Review: Redington GRANDE fly reel

After over a year of testing, our thoughts on Redington's newest big game stopper
redington grande fly reel
Photo: Chad Shmukler

I can still remember my first "real" fly reel. As a brand new fly angler, I had dumped almost every penny I had into a rod—a handsome, noodley 5-weight Diamondback that I still break out of the basement every few years when I'm feeling a bit nostalgic and know that I'm going to spend the day mostly throwing dry flies. Because virtually every dollar I had went into that rod, the reel that I paired it with was unimpressive to say the very most. It was some generic, non-brand hybrid of plastic and graphite whose mere availability, looking back on things, gives me considerable doubt about the shop where I bought my first kit. The drag was junk (not that I really needed it) and it regularly seized up or free spooled. And so, before my first season on the water was out, I was selling old CDs, hoarding away couch change, and stashing away what tips didn't need to go to rent in the hopes of upgrading to something more respectable.

Around the time winter set in, I found myself in a local fly shop (a different one), ready to turn months of saving into a reel I could be proud of. Staring into the glass case full of reels as the shop manager guided me through the options, I was dispirited. Though the case was full of beautiful reels, there was what seemed at the time like an enormous gap between the "budget" or "beginner" models—which weren't much of an upgrade over my existing reel—and even the most modest of choices that weren't. The reels I wanted to take home were all adorned by price tags scribbled with numbers that were at least double what I had expected to spend.

Determined, I swallowed my good judgment and walked out of the shop with the reel that was the most affordable of the choices that, for lack of a better term, actually did something for me. Though the reel was a dandy and one that, like that old Diamondback, is still with me, the joy of going home with it was diminished by the knowledge that I had spent irresponsibly in order to make it mine. Oh, and by the fact that I had some considerable work ahead of me in order to make rent by the 15th.

For quite some time now, Redington has been making fly reels that are designed to fill that gap I saw as I stared into that felt-lined glass case. Some years ago, that focus was mainly on building functional, dependable and desirable reels for trout anglers that offered what they needed, not stuff they didn't, and which came with the same or similar price tags as junky "budget" products. More recently, however, Redington seems to have refined that focus to redefining what anglers should expect from affordable gear by offering high-performance products that can serve the needs of all anglers—even those chasing the biggest of fly-targeted quarry—and that can be had without pilfering the rent money. Starting with its particularly price-friendly BEHEMOTH in 2015, Redington brought big-game angling to an entire new group of anglers. Three years later, Redington is continuing the trend by offering its new GRANDE, another big-game targeted reel that aims to offer all of the menu options found on some of fly fishing's priciest offerings, that is, except for the price.

What Works

In a typical review, price, whether cited as a pro or a con, is commonly listed as an afterthought. In the case of the GRANDE, however, price sets the tone of the entire conversation. That's because the GRANDE, though it is available in sizes that anglers would commonly use to chase trout, smallmouth bass and the like, is a big game reel targeted at the worlds of saltwater and big, anadromous fish. That's a world where high performance reels are must and where price tags of $700 to $1000 are common. And that's a world where the GRANDE's price tag of $299 to $349 stands out. Big time.

With a big game reel, performance is everything. Or at least it's supposed to be. Certainly all anglers are influenced by cosmetics and by marketing that highlights new technology or features, but when it comes down to it, all that really matters to a big game angler is how well a reel performs. And how well a reel performs comes down almost exclusively to its drag—can that drag provide the stopping power I want (hint: yes, it can), protect tippets when I need it to and dissipate heat efficiently enough so that it doesn't junk the whole works in the middle of fighting the fish of a lifetime. To be clear, if you're chasing bonefish or steelhead or the like, you're not worried about heat dissipation. But, in the game in which the GRANDE aims to play via it's enormous 14+ model, it can be a valid concern.

For the GRANDE, the answer to all of those questions is a definitive yes. During over a year of putting the GRANDE through its paces chasing Great Lakes steelhead, Bahamas bonefish, sea-run brown trout in Tierra del Fuego, Florida-brand false albacore and even bearing witness to the GRANDE slogging through almost an hour-long battle with a 200-pound lemon shark without overheating—the GRANDE has never failed to perform.

Given the above report card, it's likely clear that the drag is up to the task of fighting almost anything you can throw at it. But good drags are ubiquitous these days, so it's more important to note that the GRANDE's drag is smooth and good at protecting tippets—a trait that mostly comes down to startup inertia. In that regard, the GRANDE starts up and engages smoothly, a performance trait that is crucial when chasing quarry like permit and bonefish which make powerful runs but often require fine, stealthy tippets.

Fully Sealed
The GRANDE's drag is fully-sealed and maintenance free. A very desirable feature for anglers that tangle with fish in muddy, sandy or otherwise messy environments—otherwise, a nice upgrade for lazy folks that can't be bothered to wash their reels properly after a day of fishing.

Spool and Frame Design
It's undeniable that the GRANDE takes design queues from it's little brother, the BEHEMOTH. But the GRANDE's design feels considerably more substantial. The result is big palming surfaces and a sturdy, stout-feeling frame and spool. The concerns of frames bending, twisting and cracking are heavily overplayed by folks in the business of selling fly reels but, that said, reels that are constructed with an eye on reducing weight truly can present problems in this regard. The GRANDE's construction will give you confidence that it can stand up to any abuse (mistreatment) you plan to throw at it.

Fully Anodized CNC Machined T-6061 Aluminum
If, after lauding the BEHEMOTH for its excellent design and highlighting the virtues of modern die cast construction, we were to cite the GRANDE's T-6061 construction as a must-have, you'd be right to call us full of it. The truth is, modern die cast reels are excellent. Does that mean that machined aluminum doesn't continue to offer advantages in construction and durability? Or that machined aluminum reels aren't simply considered by most to be more desirable? No. For it's part, the GRANDE is beautifully machined and constructed. Bravo. What's most noteworthy, however, about the GRANDE's fully machined aluminum construction is the fact that it's paired with the rest of the GRANDE's package at its affordable price.

redington grande fly reel
Photo: Chad Shmukler

Yes, it matters. Why? Because unless you're in an infinitesimally small minority, how much you like the looks of your reel impacts how happy you are with it. And the things you spend money on are supposed to make you happy. The GRANDE, as mentioned, takes design queues from Redington's BEHEMOTH, but tones down some of that design's more aggressive cues for a more classic look. The GRANDE's available in black, if that's your thing, but man the blue and gold versions are head-turners without being ostentatious.

Drag Knob
Not too much to say here, but the new knob made out of Delrin—You know what Delrin is, right? No? Of course you don't. But now you do: it's a pliable thermoplastic that can be machined in a manner similar to aluminum—is a nice upgrade over the often line-grabbing, polymer-coated handles Redington likes to put on many of its other models (including the BEHEMOTH).

We've heard some other folks knock the GRANDE for being heavier than some of its competitors. We won't. As mentioned, we take the GRANDE's substantial construction to be a feather in its proverbial cap. It certainly was never noticeably heavy during over a year of fishing the GRANDE in multiple sizes. So, unless you're impossibly frail, or just like the idea of saying your reel is oh-so feathery light, then we're just as happy to take the GRANDE's sturdy, slightly-heaver construction that will keep us from babying it.

What Doesn't

Yes, price can be both a pro and a con. And no, not because you'll buy too many of them (let's be serious, they're not that affordable).

The GRANDE's price puts it entirely in a league of its own in the world of big-game capable, machined, premium fly reels. In that context, given the reel's quality and performance in all other aspects, the GRANDE's price alone is a justification for buying it.

That said, in the world of trout, where the "Super Torque" drag and other high-performance features simply aren't needed for the vast majority of anglers, the $299 price tag is harder to justify. To be clear, there is a veritable army of trout reels with price tags that double or even triple that of the GRANDE. But trout anglers don't need those reels either. If you're a trout fisherman, buy the GRANDE (or those other reels) because you want them, not because you think you need them.

Final Word

Redington again set out to redefine what fly anglers can expect from affordable fly gear and, by our estimation, they succeeded. The GRANDE is a true performer that stacks up to—and in some cases bests—reels that cost double or triple what it does. Thanks to the BEHEMOTH, to several other Redington products (like its well-loved Hydrogen rod) and now to the GRANDE—anglers may not just be redefining their expectations, but what the term "affordable" means to them in general. If they are, chances are that new definition won't include making compromises.