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Review - FFB Deschutes Series Reels

Bottom Line Up Front:  The well-designed FFB Deschutes II has all the features of the Orvis Battenkill Mid-Arbor III.  The Deschutes normally sells for $99 vs the Mid-Arbor at $119.  Right now the Deschutes is on sale for $89.  How can FFB do this?  There are no middlemen.  FFB manufactures all its products – even the tippet and leaders – and sells direct to the public.  They do not have a wholesale arm; no dealers to add to the markup. This is a great deal and I highly recommend this product.

Switchfisher.com’s review of this product is independent and we do not receive compensation from FFB for anything – to include the placement of links and advertising on this site.  Read on and you will understand why.


The email from Carl Craig at FlyFishing Benefactors came in out of the blue with a request to trade links between Switchfisher.com and his site.  What caught my eye in the exchange was the discovery that a significant portion of the profits from the sale of his fly fishing gear goes right back to organizations who work to make our sport better:

  • Project Healing Waters
  • Trout Unlimited
  • Federation of Flyfishers
  • Virginia Fly Fish
  • 1% for the Planet

While that’s commendable, is his stuff any good?  After all, you do not want to spend 100 bucks on anything if you will just throw that item away or push it to the back of your gear bag; quicker and easier to just donate to any of the above organizations.  Sure, I read the very positive reviews posted on his site done by professionals (review 1; review 2; review 3) who put his gear through months of on-the-job torture with unforgiving clients, but what about the unprofessional eye of the “New Fly Guy” who is gun-shy on gear after falling victim to the newbie mistake of buying too much of everything in a headfirst dive into the sport? 

This brought me face-to-face with Carl on a bright Virginia Sunday where I could look at his offerings, but, more importantly, take the measure of the man behind the stuff.

Carl came up the hard way with a full career behind him in both the Air Force and Homeland Security (Customs).  As a lifetime flyfisherman, he accumulated a want list of gear features and decided that the only way to really get what he needed was to make it himself.  But, more importantly, he was concerned about the future of the sport and the increasing amounts of cash needed by the non-profits who defend our rights to fish and protect our waters.  With $50,000 from investors and an even more substantial personal bet on the business, he launched FlyFishing Benefactors in 2003 to satisfy both goals.  Adopting a crawl, walk, run approach, he helped TU develop their web store and used the lessons learned in the creation of his site as well as his ongoing work supporting the creation of similar sites for Project Healing Waters and FFF.  That was the easy part. 

Designing and setting up the manufacturing process to produce high quality product proved to be an 18 month effort that involved engineers, designers and, of course, lawyers.  His products evolved through numerous incarnations as he fine tuned the engineering and coordinated the manufacturing.  In short, FFB is a real gear company – not a fly shop that resells from others.  Now, five years later, we get to enjoy the fruits of his engineering.

The first product off the assembly line was the Deschutes Series reels (I (3/4 wt) and the II (5/6 wt)).  Carl said he used the Orvis Battenkill Mid-Arbor as his quality and functionality benchmark.  Perfect!  I plopped my Orvis Mid-Arbor III down on the table in front of Carl and asked him to compare it point-by-point with his Deschutes II reel.  Here are the results:

Orvis Mid-Arbor III

Deschutes II

Price

$119

$99

Center line disc drag

X

X

One-way clutch bearing. 

X

X

0 to dead stop drag adjustment

X

X

Glass composite drag surfaces

X

X

Easy-to-grab drag knob. 

X

X

6061 bar stock aluminum. 

X

X

Durable and lightweight. 

X

X

Corrosion resistant

X

X

Low maintenance

X

X

Stainless-steel gearing. 

X

X

Saltwater-proof

X

X

Right or left-hand retrieve

X

X

Scratch-resistant

X

X

Hard-anodized finish. 

X

X

Diameter

3.25"

3.425"

Weight

5.7 oz

5.99 oz

Color: Gold

X

X

Color: Metal

X

X

Color: Black

X

 


While some may disagree with my assumption that Orvis gear represents good quality, I found my Mid-Arbor reel to be resilient and dependable over two years of abuse.  While I don't put it away wet, I don't really care if it gets banged or scratched.  After all, this is fishing gear, not a work of art.  As Carl walked through the features of his reel and identified the plusses and minuses in comparison, I quickly came to the conclusion that the Deschutes I and II were top notch, high class products that are exceptionally cost effective.  Here’s a small example of an engineering plus on the Deschutes.  A pet peeve of mine is the obnoxious clicking noise my reel makes.  The retrieve of the  Deschutes, and all of FFB’s machined reels, are totally quiet!  Not an accident, it’s one of the many user suggested improvements Carl incorporated into his product.  Here’s a bigger example on the Deschutes I – it’s 0.6 oz lighter!  As a fisherman who can spend 12 straight hours feeding my addiction on streams, lighter means less stress and the ability to finish the day as strong as I start.  The Deschutes II is a bit heavier (0.3 oz) than the equivalent Orvis model, but not enough to bother me.

Both reels are a full $30 cheaper (at the current sale price (12/08/08)) than the Orvis models. 

We discussed the other reels in his product line.  He popped out the Fire Hole I and II and gave me a preview of a new 2009 model, the Snake.  Here’s the amazing point – each of these reels showed continued maturity of design from the Deschutes (the same as today’s Battenkill Mid-Arbor which has not moved since I started to use it).  For example, the gear and clutch system evolved from being open and exposed like the Battenkill to being fully enclosed to protect it from sand.  Need to switch this from right to left hand retrieve?  On the current model, it’s a quick flip of the bearing compatible with cold hands on a stream - handy if you are a guide.  Of course, the quest for weight reduction continues and he carefully designs each reel with cutouts to remove unneeded metal while retaining structural integrity.

This is an important point.  Carl has done 4 turns of product improvement in the last two years.  He listens to his customers and incorporates the good ideas into the next turn.  Since he sells his gear at bargain prices, you can actually afford to switch if there is an improvement that is significant to you.  But don't wait for this reel to wear out.  From the guide tests referenced on the FFB site, these things don't die.

Let’s look at that price again.  Remember what I said about the contributions?  Even though he prices his gear to be affordable, he still carves out room in both his business and in his heart to give back.  This year, he has donated over $7,000 in cash back to the organizations above – and that does not count all the product he has given away – over $5,000.  For example, he donated reels, flies, stream accessories and more to every kid (and to most of the staff) who attended the TU fly fishing camps for disadvantaged kids this summer in Virginia and Georgia – more than some of the big name sponsors.

So, I recommend his reels and encourage you to spread the word.  Let’s help the good guys - and that answers the question on why I do not take money from FFB to provide advertising links. 

Visit FFB this season and stock up!

And the man?  Carl’s a good guy – dead honest, no BS, exactly the type of person you want to go fishing with and swap lies later over a beer.

Deschutes I and Orvis Mid-Arbor

Other side of the reels

Deschutes I (also made in titanium color)

Deschutes II (also made in gold color)


Unless stated otherwise, this article was authored by Steve Moore

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