The Echo Ion Fly Reel is an affordable, well-designed large-arbor fly fishing reel. In fact, for a fly fishing reel that comes in under $100, it’s an excellent fly reel. We’re big fans.
Echo sent along its Ion 4/5 reel to use with its Carbon XL fly rod (review here) in a 5-weight configuration. I took it on an extended weekend fly fishing for big brown trout, and the Ion performed admirably. After I nabbed a few 17-20-inch trout with it, I turned it over to my best fishing buddy . . . and he wouldn’t give the Echo Ion/Carbon XL combo back!
We caught many of the hard-fighting browns on 6x and 7x tippet using tiny 18-20 midge patterns. You might think you need an expensive fly reel with a silky-smooth drag system to catch big fish on light tippet . . . not true. While reels that costs several hundred dollars are a joy to use, they are rarely the deciding factor on whether you’ll land a fish of a lifetime. The drag on the Ion isn’t as smooth as more expensive reels I’ve fished, but it’s very smooth and very dependable. I trust it.
Here’s why: All you really have to do is have a solid, well-made fly reel like the Ion . . . and set your drag lightly. Most often, during the initial take, you’re going to have excess fly line at your feet. When a big trout takes off, you’ll be letting this line out through your fingers, applying appropriate pressure based on the conditions.
The worrisome spot is when a running fish takes all of this line and engages the drag on your reel the very first time. If the change is abrupt, you can snap your tippet. It takes a little finesse, but if you set your drag lightly, the transition goes well. Then you can add pressure with your palm underneath the reel if needed. And once you have a read on the fish, you can use the large drag adjustment knob to dial in a little extra drag as the fight goes on.
The Echo Ion will easily handle the vast majority of freshwater trout fishing for most fly fishers, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use the larger versions for steelhead or coho. Incidentally, Echo says you can use the Ion for saltwater fly fishing — just clean it off with freshwater after each outing.
Echo Ion Fly Reel Review: The Details
The Echo Ion Fly Reel comes in six different sizes, ranging from a 2/3 to a 10/12, matched to your fly line weight, of course. For example, if you have a standard 5-weight fly fishing rod, you’d want to get the Ion 4/5 fly reel.
The drag is a proven rulon disk system that has low start-up resistance. The drag adjustment knob is easy to turn and offers positive click feedback as you set it. Echo constructed the Ion from a metal alloy (very little plastic). At 5.3 ounces, the 4/5 model is reasonably light — about average weight for quality sub-$100 fly reels.
The large arbor lets you reel in line faster than older, traditional spool fly reels. The construction is airy, which shows off your fly line and backing, looks great, and lets your line and backing dry a bit faster. It’s a classic modern design that’s hard not to like.
One feature that I particularly appreciate is the sound — you get a low-volume click as the line goes out and when you reel it in. Silent reels are great, too, but I like a bit of sound. Not sure why.
Oh, get this: My buddy slid down a bank with the Carbon XL and Ion dragging in the rock, gravel, and dirt. It scratched up one side of the reel, but it still fishes fine. Perfect.
All-in-all, the Echo Ion Fly Reel is a fantastic sub-$100 reel that looks great, is durable, and gets the job done. It’s a can’t-go-wrong entry-level reel. If you’re thinking about the Carbon XL or other Echo rods, pair it up and make it a sweet and affordable combo.