Hardy’s brand name has long been synonymous with quality and craftsmanship. Their click-and-pawl reels are among the most sought-after collectibles in the sport, and it’s not rare to see 50 or 60-year-old Hardy reels sell on eBay for $500 or more.
While their vintage catalog is robust, Hardy isn’t just resting on its laurels, either. They’ve put out some of the best dry fly and Euro nymphing rods I’ve fished in recent years, along with some stellar reels.
Their newest disc-drag reel — the Ultradisc UDLA — is one Hardy is marketing as “everything you need and nothing you don’t in a disc drag fly reel.” And, it might just be the company’s best since its well-loved ASR was released.
A few years ago, Hardy came out with their Ultralite MTX reel. It looks as snazzy as any high-end disc-drag reel, but didn’t quite perform like one. When the drag was cranked down, the Ultralite MTX had a noticeable hitch when a fish started to pull line—otherwise known as startup inertia. That wasn’t something you wanted to see in a reel that started at $429.
Thankfully, that problem isn’t one the Ultradisc UDLA falls prey to. The UDLA’s drag is buttery-smooth, with undetectable startup inertia. For as light and compact as it is, the UDLA also packs an incredible amount of fish-stopping power. Pair that with its lack of startup inertia, and you’re looking at a reel that’ll handle both a bruising 20 pound bluefish on wire a wire leader and a 20-inch trout on 7x tippet.
The drag is also considerably more adjustable than on other Hardy disc-drag reels. Hardy has included a color-coded drag knob on all their reels for several years now—a system that segmented the drag into light, medium, and heavy pressure (represented by green, orange, and red dots, respectively). If your drag knob was on the second orange dot, for instance, your reel was putting medium pressure on your fly line. It’s a system that’s great for quick adjustments, inexperienced anglers, and for letting you know exactly how tight your drag is before you start fishing, but it sacrifices some tuning capacity, given that your drag is locked into 12 predefined stopping points. The UDLA ditches that feature, opting for a drag that the company says is “unregulated” and allows “for fine adjustments.” Based on my experience, that’s not marketing hyperbole. The UDLA’s drag adjusts down to tiny increments, allowing you to put just the right amount of pressure on a big fish.
Oh, and one last thing — for those who love the musical sound of a good click-and-pawl reel, the UDLA comes closer than any other disc-drag reel I’ve fished to replicating the song of a click-and-pawl reel.
As mentioned above, the UDLA is outrageously light. It’s the lightest disc-drag reel that Hardy has ever made, and my review model (rated for 2/3/4wt lines) clocks in at 3.8 ounces.
Hardy went with a completely new frame design on the UDLA, to make it more user-friendly for Euro nymphing. The frame is built in such a way that the line guard sits below the edge of the spool. According to Hardy, this design makes fishing leader-only or thin running line rigs much easier. The idea was to eliminate the possibility for leader, mono-only rigs, competition and other thin fly lines from getting stuck between the frame and spool — an issue commonly experienced Euro-nymphing rigs but one I haven’t experienced with the UDLA.
Can you find a fully machined reel that offers comparable drag performance for less than the UDLA’s $325 price tag? Probably. But, you’ll sacrifice the ultra light weight and Euro-friendly frame design.
In all honesty, there’s not much wrong with the Ultradisc UDLA. It’s a large-arbor reel that delivers on all its promises and lives up to the marketing hype.
If you’re in the market for a light, fully CNC-machined reel with big fish stopping power and silky smooth startup inertia, you may find yourself looking at reels whose price tags have no trouble cracking the $500 mark. While the ULDA is by no means a budget reel, Hardy has packed in a feature set that makes it a significant value. In truth, it’s rare to find a product these days that is worth every penny of its asking prices. The Hardy Ultradisk UDLA reel definitely is.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent, and a contributor for Hatch Magazine. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.