Gear test: Sage SPECTRUM MAX reel

Heavy duty fly reels, particularly for saltwater angling, need to perform in some intense situations. Bigger and stronger fish violently pull line from reels, and in hot, humid and salty conditions, a big-game reel needs to be able to withstand the elements, too. Most anglers who’ve ventured to the salt to chase anything from bonefish and permit to redfish and speckled trout have had reels fail them. The friction of long bonefish runs, one after another, or the salt, heat and humidity over the course of a week chasing big fish will take a toll on gear, and the reel takes the brunt of it.

Enter the Sage SPECTRUM MAX, a reel engineered with big fish and tough conditions in mind. I took this reel to the Yucatan this spring, and I absolutely fell in love with it. With butter-smooth, large-arbor retrieve, an ergonomic spool for easy palming and durable, dependable construction, this reel will likely be my go-to choice for future salty ventures. I paired it with the Sage SALT HD in an 8-weight, and I never once worried about being able to bring one of the dozens upon dozens of Chetumal Bay bonefish to hand.

The SPECTRUM MAX sports an adjustable drag knob that lets you easily find the setting that suits you and the fish you’re after, and it just feels … sturdy. I suppose that’s due to what Sage claims is a “super-rigid frame-to-spool connection,” and while that might convey that the reel is maybe a bit bulky, it’s just not so. Machined from aerospace-grade aluminum, the SPECTRUM MAX is light as can be. It was a joy to fish, frankly.

The SPECTRUM MAX retails at just under $500, a significant investment for a fly reel. But, considering the conditions most big-game anglers will subject their reel to over a week or so of saltwater angling, it’s a worthwhile expense. How much is confidence in your gear, particularly when you’re in the middle of nowhere, worth to you? That’s the question you’ll need to ask when you’re deliberating your next big-game reel purchase.

— Chris Hunt

By Chris Hunt.