2019 Shimano Stella SW (SWC) : The Review

Oi lads and lasses

A couple of quick thoughts then we'll get to it. Over the past months I could feel the frustration in your messages rushing this one, but time is and will always be needed in order to find fishing opportunities and put reels to real life work. These reviews are never solely about how a reel is built, rather the core of any review is how build drives function, and only these pesky fish can tell me anything about that function. Your impatience is very flattering though even as I continue to wonder why anybody in their right mind would want to read my nonsensical rambling and idiotic opinions.

Also, I'm trying my best to adapt to the latest trends, but some changes in technology are too momentous for me to react immediately; for some time now the site's statistics told me this

Phones have become the most used devices to access the site decisively replacing desktops/laptops. I'm aware of some compatibility issues you face when reading on your phones, particularly freezing due to the size of some reviews and the need to keep moving the screen right and left to read because of the site's static horizontal resolution of 1000 pixels. I apologise for it and am exploring turning the site to a more dynamic environment that automatically fits any screen, but this requires more than a year to complete. Until that happens I'll do my best to control the size of articles and compress pictures even further, starting with the one you're reading now which has been trimmed down removing all unnecessary photos or anecdotes, and some of the things that I usually picture individually were shot in combined photos etc. I appreciate your understanding during this transitional period.

I rarely hear from women in my mail box, and these are often ones looking for a nice gift for their fisherman husband/boyfriend/dad. Most of the time they know little to nothing about fishing, yet some would still mention having heard the name "Stella" uttered with reverence by the fishermen in the family. There certainly isn't a bigger testament to the reputation of a product than being known by people who have no interest in the subject, and in the world of fishing very few names have the prestige of the "Stella" name. Opposite to what most believe, the principle of a purposefully built luxurious spinning reel did not originate with the Stella or even with Shimano, rather the honour goes to Daiwa's Tournament EX of 1989. Still, today the Stella's name has become synonymous with luxury and quality, despite instances when in my opinion the reels did not live up to expectations. Today we look at the latest incarnation in the saltwater series, the SW-C or the 2019 Stella SW as it's more commonly known in Japan.

For the first time in a very long time, the new Stella SW did not change its colours!

I first broke the news and posted pictures on December 5th, roughly six weeks before any official word, and since the new reel has the same colour scheme as the 2013 model and there was no corroborating information anywhere about a new Stella, some assumed that I got confused and that there wasn't really a new one. Even some long time readers who got in touch still appeared suspicious despite my reassurance that it was real. Fun times!

Keeping the colour scheme makes sense to me, because that black and gold combination is very eye-pleasing. What doesn't make sense is having an arbitrary rule that colour must completely change with every new generation, even if the previous one felt just right. I hope they won't change it in future editions and will embrace it as the official SW colour scheme.

Looking past the colours though reveals significantly updated visuals, such as new body sculpting that creates a more compact gearbox and the reshaped bump housing the secondary set of oscillation gearing.

Completely new rotor design. Sleeker looking, the angled rotor arm bases are positively aggressive, but that silver top is visually intrusive and I think would've looked less so in a black finish. The porting in that silver top looks too futuristic and certainly veers away from that classic reserved elegance that Stellas usually have.

To my absolute elation the design of the handle hood and joint is a complete departure from the abomination that was in the 2013 SW model. They also did away with the trashy looking golden handles that used to come with some high speed models in the previous two generations, and now all models come with a lovely black handle. To differentiate between high speed and low speed models in the new SWC, the HG and XG versions will have subtle golden highlights in the slits of the handle's hood and the cap that goes on the opposite side as seen in the above photo of my 14000XG. In PG models these highlights will be silver.

The drag knob now matches the colour of the body, and they removed all text from the spool cap. That whole "X Rigid Drag blah blah" on the previous model's spool cap looked corny and made it look more of a pamphlet than an actual reel.

That spool cap is now split into two levels, giving it a very appealing appearance compared to the bulky single level cap of the previous SW. That's a last minute decision though, as I've seen late prototypes of this 2019 model that had the old spool cap of the 2013 reel. Whomever is responsible for this late change deserves a fully paid Hawaiian trip, while to be honest those who did the aesthetics of the previous Stella SW deserve an all inclusive vacation but in the Dominican republic instead!! Outch, too early? Sorry, couldn't resist!

I've mentioned aggressiveness earlier, but nothing is nearly as aggressive as these new spool cuts. Sure, the cuts of the previous generation were aggressive in the sense of them saying "show me that damn fish and let's get some action", but the new cuts are pretty much screaming "yank those bloody fish in, shove me down their throats until they choke, then take me home where I'll beat you up and kidnap your dog"! As seen in the photo these are not simple flat cuts with chamfered edges as in previous Stellas, rather they are three-dimensional ones with varying depths and internal angles. In addition to looking mean they also reduce weight because more metal is removed. For that same purpose, the text on the skirt of the new Stella is vertical instead of the traditional horizontal orientation in order to provide more space for these weight-reducing cuts.

Not all weight-reduction measures were successful though. The bail arm was reshaped and its height reduced at the bottom, but removing the metal from that area left the bushing exposed and protruding creating this terrible eyesore. Of course this bushing comes from the previous model where it was buried inside the thicker bail arm, and one wouldn't think that the original artistic designer drew the flowing lines of the reel then intentionally interrupted them with an upward sticking washer. This bushing can't be made smaller because it barely covers the screw, and without it loose braid would come in contact with the screw's head. On the practical level it does fine, but aesthetically it's almost criminal.

Ugly bushing aside, this picture captures the much improved visuals of the SWC. The red arrows point where the body shaping takes the beautiful form of different surfaces coming close to merging but not exactly lining up, reminiscent of seawater swirls around a rock. The blue arrow points the gear shaft housing emerging assertively from a deep depression in the compact body. And the green arrow points to where the flange of the body sinks inside the rotor, with a newly added silver flange shield extending backwards to act as a first hurdle against water intrusion.

Overall, looks wise the 19' Stella SW has a couple of unsightly features, but it certainly is a much better looking reel than the previous SWB. The move towards more futuristic design aspects though risks making the reel look generic, because once it departs from its trademark restrained traditional style it has nothing left, and it certainly can't compete with Daiwa in the opposite realm of insane ultra modern design lines. I now sound like one of those fashion gurus at Academy Awards arrivals, so I better move on from looks to real stuff.

Made in Japan, of course.

Since the colour of the Stella SW's box usually matches the reel's colour scheme, the box is black just like the previous model. It comes with a bottle of oil, a spool band, a bag of spool shims, the extra handle axle needed to change the winding side, schematics, a general spinning reels' manual, a Stella SW dedicated manual, a pamphlet with additional Stella SW information, warranty papers that differ based on your location, and the reel's bag.

Great quality bag, double pocketed to keep the handle separate from the body.

The Stella SW is the saltwater version of the Stella line. The number of models changes with each generation according to what Shimano believes the market demands, so for example the 2013 generation had 14 models, the 2008 one had 13, the 2001 edition had 10 models, etc. Of course that's for the Japanese market, but sometimes certain export markets don't get all the models based on local needs. The price of the new Stella did not change from the past generation in Japan, but export prices do change based on several variables such as currency exchange rates, the pricing of the competition, expected sales etc. For the American market the prices have been reduced by roughly 15%, and I'm using American prices as a guide since there is generally no value added tax in the USA unlike some other places where up to 20% tax is added to the price. The reels aren't usually released all at once, rather they get spread over a few months, and in rare instances with very late arrivals such as the previous 6000XG which was released almost 4 years after that generation's debut. The 2019 Stella SW was initially released in 3 models, joined later by 2 more, all in the mid size group 8000/10000/14000. More size groups will be coming, and when that happens I'll come back to this review and insert size-specific information. For example it would now say that models X, Y, and Z have manual bail return, but after more models come out I'd add that models T, U, and V have automatic bail closure, etc.      .

Size 8000 of the new Stella is designated for use with braid only. There is a lot of speculation floating around, but the real reason for it is a bit complex and requires a background story; in the previous 2013 generation sizes 8000, 10000, and 14000 shared the same rotor, the same distance of spool oscillation up and down, but had different spool diameters of 61, 66, and 68.6 millimetre respectively. Since the spool diameter of the 8000 is relatively smaller than its sisters, Shimano decided to give it a dedicated smaller rotor in the new 2019 generation, which reduces weight and makes the reels look more proportionate. The distance of spool oscillation though remains the same as its sisters, which means that at the extreme ends of spool positions the line may be at a very acute angle with the line roller which might cause mono to slip on the spool and cause erratic drag performance and casting issues. Anyway, from some experimenting around I'd say that you'll be fine with a mono top shot as long as it's not very thick. A ballpark figure would be around 0.40 mm (0.015 inch) thick at most, but that remains my personal estimate and exceeding it a little might still work for you.

Another consequence of the 8000 size having its own dedicated rotor is that spools are no longer interchangeable between the 2019 Stella SW 8000 on one side, and the 2019 Stella SW 10000/14000 on the other side. Spools remain interchangeable between the 10000 and 14000 sizes though. I created this simple diagram to help you quickly figure it out, and if you have specific questions about interchangeability between the 2019 models and the previous 2013 models, contact me and I'll let you know. Don't want to clutter this space by including the complex relation with the previous generation as well.

For the reels released so far Shimano claims 25kg (55lbs) of maximum drag, which I believe is utter rubbish and one of the worst cases I've seen of drag power inflation. The 14000 size with a filled spool, which is how one actually fishes them, barely did 17.4kg (~38lbs). I tried again on a virtually empty spool to see if that's where the claimed figure comes from and it did 19.8kg (~44lbs). So I believe that even in a completely useless state without much line the actual maximum drag is inflated by almost 27%, and in a proper usable state the drag is inflated by 44%. Absolutely disgusting. For these tests the drag knob was tightened till it stopped, using a reasonable amount of force that an average male would produce. If dangerous overtightening is used more could be generated, but that is not how it's supposed to be done and even that would not output the claimed 25kg in my opinion. I believe this number to be pure fiction. Daiwa claims a maximum of 15kg (33lbs) for equivalent Saltigas in this size class, which is realistic and respectful to anglers. Moving on...

The new Stella SW has a full metal frame of cast aluminium alloy, and it lost a little bit of weight compared to the previous model, so my 14000 actually weighs 680 grams (~24 oz), which is about half an ounce lighter than the 13' model. Its advertised weights are generally accurate within 5 grams (0.17 oz) margin. The new SWC is fully sealed, despite what one of the brochures that come with it would lead you to believe

Well, actually not sure what exactly it's trying to say since it mentions that it's not fully waterproof but still tells you to avoid submerging it "for an extended period of time", meaning it can be submerged indeed. On Shimano's site though things are clearer

IPX ratings are a naive marketing tool with principles that can't be applied with any uniformity to objects with complex structures such as fishing reels. To realistically evaluate a reel's water resistance one needs to have full understanding of its build, possible water entry points, the type of protection at each, and the difference in sealing performance between operational and non-operational phases at each of these points. This can't possibly be substituted with a silly nozzle test or similar. I only included the above image to show that Shimano's promotion of "IPX8" rating makes it clear that they consider it to be fully sealed and submersible. Anyway, my own take is that the SWC is waterproof, and that on my own sealing spectrum it sits higher than the previous generation, slightly below the Makaira, and considerably below the Van Staal X series. I'd say you can submerge it for as long as you want at depths not higher than a human's height, and a quick spin underwater will not do damage but operating it underwater for any length of time could result in mildly harmful leaks. I'm certainly very happy with the new Stella's sealing. Remember though that you better adhere to whatever the manufacturer says because they have the power to accept or refuse your warranty claim if something goes wrong. My take is something I write for informational purposes and it should have no bearing on your adherence to manufacturers' instructions.

If you have extensive experience with previous Stella SW reels, you'd immediately realise that this 19' Stella feels different to previous generations. One immediately noticeable difference is the amount of handle play, generally known as "backlash". That play has been dramatically reduced, and you'd know it because the reduction is easily more than 50%. The most conspicuous difference though is the unmistakable improvement in smoothness. Once again "smoothness" is the fluid operation with consistent feel and absence of mechanical noise, not to be confused with "free spinning" which is lack of resistance when turning the handle. The previous Stella SW was already buttery smooth, yet this one managed to improve upon it. On the other hand free-spinning remains roughly the same, and of course I've taken in consideration the different gear ratios and compared similar reels.

Another major change that's going to make every single one of you happy is the foot angle. After a multi-year adventure with the parallel foot design Shimano heard your outcries and decided to go back to a classic angled foot. This diagram should explain it for those unfamiliar with the concept

I've been asked repeatedly why I always reported on the parallel foot in a cold factual manner without criticism. My answer is that it wasn't a design fault or something that I considered to be an ill-advised feature. Rather it was something different which would work fine with some adaptation, namely on rods with rings meeting certain minimum dimensions and distance from the seat. To me it wasn't much different to braid, which necessitated replacing your rods with ones having hard ring inserts to avoid them being sawn. Anyway, it's gone from the new Stella SW and this should put the matter to rest, although the optics of it aren't very good. When one makes such a monumental change in design only to reverse it on the following generation, it doesn't really give the impression that they know what they're doing.

Another thing immediately detectable is a design flaw; there is a thin synthetic washer beneath the bail arm for smoother operation. The red arrow shows its normal position.

When the bail arm is pressed down though, the washer slips from its position and retreats inside, allowing the bail arm to slam against the rotor without a buffer. It does not just happen when pressed with fingers, but when testing drag with the reel attached to the rod and line going through one ring, one can hear the click of the washer slipping, and that washer then bulges from the other side and is easily felt with fingers.

To further demonstrate how the washer becomes completely dislodged after the initial slippage, I continued to press on the bail arm while opening the bail, and the now-dislodged washer comes out like this.

Another angle.

Furthermore, the following are official Shimano promotional pictures released with the previous 2013 Stella SW, showing that washer completely dislodged as well


And zoomed. I brought this matter to everyone's attention in a previous blog post (HERE), in which I published a collection of reports I received from several fishermen and some of the better quality videos they sent me demonstrating the flaw. As ridiculous as it is, it remains an insignificant flaw that has no effect on operation or performance. I hope though that it gets rectified especially before other sizes are released.

The drag knob is metal, has a black slit in the bar to act as a discrete pointer indicating its approximate position, and of course the knob has a mounted seal around its rim.

The knob's pressure disc is machined metal, keyed to the shaft, and a replaceable clicker raceway is mounted on it.

This spring-loaded plunger clicks against the raceway from the previous photo to produce little clicks as you adjust the drag.

The main spring, which is the now-familiar wave spring from the previous generation. Wave springs deliver a more linear progression of drag pressure, particularly at higher drag settings where standard springs would be holding too much tension resulting in rapidly climbing drag pressures.

The stainless threaded nut beneath the spring. The drag knob of this Stella is very well machined and quite intricate, and once you get used to the different feel of the wave spring you'll find it very predictable. It has an operational fault though. During tightening there is a point where something slips inside so that for about 5 millimetre of movement the knob turns but without actually doing anything then it catches on again. This happens intermittently, particularly when the drag knob is tightened, backed off, then when tightened again that slip happens. It's something that is mostly felt and not really heard, yet I tried to capture the tiny "smack" sound it makes when it happens which isn't much. Have a hearing in this short video of my reel right out of the box, it happens at the end

I excluded all the possible suspects such as disc slippages within the drag system etc., and concluded that it certainly happens inside the knob itself. My best guess is one of the moving parts inside binds in one direction and stays there held by friction, then once the tension of the spring reaches a certain level during tightening the binding part overcomes friction and slips then stops at the opposite limit of its clearance. Unless I have a fully transparent knob I can't definitively figure out what binds, so this is as far as I can tell. In the heat of actual fishing one would not notice it unless they were paying attention, so I don't see it as having a perceptible effect on the workings of the drag. I think nonetheless that such flaws have no place on a thousand dollars reel where one expects refinement, not just a working reel.

The spool has been completely redesigned in both visible and hidden ways. One of the more subtle changes is a tiny hex screw in the top well (red arrow) which goes through the metal and into the plastic black spool cap (blue arrow).

A close up on the screw in case you can't see it. Previously the black spool cap was screwed in place with some Loctite to keep it still, making it hard to unscrew if that was required for whatever reason. In the new reel this tiny screw retains the cap, therefore that cap can easily be taken off. In this new Stella SW you can order each spool component separately, including the hardened spool lip, and thanks to this new screw replacing any part has become an easier task.

Another invisible improvement in the spool is a hidden rubber seal beneath the plastic cap to prevent saltwater from corroding these hidden areas. I inserted a piece of paper behind it and it stops where the seal sits. Of course I'd have preferred a design with no gaps to begin with just like other high-end reels do it, but unlike these other reels the cap of the Stella is plastic so there bound to be a gap. In addition to water protection, this new seal has a very desirable side effect. It provides firm support for the cap's edge. In the 2013 Stella SW reels (except 30K) the edges of this plastic cap were unsupported and would bend and flex when pushed down giving it a cheap feel, now with the seal supporting it the cap doesn't bend under pressure and it creates an improved solid feel.

This is the top stack part of the drag, which is supplementary since the main drag system is at the bottom of the spool; a carbon fibre brake washer, a metal washer, a through pressure tube that applies force to the washers without interfering with the bearing, the top ball bearing, and the stack seal.

That's the actual drag. The familiar clicker system can be seen at 6 o'clock, and it still produces that unmistakable sound of the Stella drag which no other reel can imitate. I've always said that other reels' drags "buzz" or "click", but a Stella SW's drag "rings". A new addition though is the plate hovering over the entire drag mechanism labelled "HEATSINK" (heat sink), which comes in sizes 10000 and above. We'll get to it later.

The very intricate sealed drag system, and the bottom ball bearing of the spool can be seen in its recess. Another new addition here is the heat shield at the bottom of the drag well (red arrow). This shield rests between the spool's flange and the first carbon drag washer so that when heat is generated during a fight the shield hampers the transfer of that heat to the flange to prevent damage to the braid. I've never had braid melting on a Stella before and don't know if that's actually a prevalent issue, so it might very well be an answer to a question that no one really asked. It doesn't hurt anyway.

This one shows the workings of this drag setup. The carbon fibre brake washers (red arrows) are keyed to the spool's body, so they always rotate with it. Sandwiched between them is a metal washer (blue arrow) which is keyed -indirectly- to the main shaft. This way when a fish pulls line and the spool spins, both sides of the metal drag washer generate braking, therefore a single washer does the job of two. Similarly, one final metal washer rests on top of this trio (not shown), therefore when the spool spins both sides of the second carbon washer will generate braking, again doing the job of two washers on its own. This neat setup reduces parts to save weight, and fewer washers will dissipate heat faster than if there were more hot washers trapped in the middle.

Speaking of heat dissipation would naturally bring us back to that new "heat sink" feature. It's a radiator plate that has a flat hub in the centre which mates with the entire surface of the last metal drag washer, then the plate spreads into the shape of an umbrella that hovers above the drag compartment but touches nothing. It's drilled to allow air to circulate both its sides.

This is my clumsy reconstruction of how it looks when fully assembled. The top metal drag washer is in full contact with the radiator plate's centre hub, and the cross-shaped post on top of it plunges into the rest of the drag washers to act as a connection between the other metal washer and the radiator plate. I don't have an infrared thermometer to do fancy laboratory temperature readings and tell you what goes on, but my observations as an angler, which should be taken for what they are worth, suggest that it helps cool down the drag indeed. The maximum drag setting I used in actual fishing was an estimated 12kg (~26lbs) give or take, reached briefly only twice while struggling with larger groupers (actually one confirmed and the other lost but I believe it was another grouper). When taking the spool off shortly after, I could still feel some warmth in the radiator plate all the way to its rim, and since that plate is not by itself a friction generating part then it must have pulled that heat away from at least that last metal drag washer. In practice though I did not feel a difference in performance during fishing over the previous couple of editions. The drag was its usual consistent, smooth, and very responsive self, which was exactly the case with the previous two SW generations. Maybe someone who would fish this reel harder than I could would be able to sense an actual difference in performance due to that radiator, but to me the drag acted exactly like it did in previous models, which is not a bad thing because it's absolute perfection and you can't really improve on perfection.

Shimano offers an optional "Power Hooking" spool which is designed to have some initial resistance to movement in order to set hooks more decisively, particularly useful at great depths. I've seen it but did not fish it, in my typical time honoured fashion of not branching into optional parts, partially because that requires more time but mainly because I'm the laziest person you'll come across in your entire lives. Need to mention here that this optional spool does not have the "heat sink" feature. It took me by surprise because it's not something I could logically have foreseen, but it is what it is whether we understood it or not.

Before moving away from the spool, have a look at this. Usually the inner side of spools is left alone, but in the new Stella some very meticulous machining was carried out to remove metal that's not needed from the skirt. They didn't even remove the metal in simple oval or round chunks, but instead did it in a way that created ornate patterns that are very pleasing to the eyes. The purpose of course is to remove as much weight as possible, and this sort of attention to detail is very refreshing.

The 19' Stella reels have something special that wasn't in previous models. Let''s make it a quiz. Stop reading, look at the picture above for as long as you want and see if you can figure out what I'm talking about. Anything? Nothing? Alright, the spools are now marked with the speed, PG, HG, or XG. Spinning reels' spools are generally marked with the size only but not the speed, to allow them to be factory installed on different models of different gear ratios. For example Shimano marked the spools of the 2013 Stella SW 5000 with "5000" only, then at the factory that one spool would be installed on 5000HG, 5000PG, and 5000XG reels. Of course the exception is when a spool is made for one specific model only, then it's fine to mark it with the speed of that model. For example the spool of the current Saltiga 7000H is only factory installed on 7000H models, so they print the H on the spool no problem. I think this decision makes the 19' Stella feel more special since each model will have its ow dedicated spool, despite the fact that it makes things difficult at the factory. For instance when they get an order for a batch of new 8000PG reels, they have to create spools marked 8000PG for them instead of just pulling spools from a shelf full of ones already marked "8000" only. Lovely touch by Shimano.

The convenient and versatile spool shimming system remains the same. Other designs are either worse or equally good, but nothing beats it

The main shaft has changed though. It received a surface treatment that reduces friction. If you see one in a show or a store take the spool off and run your fingernail on the shaft. It feels different. This new shaft is one component of what they call "InfinityDrive", which I'll discuss further down.

The shaft goes into the body through a seal that keeps water and even urine out. Don't ask me how I know that, let's consider it something I just assumed. On a completely different and unrelated note, NEVER fish on a small boat with a newbie who doesn't know to check wind direction before peeing into the ocean! And another completely random bit of trivia, piss makes your eyes burn so bad you completely forget that some of it got into your mouth as well. @%&#$ HELL!!!

That seal is a hybrid type, where rubber is moulded over a metal washer. This design helps spread pressure evenly across the entire surface of the seal for better sealing, it's less affected by environmental changes, ages better and serves longer. Many of the seals used in this reel are of this type.

The rotor nut, and in its centre the first half of the floating shaft mechanism; a ball bearing to isolate the shaft from the rotation of the rotor, and inside it a synthetic washer to reduce friction with the shaft during its up and down movement.

Beneath the rotor nut sits an O ring seal. Veteran readers are probably wondering why I don't skip such small well established bits, but remember that new readers join in every day and many might not have seen these sealing details before.

To reduce the weight of the metal rotor, a part of it was removed and replaced with this light silver plastic top. It doesn't do any work nor bear any load, and its only task is to fill the void so that if the line gets behind the spool it doesn't wrap around the shaft. It has two cuts to allow water to drain out if a big wave drenches you.

That silver top is screwed to the rotor, and the screws go into metal posts extending from the rotor all the way through each hole, so that screw heads would tighten against the metal posts and not the plastic top itself to avoid accidentally cracking it.

That's the working aluminium rotor, and it's quite different to previous models.

This is the main difference. The bail mechanism has been moved to the opposite bail arm, which is something that Shimano has been doing in a few other models for 2 or 3 years now. In the classic rotor design, one side of the rotor has both the bail arm and the bail mechanism, therefore more material would have to be integrated into the opposite side of the rotor that has no other purpose but to balance it out. By moving the bail mechanism to the opposite side, weight would be evenly spread and that extra balancing weight could be removed. It's a smart way to reduce weight, especially when they insist on putting metal rotors on the Stella series, both fresh and saltwater versions. If the above seems confusing or sounds wrong, think of it in terms of apples and oranges. Imagine a rotor that is completely empty and balances on its own. Then you add two oranges to one of its sides, and now you need to balance them with two apples on the other side. Then remove one orange and hold it in your hand, and now you'll have to remove an apple from the other side and throw it away to balance it. Next remove the other apple and throw it away, and put the orange in your hand in its place, and it balances again with two apples out of the picture.

With the bail mechanism on the other side of the rotor, the bail wire needed to be more firmly fixed into the end piece which now holds the spring power, so this deep deep indentation was employed. I mean that thing is so deep you can fill it with water and keep live bait in it! Well, not really, but you get my point.

Looking behind the rotor reveals the several stages of water protection this area has. The new flange shield (yellow arrow) reduces the gap between the rotor and flange at the back making it more difficult for water to get in. Water that does get it though will have to navigate a U shaped narrow path formed by the standing edge (red arrow right side) fitting into its grove in the rotor (red arrow left side). Any crafty bits of water that pass these hurdles would then have to face the 4.stage seal (blue arrow right side) which fits tightly around its sleeve (blue arrow left side). I left that sleeve attached to the rotor to show its working position. There is a hidden O ring seal between that sleeve and the rotor's neck.

Close up on the 4 stage seal. It begins with a first wall that curves backwards (red arrow) to trap small amounts of water and keep it from going further. If there is too much water and this wall doesn't work, water will be met by the upper lip of the seal (blue arrow). That should be the end of it, but in cases of high water pressure some of it might pass through and be met with the grease-filled compartment (yellow arrow). Beyond that there is a final seal lip (green arrow), but I can't imagine it ever be needed unless the rest of the seal is physically damaged or something. This very effective sealing debuted in the 2013 Stella SW then quickly trickled down to other models further down the line, most notably the current Saragosa SW and Spheros SW who have the exact same arrangement including the U shaped maze.

Now this is a surprise, and not the good kind. The 19' Stella SW comes with an externally mounted, plastic housed anti-reverse clutch. Yep, the design that for the past 18 years was relegated to lesser Shimano reels from the Twin Power SW all the way down to the Sedona FI. Let me explain why I believe it's a severe downgrade

The anti-reverse clutch is a vital part of any reel, which comes under tremendous stresses during use. The way this clutch is attached to the rest of the reel plays a major role in determining its ability to withstand these stresses, and the fashion in which it does it. The above photo is borrowed from the 2013 Stella SW to demonstrate how it's supposed to be done in heavy duty saltwater reels. When you are fighting a fish, the torque on the pinion (red arrow) is transferred to the stainless sleeve (yellow arrow) which in turn wedges the stainless steel brake cylinders (blue arrow) against the stainless steel clutch ring (green arrow), and that ring is keyed directly to the metal frame of the reel (red X). The plastic spring cages in the middle have no role in this, they just hold the springs. See how it plays out? An uninterrupted chain of custody from one solid metal part to another all the way to the metal frame of the reel. This is how Shimano did it in its Stella SW reels beginning with the 2001 Stella SW (FA), how Daiwa have done it in its flagship saltwater reels since late 1990s, how the original Penn Torque 1 did it, how the Makaira does it, and how every proper big game spinning reel does it. In one form or another, an uninterrupted chain of solid metal from the pinion to the frame. And yes, in the previous 3 generations of Stella SW the size class reviewed today had that full metal grip. Actually reels all the way down to the tiny 2013 Stella SW 4000 had that. Let's peel more layers

Previously the clutch assembly was covered by a metal cap screwed directly into a body extension, now there is a plastic cover with 4 screws, identical to the setup found in the Spheros and Saragosa. The screws have mounted O rings to keep water out in all the these three reels.

Here is the plastic clutch housing (blue arrow), and the red arrow points the cover seal. Same as in the Spheros and Saragosa.

Here it is, the same design used all the way down to entry level reels, and I inset the one from the Spheros and Saragosa in the bottom of the picture so you won't think I'm exaggerating. The different number of pins is due to different size groups, the one inset being from 20K size.

Cover off, and again I inset the one from the lesser reels. Same design, same springs, same operation, same everything. Look at how the main clutch ring is now keyed to the plastic housing, instead of being directly keyed to the metal frame as in the past.

And this is how that plastic housing itself is attached to the body; a series of moulded plastic protrusions that mate with notches in the reel's frame and bearing cover as arrows of similar colours indicate. No direct connection between the clutch ring and the frame, instead plastic bits do that job and 4 screws press down on the whole thing. These are the facts and you can feel about it as you will, but my own opinion is that it's a big leap backwards that erases much of what used to set the Stella SW reels apart from lesser models. Yes, this design was once in the 1998 Stella SW (Stella F), but it's 21 years later and the demands and expectations from heavy duty reels have dramatically changed. This one does its job and stops the rotor of the 19' Stella, albeit with what I feel is more sponginess than a firm stop, still I want the redundancy of power secured by the full metal grip of the previous generations. It's a good thing that my tests showed that the drag does not come close to the maximum claimed numbers, because I believe this clutch would be in serious trouble if subjected to those claimed numbers. There is a good reason why Shimano itself decided to replace this design with the full metal grip almost 2 decades ago and relegated this one to lesser reels and lighter duty freshwater ones. Moving on.

The main ball bearing now goes directly into the frame, which is a good thing. If you recall, 6 years ago I found the rotor of the 2013 Stella to be unstable and shaking too much, and concluded that it was due to a redundant ring installed between the bearing and the frame in sizes 8000 and up of that model. I inset that part from the 13' review in the picture for guidance, and you can read it here. That ring is now gone, and the rotor of the new Stella is stable. Respect to Shimano for making things right.

To get inside the gearbox a few pieces need to come off, including the rotor brake ring which is new to this size class. Previously 8K/10K/14K reels had a ring that when engaged by the brake lever would slide with it on the frame, now this size class comes with a fixed ring against which the lever rubs just like in previous generation's 18K/20K/30K sizes. Both designs work fine. I think the change is an effort to simplify and streamline production by using the same design across more reels.

The plastic rear body bumper then needs to come off. Another change seen here is the new location of the draining slots further back, which makes more sense and allows water to drain out when the reel is held at an angle as in during active use, or when it's vertical as in a gunnel or a rod rack. The previous location of these slots only allowed water to drain out when the reel was horizontal or near horizontal, which was strange.

To remove the top screw of the rear body bumper that rubber plug needs to come out, and a straightened hook does the trick every time. Funny how this photo of the hooked plug extremely resembles one from the previous generation's review, which is completely coincidental. Sitting in the same garage, on the same chair, removing the same part the exact same way, then taking a nearly identical photo, but between these two very similar moments 6 full years of ageing, hundreds of people met, countless new experiences, loved ones taken away, tears and pain, travels to far corners of the earth, cheating death once, yet I'm back as if I've never left that original moment. I wonder what will happen between now and the time I take apart the next generation, or if that would even happen at all. Life is weird, isn't it?

With the plug gone, the top screw of the body bumper can be reached with a small Phillips screwdriver.

The body screws are Torx type, and the two front ones are very long, fit tightly, and with a lot of Loctite applied to their threads. This is how good reels are built. Use high quality wrenches not to risk damaging the heads. I invested in the best tools money can buy after a few close calls in the past years.

Side cover off, and immediately spotted the well fitting perimeter seal. In 2013 I criticised the loose fit of this seal in the review (inset), and certainly glad it's been rectified. Seen in the above photo as well is one of the drive gear's ball bearings, held down by three screws to maintain pressure on the seal beneath it.

Here is that seal with its adjusting shim and the bearing.

In the review of the 13' Stella I complained that the seal was a basic flat piece of rubber that was undersized and played in its recess potentially compromising the sealing. A screenshot of that part is inset above. In this new Stella I was pretty much blown away by how decisively and comprehensively they addressed this. As seen in the photo above, that piece of flat rubber is gone and replaced with a 2 level self-centring seal, but that's not all.....

Turning the seal around reveals that it's a hybrid rubber/metal type as well. Now when the seal is dropped in place its two levels fit in their perspective recesses, automatically centring it, then when the shim and bearing press on it the metal component of the seal distributes pressure evenly across its entire area providing an excellent seal. Apparently I offended someone with how I talked about this seal in 2013, and sure glad I did!

A general view of the gearbox. Notice anything? The backup anti-reverse is gone, completely gone. This depresses me so much I can't even gather enough energy to be angry. There is simply no excuse for that in this size of what's supposedly one of heaviest duty spinning reels available. Many people have not had a clutch slip before, yet that doesn't change the fact that clutches do slip under excessive loads, due to wear, when lubes contaminate them, or in very cold weather. This is disgraceful, and removing such an important fail-safe mechanism is inexcusable.

I would rather see this intermediary set of gears gone and the backup brake kept instead. This set tunes up the oscillation stroke, but I don't recall the amazing 2008 Stella SW suffering for not having it. For it to be kept and the backup stop thrown out is unfathomable to me. 

The drive gear no longer has the little hub that used the house the backup anti-reverse activator spring since there isn't a backup anymore. It is the well known aluminium alloy gear plate that's formed by cold forging, then it receives a surface coating, and a stainless steel female shaft gets attached to it. One of the most proven parts, and it offers a unique combination of lightness and toughness thanks to the cold forging process. Shimano puts this gear -only with a different surface coating- in many salt and fresh water reels further down the line all the way to entry level ones. Something every angler on budget should be thankful for.

No surprise here. After almost 110 hours of use (actual fishing time not counting downtime) the gear remains in pristine condition, very little wear, no chips, full structural integrity. I intentionally left some grease around to show you how clean the lubes remained, often a good indication of durability and absence of galling. The reddish spots you see are a by-product of the surface treatment, which I showed you in the past but in larger concentrations. This time though they are tiny ones spread across the gear plate. Perfectly harmless and nothing to worry about at all. 

The pinion is machined brass. Since friction wear is a reciprocal relation, it was only normal for the pinion to be in the same great condition as the drive gear. Very little wear relative to the use I put on it. This gear coupling is by no means the toughest in the industry, but it offers a great balance of smoothness and good durability for that refined operating feel that many Shimano spinners are known for.

If you want something that's the "toughest in the industry" though, look no further than this new oscillation worm shaft. Having cut weight elsewhere they could afford to add some extra heft where it's more consequential, so the traditional aluminium alloy worm shaft was replaced with a bronze one. I've tested some non-mainstream reels that had stainless steel worm shafts, but the steel alloys were lower grade ones hence I'm putting this one ahead of them. Look at this close-up showing the crisp edges and tips inside the grooves, an instant telltale of toughness. In addition to longer service life, this shaft has lower coefficient of friction, adding to smoothness and lowering energy losses. It's another part of the so-called "InfinityDrive".

The way that worm shaft is retained and sealed has changed as well, and commendably so. The first sign that something has changed is a plug extending out of the retainer plate.

Here it is. In previous generations there was a rubber seal that sits beneath the entire surface of the retainer plate with a hole in it right above the worm shaft. This setup prevented the exact shimming of the worm shaft and its bearings, resulting in a tiny amount of play back and fourth in that shaft. In this plug design though the plug itself carries an O ring seal (red arrow), and it has a dual-washer shimming system. One of them is a standard washer (blue arrow)....

And the other is a spring washer. Being a spring allows it to self adjust to fill any space and prevent even the slightest play in the shaft.

Here it is when installed on top of the worm shaft's ball bearing, precisely pushing on the outer race of the bearing but not touching the inner race to allow it to spin freely. Some fantastic precision work here. This design came to life shortly after the release of the previous Stella SW and I first saw it in the 2015 Twin Power SW, and it's only natural that it makes its way into the new Stella.

The two stainless rail rod on which the oscillation block slides have pointy ends to save a minute amount of weight, and each has its mounted O ring seal to keep water out (not shown). One has to admire Shimano's persistence in employing worm shaft oscillation despite the complexity and difficulty involved in fine tuning it. At this point I believe it's just a matter of tradition, because today the best locomotive oscillation setup beats the best worm shaft oscillation one in terms of strength, longevity, and efficiency, and it produces the same amount of spool lift in standard reels. The only place where worm shaft oscillation is indispensable is long distance long spool reels. I'm happy with it nevertheless, it would be pretty boring if every brand did the exact same design.

This is another new addition to the Stella SW series. A polymer bushing inserted into the mid-post to act as the rear anchoring point of the floating shaft system, the front one being the ball bearing and bushing combination inside the rotor nut shown earlier. Previously the shaft was supported inside by the oscillation block mounted on the two rod rails. This new bushing certainly lifts some stress off the oscillation mechanism and improves overall smoothness, and it's the final part of that "InfinityDrive" thingy. You know the deal, I hate catchy marketing terms and would rather see factual description of the supposed function, so it should've been called "A Set of Measures to Minimise Energy Losses and Deliver More Cranking Power", or JUGS for short. I know this acronym has nothing to do with the name, but JUGS is more fun to say than... well, pretty much anything. I digress though. Shimano claims this about their JUGS system

The wording is imprecise and could be taken to mean pretty much anything or nothing at all, but to me it seems to imply that this reel generates almost one third more torque for the same amount of work you input, which is laughable. It's analogous to saying that in next year's Olympics someone will run the 100 metres in 6.5 seconds, cutting the world record by almost a third. That's just not the natural progression of things, and I've neither seen anything the mechanism nor felt anything in actual fishing that would suggest such a colossal increase. Actually comparing different spinning reels' torque down to a specific number is all but impossible since many variables would need to be compensated for first to create an even field, and of course it's ridiculous to claim that the entire line up gained exactly the same amount of power boost in both high and low gear ratios and across different sizes with different internals' dimensions. It therefore beats me where they could possibly got that percentage from, but hey, what do I know. My own estimate, as a generalised average, going by my subjective senses that are neither the definitive truth nor based in any science would be that the 19' Stella has maybe 3-5% more power than the previous reel, which is not bad at all. Continuously reeling in a 100g Yo Zuri sinking trolling lure that I send near wake of the boat to catch bait certainly feels easier on this reel than on the 13' model, but not one third easier. In my book the 14'Expedition/15'Saltiga/Dogfight threesome still delivers the most cranking power of all ambidextrous spinning reels made today.

The new black handle, and as usual sizes 8000 and up require you to swap the small threaded shaft in order to change winding side. My reel comes with the T knob, but other models come with the round one preferred by many. Not me though, I'm diehard T knob fanboy. The hood looks better, and the asinine steel tube of the previous model is gone. Not only was it ugly, but it was heavy, and completely useless as well.

I inset the part from the previous model's review where I ripped that dumb design telling you that I believed it fails to support the joint despite what was suggested in the flashing animation promotional videos, and that all it did was abuse the poor joint and damage its finish without reinforcing it at all. That fantasy has been dropped, and instead the 19' Stella has a clean design where the handle shaft sinks into a recess machined inside the stem, fully enclosed and supported by solid metal on all sides. Vastly superior to the previous unsupported fully split post.

Okuma beat them to that by a few years. This is the optimum design for the joint, and I wish everyone will stick to that flawless setup from now on, and hope the Japanese companies will resist the urge to reinvent the wheel with new designs offering yet more imaginary reinforcement! Sometimes I think they change designs purely for the sake of making new flashy animations, not the other way round. Meh!

I chose the 14000XG for my tests for two main reasons, the first is that it was one of the earliest models released, and the second is that it has a 5 mm (~0.2 inch) longer handle. All the models released so far have 75 mm long handles, which is the standard for this size class, while the 14000XG has an 80 mm one which aroused my curiosity. The principle here is simple, albeit questionable. Putting a longer handle on the fastest reels provides more leverage to generate more torque, which supposedly compensates for the lower torque of these fast reels. As you might already know, reels with slower gear ratios will produce more torque while ones with faster gear ratios will have less torque. It's the same as in a car where the first gear will produce high torque to get you going, then as you move the stick to higher gears you get more speed but less torque. That's assuming that you kids even know what a stick shift is to begin with. You see, a stick shift is something we had to learn in order to drive cars in the good old days when we did real activities outdoors, and had actual social lives where we stole liqueur from our parents' cabinets and snuck out at night to party with real girls in the woods trying to get into their pants pretending to be confident and experienced even though we had no clue what we we're doing and usually panicked once those pants came down for real. We did not sit all day on social media getting offended and telling the world about it then swept left and right through mostly fake profiles run by Nigerian scammers in hopes of landing a date with an equally offended girl so we can drink $7 cups of stupid cinnamon mocha frappuccino while discussing how supremely offended we are. But I digress

Where was I? Yeah, so a longer handle could in theory compensate for lower torque in high speed reels, but that's a cheap trick that should not have been employed. On one hand, you don't deal with the lower power of speedy reels by allowing the user to stress the drivetrain more with a bigger lever, instead you do it by improving efficiency, refining the geometry of gearing to reduce sliding and increase rolling, reduce gear offset by using a thin male gear shaft like Daiwa does, etc. Secondly, a longer handle will reduce your retrieve ratio, not by changing the gear ratio itself but rather by increasing the time you take to do a full spin of the handle. If you don't get it, imagine yourself operating a spinning reel with an extraordinarily long handle measuring half a metre or half a yard, then imagine yourself doing it using a tiny handle measuring 3 centimetres or 1.25 inch. See what I mean by "the time it takes you to do a full spin"? You might argue that 5 mm is not such a big deal and wouldn't noticeably slow you down, but I'd say then what about 6 mm? 7 mm? 8, 9, 10.... 30? Where do you draw the line and who decides when it's too much? A better way is to never step into that slippery slope to begin with, and to base handle design and dimensions solely on the best ergonomics and comfort then go elsewhere to seek gains in torque.

The line roller is yet another area that fundamentally changed. Not as much externally, but inside it's something completely different.

In previous SW models the line roller itself was not sealed, but had two sealed ball bearings inside. The aim was to make the line roller spin with as little resistance as possible, and the tiny seals inside the ball bearings produced very little resistance compared to any potential larger seals of the line roller itself. They gave that up in the 19' Stella SW, and decided instead to seal the line roller itself with rubber seals just like Daiwa did in the 2001 Saltiga. In the photo above you can see the two new rubber seals (blue arrows), which fit into corresponding bushings at both end of the line roller (red arrow). Look at that bushing inside the line roller though. Can you see it?

The internal O ring that goes between the bushing and the roller's body escaped its recess during assembly and got wedged like this.

Here is the bushing and the O ring after I pulled them out. Both are made very well to exact tolerances, but accidents do happen.

Here it is back on its mount, and I have to say the level of detail at this small scale is impressive.

That wasn't the only assembly issue. The red seal that goes into one end of the line roller was not fully seated into its recess on the hub.

Here is the hub without a the seal, again showing some impressive details on a very small scale.

And the red seal that goes into the other end was not seated correctly as well, indicative of a general issue at the assembly line. Excuse the lent, I had tried to rest it on a piece of white fabric as the camera wouldn't focus for the macro shot.

Here is a side view showing the effect of a non-fully seated seal. Its skirt, which does the sealing, is at an angle potentially compromising the sealing and causing premature and uneven wear. Again, all the parts were manufactured correctly and I easily fully seated both seals with the aid of my trusty loupe and a toothpick. These all look terrible, but they aren't. In years of doing this I've come across many assembly faults in the most expensive reels. Off the top of my head I once had a 2015 Saltiga where the large O ring seal of the mag-sealed ball bearing on the right end of the drive gear was dislodged by the insertion of the bearing, I've had a 2011 Catalina that was missing the entire O ring seal that goes between the body and the large screw-in cap that retains the clutch, and I've had a 2008 Stella SW that was missing the tiny plate that goes beneath the small screw that retains the main screw of the line roller. These things happen because reels are assembled by humans, and it's specially understandable that it happens in the roller of the new Stellas considering the new tiny and very intricate parts requiring extra care in assembly. Hopefully by bringing this to light this early on corrective measures would be taken.

And these are the ball bearings themselves, not sealed nor even shielded since they are protected by the new line roller seals. I love it, and I think this new design would last longer than usual. Firstly it keeps saltwater away at an earlier point, instead of letting it in then counting on the bearings' seals to protect them as was previously the case. Secondly, with these open bearings the angler will be able to take them out, spray and brush them clean, then fill them with fresh grease for longer life. The line roller seems to be designed with an eye on this, since it has very fewer parts than the older complicated ones and is easily disassembled and reassembled for maintenance. Let me know if you want a photographic guide on this.

In conclusion, this reel raised some fundamental questions in my head. What makes a high-end reel? Is it enough to print a reputable model name on its body and slap a big price sticker on its box to make it a high-end reel? I don't accept that, and I do not believe anyone can decide for us what a high-end reel is, tell us that their designers know better than us, and that we should just keep quiet and pay. Forget the quirks and flaws, I'm not concerned with them because they are not major or disruptive, plus Shimano is well known for rectifying issues swiftly whether it's the painless swap of the meting knobs of the Saragosa F or the full fledged recall of past Stella SW and Twin Power SW faulty batches.

What I'm actually concerned with is my belief that this is an upper mid-range reel with a high-end price tag. I'm not even calling it a second tier reel because an exemplary second tier reel would be the superior 2016 Catalina, which is light, powerful, and has the same build as the Saltiga where it matters including the same gearing, clutch, and backup anti-reverse. I can't put the Catalina and this new Stella in the same league. I just can't. A more proper reel to compare this Stella to would be the current 2014 Saragosa SW. Both have large drag systems beneath the spool, both have the externally mounted plastic housed clutch, both are fully sealed, and both have no backup anti-reverse in this size class with the Saragosa having it in 20000 and 25000 sizes. The nagging question is, how is this Stella more than 3 times better than a Saragosa SW, since one costs $1000 and the other $290 in 8k size at the time of writing? I can tell you even before it even happens that you might suddenly begin to hear stories that somehow were never told before about Saragosa SW supposedly breaking and failing on big fish, or how captain "Ahab" from "Smoke up D'Butt" fishing charters swears that his Saragosas exploded in the hands of customers. I explained in a previous article how troll farms operate, and you have only yourselves to blame if you fall for stories that put down the brilliant and proven Saragosa SW in order for the Ahabs of this world to sell the big buck Stellas they stocked.

Now, new readers might get confused by this next bit, but those who know me would perfectly understand. This new Stella SW is going straight on my golden table of the best offshore reels in current production. That's because I don't see things in simplistic black and white terms, I never let my personal disappointment impair my judgement, and any potential rubbishing by any company's representatives never makes me lose sight of facts. The facts here are this is an excellent reel that brought fish in without a hitch, it's very well built, extremely reliable, handles harsh environment like a champ, all of which applies to the Saragosa SW as well. And since the Saragosa itself was once featured on that top table before I decided to put in place a minimum qualifying score for that table, it's only normal that this Stella would be on it because it's a bit better than a Saragosa. I just expect more than "a bit better than a Saragosa" when I buy a Stella, and that's the only reason I'm bummed.

Keep your eyes on the News page in the following weeks. I've tested almost a dozen new reels over the past several months, and now that I can finally sit on my tush I will be posting more material throughout the year. Let me know if you want to see something specific first.


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Alan Hawk
July, 20th, 2019

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