They may not be a household name in fly fishing circles, but Van Staal spinning reels have achieved cult status amongst surf casters that spend all their free time in the rough interface where ocean meets land. The sealed drag system and reel body permits the reels to operate even under water without threat of intrusion—a big deal for those that don wetsuits and go “skishing,” swimming out to distant rocks to fish, or simply taking advantage of neoprene’s buoyant characteristics to float on the tide, tossing weighted bucktails as they go.
The VF is Van Staal’s second foray into the world of fly reels, with the C-Vex series of reels introduced in 2000. Surf rats and jetty jockeys immediately embraced the incredibly strong convex-spooled reels up and down the Striper Coast until they were unfortunately discontinued. The VF series looks to fill the gap left by the C-Vex’s absence, and give VS fans a replacement for the reels that have found their way into collector’s cases because of the spike in value they received when the last one was machined.
From Tough Stock
The same characteristics that have made Van Staal spinning reels so revered were built in to the rugged Van Staal VF fly reels, which are manufactured from 6061-T6 bar stock aluminum. The cartridge that contains the drag system is machined directly into the frame, which allows for greater rigidity even when the drag is cranked to the highest settings and the torque of a good fish is trying to twist the frame—an ideal trait in a big game reel. I couldn’t make the reel flex, even when yarding on the two pieces with all my might.
The integrated design also allows the reel to have a very high strength to weight ratio, making each size the lightest in their line class. The 10-weight is only a shade over eight ounces, and the 12-weight model tips the scales at only 8.9 ounces. This makes the largest model a great choice even for smaller line weights if you value the ability to pick up line in a hurry in the event a fish turns at you. I have been using a super-large arbor reel for years for this reason, but the lighter weight of the VF made me jealous.
Rooted In The Surf
The reel is engineered so only a single lip seal is necessary to keep the elements at bay, allowing the reel to spin freely. Most reels intended for use in the salt are designed to shrug off spray, but the Van Staal offerings were designed with the immersion that takes place when you fish the breakers in mind. I do my best to take care of my gear, but I get the impression that if I forgot to rinse the salt off after an outing or 10, the VF would be just fine. The anodizing was smooth and nick-free.
The reel was extremely smooth, with no perceptible start up inertia when line was pulled out, which can sometimes be an issue with the massive washers in reels designed for big game. Part of that can probably be attributed to the lack of rotating mass on the reel, but Van Staal explains that the VF employed four radial bearings to support the drag system, with another on the clutch. The five bearings help spread the load, and eliminate any potential for flex.
The drawbar drag system on the VF is a bit of a throwback, but what it lacks in modern allure it makes up for in strength. Like the old cork drag reels, the drawbar pulls the drag washers back toward the frame, which permits you to put an incredible amount of force on the drag material. The knob can almost locked down, creating an unbelievable amount of stopping force. Combined with the low start up inertia, this means the reel can protect the light tippets needed when chasing false albacore and provide the poundage needed to stop actual members of the Thunnus clan.
It’s really hard to find fault in a salt-ready premium reel that will only set you back $550 for the largest size (and as little as $249 for the smallest size). I would caution anglers looking for a counterbalance to a long two-hander to try the reel out on their favored set up before they buy it. It’s not helium light, but a few ounces can make a big difference in in the overall balance of an outfit—especially if you have 100 feet of Spey line tugging in the opposite direction.
The Van Staal VF Series is a hearty reel for hearty souls that like to play when the going gets rough. With a lineage that can be traced to the pounding Northeast surf, you can be confident the reel will stand up to whatever abuse it’s put through. Van Staal’s spinning reels feature serial numbers which allow them to be traced back to the company’s inception in the early 1990s. Many of the reels with serial numbers in the teens are still plying the striper surf today, and the others are locked up in collections in good working order. Offshore fishermen popping for tuna also routinely use the beefy spinners to tangle with fish up to 100 inches. In short, Van Staal’s reels are tough. From what I’ve seen, the VF fly reels are no different.