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Reel Values: The Lamson Konic & Okuma Integrity

Reel Values: The Lamson Konic & Okuma Integrity

By Casey R. Smartt

Saltwater fly reels are an enigma. In theory they are simple pieces of equipment, less complex and mechanically charged than baitcasting reels, but they often cost 3 times as much as conventional reels of comparable quality. Several factors account for this. First, saltwater fly reels are manufactured in small quantities, virtually one at a time, so the cost of manufacturing each unit is high. Additionally, saltwater fly reels th are built from premium materials that are lightweight, tough, reliable, and inherently expensive. The end result is a marvelously simple but painfully pricey item anglers have learned to live with.

But as the saltwater fly fishing market has grown, the demand for decent quality reels with reasonable price tags has also grown. And many tackle manufacturers have taken a shot at producing reels for this growing segment of the market. Some of these reels have been dogs, but a few manufacturers have gotten it right. Let’s take a look at two reels I believe are winners. They are leaders in their class for performance, reliability, and value.

Okuma Integrity

The Okuma Integrity is a large/wide arbor, powder coated, die-cast, disc drag reel. Okuma offers the Integrity in 4 sizes for line weights 5 through 11. The 8/9 model (suitable for 8 or 9 wt. fly line) weighs 8 oz. and retails around $70.00. I own several of these reels and love them. The Integrity is outfitted with a decent drag that is easy to adjust, and a one-way roller bearing which provides silky silent retrieves. The spool, frame, and spindle are solid and strong. All the screws and small machined parts are stainless steel and the oil-impregnated hardwood handle is one of the most comfortable I have found on any reel at any price. After hundreds of hours behind this reel, my fingers have grown accustomed to its comfortable fit and feel.

The oldest of my Integrity reels was purchased about 6 years ago and has seen countless hours on the water, not to mention plenty of time on the rocks and in the mud and sand. It still works as good as the day I bought it. Hard knocks and serious use have sanded away the black powder coating along the outer lip of the spool on my oldest Integrity, so I have spot treated it with Corrosion-X to avert any pitting or damage from salt. The mechanical components of my Integrity reels have remained strong and smooth with no signs of wear and no failures. The Integrity is a tough, reliable reel.

Thus far, I have found only two minor flaws with the Okuma Integrity. First, the slender gap between the drag adjustment knob and the frame of the reel is just wide enough for a sinking fly line to slide inside it and hang up. I cast a lot of sinking lines, and a few have gotten penned in this skinny groove which could potentially cause line nicks. A second observation worth mentioning is that when the reel is completely dunked the drag slips more easily and is more difficult to accurately adjust than when it is dry. Other than that, these reels have performed flawlessly. I have heard a few ultra-light junkies complain the Integrity is too heavy (8 oz.), but to me it feels like a solid reel rather than a heavy reel.

If you are looking for a tough inexpensive reel with no weird quirks and weak points, check out the Okuma Integrity. With reasonable care it should last for many years. Priced around 70 bucks it is a terrific value.

Lamson Konic

Lamson recently introduced their Konic line of reels, offering 4 models for line weights 3 through 10. The Konic is a large arbor, pressure-cast reel with the same sealed maintenance-free conical drag used in Lamson’s upper end models. The frame and spool of the Konic are machined from a pressure-cast aluminum alloy, anodized, and then finished in a tough polyurethane coating for ultimate resistance to scratches, dings, and corrosion. The Konic 3.5 model (for 7 & 8 wt. lines) weighs 6.9 oz. and retails for $139.00.

I have been using a Konic 3.5 for several months and I really like it. In spite of its relatively light weight, the Konic has a nice large/wide arbor and it feels solid and strong. The drag is extremely smooth and can be adjusted with pinpoint accuracy via an adequately-sized and textured knob that is easy find and turn with cold or slimy fingers. Under hard runs, the Konic is perfectly balanced and it has a reassuring feel found in much pricier reels.

Like other Lamson models, the spool is secured with an internal o-ring and it pops out and snaps back in neatly with a little thumb pressure. No troublesome pins, springs, screws or levers are used to secure or release the spool. This classic Lamson feature literally makes changing spools a snap. The only complaint (a minor one) I have with the Konic is that the handle, although solid and smooth, feels a little thin in diameter. Otherwise my experience with the Konic has been stellar.

If you are in the market for a solid capable saltwater reel, check out the Lamson Konic. It is anodized, well balanced, and armed with a proven drag system. At $139.00 the Konic is a great value.

3 Responses to “Reel Values: The Lamson Konic & Okuma Integrity”

  1. Jim Ford

    I haven’t owned a Lamson, but I’ve owned several Okuma reels. Although I fly fish 99.9% of the time, I absolutely love my Okuma Inspira spinning reel. I’ve used it for years, exclusively in salt, and it compares quite favorably to my Shimano Sedona 750. Okuma reels are generally a huge value for the money. However, the Integrity fly reels I had have all developed the “cancer” under the powder coat, causing it to bubble up, when used in salt water. Several friends who bought Integrity reels had the same problem. Okuma has always exchanged them for me, but I always end up disappointed again. I am a stickler for rinsing and cleaning my reels, so it didn’t happen due to neglect. I’ve had the same issue with the Orvis Clearwater reels, which are also cast and powder coated. Right now I’m trying out the composite Orvis Encounter reels; the frame and spool are a composite material. They have a significantly better drag than the Integritys I had, and so far (only one season) seem to be holding up well. I rinse them daily and every few trips I clean and regrease the spindle. We’ll see how their second season works out………

    I think that most of the cast and powder coated reels wil have the same issues. The machined and anodized reels don’t have that problem. I have an Orvis Battenkill large arbor and an Orvis Hydros, and they have stood up to years of hard saltwater use.

  2. Jim Ford

    Okay, after another season I can report that the Orvis Encounter is proving up. The counterweight across from the handle is rusting; that seems to be the norm for Encounters used in salt water. The spindle and drag nut seem to oxidize quicker than the ones on my Battenkill, Hydros, and Access reels, but it’s not really an issue. I generally clean and regrease all that every two or three trips, and it hasn’t been an issue. The Access may not be a valid comparison; it’s on my 2 weight and gets used more in fresh water than in salt, but it does see salt water use a few times a year.

    I just picked up an Okuma Cedros fly reel. I wasn’t aware of that model, but I found it at an Academy store in The Woodlands. It’s an attractive reel, with a rich blue finish. It’s all machined and anodized aluminum. The drag seems particularly good, with about 1 1/2 turns from free to full — better than a lot of reels on the shelf. The drag’s fine tuning isn’t as important to me as it is for many people; I tend to set it a little light and palm the spool for fine control. Old habits die hard…….. Before bought it I researched reviews, and found one that mentioned the drag. It complained that for the price, the reel should have had more than two pounds of drag. The one I bought would easily snap a 30# tippet on full drag, and the other one they had (they only had two) was about the same.

    I’m about to head down to the Keys (I moved to Texas from South Florida in January of ’72 and haven’t made it back yet). We’ll be staying in the RV in the lower Keys for nine nights, and I’m taking my kayak and my 2,6,7,8, and 10 weights. I took the Encounter off of my 7 weight and put it on the 6. The Cedros is now on the 7, with an Orvis Saltwater Allrounder line and 200 yards of backing. I’m hoping to test it on some schoolie tarpon, snook, bones, and….(dare I say it — I’ve only caught a few and never on the fly)…. permit. I’m scheduled to return home on September 20th (the day of the Lydia Ann Flymasters Tournament, dang it!), and after I recover from the trip I’ll let y’all know how the reel performed.

  3. Jim Ford

    Been a while…….. After a couple of years I can report that the Cedros has held up very well. The only issue with it is that the drag is very inconsistent, at least on my reel. In all fairness though, if I used the full range of it it might work better. I set it very light and palm the reel for drag, and I have found that it gets tighter and looser on the same settings. As it gets tight I tighten it up a half turn than back it up to the previous setting, and all is well for a while. For someone who relies solely on the drag to control a strong fish that could be a problem. I can’t say if it’s just my reel or if if they all do it; I’d recommend a bit of research if you’re considering one. Other than that (which isn’t really an issue for me) though, I’m quite happy with the reel. I’d buy another one.

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