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Freshwater Reels

Ross Reels San Miguel Fly Reel

After a hiatus this classic was reborn. Is the San Miguel the best Ross Reel ever?
Kirk Deeter author.
Kirk Deeter
January 17, 2024
Ross | San Miguel Fly Reel
product description
“Since Ross Reels started in 1973, there has been one model that epitomizes what a Ross Reel is: the San Miguel. It defined the ultimate in class and finesse, and now, over two decades since it was first launched, the classic returns.” – Ross Reels
company ethos
“Our mission at Ross Reels is to inspire adventure. All of our products are 100% Made in the USA and built to last a lifetime. Over the past 49 years, Ross Reels has been the recipient of more industry ‘Awards in Excellence’ for innovation, dependability and performance than any other fly tackle manufacturer in the world.” – Ross Reels

I won a Ross San Miguel reel in the mid 1990s by winning the Telluride Premier Fly (one-fly) event with cousin (and Flylab partner) Andrew Steketee. (We got lucky and drew the same beat for both sessions of the competition, so we could be thorough and work all the runs.) The cool part was that the event took place on the San Miguel River in Colorado, after which the reel is named, and I have always considered it one of my home rivers. The really cool part was that I was handed that reel by none other than General Norman Schwartzkopf, who had retired after winning the first Iraq war, and was an avid angler and somewhat of a Telluride local who emceed the event. I was awestruck by Stormin’ Norman. 

All of which is to say, I have a bias for the San Miguel reel, most of which is due to these sentimental reasons. I’ll do my best to separate myself from all that, however, and will focus on the newer, relaunched version of the San Miguel, which I purchased a couple years ago.

Product story

Back in the day, when Ross and Abel were competitors, I would have described the San Miguel as the most “Abel-like” reel in the Ross lineup. With a solid frame and ported spool, sizable drag adjustment knob, beefy internal drag system and a higher-end price tag, the San Miguel was the pinnacle, in my mind, of Ross creations. 

Since Ross and Abel are now under the same roof (The Mayfly Group, based in Montrose, Colo., where Ross was headquartered), it made sense to resurrect the discontinued San Miguel after a long, sad hiatus. And this relaunched version still carries the classic look and feel of the original, with maybe a little bit of Abel DNA sprinkled in by way of a stacked and sealed, carbon-steel drag system, a grippier (canvas micarta) handle and a smooth, push-button spool release.

Performance

At $675, this reel isn’t cheap, but it’s a classic, a looker and a performer, with arguably the smoothest start-up we’ve tested, and with airtight tolerances and super-functional engineering. A finer reel–at least for trout–would be really hard to find.

Pros

Best-in-class drag, especially on the start-up. We tested this years ago via motorcycle, and lately on fish. 

Easy to adjust drag knob. 

Beautiful, distinctive design (flower petal porting on the spool) that’s not too artsy-fartsy and doesn’t compromise toughness.

Cons

Not sure about crossing over to saltwater with this reel line. Might want more porting and different materials. We think of this as a river reel.

It’s not particularly light. 

It’s pretty expensive.

Pricing

$675 is a lot to spend on a freshwater reel, even with a sealed disc-drag system. But I wouldn’t sell either of my San Miguels for twice that amount. I told you I’m biased.

Craftsmanship

Beautiful, distinctive design.

Durability

We’ve beat on them for years (new versions and old), and they can take the punishment. The drags haven’t lost any performance.

  • Price: $675
  • Sizes: 3/4, 4/5, 5/6 (line weights)
  • Weight: 5.4 ounces, 5.8 ounces, 6 ounces
  • Colors: Platinum, high-gloss black
  • Drag: Carbon / stainless sealed drag system
  • Handle: Canvas micarta (enhances grip when wet)
  • Arbor: Large
  • Warranty: Ross Reels warranty

Ross Reels warranty.

“Ross Reels® branded fly reels purchased through an Authorized Dealer are covered by a limited lifetime warranty for as long as the product is on the market. This limited lifetime warranty only applies to the original owner and is not transferable. This limited lifetime warranty is limited to repair or replacement of the product only, and does not cover direct, indirect, consequential, incidental or any other type of damage resulting from the use of the product.”

Likely buyers

Who should buy the San Miguel? Well, the fly reel space is among the most competitive and complex in the fly-fishing market, because aesthetics matter a lot more than with, say, waders, or even fly rods. Then you add the performance factor, whether you want/need a disc drag, and the picture gets pretty murky, but I think fortunately so, because there are so many distinct options out there. 

When it comes to the San Miguel, obviously Ross brand traditionalists will like it, because the company was smart and didn’t totally rebuff the original design. People who fish Colorado, especially the San Juans will feel drawn to it. But a Delaware River angler who’s never been west of the Mississippi might also like it, just because of the butter-smooth drag and simple, yet elegant black-or-platinum-finished looks. It has a timeless feel that transcends geography.

What others say

“After twenty-plus years of use, how many pieces of fly-fishing gear are still functional and aesthetically relevant? The San Miguel would make this short-list, and that’s a pretty hard thing to do.” – Andrew Steketee

Conclusion

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t buy this reel if I didn’t fall into at least one of the above categories, but a number of people are going to identify this way. In addition, if you’re going to match any reel to a high-end graphite rod, like say, a Scott Centric (also Montrose, Colorado-made), it’s almost like peanut butter and jelly. I have no problem pairing a San Miguel with a Sage or Orvis rod, but matching two companies where one is focused on reels and the other on rods just seems like the right thing to do.

Ross San Miguel Reel on the water
Ross San Miguel Reel on the water
Ross San Miguel Reel on the water
Ross San Miguel Reel on the water
Ross San Miguel Reel on the water
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