What is the Snowbee Onyx fly reel?
The Snowbee Onyx is a large arbour aluminium fly reel with a cassette spool mechanism. As it uses plastic cassettes it's a very cost effective fly reel to own if you use multiple lines. With a regular fly reel you'd need to buy the reel and separate spools, which typically cost around half the price of the reel itself.
With a cassette reel you get several spools with the reel and you can add others for relatively little extra to house your collection of fly lines. The Onyx includes one fitted spool and three spares (one more than you get with a Greys GTS500 cassette fly reel), so you'll have enough for a floater, intermediate and a couple of sinking lines, without the need to spend a load more money.
How is this reel made?
The Snowbee Onyx has a die-cast aluminium frame and spool outer which is finished with a CNC machined process. It's then painted using an extra-hard paint to add a bit of extra resilience. The core of the spool uses a polycarbonate plastic cassette, which helps keep the cost of the reel down a lot when compared to a fully CNC machined aluminium reel.
The drawback with die-cast reels is that they're sometimes a bit heavier, can bend or crack if dropped hard onto rocks and sometimes have a rougher finish to them. On the plus side, they're much, much cheaper and perfectly serviceable for long periods if you take care of them. Most of my reels are die-cast models, and it's not a major problem unless you're rough with your gear.
What sizes are available?
There are two models in the Snowbee Onyx Cassette range: a #5/7 model and a #7/9. These are the ideal sizes for most stillwater fly fishing in the UK, which tends to be where the cassette format is best suited. If you don't want a cassette reel, Snowbee also makes the Onyx with a standard aluminium spool, which comes in #3/4 and #5/7 sizes.
They're fairly typical in size for their line ratings - the #5/7 is comparable in size to the Vision Deep of the same rating, for example. The #5/7 model has a diameter of 3.5mm/88mm and weighs 159g, while the #7/9 model has a 3.7"/95mm diameter and weighs 173g. It's available in two colours - black or silver.
What capacities do they have?
Like most modern fly reels, the Snowbee Onyx fly reel has a large arbour design. This expands the middle section of the reel so the fly line isn't coiled so narrowly, which stops the line getting so coiled. The wide and deep spool means that line capacity is pretty good. The #5/7 model holds a #6 weight forward line and 75 yards of 22lb PES braided backing, while the #7/9 model holds a #7 line with 100 yards of backing. Mine housed a Snowbee XSPlus XStra Distance intermediate line with plenty of backing and fitted without a problem.
What is the drag like?
The reel clicks quietly on the retrieve and when the line is being pulled out. I'm not a fan of noisy clickers and this one has a satisfying soft and quiet click. The drag mechanism itself is a classic cork and stainless steel disc affair. It adjusts easily and is easy to loosen or tighten, even with wet hands. Obviously, this isn't the sort of reel you buy for pure fish stopping power, but for regular trout use, I can't see it causing anyone any issues.
How do you change the cassettes?
The cassettes in the Snowbee Onyx are made from polycarbonate rather than more brittle types of plastic, which Snowbee says lets them flex under pressure, rather than crack, so they should be plenty strong enough to handle anything you catch.
To change the cassette and switch your fly line to a different density, you pull the little lever in the centre of the spool to one side and lift the front face of the reel off its spindle, leaving the foot of the reel attached to your rod.
I have to admit, actually getting the cassette off the reel was a bit of a challenge on my reel. They're supposed to just pop off, but quite a lot of force was needed and I was a bit concerned I might break something. A bit of extra lubricant might help, I think.
Does the Onyx come with a case?
Yes. Rather than the usual pouch case you get with a standard reel, the Onyx comes with a larger four-pocket case to house the reel and the three spools provided. The case is padded to protect the reels when in transit and compartmentalised with dividers to stop the spools banging together. It makes carrying spare spools much easier and neater.
Can you change it to right-hand wind?
Yes, if you are left-handed it's possible to change the retrieve from the default right-hand wind. As with most fly reels, it's a little bit fiddly to do as you need to remove various rings and drag discs and turn the main one upside down. However, on the plus side, you only need to do it once, and right-handed folk don't need to do it at all.
What are these reels like to use?
These are nice reels to use. They work well, are just the right weight to balance the average fly rod and are neatly manufactured. There are no rough edges or significant blemishes and they feel smooth and well made. I used mine on the Snowbee Spectre fly rod along with a Snowbee distance casting line and the outfit worked really well. The only real downside was the somewhat tight fit to the spool, which made removal tricky. However, that might just be an issue with my reel.
How much do these reels cost?
The Snowbee Onyx fly reel costs £72 in #5/7 size and is available in black and silver versions. Both come with a padded case and four spools, so they're a value-conscious way of kitting yourself out with a reel to suit a range of different fly lines.
If you only ever use a floating line, then you may want to consider the similar Onyx #5/7 reel in gunmetal which is all aluminium, dispensing with the cassettes in favour of a machined aluminium spool.
Available from: Snowbee