selected some blue and white 5 inch deceiver patterns, cast our flies into the school and stripped like mad men. Before either of us had even reached the head of the fly line the line was torn out of our fingers and in the blink of an eye the V-Lite lit up as yard after yard of backing flew out of the rod tip at lightening speed. For those of you who’ve caught Tuna on the fly you’ll understand what I’m referring to, If you haven’t then imagine tying your line to anything moving away from you at 50 mph and this will give you an idea.
The V-Lite impressed me immediately. There was no start up inertia and the textured drag knob was very easily adjustable which proved important playing hard fighting fast moving Tuna. The reel felt smooth and balanced as the backing left the spool and the whizz of the drag gave a sound to assure confidence in it.
Once the Tuna had taken nearly 100 yards of backing I was ready to see how the V-Lite retrieved line. Again, the lightness of the reel meant I could crank the handle with speed and before I knew it the line was back onto the spool. After a short 7-8 minute fight, Mike was first to land his fish, a fit and impressive 12lb yellow fin. I took a minute or too longer claiming I had a good one on and as it came to the boat I was surprised to see it was smaller, about 8lb’s.The captain confirmed that pound for pound, the Skipjack is one of the hardest fighting fish, and that was what I’d landed. Mike and I went on to land another dozen or more Tuna and really gave the V-Lite a good workout.
The next day we dedicated our attention to the prize quarry we had travelled all the way to Baja for. The process is relatively simple. The Roosterfish patrol the water just behind the wash where they are waiting to ambush the baitfish that sit close to the shore. The Rooster fish fly into the shallow water at high speed, eat and then disappear, not very sporting really. Our requirement to get a shot at hooking one of these fish was to ride an ATV on the beach, spot the fish, jump off the bike, run ahead of the fish (which I’ve confirmed swims pretty quickly) and make a perfect cast infront of it and start stripping. Mike said you only have to have 3 things to catch a Roosterfish, 1. Eagle eyes, 2. To be a terrific caster and 3. To be able to run as fast as Linford Christie.Sound easy? Yeah, you guessed it isn’t. After getting a few shots on day one we left the beach fishless vowing we’d be back the next day with renewed enthusiasm.
Mike spotted a fish early on during day 2 on the beach and after sprinting up the shore line, which is great for anyone who hasn’t sprinted since you were at school, he made a cast, stripped and hooked into his first Roosterfish. Again, the V-Lite had it’s drag tested, this time on land and a now more powerful fish to test the drag with greater pressure. Mike said straight away how good the reel felt under pressure. Mike doesn’t mess about playing fish and has been known to boat a tarpon over 150lbs in less than 20 minutes on a fly rod. After it’s first run, Mike had the fish close to the shore and was ready to bring it in on the next wave. He was keen to use the V-Lite for the rest of the trip, a testament to how good it felt, and how it played fish on the drag.
I have to be honest in my findings and say that the V-Lite isn’t perfect. Against some of my other 10/12 weight reels, the V-Lite has the smallest diameter. I did attempt to load a floating line on the reel and as I approached the end of the running line the line was starting to touch the frame. I would guess that if you wanted to use a floating line you may only get 150 yards of backing onto the reel which is perfectly adequate in the UK, but you need that much as a minimum just for bonefishing with an 8 weight. The other thing I noticed about the V-Lite is the quality of the anodized finish. It looks more like a light powder coating and after a day on the boat the reel had sustained a few scratches in only a couple of hours, something I dont have on reels 3-4 years old.That said, reels are there to be used so if you don’t mind a few scratches then it’s not a big problem.
In summary, and given the cost of the reel, which I have to add is less than half the price of the next sealed drag on the market, the V-Lite is indeed a great reel. It doesn’t have the finish of some of its competitors and it’s slightly smaller but if you wanted the perfect bonefish reel at a great price that will balance a 9 weight rod, then the V-Lite could be your perfect partner.
Features – 8
Value for Money – 10
Performance – 10
Build Quality – 9
Finish – 7
Functionality – 8
To view more information on the V-Lite take a look > Airflo V-lite reel : From £99.99
Review and post written by Ryan O’Dwyer.