Review – TFO Prism Machined Reel

| August 8, 2010

TFO Machined Prism Reel
This reel is actually black, but I know the photographer who shot this … and I’m not going to name names …

I had an evening on the water with the new TFO Prism Reel last night, and first impressions are in the books.

First, let me just say I am one of those “go to the reel!” guys, meaning I try to go to the reel on every fish that ranks in size. Sure, strip in dinks, but as a force of habit, consistently going to the reel makes it a lot less difficult to go to the reel when its real necessary. If I were an instructor, that would be the next thing I tried to ingrain into my students (after casting), GO TO THE REEL.

Think about it; all we have in our hands when we fly fish are a rod and reel. The reel is the often ignored technology that, by properly applied drag, can help you land more fish. It’s just that simple. If you want to see an example of the mess you can get by not going to the reel, be sure to watch the episode of Addictive Fishing where they are fishing for Florida snook.

My BBS4 Barstock Battenkill by Orvis has developed a finicky drag that has only two settings – all off and full on. The BBS4 was on my eight weight rod (a TFO Clouser), so I went with the 7/8 Prism sight unseen. When I opened the box, I was surprised at the physical size of the reel, dwarfing my BBS reel. At the same time, that’s what a “large arbor reel” is – large.

With a typical warm water fly line, the Prism holds 200 yards of 20 pound backing, and there’s just enough room for a fat bellied line to fit in – do yourself a favor, if you like room on your spool, and go ahead and leave 25 yards off the spool.

First Impressions
The reel’s finish matches the price, with visible rough edges from what I assume to be a lower grade aluminum, or poor machines for machining, and that appears to be the case on the aluminum drag knob as well. Does it effect performance – heck no.
The drag on this reel is super smooth and has several levels of adjustment. One thing to remember is to always back off the cork drag when the reel is not in use. If the cork remains compressed, it shrinks and loses its effective range of drag.
This reel freewheels better than any reel I own – Lamson Litespeed, Tebor or Orvis – and is fractionally priced. You will be able to pick up line very quickly when going to your reel, and if you forget to set your drag, you will be dealing with “backthrash” not backlash.

Conclusion
The TFO Prism Machined Aluminum reel will not win any beauty contests, but on first impression, this reel is a keeper. With line and backing the Prism 7/8 perfectly balances a TFO Clouser eight weight, and I feel much more confident in the Prism when going to salt in the near future. The Orvis goes to the shop, and back in the lineup as a backup reel. The next time I get to test the drag, once I get big fish on, and the heat off … then maybe we can see what this real is made of – DEEP DOWN, and we’ll let you know.

If you have a Prism, either machined or cast, what are your impressions? This could definitely be a reel worth carrying on my site, if only TFO would allow non-brick-and-mortar outlets for their product. Time will tell.

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Category: Equipment, Fly Reel, Reviews

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I write. I photograph. I fish, and I live.

Comments (8)

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  1. shannon says:

    Where did you see that? What would those prices be? Reselling?

  2. ken morrow says:

    8/13/10: Just in today! TFO is discontinuing the machined version of the Prism Large Arbor reel because performance, durability, and sales of the cast version have been so exceptional. Their thought: why charge more for a machined version when the cast version performs just as well and is just as durable?

    I just ordered 4 MLA 7/8’s at an unbelievable price!

  3. shannon says:

    Florida? Here’s where I get to shout “NO FAIR!”

  4. ken morrow says:

    hell, shannon. one of them was one of YOUR impressive fish: a 6+ lb. rainbow out of the guad on a 5wt. lol

    put a few more big ole trout to hand with that same reel on some private water in the east a few months ago…steelhead sized rainbows w/matching attitudes that almost never get fished. can’t take you to those. sorry. out of my control and beyond my paygrade.

    and i’m en route to florida now with at least 3 prism reels in my arsenal.

  5. shannon says:

    Slight correction – the Orvis BBS is actually designated MA4 (mid-arbor).

  6. Mark Schafer says:

    I was begining to wonder if you had gotten it yet.

  7. shannon says:

    Take to me your impressive fish, and I will bring the reel amigo!

  8. ken morrow says:

    I’ve got both machined and cast versions of this new TFO reel in a few different sizes that I use for fresh and saltwater fishing. And I’ve been using the first ones now for about 9 months.

    You are right about the mechanics: drag and bearings on these reels are competitive with reels costing 2-4 times more. And since they carry the TFO warranty, are we really all that concerned about long-term wear and tear? Hmmm….

    Frankly, I still find it hard to tell any difference between the CLA’s and MLA’s except for the weight. MLA’s of the same size are a tad bit heavier. But you have to put one in each hand and concentrate to notice. If you’re into meditation, that’s a good exercise! Do it long enough, it also becomes good upper body endurance conditioning. Hold a feather in your outstretched hand for more than a few minutes and it becomes a brick. LOL

    Anyway, the way these reels are deep-anodized, they aren’t the prettiest things to look at. Then again, neither was a Jeep CJ-5. But when my 1976 Jeep CJ-5 ploughed into that oncoming Lincoln Navigator at 30 mph, it was the Navigator that had to be towed away from the scene of the accident. I drove home and ordered a new blinker! They had to pick up his rear axle, rear bumper, and rear quarter panel and put it on the flatbed with the rest of the truck. LOL That old CJ-5 was dangerous as Hell, but it was indestructible.

    When it comes to fishing tackle, call me crazy but I’m all function over form. I ain’t out there to impress you nasty characters with my purdy fly gear. And I don’t fish to pick up chicks, either. And I have it on good authority from every head of every fisheries biology department at every university in the western hemisphere and the whole gang at the US Fish and Wildlife Service that fish are singularly unimpressed by fancy tackle. Interestingly, on the other hand, they are impressed by a well-cultured taste for high quality bourbon or scotch, and (I am told by these same impressively credentialed experts) by a very good pair of polarized sunglasses. Go figure! So I’ll take a highly durable fly reel with a simple action and awesome guts over one with fancy anodized fish skins and racing stripes – or your company logo – on it any day. Heck, I was using those cheap high-impact composite polymer reels back when everybody made fun of me for it and swore they’d never shoot a plastic gun or use a plastic reel. Then I’d show them how I could use it to crack pecans, hull walnuts, etc. and still go fishing with it without a scratch on it and they’d say, “Yeah, but it’s ugly.” Yup! Cost $40, too. So I’ve got one each in 4 different sizes for half what you paid for that ONE reel for your 4wt, bubba. Have a nice day. I still have a few of those around too. LOL

    But the TFO CLA and MLA are much sweeter behaving reels with far smoother and stronger drags over a wider range of settings. And they do look nicer than the plastic ones to be sure. Even I have to admit those ARE ugly. But I also like the smaller size and lower weight for the same line + backing capacity that these new TFO reels have achieved – even when compared to their own previous models.

    I’ve hauled in some mighty impressive fish on these TFO reels in the past 9 months. They’ve gotten a good testing. And I couldn’t be more pleased with a product for the price.