2016 Fin-Nor Offshore : The Review
Just trying my Australian, tell me if I it was convincing! I really love Aussie readers because they're always cheerful and joking, but sadly I'm never able to accept their invitations to fish downunder because Wolf Creek movies scarred me for life, particularly the second one. Now whenever I hear someone singing "Watch me wallabies feed mate" I lose bladder control for a brief second.
Anyway, a quick note about the reactions to the previous review. If you are one of those who complained about its length, you're not alone. I counted roughly a hundred such complaints or criticisms from people who thought it was too big, some of whom even said they had to read it in two or three sittings. A hundred or so anglers is slightly over one percent of the number of reads in the first 28 days, still I respect everyone of them enough to address their concerns. It was long indeed to the point that I suffered double vision and headaches on/off for days after I finished it, but the real question is did you feel that any part was unnecessary? Unlike reviewing the latest reincarnation of a reel whose series existed for years with familiar features, this one was a new platform with different manufacturing techniques, alloys that are new to spinners, hybrid systems, and even something as simple as the handle joint which is usually tackled in 10 words needed a big chunk of text because it was different. If you ever see me rambling unnecessarily let me have it, otherwise please take a second and try to see the need for it. This is a preemptive defence because there is another new platform coming to the market in the future, and you could get hit with another enormous review next year
The reel reviewed today is quite unusual in terms of production life. The first Fin-Nor Offshore having been introduced in 2006, it remained in production for 10 years before the second generation was released last year. Today reel models gets retired every few years to make you buy again, so 10 years is quite impressive. The first generation went through a tough teething process that saw it initially landing on my Black List for a while, but they sorted the problems out and it made a dramatic transformation from the black list to one of my top picks for budget offshore reels until its production ended. The following is my take on the new generation, the 2016 Offshore.
Externally it's basically the first generation reel, only with some changes in colour scheme and finish; in the first generation the handle stem and spool had golden coloured finish, in this new generation the handle stem in black and the spool is grey. Also the rotor and two body inserts around the handle's openings changed colour from black to metallic grey. Keep this on mind because colour scheme is a quick way to tell which generation you are looking at, otherwise you'll have to look closely at the reel's seat where the new generation will have an "A" in its model number, so it's 4500A to 9500A instead of 4500 to 9500 in the old one. That extra A is also found on the box and in the literature of the new generation, but not on the spool which still says XX500 without an A.
Looks wise, the reel has a retro design reminiscent of some 1980s reels, something that goes beyond skin deep as you'll see later. I wouldn't call it ugly, yet I wouldn't call it beautiful either. It just looks old and the styling looks obsolete. You can decide whether you like it or not, but to me the aesthetics are just uninteresting and boring.
Made in China, and has individual serial numbers next to the model number.
What comes with it
Not much. A manual and a warranty flyer.
The 2016 Offshore is a full metal reel that comes in 6 sized from 4500 to 9500, in two gear ratios. The 4500 and 5500 are 4.7:1, and the rest are 4.4:1. The ratio is on the slow side, but the wide spool of the largest sizes speeds up the retrieve a bit. The 2016 Offshore is priced from $150 to $180, but the going street price is about 20% less, which makes it a true "budget" reel. Being very heavy reels, the advertised weights are expectedly not dead accurate, but the discrepancy isn't bad enough to be considered a severe misrepresentation. For example the 9500 reviewed today is advertised as being 38.9 oz (~1103 grams), but in reality it weighs 39.2 oz (1111 grams). They shaved 0.3 oz in published weight, possibly to make it stay in the 38.XX territory for psychological effects.
The handle of the reel is pretty straightforward. A solid stem, ending on one side with a double threaded stainless shaft that attaches to both sides of the reel, and on the other with a rubberised grip. The 4500 and 5500 have a standard rectangular grip, while sizes 6500 and up have an extra long grip.
Being a budget reel some detail is not top notch; within the first few hours of use the printing on the grip started fading away.
The grip is permanently bolted in place and can't be taken out for cleaning or replacement with a different style knob. Another characteristic of budget reels.
Where the handle enters the body, there is a rubber seal (red arrow). To move the handle to the other side you must unscrew the entire insert (blue arrow) and screw it to the opposite side, so you'll be taking the seal with it to the side you're using. As seen here the side cover can easily be removed to access the gearbox by taking out the 4 screws, without the need to remove the rotor.
The other side. The protective cap has no sealing, but it provides enough "splash-protection" for the applications this reel would typically be used for.
The very simple gearbox.
The main shaft is anchored in the back of the body for added support under pressure.
In a minimalist design the traverse block slides directly on the body without friction reducers. The connection between this block and main shaft is different to the common style; instead of screws going directly into the shaft, there is a flat area in it and a plate holds it in place. This allows the block to be smaller and lighter.
The plate is quite thick.
The shaft itself is a behemoth at a diameter of 6.4 mm (0.25 inch). A shaft made to handle high loads.
This is the first significant change from the first generation. In the previous model the oscillation gear was an aluminium alloy, in this 2016 version it's machined brass. It has an embedded stainless steel post for a strong connection with the traverse block.
The gear is mounted directly on the body without washers or a screw to hold the gear in place. Another manifestation of the minimalist design philosophy of this reel; absolutely no bills and whistles, and nothing that isn't necessary for the reel to operate. Now that the oscillation gear is brass this direct mounting is not a big deal, but in the previous version the aluminium gear rubbing against the aluminium frame caused some wear to develop with extended use, although nothing significant. This brass gear therefore is a welcome update.
The oscillation gear is actuated by a brass gear (red arrow) that is keyed to the shaft of the drive gear.
A close up on that gear. Very tough construction with a large contact area for strength.
That gear can't be removed from inside the gearbox. If you need to take it out, unscrew the body cap on the right side then push the gear and it will pop out with the ball bearing. Overall the oscillation system is very solid, and the line lay cycle is well timed.
This is how it lays the line. Not bad at all. You'll notice that I filled the spool with mono, which I'll explain later.
The machined stainless steel drive gear is made of two pieces, a shaft and a plate that are pressed and bolted together by three bolts.
The arrows point to where the bolts are inserted, and the circle shows the head of one of them from inside. The security of gear assembly in spinners is quite important to avoid separation between the gear plate and shaft, particularly in heavy duty reels where the handle will come under a lot of pressure. Theoretically a spinning reel shouldn't be used as a winch, but in real life and in the heat of fighting a fish it frequently happens. I'll discuss different gear assemblies in future writings not to veer too much, but back to the Offshore the gear is put together quite well, and both the shaft and plate are of sound design. Early reels of the previous generation had oversized holes drilled in the plate to reduce weight, which led to failures, but they rectified that and reduced their size and repositioned them for better strength, and that improved design of course made it into this second generation.
About 70% of the tooth surface comes into contact with the pinion, which is quite satisfactory. Machining is capable of more accuracy, but considering the cost I can't complain. Wear rate is very good, and the gear maintained its integrity without surface damage, chips, or dents.
The machined stainless steel pinion goes for extra strength through sheer size, as opposed to special grade steels or treatments that would make it expensive. Larger parts are heavy, but they achieve the required toughness without pushing the cost too much.
The size of the teeth is impressive. A powerful pinion that displayed very little wear, and together with the drive gear form a coupling that should last for many years with proper care.
Continuing the theme of strength through size, the main ball bearing is THE largest I've seen in any mainstream spinning reel made in the past 30 years. Heavy but very robust.
The pinion has a secondary bearing inside the gearbox (blue arrow). Seen in photo is the unusual construction of the pinion post which has a stainless steel hood top instead of being a one piece post cast/machined integrally into the body. This hood takes less space than a classic post, which would've been quite big due to the size of the pinion and main shaft.
That main shaft has no seals or special protection where it sinks into the rotor, again in a minimalist design where absolutely nothing is there unless it was essential to the running of the reel. I advise covering the nut and base of the shaft with grease for protection by users, and repeating this every once in a while depending on use.
A cheap spinner that is built like a Soviet tank externally with tough gearing internally is too good to be true, so there was always going to be a trade-off. The weight is certainly a part of it, but the main part of that trade-off is found beneath the chunky rotor; the anti-reverse. The Fin-Nor Offshore has a classic ratchet anti-reverse instead of an instant one. Here we have a carrier (red arrow) mounted on the pinion, and if the pinion rotates backwards the wire spring on that carrier (blue arrow) would push the anti-reverse dog (yellow arrow) outwards to engage the teeth in the back of the rotor (green arrow) and stop it. If you look carefully at the back of the rotor you'd notice an area where there are no teeth at 8 O'clock.
The differences between this ratchet system and the instant one are numerous. The obvious difference is of course that in a ratchet system the rotor will move backwards before it meets a stop, while an instant anti-reverse that is designed well would stop the rotor immediately without backward movement. That movement then sudden stoppage in a ratchet create a jolt and smacking noise that some may find annoying, and the movement is even bigger in the area where there are no teeth pointed in the previous paragraph. With extended use on big fish the tip of the dog (red circle) will get gradually deformed because of that slamming, then it will need to be replaced. This is based on long experience with the first generation, not speculations. On the other hand the ratchet anti-reverse is not worked at all when you are not fighting a fish, unlike the instant anti-reverse clutch which is constantly working (and wearing) even if you have no fish on the line. This means that the ratchet anti-reverse can last forever if you are not catching big fish in high volume, while instant anti-reverse clutches have a certain life span that varies based on use, design, and materials.
In terms of toughness, the Fin-Nor's ratchet brake is very strong, but it will never match the strength of a well designed heavy duty instant clutch in a quality reel. Translation; no matter what you hear, when it comes to the largest fish that put reels under immense pressure there is no alternative to the clutches of the big three (Stella/Makaira/Saltiga). The Offshore's ratchet would not survive that most extreme fishing without a heavy toll or even a failure. All of this seems confusing, but these are just different characteristics in terms of longevity and strength that you need to consider in order to decide whether the ratchet anti-reverse suits your particular fishing or not.
Bail mechanism is simple and straightforward reliable, and here they departed from the classic design and put a coil spring. It would have been a disaster if they had stuck to the classic theme and put a wire spring here because these suck monkey balls and are one of the biggest headaches in old reels!
The bail is closed by slamming into a protrusion coming of the stem, just like in the good old days when little boys didn't have phones to watch porn on and girls didn't wear those horrible shorts that expose the lower portion of their butts. That antique bail closure is reliable, but I couldn't care less because I hate all sorts of automatic bail closures. Manual is the way to go.
The line roller (red arrow) is sturdy and has a tough finish, and it runs on two synthetic bushings (blue arrow). Bushings are a good choice for budget reels where they won't spend the money on sealing to protect the ball bearings in this most corrosion-susceptible location, but in more expensive reels I expect protected bearings. This is why I was dismayed to see a bushing in the $350 Slammer 3 in one of the cheapest moves seen in the industry in recent years. The bail arm (yellow arrow) is as big as the rest of this reel. It is metal, although the black finish seems to make some people think that it's plastic judging by several email enquiries that I received. Just to put your minds at ease I scratched the finish in a hidden place, and here it is
The bail arm is metal for sure.
All sizes of the Offshore have a main drag beneath the spool. The clicker is mounted on the drag plate and can be easily maintained and lubed.
This is the second actual upgrade in this reel. The brake washer in this second generation is a full carbon fibre one. In the 2006 version it was a lower grade hybrid of carbon and other filler fibres.
There is a single metal drag washer right underneath it.
The top stack is secondary, and it has also been upgraded to full carbon fibre washers (red arrow). The blue arrow points the synthetic bushing in the centre of the spool for smooth rotation, which is the same as in the previous generation. Other than the upgraded washers, the parts of the spool remain the same as in the 2006 model.
As you might have seen in the field pictures in the previous review, the Offshore was tested along the Makaira. While naturally I focused more on the other reel because it was an unfamiliar platform, I still managed to give the Offshore a good proper beating. It landed AJs, bluefin tuna, groupers, and blacktip sharks, in addition to hours of trolling catching bonito, kawakawa, and mackerel. The biggest of the mix were two bluefin tuna each estimated about 60kg (~132#) and one grouper easily over 75kg (~165#), none of which was a problem for the reel. With the Offshore being not very pleasant to fish with due to the enormous weight, the drag partially made up for it with a confidence-inspiring performance and smoothness that exceeds what's normally expected from reels in this price range. The drag was steady and didn't fluctuate, it handled heat very well, and with the full carbon construction I have no doubt that the washers will have an extended service life. They rate it at 60# (27.2kg) of maximum drag, and it output that in dry land tests without an issue or much flexing of the powerful chassis.
The challenge though is arriving at high drag settings with this annoying drag knob. The knob doesn't have enough gripping surface, and fingers can barely cling to the shallow bars as one cranks the drag up. What makes it even worse is that the progression of the drag is rudimentary where the knob will turn a lot without much increase in drag pressure, then at the last three-quarters of a turn or so you will get an exponential increase in drag along with a similar increase on resistance from the knob's internal spring, all as you struggle to grip the knob. This comes straight from the previous generation, and in both reels I hated the knob and the drag progression. It's not a deal breaker or something that I couldn't live with, nevertheless it's a nuisance that I could've done without.
The knob has protective seals to keep water out of the top drag stack. The second of only two seals in this radically minimalistic reel.
So far the 2016 Offshore seems like a successful effort to improve an already good reel, but unfortunately this comes to a halt when we reach the spool finish. The spool finish of the first generation was a golden coloured anodising that had a perfectly smooth surface, but they changed it in this new generation to a grey finish that is not smooth at all. I don't want to say "rough" because it's not the right word, but it's not smooth. The best analogy I can find for it is the difference between running your fingernail on a glass window then on a wooden table. Both are smooth in their own way, but the feel is different and the resistance is more on the wood. The old spool is the glass in this analogy, and the new one is the wood.
Not that it's something that a picture can capture, but here is a macro closeup shot. The problem with this new finish is that it creates more friction with the line at the spool lip when you cast, and it's worse with braid than with mono. Earlier on you saw the reel filled with mono, that's because after the first few outings I just didn't like the way braid would tug and struggle against the spool lip during casts so I changed to mono which feels slightly better against that finish. I wish I could say that it isn't too bad or that it wasn't disruptive, but it is, and it affects casting distance with braid past any point that I may find tolorable. Next time you are in a shop hold one and run your fingernail on the spool's lip and you'll immediately pick up on that weird abnormality.
In conclusion, the Fin-Nor Offshore is a strong reel, which in order to remain low-cost achieves its strength via larger and heavier sections rather than expensive alloys or special forming processes. The first version had an excellent track record in durability, and I have no reason to think this one is any less durable. Actually with the upgraded oscillation gear it can only be better. The higher grade drag washers is an improvement as well, although instead of being thankful for it I find myself criticising them for not including these in the previous model considering that the cost difference is not in any way prohibitive. Being largely the same reel as the 2006 model it naturally retained the simplicity and the easy access to the gearbox for maintenance, both of which are most welcome traits.
It also retains the downsides of the previous version, namely the ratchet anti-reverse and the weight that makes it a perfect home defence tool since you can easily bludgeon a burglar to death with it. Unfortunately a new disadvantage was introduced into this 2016 version with that unfriendly spool finish. Is this a bad reel? Is it a good one? Actually this time I'm not going to answer this question. You need to make a big cup of coffee, then pour it in the sink and make a smaller one because too much coffee can raise your blood pressure, then think carefully if it's a suitable choice for your particular fishing or not, taking in consideration all the pluses and minuses. For example if casting distance is of paramount importance to you, this reel will not be the best choice. If you are doing dynamic fishing for long periods, the weight might drain your energy quickly. If you'll mainly jig you need to consider how the rotor's back-slapping will affect you, etc. If on the other hand you need strength and much drag pressure more than anything else it would fit the bill. It would also be a good choice if you're doing static fishing where the bait/lure will go out then the rod will be stuck in holder as in shore sharking, or if the reel will be inserted in a gunnel during trolling or drifting where the weight wont affect you. I do consider it a step down from the previous generation because the spool finish issue outweighs the improved oscillation gear and the better drag washers, still it remains a decent reel that can meet certain needs at a budget.
Keep watching the News page because new material will be coming at a higher frequency than you're used to, and as always be safe on the water.
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September, 3rd, 2017