Towards the end of 2011, I travelled to the East Cape of Baja California Sur in pursuit of Roosterfish. I’ve always admired this beautiful fish with its sleek lines and distinctive dorsal comb, and a picture for the photo gallery would be great. The goal was to catch one from the beach on a fly.
As soon as the trip was booked I started thinking about gear. The basic list supplied by the guide confirming rod weights, fly lines and the standard request to being a ‘decent reel’ put the wheels in motion. I did a bit of research and discovered that, during the spring, Airflo would be releasing a new reel with their first fully sealed drag. I decided to give it a try.
I selected a 12-weight in black and silver: perfect, I thought, for the 250 yards of red backing I had standing by.
When I picked it up for the first time I noticed immediately that the reel is far lighter than anything else in the sealed drag class… or most other classes for that matter – it’s incredibly lightweight. The second thing to catch my eye was its frame – finished in an alluring matt black with eye-catching spokes of exposed aluminium. Lovely. In contrast, the distinctive sealed drag casing is a deep red colour and, on testing it, I was pleased to feel a smooth, positive response.
Overall the reel is slightly wider than the norm but despite that, for people wanting to use a 12-weight line, it still feels slightly short in capacity. The reel has a V-groove spool as with the older Airlite model and, when adding the first few revolutions of backing, it makes one wonder if the line is laying correctly. Don’t worry, it probably is!
When we reached Baja, Mexico I couldn’t wait to get the V-Lite into action and, for the first day’s fishing, we were invited to take a boat offshore. The guides were excited about huge shoals of football-sized tuna, so I swapped over to a Di7 equivalent and off we set. I, for one, had never caught a tuna on the fly. This was a golden opportunity to put the V-Lite through its paces!!
The run out to the tuna ground lasted about 90 minutes and was extremely uncomfortable. A storm cell was building offshore, which made it pretty rough and we all got totally soaked. This, however, was all soon forgotten. When we found the tuna they were smashing bait on the surface. Tuna were flying in all direction, leaping out of the water and creating a foam-like scum on top of the dark blue swells. The captain confirmed a mixture of yellow fin and skipjack and we hastily tackled up. Having selected some blue and white 5-inch ‘deceivers’, we cast into the school and stripped like mad men. Almost immediately the line was torn out of my fingers and the V-Lite lit up as yard after yard of backing flew out of the rod tip at lightning speed. Anyone who has caught a tuna on the fly will understand what I’m referring to but if you haven’t, imagine tying your line to the back of a train travelling at 40 mph and this will give you an idea!
The V-Lite performed admirably. There was no start-up inertia (not that there was much chance on that initial run!) and the textured drag knob was very easy to handle and adjust – very important when playing big, hard-fighting fish. The reel felt smooth, balanced and confidence-inspiring.
Despite its light-weight nature, the reel has a large arbor and retrieves line very quickly. Before I knew it, the fish had turned, the line was back on the spool and I’d boated a plump 8-lb skipjack. Pound-for-pound, the skipjack is one of the hardest fighting fish in the ocean, and I was impressed that my new outfit had made such short work of it.
Back out went the deceiver and we continued bashing tuna until our arms couldn’t take any more punishment. A lovely start to the trip, and a great performance from the V-Lite.
The next day we turned our attention to our target quarry – the roosterfish. These glorious fish have a habit of patrolling the beach, swimming along parallel to the shore, just behind the wash. From here they occasionally dart in at high speed, ambushing baitfish in the shallow water.
It’s nearly all sight fishing – very exciting – and our modus operandi was to ride a quad motorbike along the beach until we spotted a patrolling fish. With the target in site, we would jump off the bike, run ahead of the fish (not as easy as it might sound – they’re fast!) and try to make a single, perfect cast – close enough to be sure the fish passes it, but not so close as to spook it. It’s a fine art!
My fishing buddy, Mike, said you only need three things to catch a roosterfish: eagle eyes, perfect casting technique and the legs of an Olympic sprinter! I have none of these and, despite a few opportunities, I left the beach that day with no roosters to my name.
Early the next day Mike hooked his first roosterfish, and it made great entertainment for spectators. Watching one of your fishing pals dismount a moving ATV, sprint along the beach then feverishly cast into the waves like a madman has to be seen to be fully appreciated! But this time it was not in vain and it was time for Mike’s V-Lite to be tested. Mike doesn’t mess about playing fish. After its first couple of runs, the fish was beaten and ready for beaching.
Both Mike and I felt that the V-Lite performed well against these mighty fish and I’m pleased to say that, as the photographs show, we both landed our target quarry. If you fancy catching one of these fine-looking fish, I can fully recommend a trip to Baja. It’s fast, frantic, exciting fishing and a real test of skill and endurance (and eyesight!). I can also wholeheartedly recommend the Airflo V-Lite but I have to be honest: it isn’t perfect.
Against some of my other 10/12 weight reels, the V-Lite has the least line capacity. I initially attempted to load a bulky floating line on the reel but, as I approached the end, I noticed the line was starting to rub against the frame. If you wanted to use such a line, you should be aware that you may only get 150 yards of backing onto the reel. Although this is perfectly adequate in the UK, this is the minimum I would use in saltwater. Some of those tropical fish really can run. The other thing I noticed about the V-Lite is the quality of the anodized finish. After only a few hours on the boat the reel had already sustained a few scratches – something I haven’t experienced with reels I’ve owned for three or four years. That said, reels are there to be used. The scratches haven’t worsened and seem to be only superficial so if you don’t mind a few marks on your kit, this is not a big problem.
Overall then, and given the cost of the reel (which is less than half the price of the next cheapest sealed drag reel on the market!), the V-Lite is indeed a great purchase. It doesn’t have the finish of some of its competitors and it’s slightly smaller but if you want a solid sealed drag reel at a great price, you won’t find better.
- Features – 8
- Value for Money – 10
- Performance – 10
- Build Quality – 9
- Finish – 7
- Functionality – 8