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Nautilus 12S


Let me tell you the story of the Nautilus. Being an old English teacher, when I first heard about them I thought "cool, Nautilus, just like Nemo's sub" and I was looking forward to getting a demo to play with. First, it was supposed to go to the Dean with me but the courier messed up and it arrived from Florida 2 days after I left so it sat on my doorstep for 2 weeks. No matter--the Dean was blown out and I didn't catch any fish so I wouldn't  have had much fun with it anyhow. Then the Thompson was closed so I sent the reel north to the Skeena with a friend of mine who only took light speys to fish on the Bulkley and found the Nautilus 12S too big for these rods. I finally got the reel back in November and was able to fish it on the Thompson once the river opened. All the misadventures were worth it though, as I managed to hook a few fish with it and can now report on its performance.

The Nautilus 12S is one serious reel. Crafted of aerospace aluminum with stainless steel fastenings, the Nautilus is designed to handle the worst that the waters can throw at it. The 12S is a saltwater reel designed for big, hard fighting, fast running ocean species like tarpon, but its size and capacity make it  a perfect match for speys in the 14ft 9 weight plus range. The spool turns on five stainless steel bearings so it is smooth as smooth can be, and the drag has a huge range from freespool to bust-him-off that will put the brakes on anything in freshwater and a whole bunch of stuff in saltwater too. This is a reel I'd feel safe fishing fresh run chinook salmon in Alaska and on the Dean, and large Atlantic salmon in the rivers of Europe. The drag adjustment knob on the back of the reel is a comfortable size so that drag adjustments are easily made with gloved or cold hands. The reel foot seems small for a reel so large--but after all it is designed for ocean single handers and  it fits nice into all but the largest Spey-sized reel seats the Denver show, the AFFTA published new reel seat specs, and all new Nautilus reel seats are made according to these new specs. The new 12S reel seats will be available later this spring. In the meantime, if your reel is loose in your reel seat you can shim it with a popsicle stick). And these are large arbor reels so they pick up lots of line in a hurry which is a good thing if you have a fish run at you like I did on the Thompson last fall.  

The handle is intelligently designed by someone who must have hung a few loops of shooting line on reel handles before. While it is long, it is set flush up against the spool so that if you do hang up a loop or two of shooting line it won't get stuck down in there--a little thing perhaps, but to me a really important thing as I've lost a few steelhead over the years this way. Of course this design feature won't prevent pilot error but it will make it easy to get any line outta there in case you goof up. 

Miles of capacity on these reels. Here's a RIO 10/11 GrandSpey and a gazillion yards of backing (50 yards 30# dacron; 250 yards 50# gsp; another 50+ yards dacron):dana sturn photo

As you can see--no problem.

Like a few other hi-tech ultra smooth reels the Nautilus has one small "flaw"--it tends to want to reel itself back up again while you are fishing. The start up inertia is so low and the reel so smooth that every cast you make causes the spool to turn and so the reel slowly reels itself back up again, and if your aren't aware of it you'll notice that after a while you're really rocketing out the most amazing casts. Well my friends, you haven't suddenly been transformed into Steve Choate, it is really that you are casting less line than you were 20 minutes ago. The remedy is simple: every few casts I just pull out a little line, and in that way counteract the "reel up" effect (the folks at Nautilus are planning to add an additional feature to the Spey versions of this reel so that this won't happen).

I tested the 12S on a number of rods, including Loop, CND, and Sage in line weights 8 through 11. On the shorter, lighter rods (13ft or less, 8 weight and under) the fully loaded reel seemed a little on the heavy side, but it was a great match for the longer, more powerful rods. Loaded with a RIO GrandSpey or XLT, the reel was a superb match for my Loop Grey 11160, the CND Thompson Specialist, and the Sage 10161. The Nautilus also comes in a 10 and 12, and these somewhat smaller reels would be perfect for lighter two-handers (my local Nautilus rep tells me his standard 12 holds a Windcutter 7/8/9 and over 150 yards of 30# Dacron).

Oh, and did I mention that the Nautilus is just a really cool looking reel too? I love the stylized porting on the rear frame that looks, well, like a Nautilus (the sea creature, not the submarine). Plus you can mix and match the spool and frame finishes to get a really unique looking reel, like a silver spool with a black frame--very cool:

And to protect your investment the reel comes in a neoprene field case that did a good job fending off the rocks thrown from transport tires on the Trans Canada Highway just outside Spences Bridge last fall.

The Nautilus 12S would make an excellent addition to any spey rodders reel bag, and Nautilus will be a company to watch for further innovative spey reel designs.

special thanks to Kristen and Andreas Mustad for making this reel available for review, and to Poul Bech for his assistance

unless otherwise noted images courtesy Nautilus Reels


greg pearson illustration