UPDATE: Following the review Okuma did a thorough redesign of the line roller. Please click HERE for details and a quick guide on how to upgrade yours if it has the issue. UPDATE #2: The drag knob has been updated with a red dot and position markers to give a better idea of the centre dial's position, partially addressing the criticism of this bit. Click HERE.
Okuma Makaira : The Review
Hello sea dwellers
Recently I was talking with a marketing manager of one of the big brick and mortar outdoors chains in the US, and in that conversation he attributed the recent explosion in high quality cheap reels to the better informed consumers who've become increasingly knowledgeable about what they were buying and demanded quality for their money. He described watching buyers change over the years from mere listeners to confident speakers. According to him it's not uncommon today to see buyers turning the tables and advising sales associates that certain reels were hyped, telling them that a reel has pot metal gearing and not worth the money, asking if certain reels were the version updated following a review or the old one, or turning down a recommendation and asking specifically for a reel that they learned was better made and proven reliable. Manufacturers who insisted on creating low grade tackle were punished by falling sales, and those who put quality parts in theirs were rewarded by orders that on occasions made production lines struggle to keep up. You did that. You changed the face of the industry, and forced manufacturers to provide higher quality and better return for your money. You were smart enough to disregard traditional "reviews" by sponsored professionals, to ignore misleading promotional material disguised as honest opinions, and to make wise purchases that forced everyone to stop and take note. Thanks to your resolute action we now have great gear in the budget category, and more will be coming.
Your firm action is needed now more than ever, as we are locked in a staring contest with Daiwa. Chaining us to their service centres by refusing to sell the magnetic fluid, certain types of drag lubes, and several parts of some reels can't stand or be rewarded (for details check this post). I can't think of a good reason for these decisions, but Daiwa is welcome to tell us if there were any. To me this looks like an attempt to make reel service another venue for assured profit, which is a big no no. They should make an assured profit only when we decide to buy the tackle based on merits, but then we should be free to decide how and where to service our reels based on our needs and feelings about service quality. If we are forced to use their service without any other option, what would be the incentive for them to care about or improve service quality? Actually it's quite ironic that Daiwa does this, considering that I personally believe it to have the worst aftersales service of all mainstream brands, and if people have no alternative for service then Daiwa can potentially become even worse and tell them to get lost if they don't like it. I am aware that since we took action Daiwa has been feeling the pinch and Shimano's high end sales saw a boost accordingly, but we need to increase the pressure. How about not buying mag-sealed reels EVEN if you live in a place where they have service centres? By doing that you are taking a moral stand, and warning tackle companies in general that trying to force us to use them for service will not fly, and it better be a very loud warning before others start making their reels unserviceable using simple tricks which I won't mention not to give anyone ideas. I have nothing against Daiwa and my review of the BG made that reel a global blockbuster, so no one can claim I have axes to grind. It is, as it has always been, about doing what I believe is right and in the best interest of anglers. Let's increase the pressure, and they can decide to either do what's fair to us, or lose us. Now to the review.
Today mainstream fishing brands fall into three main categories;
1) Small private companies. These produce a relatively small number of reels in a single country. Examples of these are Accurate, Alutecnos, Duel, Avet, etc.
2) The conglomerates. These are entities that own a bunch of smaller brands, including a few historical names that couldn't survive on their own. These conglomerates largely have their reels made by Chinese contractors with few exceptions. Two such conglomerates exist at the moment, W.C. Bradley Co, the owner of Zebco Brands (Zebco, Fin-Nor, Quantum, and Van Staal), and the other one is Newell Rubbermaid, which owns brands such as Penn, Shakespeare, Mitchell, Abu-Garcia, and tragically Hardy & Greys.
3) The big three. These are actual manufacturers who own and run big production facilities in several countries, usually making the top of the range in the home country and the lesser reels overseas. These are Shimano, Daiwa, and Okuma.
I'm sure this comes as a surprise to many, but Okuma is indeed an actual giant manufacturer who has its own large factories spread across different countries. A few years ago it surpassed the conglomerates in global sales of fishing tackle to become the third of the big three.
I've talked a lot about Daiwa and Shimano over the years since they produced many of the significant reels that I reviewed, now that Okuma is trying to enter the big league of spinners I'll give a little bit of information about the company since there is very little about it out there. The following is my own information which I accumulated over the years, so if a bit here or there is outdated please let me know.
Okuma is a Taiwanese company, founded by the current owner Charles Chang in 1986. At the beginning it operated as an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) for known brands, and made tackle under its own brand as well. One of its major customers was DAM of Germany, who put their brand on reels made by Okuma in China at a time when that German company was struggling for survival and changing owners repeatedly. In case you were wondering why I did not include DAM in the brief classification at the beginning, it's because it has now become mostly a retailer of branded OEM reels and I no more consider it an actual designer or maker. Anyway, over the years Okuma put more emphasis on tackle bearing its own brand and expanded to Europe and the US, where it became a major player in freshwater fishing disciplines while still unable to properly venture into the saltwater market. About a decade ago though they teamed up with the American company Tiburon in a mutually beneficial relationship where Okuma manufactured some of Tiburon's reels, while Tiburon designed the Makaira lever drag reel for Okuma. The company is now offering a flagship spinning reel bearing the same name, and being the guy who coined the term "Super Spinner", it was just natural for me to put the new reel through its paces to see if it deserves to bear that term or not.
The Makaira is a fully machined and fully sealed reel that comes in 20000 and 30000 sizes, with a 10000 size to be released later this year. Both the Makaira 20k and 30k have a somehow speedy 5.8:1 gear ratio, and both sizes share the same body and only differ in the rotor, rotor flange, and spool. The 10000 will have 4.9:1 gear ratio. Since I was going to travel while testing this reel, I bought two 20000 Makairas so that if one had an issue I'd have a backup to continue fishing instead of everything coming to a halt. Once I announced that my reels were here and gave an ETA for the review, I received no less than a dozen emails from people who can't find them, asking where I got mine from and if I can help them get the reel, with some even offering to buy mine for well above retail. Apparently Okuma manufactured a very small first batch, perhaps to test the waters and see if issues would appear so they can fix them in subsequent batches. While this would be somehow prudent, the number was just too small that many people were unable to find them. Judging by these instances and the serial numbers of reels I'm aware of, I would guess that less than 75 reels were made in that first batch. Eventually with the rising desperation a long time reader who had a trip booked offered to buy one, so I gave it to him for $40 less than what I paid for it, leaving me with one reel without a backup. Speaking of price, the retail is $800 for the 20k and $880 for the 30k, and I have no clue what the street price will be since they are yet to be available in any considerable numbers for a street price to be established. This retail price though might be bit deceptive as I'll explain later on.
The weights listed right now on Okuma's US site and on the sites of many shops that sell them are outdated. I played with a pre-production reel for a while, and it weighed close to these numbers indeed, but the reels are different now and these numbers are not valid anymore. The production 20000 actually weighs 975 grams (~34.4oz) on my scale. The weight is excessive, there is not other way to describe it. Compared to other reels in its size class, the Makaira is 90 grams (3.1oz) heavier than the already heavy Stella SW 20000, it's 140 grams (5oz) heavier than the current Saltiga 6500/6500H, and 100 grams (3.5 oz) heavier than the Expedition 8000H which holds more line than the Makaira. I no longer state capacity by numbers because I don't find braid thickness to be reliably consistent across all brands, so I'll instead say that the Makaira 20k holds as much line as the Stella SW 20k. The Stella is a name you're going to hear a lot in this review, because it's what Okuma used to pattern their reel after on many fronts. Actually from the get go Okuma copied the model sizes from the Stella (30000, 20000, and 10000), breaking away from its traditional double digit reel sizes in spinning reels. Now look at this...
In the 2013 official release video of the Stella SW, Shimano created a shot of the reel diving under water
Okuma did the exact same thing in their official Makaira video.
Shimano showed the parts of the Stella SW flying to assemble into the reel in the middle of the air
The Makaira's video has a similar shot. Coincidences, or heavy "inspiration"?
Aesthetically, the Makaira is a decent looking piece of equipment. I wouldn't call it "beautiful" since it lacks the flare of the two Japanese reels, but it's important to consider how each of these reels is made; the Japanese reels have cast bodies, which allows for unrestricted artistic freedom in sculpting the frames, while the Makaira's body is machined, which puts some limitations on the shape of its contours and curvatures
These shots of the Makaira show how the cutters struggle in curved areas, leaving these telling traces. These are not easily visible though unless the reel is held at certain angles to light, so they don't hurt the appearance and I do not consider them to be visual defects.
This one is a cosmetic defect though. The side cover doesn't perfectly match the body at the heel. Nevertheless, I find the quality of the machining to be quite high. This becomes apparent when comparing the Makaira to other machined reels such as the Accurate TwinSpin which has hideous cosmetic flaws, or the Penn Torque that resorts to sharp lines to play it safe.
Whomever added this tilted swelling which extends below the bottom of the gearbox deserves a paid Hawaiian trip. I saw an early prototypes Makaira that didn't have it, and it looked plain and terrible, quite boxy and without a character. That swelling pretty much saved the reel. It looks silver in photos, but in real life it's more of a light shade of grey. All in all the best way I can describe the Makaira's looks would be that it's "elegant" in a reserved way. A fitting analogy for the Makaira would be a German sedan, which is attractive, albeit in a different way to the attraction of a sexy Italian sports car. The Japanese reels being the Italian cars in this analogy.
The reel is made in Taiwan. In this Okuma follows the others in making its premium reels in home country, while lesser models are made in its Chinese manufacturing facilities.
For those who don't know, Taiwan is a modern Western-style democracy, and its people are some of the wealthiest in the world. Actually at the time of writing, the charts of GDP at PPP per capita, which is the real measure of the wealth of the people, rank Taiwan #22, above Denmark and right below Austria. For comparison Canada is #24 and the UK is #27. I'm mentioning this because some people think that Taiwan is the same as China, which projects whatever negative image they have of Chinese manufacturing on Taiwan. Of course China can produce excellent items and quality is always where you find it, but for those who insist on being "country snobs" and hold their noses when talking about China, you can let your noses go because Taiwan is a completely different place This is not the first time I say this by the way. Many years ago when I reviewed the Taiwanese made Omoto Severo I explained this difference between Taiwan and China.
When you get the reel it should have a black card attached with a string, which states that it passed quality control.
The handle's opening would be plugged with a protective rubberised plug.
Handle's threads will also be protected by a similar sleeve. Just unscrew it and it will come out. Don't yank it.
What comes with it
The reel comes with a manual, a spool band, a black reel bag of an acceptable quality, a blue pouch that houses the handle when it leaves the factory, a small tube of Corrosion X, a plastic bag containing spool shims, a parts diagram, and there is a warranty flyer that has different information based on your location.
The shims bag is "stapled" to the parts diagram. Kinda cheap and not exactly fitting for a high end reel.
In the back of the parts diagram, there is a guide for using the shims to tune the line lay on the spool. It states that there should be two shims in the bag, but I got only one. I want my second shim! I want it now or I'll go "Greek Stud" on your sorry derrieres and pose topless and stuff!!
It might seem as if I've lingered on too much on details of how the reel is packaged, but there is a good reason for this
These are examples of pre-production reels floating around and being offered for sale. These reels would be dealer samples, exhibition pieces, test reels, etc., so I went into detail to show you what the production reel bundle looks like should you come across pre-production ones for sale.
A most positive way to tell if a reel is production or not, is the spool lip. Production reels have a black spool lip.
While pre-production reels have a silver spool lip. There is a single exception for this rule, where some early Makaira 30000 reels had a black spool lip as well, but these had no capacity information printed on the spool and are easily identified by the silver body inserts. It's important to state here that many shops display stock pictures of the pre-production reels with the silver spool lip, which is perfectly fine and does not mean they are actually selling these reels. It's just a matter of using old photos.
The foot of the Makaira is angled in the traditional fashion. If you don't know what I'm talking about, many of Shimano's reels, including the current Stella SW, come with a non-angled foot where the main shaft is parallel to the rod when the reel is mounted. Shimano claims that it's to prevent the line from hitting the rod during casting for better distance. That parallel foot tends to cause issues when the larger Shimano reels are paired with rods that have a small or close first ring, but they work fine with rods that have a large and distant first ring. The Makaira should not be this picky though since it has the classic angled foot.
To reduce weight they cut away some metal in the form of a strip that extends across the frame including the foot. This caused an unusual situation
Because of the cut strip, when the reel is mounted on a rod the foot rests on the edges of the cuts instead of mating with the rod seat across a full curve. This concentrates more load on these edges, causing the redundant marking seen here.
Once I screwed the handle in, I noticed its unusual length. Measured from one centre of the joint to the other, the handle is 90 millimetre. The standard length in reels of this size class is 80 to 85 millimetre. By making the handle longer they gave the Makaira and extra bit of cranking power because the longer lever (handle) produces more torque for the same amount of energy you exert. Why doesn't everyone just extend the length of the handle then? Well, because when the handle is longer, reeling becomes slower. This might not be easily understood, so imagine some exaggerated images in your head to help; picture yourself holding a spinning reel with a tiny handle, the length of a match stick, and you're spinning the handle as fast as you can. Now picture yourself holding the same reel, but with a very long handle, the length of a coat hanger for example, and spinning it as fast as you can. In any specific amount of time, you can do more rotations with the smaller handle than with the big handle. It's a function of time, gear ratio being completely irrelevant. This is why designers try to achieve more power via gear efficiency, instead of just extending the handle. For my fishing the difference was virtually unnoticeable, but someone who does extremely fast retrieves and is used to other reels with shorter handles might feel a difference.
The handle is well constructed and quite strong, and you don't feel flexing in the joint or stem. It will have either L or R printed on it, indicating whether it's a left side or a right side handle....
This is why. The handle of the Makaira has only one set of threads, and therefore is not interchangeable. When you order the reel you have to specify if you want it with a left handle or a right handle.
The box will have this sticker indicating which handle is included.
I explained the principle every time I reviewed a Stella, but in a nutshell a handle that attaches to both sides will have two sets of threads, one set will be thinner (potentially weaker) than the other. If it's a female handle, then the gear shaft will be thinner on one side than the other to allow the use of the ambidextrous handle. That subject of one side that's potentially weaker than the other remained a theoretical one in my tests, until the problem actually materialised in my previous review of the Blue Marlin spinner. In doing this Okuma is again finding "inspiration" in the Stella SW, whose handle also has a single set of threads that would attach to one side only.
The difference here is that Shimano provides you with a spare shaft that is reverse threaded so you can swap the shafts and use the handle on the other side, while Okuma would make you buy a whole new handle, which is priced at $120 at the time of writing. This is the reason I said at the beginning of the review that the price of the reel was a bit deceptive. Let me explain. If you wind with your left hand and buy a Makaira with a left side handle you should be alright, because when you want to sell it you will find buyers easily. If though you wind with your right hand and order a Makaira with a right side handle, you might be screwed in resale value since it's much harder to find a buyer who winds with the right hand. One way to put it is that your right handed Makaira potentially loses an extra $120 of its resale value once you buy it, because when you want to sell it you would need to include a $120 left side handle in the sale to increase your chances of selling it. So if you are a right hand winder and you plan to sell it one day, the actual cost of the reel might be $920 for the 20000 and $1000 for the 30000.
A quick note here about the single threaded handle shaft. That principle comes from the original Penn company, who made their heavy duty models 650SS, 750SS, and 850SS with a single threaded shaft that needs to be swapped in order to attach the handle to the other side (the three digit models only, not the subsequent four digit models). I said that Okuma got the idea from the Stella SW because it's unlikely that they got it from a Penn reel that was discontinued 25 years ago.
The handle's joint is partially unique, and partially a copy of the 2008 Stella SW. The unique bit is that the threaded shaft is embedded securely into a recess in the stem (red arrow). This is much stronger than the standard joint where the shaft is held in a slotted post that can flex under stress. I became an instant fan of this design for the immense strength is lend to the joint, making it virtually indestructible. Then there are two plastic pads (yellow arrows) that surround the shaft inside its recess to hold it still, a seal on the shaft (blue arrow) to keep water from going down the sleeve (green arrow), and the rest are washers similar to those found in the 2008 Stella, including Belleville washers (black arrows), also known as spring or cupped washers. I remember being asked repeatedly about these washers' orientation in the old Stella, so let me say that in the Makaira they are assembled with the concave sides facing each other in this form ( ), while in the old Stella where there are 4 of them they are assembled like this (()).
The shaft requires a lot of pressure to insert and remove it from the recess in the stem, and the two plastic pads in the joint (red arrows) are quite tricky to line up, but in my opinion this is not good enough reason for Okuma not to provide a spare shaft with instructions for users to swap it like Shimano does. It's not an easy task to swap the shaft in the Makaira, but not hard enough to make buying a $120 spare handle a reasonable thing to do. I encourage you to buy the opposite threaded shaft from Okuma, and I would be very disappointed if they refuse to sell it or sell it at an exaggerated price. If that is ever the case, then I encourage custom part makers to make that part from quality stainless steel for a reasonable price, and I will write about it here on my site and tell people where to buy it. I'll do it completely for free because I am not looking for advertising money or commissions, I only want to save anglers money.
The other end of the handle is similarly well constructed, with a seal on the outer side (red arrow), and another on the inner side (blue arrow).
The side cover can be removed quite easily by unscrewing 4 screws, which is something the two Japanese reels don't have. In those reels you have to go through a complex disassembly and removal of the rotor first. All you need here is a correct size Torx screwdriver or wrench, and you're inside the gearbox in 50 seconds. Torx screws first made it into spinning reels in the 2013 Stella, whose "influence" on the Makaira seemingly doesn't stop. These screws have some advantages over the hex (Allen) screws, such as being more resistant to head stripping because of the larger contact/grip area, easier to use with power tools, and they look really good which is never a bad thing. Each of these 4 screws in the Makaira has a "stepped" washer to protect the finish and to keep water from seeping into the screw threads. Beautiful touch.
The side cover has a perimeter seal (red arrow) that fits perfectly, and beneath the drive gear's ball bearing there is an "oil seal'" (blue arrow.). Quickly for those who did not read about it in past reviews, an oil seal is a type of gaskets that has higher sealing performance and is more durable than flat seals and O rings, mainly due to the larger contact area with the rotating element. Oil seals are a trade off. On one hand they offer superior sealing, but on the other hand they create more resistance, which translates into "tightness" or less "free spinning.
When I spoke about my impressions of exhibit pieces last year, one of the things I mentioned was that they were almost as tight as a Van Staal surf model. Okuma apparently saw that because soon after a word came out assuring people that these were only prototypes that will improve before actual production. Nothing changed though, and I didn't expect it to change because oil seals will always be tight. It's impossible to convey a degree of tightness through words, so I'll compare it to reels you might have used to give you an idea; if we assume that Van Staal surf reels are 10 on the spectrum of tightness, and the Saltiga Z from 2001 is 7, the Makaira would be 8.5. This is tighter than the current Saltiga and Stella SW, but it's not in vain in my opinion; one of the things I learned to live with and accept as a sad fact of life is that every reel, short of dedicated surf reels, is at risk of leakage of some sort at the handle's opening when heavily used in adverse conditions
This is a bearing of the 2013 Stella SW rusting because of water intrusion at the handle's opening
And this is the same bearing in a 2014 Saltiga Expedition rusting because by design it's exposed and needs rapid and thorough rinsing to remain safe. Just two examples from the reports submitted by readers worldwide. The Japanese reels put more emphasis on lower friction sealing for better free-spinning feel, and this has its price. The Makaira though went the other direction with surf-grade sealing that shuts water out to perfection without leakages or the need for rapid washing, but it creates tightness in the operation. A trade off.
The oil seals of this reel come from a Taiwanese company named NAK, which I thought was funny because Stella SW uses seals from a Japanese manufacturer named NOK, with only one letter being the difference. Wouldn't NAK from Taiwan and NOK from Japan be great characters in one of those "Street Fighter" style video games?
The two drive gear bearings aren't held down by screws because the oil seals beneath them independently attach themselves to the frame without needing a bearing to press down on them for retention.
In addition to the oil seals on both ends of the drive gear shaft, the cap of the unused side has its own sealing.
The Makaira has a backup anti-reverse system, in which the dog (red arrow) should engage the ratchet (blue arrow) to stop the drive gear from turning backwards if the primary anti-reverse clutch slips or fails. This is also shamelessly copied, but this time it's from the smaller size Saltiga reels. You normally don't want the backup system to brake the drive gear, because then all the stress will fall on the teeth of the gears where the pinion meshes with the drive gear. You want something to brake the pinion itself leaving the gears free of stress. It's true that Saltigas up to 5500 size have the same design as the Makaira, but these are smaller reels with lower drag outputs. In Saltigas 6500 and up and Stellas 8000 and up the backup brake correctly stops the pinion. Here is an advice that some will like and some won't; if you will actually use your Makairas at high drag settings, let's say ~13kg (~28.5 lbs) and up, I recommend that you remove the side cover and take the dog (red arrow) off, then keep it safely in the plastic shims bag for when you want to sell the reel. You do not want to be hooked to a fish pulling 20kg of drag then something happens to the main clutch and suddenly that massive force transfers to the meshing teeth of the gears. I'd rather lose the fish, any fish, than ruin a $800-$1000 reel. It's your call though.
If you remove it, leave its stainless steel post (red arrow) in the reel as it aids to reinforce the alignment between the frame and the side cover.
The Oscillation is a "hybrid", or a cross between the oscillations of the Japanese reels. It's is operated by a locomotive gear (red arrow) just like a Saltiga, but the oscillation block rides on two rods (blue arrows) as in the Stella. The two rods in the Makaira though are aluminium instead of stainless steel as in the Stella. Stainless steel is usually used for the rods to reduce friction and wear against the aluminium alloy oscillation block, but here they did something slightly different
They inserted two low friction synthetic bushings inside both holes of the oscillation block (circled), which then allowed them to use aluminium rods to reduce weight.
A closer look at one of these inner bushings. The bushing itself is pointed by the red arrow, and the blow arrow points a small snap ring that retains the bushing. This example pretty much showcases how labour intensive assembling this reel is. Actually as far as factory assembly is concerned, I find the the Makaira to be the most labour intensive spinning reel in current production, with several areas that require more assembly steps than other reels. I'm saying "current production" because some vintage reels were insanely labour intensive they would never be commercially viable today.
The two rods are inserted from the front, and are held in place by two screws (red arrows), which have a generous amount of thread locker to prevent loosening. Told you it was labour intensive!
Speaking of labour, these are some promotional photos released in the Taiwanese market showing the Makaira spinning being assembled in the factory.
You don't get to see production lines often, so thought you'd find these interesting. Back to the reel
The machined oscillation block has an S channel for a more uniform line lay.
This is how it lays the 80# braid, pictured before connecting the leader to show it properly. Pretty good indeed and it did it out of the box without needing to adjust the spool shims. Still, I want my second shim, bunch of lousy crooks!!
The oscillation gear (red arrow) is mounted on a synthetic washer (blue arrow) to stabilise it and reduce friction against the body.
The gear itself (red arrow) is machined aluminium, then it has a stainless steel embedded post (blue arrow), and a brass washer on top of it (green arrow) for friction reduction. As someone whose degree and professional experience are in engineering disciplines, this is pure happiness to the soul. Firstly a machined gear, when most reels including the Saltiga has a cast one. Then, they did not need to embed a stainless steel post since the brass washer would handle the friction, but they still did it anyway for strength. There is going the extra mile, but Okuma went two extra miles here for the sake of sheer toughness. All in all, the oscillation system is durable, strong beyond any realistic need, quite low friction which felt good when I reeled it under load, and the rods mounting acts as a rear support for the main shaft. Love it to pieces.
One disadvantage of the rod mounting oscillation though is that it runs dirty, be it in the Makaira or in the Stella or any other reel. With the sliding motion and heat, grease degrades and sometimes its base oils oxidise, which causes it to darken quickly. The same goes for worm gear oscillation since it mainly depends on sliding motion. This is why you usually hear that a Stella requires more frequent servicing than a Saltiga which runs much cleaner on rolling elements. This is how my reel looked after the first trip, during which no more than than a dozen Spanish Mackerel were landed, all below the 10kg (22#) mark. Nothing alarming, and Stellas do the exact same thing and keep working. Just demonstrating a tendency of a certain design to degrade lubes quicker.
The much publicised "forged drive gear". I'll get a bit technical here, but it's only natural because Okuma itself has been using a lot of technical terms in promoting this reel.
Basically when a part has its final formation done by casting, the grain flow of the metal no more exists. When the final formation is done by machining, the grain flow remains but gets interrupted in areas where the cutting is done. If the part is forged into the final shape tough, the integrity of the grain flow is maintained, creating a part that has higher resistance to impact and fatigue cracks. Sometimes these terms are used incorrectly, intentionally and unintentionally. For example a machined part would sometime get called "forged", only because it was machined from an aluminium billet that was previously forged. Actually an aluminium billets begins life by being cast, then in many cases while still hot it gets rolled or forged into rods or blocks, which is the form in which it's sold to the manufacturer of the item. Therefore to call a machined part "forged" just because the original billet was forged is inaccurate. This is why I bolded the words "final formation", since it's what actually matters and largely affects the part's properties. Forging itself is done in two different ways, cold forging and hot forging, each having its characteristics, but I won't get into this though not to veer too much from the subject.
The drive gear of the Makaira is made of 304 stainless steel alloy, where the teeth are shaped (finally formed) by hot forging...
...then the plate of the gear is machined on the rim and back to remove excess metal. The teeth though are not touched and remain finally formed by forging, which makes this gear a genuinely forged one, retaining all the desired forging properties. Comparisons to Shimano would naturally come to mind here since they cold forge their first tier drive gears, but in the Shimanos it's an aluminium alloy, not stainless steel. This puts the Makaira's forged drive gear in a whole different class of strength and durability.
Closeup. Hot forging and subsequent cooling left this gear with a porous surface, which doesn't look very appealing yet it doesn't affect its integrity. These pores actually could be considered advantageous since they trap lubricants, similar to what sintered gears do except that forged gears are much tougher.
Forging does not create parts of the same accuracy as machining, and this gear is no exception. Still, examining the marking on the teeth it becomes apparent that about 70% of their surface comes in contact with the pinion during operation, which is quite admirable for a forging. More contact area = better distribution of stress = less wear and more strength.
The pinion is stainless steel as well. Of course this by itself doesn't mean much since there are countless alloys of stainless steel that range from extremely bad to brilliant. The Makaira's pinion is machined 17-4 stainless steel, which is an excellent alloy possessing a superb combination of high strength and corrosion resistance. This certainly belongs in the brilliant category.
Wasn't surprise to observe one of the best wear rates I've seen. With both gears made of quality stainless steel alloys, one of them being forged, I have no doubt that this now is the most powerful drive train to ever be in a spinning reel. The drive gear is unmatched, a pinion or two out there might be equal, but as a combination of two gears no other drive train comes close to this Okuma in sheer strength and toughness. I can't of course test a reel for many years before reviewing it, but my experience tells me that this gearbox would last a few decades with proper maintenance. Going back to my initial comments about this reel last year, another thing I said was that the gearing wasn't very smooth. By "smoothness" I mean the fluidity and absence of what's known as "gear noise" or "feedback". Okuma also asserted that the production reel will be smoother, but similar to the tightness issue this never materialised. When new and lubed the grease partially hides and dampens the gear noise, but once it gets some use and the lubes thin out you'll feel the feedback of the gears meshing. I'm not bothered by it at all though. It's not very bad and I've seen much worse, but needed to mention this so you won't expect it to have the almost unrealistic smoothness of the reels from the Land of the Rising Sun.
The main shaft is a fitting companion to that drive train. Made of 17-4 stainless steel as well, and it's of a dual thickness; the part that extends out of the body and is under stress (red arrow) is thicker than the part that is safely housed inside the body (blue arrow). This saves a bit of weight.
The body is the highlight of this reel. Instead of being cast or machined, they place a piece of aluminium in a heated die, then a hydraulic piston would press (forge) it into the general shape of the body, and that part would then be machined into the final shape. That doesn't make it a purely forged part since some of the surface grain flow will be interrupted during machining, but the core of the material maintains the superior attributes of a forged part. The part that houses the clutch and pinion (red arrow) is an integral part of the frame. It's not bolted, screwed down, or attached in any way that would create a potential weak link. At this point I couldn't help thinking about a strange comparison; the Stella has a forged aluminium gear, and the Makaira has a forged aluminium frame, therefore the Makaira's body is almost as strong as the gear of its competition. Take a moment to think about this...
Impressively thick, they put a lot of "meat" in the most critical areas. This is where a lot of bending moment is generated, and spinning reels are known to break at this area when they are pushed beyond their limits or when metal fatigue occurs after hundreds or thousands of load cycles. This reel doesn't need that much metal since forging increases a part's resistance to fatigue, but they again went the extra two or three miles to assure unprecedented structural integrity.
The Makaira copies way too much from the competition, but the one thing that puts it in contrast with the Japanese reels is the body finish. Generally die-cast aluminium is not very suitable for anodising because of things such as additives in the alloy that don't anodise and the porous surface that doesn't behave predictably during anodising, etc. It can be done by some manipulation and treatment, but it won't be very smooth and can only create dark finishes. Stella and Saltiga have cast bodies, therefore they have painted/plated finishes. The Makaira's body though being forged and machined could be anodised, and they they did just that. Anodising converts the surface of the metal into a protective layer of aluminium oxide. It's therefore integral to the metal itself and can't peel, flake, and you won't ever see the dreaded bubbling under the finish. It also makes the surface of the metal harder, and this hardness varies depending on the anodising class. The finish on the body of the Makaira might not look anodised at first glance, but it's indeed anodised then sandblasted to create some texture. The anodised rotor though is not sandblasted.
Anodising is not the only thing done to give the Makaira high resistance for elements. The decorative body inserts are ported and open not to trap any saltwater behind them.
Even better, look at this shallow channel, cut very subtly right above the side cover. This cut is such an intelligent and well thought out feature that I initially decided to run a small contest to see who can figure out what it's for, but then worried about those with metered connections having to reload this large review to check the answer. This cut is done to avoid creating a narrow gap between the frame and the side cover where salt would be deposited and not easily cleaned. How neat is that? They just wanted no salt deposited or trapped anywhere and made sure every area is open and accessible for rinsing.
The main shaft has a oil seal (blue arrow) where in enters the rotor, mounted in the screw-in cover (red arrow).
You can see the width of the contact surface in this close up of the oil seal. This is more than twice the contact area of standard flat seals.
Beneath the screw-in cover there is a seal for that cover (red arrow), and the rotor nut which came from factory with tool marks on it (yellow arrows). It's mostly scrubbed-off finish with minor denting in the metal itself, still not something I expect to see on a reel coming fresh from factory where they are supposed to use correctly sized tools. The nut was screwed down extremely tightly which might explain it. Felt as if someone jumped on the wrench with both feet to tighten it down! Unlike the competition, the rotor nut of the Makaira has no locking system to keep it from becoming loose, although with the way it's tightened down I can't see it becoming loose.
Inside the nut there is a ball bearing (red arrow) to insulate the main shaft from the rotation of the pinion, which is a feature known as the "floating shaft". It reduces friction and smoothens operation under high loads when the main shaft is hard pressed against the nut. Inside the bearing there is a synthetic bushing (blue arrow) to reduce friction during the axial movement of the shaft in and out. The ball bearing is press fitted into the rotor nut and can't be removed without tools. I will tell you something about it later.
The back of the nut itself has a thick seal (red arrow). The words "beefy sealing" are quite fitting to describe the sealing of this Okuma.
With the familiar supporting arches and the cut outs, the rotor is a complete rip-off of Daiwa's rotor. At this point this has become the most imitated design feature in modern reels, leaving Shimano's floating shaft behind. Even when I look through the catalogues of Chinese OEMs it's always present in one form or another. Anyway, the rotor of the Makaira is forged then machined just like the body, and you don't need me to tell you how strong this makes it. When Daiwa does that design in carbon infused plastic it performs as good as standard cast metal rotors, so imagine cutting that same design in metal, and that metal has even been forged first. It feels tough, the flexing at high drag settings is minimal, and it's basically just another piece of the puzzle that makes this reel feel as rigid as a stone wall.
Look at these bridges and links. It's one thing to create these complex shapes by injecting plastic into a mould, but it's a true feat of engineering to cut them in a chunk of forged metal. Okuma's 3D milling capabilities are just impressive.
They promoted this as the "Cyclonic Flow Rotor" (CFR), claiming that it somehow creates air flow that dries things up faster. Examining it, I couldn't find anything special that's not in other ported rotors. When it spins it moves air around, but no more so than any other ported rotor. Okuma makes other rotors that look completely different yet calls them CFR as well, but I'm not talking about any of those now. I'm specifically talking about the Makaira's, which to me has nothing particularly "cyclonic" or "flowy" at all. Is that Okuma jumping on the wagon of nonsensical marketing terms? If that's the case, please stop because others already look silly when they do it, and you look doubly silly because you're still quite green in the art of rubbishing. I mean look at this
4D Design Drive Drag Durability! What sort of nonsense is this? Is "design" now a special feature? As opposed to what? Reels that weren't designed and were planted in the field instead? Drive? What sort of drive and who drives what where and for what purpose? Actually I'm now ticked off into my ranting mode, so I'll throw in another nugget from a different Okuma
When they made the entry level Azores years ago, they inserted gearbox components into a plastic cage and called it MMS Mechanical Stabilisation System, and claimed its purpose was to stop electrolysis (Galvanic corrosion). In the "What Reel 2015" blog article I said that it was nonsensical hype. Now look at this
They speak again of the same MMS Mechanical Stabilisation System in the Azores, but this time it eliminates vibration and stabilises mechanical operation without a mention of electrolysis. How dumb do they think we are, doing something to cut the cost of manufacturing then claim that it does one thing then after a while they claim it does something completely different? And whatever it supposedly does, if it's that good, why isn't that MMS present in their flagship reel? I really wish I was making reels so I could blow my nose inside the gearbox and call it the RTRS system (Rapist Tiger Repelling System), and if anyone doubts it I will just tell them that it's proven to work since they have not been raped by a tiger once since they started using that loogie filled reel. What a load of bollocks!
We don't want to see MMS, 4D, XSHIP, Versa Drag, Hagane or any similar garbage. The fishing public is now past catchy phrases and splashy logos, and what we want to see in advertisement is actual merits, accurate specifications, materials used, and nothing else.
Well, maybe I spoke too hastily with that "nothing else" bit. I came across this on Okuma's page while collecting the previous screenshots, and thought I should make it clear that I have nothing against seeing one or "two" of those damn fine ads!! But I digress..
Beneath the rotor there is a screw-in retainer (red arrow), and I'm kinda tired at this point of mentioning where they got the "inspiration" for it. This retainer has an oil seal (yellow arrow) which perfectly shuts water out of the pinion assembly. Seen also is the rotor brake lever (blue arrow) which engages the rubber brake ring (green arrow) when the bail is opened for a cast. This rubber brake ring can be accessed through the cut-outs of the rotor without disassembly, allowing easy cleaning and maintenance. The Makaira has a manual bail closure so a rotor brake was not essential, still it's good to have it.
Under the retainer there is a seal for that retainer (blue arrow), and the unit that houses the anti-reverse clutch (red arrow). This unit is tightly screwed-in, and it's reverse threaded meaning you remove it by turning it clockwise instead of the normal anti-clockwise. This is of course so that when the reel is under pressure from a big fish, the unit is pushed in the tightening direction. If it had normal threads the unit would be pushed in the loosening direction when under pressure, and you don't want that. To remove it a proper tool should fit into the two holes (green arrows) then turned clockwise.
Here it is out, and you can see the clutch permanently press fitted into it. Do not try to remove the clutch.
HF1416, Made in Germany by INA. A slightly larger model of this clutch is used in some Van Staal surf models (HF1616), and its reliability and long service life are well established.
As expected in this top class, the clutch has metal springs for maximum durability. This clutch is known for being a bit tight to operate, which adds to an already tight reel, but I don't mind it knowing just how dependable it is. It has another important advantage
The small diameter of this clutch allows it to be inserted between two ball bearings, so it's protected and never under radial load. The large clutches of the other two do not allow this arrangement. The Makaira's setup can only add to reliability and longevity.
The rotor flange is removable, and in its back there is a recess (blue arrow) to accept the protruding top oscillation rod (red arrow).
That rod has its own seal. Real neat stuff.
Moving on to the spool, one can't help noticing this bulge, whose job is to increase line capacity a little bit. It's carbon copied from the Stella SW 20000 and 14000. How many times have I spoken of copied designs so far? It must be some sort of a record.
The spool lip has a distinct reverse taper which we've seen before. This is becoming too boring, so let's put it in the form of a quiz this time. Choose the correct answer. The Makaira's spool lip design was stolen from (Tuff Tackle Brawn - Barbie Spincast Combo - Shimano Stella). If you know the correct answer send it to Okuma's headquarters, and they will most likely never respond.
Anyway, I have a problem with the spool not having a separate hardened lip. I don't fuss about this with lower priced reels, but I draw a line at the $700 mark. If a reel costs that much, I expect it to have a titanium nitride coated lip. These hardened lips have two advantages; firstly hardness means less friction with line which helps with casting distance, particularly when casting wet braid. The effect is small but it's there. Secondly and most significantly, it protects the spool lip from damage if the reel is dropped or rubbed against an abrasive surface. A scratch or dent anywhere on a reel might have no negative effect at all, but when it happens to the spool lip the reel becomes pretty much useless. You don't want to cast braid over a scratched lip that will damage it, let alone the adverse effect it would have on casting distance. Today this is more important than ever, because these big game reels are becoming popular in heavy duty shore and rock fishing, where the environment is more dangerous for reels than on a boat. Some readers have been sending me reports of their incredible catches from rocky shores, and these include huge tuna and rays. Actually I too hit the rocks while testing this Okuma, and the importance of hardened lips became quite real for me
I wasn't there to catch big fish though. Just trying to get some Jack Crevalle which I needed desperately for reasons you'll see at the end of this review. The important part here is that I was landing one that was too heavy to lift with the rod, I carefully put the rod down on the rocks as I grabbed the leader and went down, but as I climbed back up I accidentally pulled on the line which moved the rod's butt and sent it with the Makaira crashing down
My heart literally sank at that moment, because reviewer or not I still paid $800 for it! Thankfully though, and by pure luck, the bail arm took the fall and protected the spool. This is the damage done to the powerful chunky bail arm by a 2 feet fall on those sharp rocks, so imagine the disaster had it landed on the thin spool lip instead. When a reel costs that much I want it to have a hardened lip for safety in hostile environments, especially that the Makaira casts exceptionally well which makes it a very valid choice for this sort of land based fishing.
The back of the spool has another highly effective oil seal to protect the bottom drag components.
Disassembling the spool to reach the bottom drag starts with unscrewing the lower part of the skirt. This is a sensitive operation because it's tightened down with vengeance, and using improper tools or excessive force could damage it. That skirt has a seal to keep water out (red arrow).
After that the ported disk is dropped, which has its own seal as well (red arrow). This frees the single metal drag washer (blue arrow).
Then that metal drag washer can come out, exposing the simple drag clicker mechanism; a sheet metal clicker tongue (blue arrow), which works in conjunction with the clicker disc screwed into the drag washer (red arrow). With expected differences stemming from the different location, the design of this clicker comes straight from the Saltiga. The green arrow points the bottom ball bearing of the spool.
This is how the clicker fits for reassembly (red arrow), before the metal drag washer is inserted on top of it and manoeuvred so that the clicker slips into the disc. The yellow arrow points the single woven carbon drag washer. Another contrast with the Stella SW here is that both Stella 20k and 30k use the same drag components, which results in the 30k having a lower maximum drag due to the wider spool. In the Makaira though the 20k and 30k use different drag components with larger discs in the 30k, therefore both the 20k and 30k Okumas can produce roughly the same maximum drag. The reel has a claimed 30kg (66lb) of maximum drag, and I scaled it to that figure no problems at all.
When reassembling the spool it's important to line the holes in the ported disc with the cuts in the spool, otherwise it will look stupid and slow down water drainage out of the skirt.
The top drag stack (yellow arrow) is of a small diameter and it's secondary to the main drag beneath the spool. The red arrow points the oil seal protecting the top stack, the blue arrow points the free-floating top ball bearing inside its housing, and the green arrow points the flanged bushing that transfers pressure to the stack through the floating bearing without pressure on the bearing itself. That floating bearing, its housing, and the flanged bushing are directly robbed from the Stella.
Here is the original from that Shimano. In the first draft of this review I included more photos of the original deigns nicked by Okuma, but had to cut them out once I realised that the review was becoming too big and needed a trim down. Had to include at least one though since a picture of a loot is worth a thousand words in a police report.
Back to the Makaira
A close up on that top spool bearing. The bearings of this Okuma are all top shelf made by the Japanese company Minebea, which has factories in different countries making different types and sizes. These are the same ball bearings used in the Stella SW and Saltiga.
The back of the drag knob is a single piece of machined aluminium alloy, and it has no perimeter seal. Instead of a perimeter seal, the centre post (blue arrow)....
....sinks into the oil seal of the top stack (red arrow) for a much tighter seal than if the knob had a standard perimeter seal.
And since water can enter form around the knob (red arrow), there are drainage holes across the spool cap to let water out (blue arrows).
The drag operation has been heavily promoted as some sort of innovation, and we were bombarded with promotional material and reviews by "pros" telling us how unique and novel it is. You know those "pros" of course, the guys used by the industry to promote gear in return for money, and we somehow are supposed to believe that they are telling us the honest truth and that they never find a fault in any gear just because all the gear in the world is perfect. Anyway, that groundbreaking and earth shaking "unique" drag operation of the Makaira comes straight from Shimano. It's the "Baitrunner Spool II" feature they put in some of their big pit spools. Geez I wonder why none of the trusted "pros" ever mentioned that, even after I posted that last year in my initial impressions which should refute the ignorance defence.
Take note of the following names so that you can follow the description of the operation. The knob is made of three external sections, the casing (red arrow); this is keyed to the main shaft and does not turn, and it has printed numbers from 1 to 20. The main dial (blue arrow); this main dial does only one full turn then stops. It has a white dot (you'll see it in the next photo) which points to the numbers printed on the casing. Then there is the centre dial (green arrow).
The first and most important rule is that you should NEVER do anything unless the main dial is at the start position with the white dot pointing to zero. With that done, you can proceed to use the centre dial to apply pressure to the drag, pretty much randomly as you begin your learning curve. Stop turning that centre dial at any point, then go back to the main dial which can do only one turn, and turn it to any position from 1 to 20 which will rapidly increase the drag pressure. If the range of drag pressure you get from this single turn of the main dial makes you happy then go ahead and fish, if not, then return the main dial to zero so you can go back to adjusting the small centre dial. I can't stress enough the importance of returning the main dial to zero before turning the centre dial. If you don't do that, you could break the mechanism.
It says so in the manual, and there is a video out there where Okuma stresses this point. Find a way to train your brain to automatically return the main dial to zero before touching the centre one.
That sounds pretty tidy, but real life use quickly exposes the shortcomings of this setup. At very light settings of the centre dial, the main dial moves fine and increases the drag normally. But once you tighten the centre dial to go into the useful range of drag pressure, the main dial increases the drag pressure quite rapidly, meaning a very high rate of drag progression. It varies based on what range you're at, but an average example would be that the amount of increase in drag pressure requiring half a turn of the knob of a Stella, would require only 1/5th of a turn in the Makaira.
Then comes the feel. While others have made strides in improving the feel of the knob's movement using novel springs with better characteristics, the knob of the Okuma has Belleville washers (spring washers shown earlier) that are very hard. That makes adjusting the main dial of the Makaira a challenging task requiring a lot of strength once you reach the region of useful drag pressure. You are working the main dial against too much resistance then, and as you exert that power you also have to restrain the movement since the drag pressure jumps a lot with little movement of the main dial in that useful range.
Yet more issues. They originally made the centre dial smaller than it is now. The original small one made it into the very last pre-production reels, but for actual production they increased its size when they realised it was too small for people have a proper grip on it. The problem here is that they could not increase the width of the main dial as well, because it's limited by the overall diameter of the knob. That meant that the space available for the user to grip the main dial and move it has shrunken since the centre dial is now wider. What happens then is that as you adjust the main dial, you can't keep your fingers from touching and potentially turning the centre dial accidentally. And since moving the centre dial while the main dial is engaged is dangerous as stated earlier, you'll just feel nervous adjusting the main dial while worrying whether or not you're touching and moving the centre one inadvertently. The bigger your fingers are the harder it will be to keep them off the centre dial.
One last problem remains. You want to set the drag. You return the main dial to zero as you should. You adjust centre dial a bit "too much". The you go back to the main dial to increase the drag within the set limits, but all the sudden it's locked and can't move. This is because when you adjusted the centre dial "too much" the internal washers of the knob pushed hard against one another to the point that the cam of the main dial couldn't make the breach in order to begin increasing the pressure. There is no way for you to know when you've turned the centre dial "too much", so that phenomena will keep taking you by surprise and locking the main dial, until by trial and error you might finally know where to stop the centre dial in order for it not to lock the main one. This is not a manufacturing flaw limited to the two reels I purchased. It was in every Makaira I examined including all the pre-production and show pieces. It's an inherent problem arising from the high tension progressive drag in a reel that produces a lot of drag pressure, unlike the big pit Shimano reels this system was originally designed for.
Even if none of these issues existed, the obvious question here is what is the point of a system that creates predefined limits for drag adjustment, and requires zeroing the main dial in order to change those limits to different ones? How would you do this in the middle of the fight? The scenarios that require you to go outside of the pre-defined limits of that single turn are few, but what if? You can't ask the fish you're fighting for a timeout or click "pause" so that you can zero the main dial in order to move the centre dial, test the new limits, then tell the fish to resume. What exactly is the problem they were addressing by this complex setup? I've been fishing since I was 8 and I can't for the life of me recall a time when I wished (or heard someone wishing) that the drag of the reel had limited movement predefined by an extra dial! Is it about rapid drag progression? Can be done by manipulating the threads' angle and the spring's resistance while keeping it a free moving knob that one can use without hitting limits that need a special procedure to change them.
As far as I can tell, this is a glaring example of a desire to claim some innovation for marketing purposes, and in this case it's neither innovative, because it's taken from another company, nor useful or purposeful in anyway shape or form. If this reel ever sells enough to be eyed by custom makers who make aftermarket parts for the Japanese reels, I implore them to try making a normal drag knob for it, although it won't be easy because the amount of thread available on the main shaft is quite small. Actually I beg Okuma itself to make that normal drag knob for those of us who are too stupid to understand the greatness of the original knob, and just make it an option that one can order with the reel for the same price just as we now order it with a left or right handle.
In the beginning of testing I caught some Mackerel and bonito, then later on I travelled to try to catch large Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, but for some reason I had some of the worst luck I've ever met fishing. I hit the spot I always fish, same boat, same skipper, same rigs, but I just failed to hook the fish I wanted. Caught about 18 tunas, but the largest was estimated at about 55kg (~121lb), which was not close to challenging this reel. There were also a dozen or so AJs, the largest of which was ~30kg (66lb), still not a match for the Makaira. Other than that there was nothing but small groupers and the odd Meagre. It was just not going to happen.
This takes us back to why I was on the rocks. After the Mediterranean expedition failed, I decided to go for the reliable sharks from the shore. I knew if I was lucky I would be catching 4" to 5" Blacktips, which is still not a proper test for this reel, but at that point I had decided to make up for the lack of quality with quantity. I can still tell a lot about a reel from extended use even if the fish isn't very big. I had two reels to test at that time, both skunked on the first try because I fished a bad tide around noon and left empty handed. Next time I went back near dark and landed a few Jacks that I needed, bled them and put the bodies on ice for dinner, then took the heads for shark bait. There was a guy shark fishing nearby who had a kayak, we stroke a conversation then took turns dropping bait for each other about 70 yards from shore. The other reel was having a better luck and hooked two Blacktips into the 2.5 hours after dark, then I retired it because I had only 4 baits left and wanted the Makaira to have them. Near midnight though it started thundering and raining, there was no bite, so the guy left, with his kayak of course. I reeled in the bait because I knew that crab have been snacking on it but didn't want to know so I don't have to work, changed the lead to a 3 oz Sputnik to keep it from crawling back to where the crab were, hooked my second to last bait, then like a complete fool went into the water to cast it as far as I could. At that moment I felt like a bad hypocrite. The guy who ends his reviews and email with "stay safe on the water" was holding a graphite rod in the middle of a thunder storm, wading chest deep in shark infested water, holding a bloody bait in hand, and after midnight with no one around to help if something happens. I could've kept this to myself, but I said it as a punishment to self and an act of repentance because that was wrong and stupid. No fish is worth risking your life or limbs for.
Back on shore, rod in spike, on my back feeling bored and can't even play with my phone because of the rain. That's when the drag went off. Lift, push the knob, strike, next thing I knew I was face down in the sand struggling to open the bail so that I won't lose the rod and reel. Regained composure and shut the bail, only to begin one of the toughest fights I've had in a few years. That was no Blacktip, something completely different and much bigger. As much as I hate the procedure of setting the drag, there is no denying of how much I loved its actual performance once it went to work. Starting inertia is non-existent, the response to every movement was very quick, certainly aided by the solid rotor which transferred every pull quickly to the spool with little or no flex, and even with a lot of line out, there were no spikes whenever the spool stopped and moved again. It was about 12 minutes or so when I started feeling warm water hitting my arms. The spool was becoming very hot, and it would heat rain drops and spray them on my arms. That was a moment of struggle between two people, the fisherman who wanted to walk into the water to cool the spool down for a better chance at landing the fish, and the tester who wanted to let it heat so that if it fails he'd know its limitations and write about them. Well, actually there was a third guy who wanted to cut the line and go home to eat pizza in the sweet bed instead of this idiocy, but he's kinda irrelevant because the other two guys never listen to him despite his brilliant line of thinking! The tester won the day, I did not cool the spool down, and the drag kept functioning like a champ.
It was about 20 minutes into this ordeal when I managed to bring it to about 40 yards or so from the shore, then it seemed that it gained extra energy from somewhere as it headed out with renewed force. My arms were exhausted, I'd been nearly flat on my back the entire time, and as the rod was acting as a lever against me, I just pointed the rod down all the way taking it out of the fight and directly using the reel against the torpedoing fish. This is a technique I used years ago when I used to fish for GTs, where at the hookup I would point the rod down with a locked drag to stop the fish from going into the rocks and ravaging my braid, until I can move it into open water. That fish was nothing like a GT though, and as I desperately held into the stem of the reel and wished for a miracle the line went limp. To be frank I didn't feel bad. I was happy it was over. Didn't move for a while, and when lactic acid stopped stinging my muscles I reeled it in, and my whole rig was there including the hook. I hope it didn't tear its mouth or cause damage to that thing. A bull shark is my best guess, but I'll never know. What I knew very well though was that I was holding an impressive piece of equipment. Oh, and I learned too that I'm not as tough as I thought and that fighting big sharks without a harness is crazy.
A rough final tally of the tests shows that in about 180-200 fishing hours I landed about 1.2 tons of fish on the Makaira, all without a single operational issue. I intentionally left it unwashed between trips, and even once left it in a plastic bag overnight just to see if I can make it corrode. Nothing. The reel always felt rigid, and while all spinning reels flex under load including the Makaira, it just flexed less than any reel I've used as far as I can tell. The drag performance was extremely close to that of a Stella, with maybe a tinny edge for the Stella in overall drag smoothness. A more noticeable difference though was the clicker sound, which is kinda muffled in the Makaira unlike the sweet loud ringing of the Stella's. Following that final fight though I did something with the Makaira that I wouldn't dare doing with the Stella. I washed it in the waves and gave the handle a few turns underwater, and that got rid of all the sand. That's more than I can say about myself, as three days later I was still finding sand in my butt crack!!
Back to the review
Your reel will probably have this, but no need to worry. At first I thought it was a finish imperfection, but on close inspection it turned out these were numbers written with a marker at the factory. I know it's too much to ask, but I would really appreciate it if you don't scribble on my $$$ reel.
The bail mechanism. When the bail is opened for a cast, the hinged lever (red arrow) rotates to press down on the rotor brake lever (blue arrow), which then engages the rotor brake ring shown earlier. The mechanism is reliable and very intelligently designed, but that's because it was designed by Daiwa for the Saltiga family where Okuma found it and helped themselves to it. Seriously people, that's just too embarrassing from a company whose motto is "Inspired Fishing". There no inspiration here, and to reflect reality I suggest changing that motto to the more accurate "Inspired Plagiarism". They don't need to steal this one from me. I surrender the copyright for this motto and give them full permission to use it and even print it on T-Shirts. If this happens I want one in size L please!
The line roller is a personal dream coming true. A simple straightforward construction with an extremely hard roller protected by an oil seal on each side. No water is coming in, and there isn't a hundred tiny parts to fumble with. This is Van Staal surf grade sealing. The screw has a washer at the head, and although that screw has no retaining system, its unusual length and the properly applied thread locker from factory guarantee it won't come loose.
The ball bearing (red arrow) is press fitted into the roller and permanently attached to it. When I first opened the box, one of the things I did was to roll the line roller with my finger. I felt a problem right away. Don't know how to describe it, but it did not rub or anything like that. Rather it felt "bumpy". I'm no genius, but right there and before opening it I knew what it was because of past experiences. That was a case of "bearing in distress". Opened it to exclude other factors and see how it feels, and indeed with everything else off the bearing felt the same. I am quite certain that the recess in which they pressed the bearing was undersized, so the bearing is cramped and stressed making it feel bumpy. I was familiar with the feeling because in the past whenever I put a ball bearing in a vice to work the shields off or something similar, the bearing would feel bumpy from the pressure of the vice.
That bumpiness doesn't stop the roller from rotating when there is any sort of load on the line which is good, but that's not the only worry here. The line roller's bearing is the hardest working part in any spinning reel. Think about this; when you spin the handle once, the drive gear works for one cycle, the drive gear's bearings work for one cycle as well, the pinion and its bearings work for 4 to 6 cycles depending on the ratio, and the oscillation gear and it's bearing work for half a cycle. The line roller on the other hand would do around 100 cycles give or take depending on retrieve ratio and the roller's circumference. See how much more it works relative to other parts? When the bearing is stressed like that it will keep going, but it will wear faster internally. For example if your use required it to be replaced in 4 years when it's running freely, it would need replacing in 2 years for the same work if it's cramped. Earlier in the review I said that I will tell you something about the bearing inside the rotor nut, which is permanently press fitted as well, and that's it. That rotor nut bearing is cramped into an undersized recess as well, although not to the same degree, and since its bumpiness is much less and is barely felt it's not a big deal for me.
Once I finished checking the first reel's line roller, I checked the second reel too although without disassembling the roller. It felt the same. I find myself in a unique situation here. Usually when I find a problem that could potentially be a limited issue, I try to check about 5 different pieces to see if it's a general problem or a limited one. But with very few production Makairas out at the time of writing, I could not locate any other reels that I could physically examine and assess. Since my two reels had that line roller problem it's possible that other reels have it, yet two reels is below the threshold I have for definitively stating that there is a general issue. I'm not making a definitive statement here, but my feelings and past experiences make me strongly believe that other reels have this defect and that it needs to be addressed. In the beginning of the review I mentioned that when I sold the second reel I took $40 off the price, and that was the reason. The buyer said he couldn't care less but I just didn't feel right selling it at full price with that issue.
They put some sort of a sealant substance in the connection between the roller's housing and the bail wire, which keeps water and salt out for a corrosion-free solid connection. Admirable work at the assembly line. The bail wire is aluminium by the way, which makes it less resistant to pumps than the stainless steel one of the Saltiga or the titanium one in the Stella, still it's light weight and can't flip itself closed by its own momentum during a cast which is a positive.
The Manual that comes with the reel states the following
Just like that. They did not say "one of the toughest" or "one of the most durable", rather said unreservedly that it's the toughest and most durable bar none. Bold claims like these rarely carry any merit, but this is one of those rare cases where they actually do carry merit. Toughness? I am convinced that they indeed built the strongest spinning reel on earth. From the indestructible handle to the forged chassis to the powerful mechanism, I don't believe any other reel is as strong as the Makaira. This might mean absolutely nothing to you if previously available reels already did everything you wanted them to do, or it might mean the world to you if your use is so extreme that existing reels somehow keep failing you.
Most durable, meaning longevity? Another mission accomplished in my book. With first class bearings, quality stainless steel gearing with a forged component, accurately fit parts, a clutch whose longevity is well established, and the entire oscillation system being machined, I can't think of any other reel that's more durable. Not only does metallurgy state this, but real life testing and comparative observations show this as well. I can speak of that "comparativeness" with a bit of confidence since my pool of observations has been formed by decades of fishing and examining almost every variation and generation of a mainstream spinning reel you can think of.
That said, long service life of a spinning reel is more than just the parts. In order for these parts to keep serving you for many years you must be able to keep the reel itself functioning, which means the ability to get spares for the wear and tear parts in 5, 10, or 15 years. Generally speaking, the wear and tear parts in a modern spinning reel are the line roller's ball bearings, the drag washers, the rubber seals, and to a lesser degree the anti-reverse clutch. Bearings, clutches, seals, and often drag washers are not made by the tackle brand itself, and usually we can get them from the suppliers if we need to. That's not an option in the Makaira though, because some of these are permanently attached to parts of the reel. For example you can't order the line roller's ball bearing and replace it because its permanently pressed into the line roller itself. Unless you have complex machinery to get it out, you will always need Okuma to sell you the entire roller with the bearing inside. Same goes for the clutch. The INA 1416 is easily obtainable from multiple sources, yet it's permanently pressed into the housing unit and you'll need Okuma to sell you that whole unit. You probably know where I'm going with this; planned obsolescence. If that extreme durability is to mean anything in real life, Okuma can't follow in the footsteps of the others in dropping the reel every handful of years to sell a "new" generation, then discontinuing parts and service for the previous one in another handful of years. What good is a Makaira with a flawless drivetrain if it's collecting dust in your garage because you can't get a wear and tear part? I don't know what Okuma will do in this regard, but seeing how almost everyone is following the Japanese model with reverence, I wouldn't be surprised if in 5 or so years they discontinue this one and release a "Makaira 2" with the "Orgasmic Typhoonic Rotor", then a few years later will say to us no more parts for Makaira 1. I wish they break that model, but I'm not very hopeful. So, yes, it's the most durable reel in existence, but with a caveat.
Unmatched toughness and durability being achieved in my book, I'll throw in another superlative of my own. With the exception of dedicated surf fishing reels, no other reel produced today has the Makaira's resistance to elements. Thanks to extreme -almost excessive- sealing, well thought out drain holes and anti-clog cuts, and anodised finish that puts the Japanese duo to shame, this reel is more capable of withstanding harsh environment and mistreatment than any other boat reel I know of. To me this translates to reliability, and although I'd never do it willingly, if I was ever forced to go on a trip with only one reel and no backup, I would choose this reel. Being easily opened for inspection and maintenance only adds to this reliability and dependability.
The Makaira is not without its downsides though. The drag setting function has been explained and you can make of it whatever you wish. I find it to be ridiculously redundant, obnoxious, and counter-intuitive, but since my opinion is not in anyway the definitive truth or the end all, I will put the drag setting thing in the subjective column. Then there is the tightness which will also go into the subjective basket since I myself don't find it objectionable considering the high protection it brings along, but it remains a potential downside because many will not like it. Finally there is the weight, and since these are cold non-negotiable numbers not subject to feelings or personal interpretations, the weight of this reels is objectively an issue. Not only that half a day of casting poppers or a few hours of jigging would leave me completely drained of energy every time, but the next day my shoulders would feel tender, and even the muscles in my palm would be strained in pain from holding the rod with that thing attached to it. The sight of my half-clenched hand the following day would bring the tragic fate of Ray McKigney to my mind, and for passing moments I found myself wondering if it could really happen to me! The reel is THIS heavy.
I did not mention the line roller bearing in this list, because unlike these inherent issues the roller is a defect that must be addressed and eliminated. I'm not looking for an acknowledgement, and for all I care Okuma can go the way of denying it while fixing it quietly as several companies have done in the past. I just want it addressed and fixed in order for me to score it and potentially add it to the top picks page, and to begin recommending it to readers who come to me with certain criteria that the Makaira meets. I can imagine your surprise reading this after I took my sweet time listing every quibble I have with the reel, but a fact remain that despite the downsides, the blatant copying of others' designs, and the company's marketing rubbish, the reel still scores high in my book because it stands tall when it comes to the most important aspects for me, and I suspect for many anglers. None of this will happen or be valid though unless the roller's issue has been addressed. If this happens I will add the usual note in red font to the top of this review telling you about it, and the Makaira would potentially appear in other places on this site.
One final word of caution. Be wary of "reports" about the Makaira failing, being smoked, crapping out, or whatever other terms that could be used. Established products have vast networks of sponsored captains, dealers, retailers, and employees who won't be very happy with the newcomer, and you need to be vigilant. Take everything you hear with a grain of salt, verify stories, check the sources and find out if they stand to gain something, and always demand proof and demonstrable facts. Keep on mind that everything fails including the best products, so a case here or two there are quite normal. I'm in a good position to receive reports from around the world, be it from regular anglers or industry contacts, and if I ever think there is an issue or a failure rate that is out of the usual for similar products, I'll tell you. In the past I publicly took reels off my top picks, and announced major problems and recalls despite official denials, and it won't be any different here if that is ever the case.
The review is over. Now the big three manufacturers have flagship reels, one of the two conglomerates has just released the second generation of their flagship spinner, which leaves only the other conglomerate without one. A little naughty bird though tells me that this might change soon, and if it happens and we finally have five reels out and about I might do something interesting with them. A quick advice; do not to buy the new Fin-Nor Offshore with the black handle stem and grey spool until you read its review and decide if you want it or not. You can continue to buy the old one with the golden handle and spool though, of course after factoring all the usual considerations when buying a discontinued reel. The new one will be reviewed later this summer, but the Penn Torque II might come before it. It all depends on your feedback/requests and my luck in finding the fish I want. For now though I'll just relax and eat a large bucket of KFC, and you go shower because you smell terrible and I hate you!
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June, 15th, 2017