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2020 Daiwa Saltiga : Deep Blue



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   If you stop someone in the street of any American city and ask him 'What was the first ever luxurious spinning reel', he will most likely shoot you. If though you stop someone in Britain and ask him the same question, he will stab you, because they can't carry guns in Britain but feel similarly nervous about creepy strangers approaching them with nonsensical questions. Moral of the story, don't go about scaring people and instead just ask me. I'd answer you that the very first spinning reel purposely built as a luxurious product was the Daiwa Tournament EX in 1989. Some high quality spinning reels did exist prior to that, such as the Hardy Exalta or Robert McChristian's Seamaster, but none fit that description.


True to the principles of luxurious products, in creating the EX Daiwa went beyond what's practical and cost effective and instead opted for utmost refinement. It was built in Japan where they could put their best people to it, and had every bell and whistle in their arsenal such as premium bearings, high grade alloys inside out, a hardened spool lip, and individual serial numbers just to name a few.


It didn't stop at the reel itself


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It came with specifically printed paperwork, reel bag, spool band, and a tube of lube, things that sound familiar by today's standards but back then were a big deal. More to the point, the packaging was a display box meant to resemble a museum cabinet, further asserting its exclusive nature. The EX was a big success, and having become a status symbol it was only natural that others would take note and eventually introduce their own luxurious spinning reels. Some notable examples were the German made DAM Quick Royal MDS which came in a handmade wood box, the Swedish built Abu Garcia Suveran, and Shimano's Stella reels, albeit intermittently.


Almost a decade later Daiwa was ready to tackle a much tougher challenge; a similarly luxurious flagship reel, but one that's ready to take on the rigors of saltwater fishing and corrosive environment. That was the beginning of the Saltiga story, which funny enough didn't actually begin with a 'Saltiga'...


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It began with Team Daiwa X, which had an eye-popping average price tag of $500 back when a heavy duty Daiwa Black Gold 90 cost $85. The build quality though was worth the price, and the reel was a charming final chapter in the traditional reel design theory of the 20th century. Two years later the flag was handed to the Saltiga Z, which truly revolutionised the category with its exotic alloys and heavily computerised manufacturing, in addition to a long list of unprecedented features. It went on to become one of the most influential designs of all time, remaining in production for 9 years, a record in this modern era. Two more generations followed in 2010 and 2014, both remained foundationally the Saltiga Z but incorporated advanced composites and an increasing number of magnetic seals.


19 years on, Daiwa decided to do a complete departure from the Z foundation and draw up something from scratch, and the 2020 Saltiga was born. The reel came into a world torn apart by a global pandemic, which affected the creation of this review every step of the way from delivery to final testing. Initially I reserved two 20000H reels so I'd have a backup, only to be told that one reel will be available on time and that I'll need to wait a bit longer for the second one. I went ahead and purchased it, then decided to source a loaner 14000XH to tag along. Naturally I picked my 20000H to be the focus of this article, but both reels were tested simultaneously for it.


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There are three scents that make my sad life bearable and give me reason to continue existing; the smell of morning coffee as I struggle to emerge from the state of 'zombieness', the smell of burnt gunpowder in the field or clays course, and that lovely scent of a new reel fresh from the factory when I first unbox it.  


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*Sniff* Oh baby that's right.


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Paperwork specially printed for the 2020 Saltiga, a spool band, extra shims to tune the line lay, and a carrying case.


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The reel is carefully packed inside that protective carrying case, with the handle stored in a separate pocket away from the main body. The case is immaculately built and finished from premium fabrics, but what really sets it apart is its mesh sides; that mesh is so well calibrated it keeps water sprays out, yet still allows air to circulate for the reel to breathe and dry. Now I can safely put the Saltiga in its case once I come ashore without worrying that I'm smothering it in a hot moist trap. Some smart cookies went to work on this case.


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Aesthetically, the 2020 Saltiga is one of the most extreme styling shifts in recent memory. For years Daiwa has been pushing the limits of ferociously futuristic lines with aggressive carvings, abundant cutouts, and fibre embellishments, but all of a sudden the new Saltiga swings to the very opposite end of the spectrum...


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The styling goes beyond simply being 'reserved' or 'restrained'. If I have to describe the new Saltiga I'd say that it has a definitive aura of 'retro-classicism'. The round body shape harkens back all the way to when Alfred Illingworth invented spinning reels early 20th century, as well as subsequent pioneering designs such as Allcock & Son's Duplex or G.M.S's Morfaux. It's the intuitive premise that a body made to house a round gear will be rounded.


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The spool also reverts to origins. When Albert Dubert created the first skirted spool late 1930s the skirt was meant to reduce line issues as well as act as a shield to keep water away from the rotor's interior. Later on manufacturers began perforating the skirt both for cosmetic and weight reduction purposes, but now the Saltiga reclaims the solid skirt the way it was originally intended. Line capacity information is minimalistic and nonintrusive, and, commendably, the diameter is listed next to breaking strength since breaking strength is not a volumetric unit.


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The handle's hood and the small cap that goes into the opposite side also return to the roots. They no longer have any perforations and are therefore back to doing their intended job of protecting the handle's openings from water sprays. Need to note here that the two golden rings on the handle's hood and the golden ring on the cap are only present on the JDM Saltiga, which is the version sold in Japanese Domestic Market, while reels sold in overseas markets don't have these three golden rings. Daiwa's research found that solid colour is more appealing to international customers so they went with that.  


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The arched rotor is gone, replaced with a more traditionally shaped one.that's subtly curved at its ends. This new rotor is made of metal, and is significantly more compact than the rotors of the two previous generations. Another nod to the origins is the solid rotor's centre, which now only has a shallow trapezoidal indentation as a homage to Daiwa's iconic rotor cutout which went on to become the most copied design feature in modern reel making.


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Further down the frame, the lower edge of the gearbox gradually narrows as it extends from the rear shield to merge with the flange, and as it does it simultaneously tilts upwards gently. This is a master's class on how to create a highly compact housing and remove unnecessary material while maintaining gracefully flowing contours.


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The handle's stem was not excluded from the transformation to retro-classicism. It lost its utilitarian round cross-section and acquired a flattened side that takes the shape of a long water drop starting at the joint and ending shortly before the handle's knob. This new knob is larger than its predecessors, it's made of hollowed metal, and is every bit as comfortable as it is elegant. This oval knob has no visible screws, similar to the rest of the Saltiga's frame in which no screws can be seen. Only the rotor has visible screws.


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The exceptionally wide drag knob has a tastefully etched Daiwa logo as a position indicator, where other reels have a notch or a dot.


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The knob as a whole, both in shape and colours, blends effortlessly into the spool in a natural continuum of the alternating strikes of gold and blue making up the reel's very coherent colour scheme.


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Did I say 'blue'? Make that 'deep blue'. Actually it's so deep it appears black in photographs, which isn't at all the case. Do yourself a favour and try to hold one for a few seconds because only in person will you be able to fully appreciate the colour.


I realise that I've given the aesthetics of this reel more paragraphs than I usually do, but can you blame me? It would be the understatement of my life and almost criminally negligent of me to simply call it 'beautiful'. The reel looks stately with remarkably quiet dignity, thanks in large part to its decisively nostalgic architecture. It has an imposing presence that garners attention yet without a hint of flash or flare. If I'm to use a single word to describe it, that word would be 'majestic'.


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Made in Nippon, a country that has become the de facto nerve center of the fishing tackle industry.


The 2020 Saltiga is a series of fully metal saltwater reels that come in two size classes, medium and full size. In doing this Daiwa reclaims the inceptive principle of the Saltiga as a heavy duty saltwater reel and nothing else. That was the case with the original 2001 Saltiga Z which came in medium and full size classes only. The subsequent two generations though saw the addition of small reels, which never felt right to me. Don't get me wrong, those small Saltigas worked fine and did the job, but due to their tiny size they had a considerably different build than their larger siblings. For example the impressive NSK anti-reverse clutch was too big to fit into their small frames, therefore a completely different clutch had to be employed. Another example is the hollow bail wire which in medium and full size reel was truly one-piece from start to finish, but it couldn't be made as one-piece on a smaller scale thus a two-piece version had to be utilised in the little Saltigas. In short, those small reels didn't hurt from a practical perspective, but seeing them gone from this new generation appeals to the purist in me. It's the return of the Saltiga to uniformity both in build and purpose, and lighter work can be relegated to other Daiwa reels created specifically for that.


The new Saltiga feels substantial but neither big nor heavy. It picked the sturdy feel of the previous generation and went even further down that road to become an earnestly rugged feeling reel. Nothing shakes or moves, no part sounds hollow or feels thin, and when the drag is tightened the spool has no play in-and-out or clockwise-and-anticlockwise. In terms of free-spinning, which is the ease of turning the handle, it's identical to the last generation. Of course lower gear ratio versions feel lighter to spin than higher gear ratio ones as a matter of physics. As for smoothness, whose correct definition is the quiet fluid running with no noise or geary feel, this reel equals the benchmark of all spinning reels which is the 2019 Certate. That Certate is even smoother than the high end 2018 Exist LT, and I imagined that if one day it gets beaten in smoothness it was going to be by another small buttery freshwater reel. I surely did not expect that to happen at the hands of a Saltiga.


Instead of typing a bunch of specifications here is a screenshot of the Japanese master table with English descriptions that I added. It's the master version because it has all the size/ratio combinations available, and -as usual- some overseas markets will get only some of them.You can always buy models not available locally from reliable Japanese shops such as Digitaka or Plat, but you must first consider all factors involved with buying reels from overseas, particularly whether your local Daiwa would service it and honour the warranty or not. My advice is to always buy locally unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise.


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First column shows the new naming system in which the old 4500, 5000, 6500, and 8000 have now become 8000, 10000, 18000, and 20000 respectively, while the new 14000 has no previous equivalent since its line capacity is larger than the old 5500. There appears to be a loosely concerted effort to standardise sizing in some segments of the industry, which is a good thing, still these model numbers should always be considered a rough guide and never be taken as an accurate indicator of size. For instance the 20000 Saltiga holds considerably more line than 20000 sized reels by other brands, and even within the same brand it's common to see two similarly numbered reels that differ substantially in line capacity.


Fifth column lists maximum drag figures, where medium sized reels are listed as having 25 kilograms of drag output, a staggering increase of 66% over the previous generation. The big ones are assigned the familiar 30 kilograms. On dry land I got 25.7 kilograms from the medium reel and 31.2 kilograms from the big one, obtained at what I consider the natural stop of the drag knob. More drag could be squeezed, but any reasonable person would know that he's over-tightening to get there. I like the fact that they output almost exactly the stated figures. Usually reels either produce less than the claimed maximum, which is the common case, or way more because no one cared to calibrate and tune it down. Not that anyone can really fish these high settings, nevertheless with the new Saltiga no one would find themselves water skiing because they cranked too much drag and exceeded the known maximum in the heat of the fight.


The eighth column in the table is another glimpse at how fundamentally different this reel is. In previous generations of Saltigas the medium reels had 3 brake washers, in the 2020 Saltiga that number has more than doubled to 7 carbon fibre brake washers (the listed '14' is the total of brake + metal washers). In the big reels there used to be 5 brake washers, now there are 9 instead. These new washers are slightly smaller in diameter than the ones in previous generations, but their increased number means that the total braking surface area is almost double that of any of its predecessors. Spreading the workload over a larger area creates a more 'relaxed' drag. Each component now works under lower stress, there is less wear, and less heat generated. Daiwa published the following thermal imagery comparing heat generated in previous and new reels under similar conditions, and while I have no equipment to duplicate the test I have no reason to doubt its veracity


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Additionally, when I examined these new carbon washers I could see that they were structurally different. The weaving of the fibres is finer and tighter, resulting in a denser more durable washer with a decidedly smoother surface. A good analogy would be 4 strand and 8 strand braid; same size, different properties and performance. At that point I had become extremely curious to see how all of that would work in conjunction with what Daiwa calls 'ATD' grease, which produces initial slippage when washers go from static to dynamic. It looked promising, but if I learned one thing doing what I do it is that not everything that looks good in theory proves to be so in practice. We'll get to that later on, but for now let's continue with the basic description.


The backup anti-reverse system has been unified across all sizes of the new Saltiga. If the main clutch slips for any reason, such as extreme cold weather or lack of maintenance over years, a lever would quickly engage a ratchet gear mounted on the pinion to stop backward spinning, allowing you to continue fishing it as if it's a traditional reel with a ratchet anti-reverse. In previous generations only big Saltigas had this particular design, while medium reels had a different backup system where in an emergency a lever would engage a ratchet mounted on the drive gear instead. It's not ideal to brake the rotor via the drive gear since this stresses the meshing teeth, but it wasn't a big deal in previous generations since their medium reels had lower drag outputs. Equipping all sizes of the new Saltiga with the optimal backup system is primarily an operational advantage, but it's also a win for purism; uniform construction and top tier features across the entire line.


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I made this quick chart to simplify the interchangeability details between the two size classes of the 2020 Saltiga models, mainly to help those who don't speak English fluently and might get confused by a big paragraph describing what goes where and what doesn't.


The 2020 Saltiga is fully sealed. As I always maintained, a fully sealed reel falls somewhere on a spectrum according to the type of sealing and the degree of each seal's imperviousness. It's not a simple black and white proposition where all fully sealed reels are equal. On that spectrum this reel falls slightly ahead of its predecessor due to several improvements in its water resistance throughout...


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In addition to eliminating slits and cuts in the handle's hood and opposite side cap as discussed earlier, these short threads (blue arrow) have been raised to form a small wall and accordingly create an adjacent trench (red arrow), forming a barrier that does a fascinating job stopping water. It sits under the hood, and if water from a spray, splash, or even heavy drenching seeps beneath the hood, it will accumulate in the trench then fall downwards where the intentionally designed slant (green arrow) will be waiting to guide it out with the aid of gravity. Water can't magically jump out of the trench, rise to clear the wall of threads, then make three consecutive 90 degrees turns to head into the opening. Simple but deadly effective.


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Of course if the reel gets submerged the wall and trench barrier wouldn't work, and then the mag-sealed ball bearings would be taking over the job of keeping water out of the gearbox. Should you submerge it though? A brief dip in water to clean it or an occasional mishap in a kayak are perfectly fine, but if your fishing entails frequent submersion or any sort of winding underwater then you need to look elsewhere. The Saltiga is sealed well but not the type of sealing that qualifies it for underwater operation. Anyway, when you rinse this reel after saltwater use, always remember to remove the handle and opposite cap and let freshwater into both openings to rinse any salty deposits away from the mag-sealed bearings. Also a reminder never to let lubes or solvents come in contact with these mag-sealed bearings not to break down the magnetic fluid. Only rinse them with water.


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Another part that should never come in contact with lubes or solvents is the mag-sealed line roller. It has been redesigned to improve its sealing and extend its service life. In the previous generation the line roller ran on a single self-contained mag-sealed ball bearing, now the roller runs on two normal corrosion-resistant ball bearings with a mag-seal plate placed at each end of the roller itself. This relocates the protection to the edges of the roller instead of deep inside it, and keeps the roller's mag-seal count at two instead of what would've been four of them.  


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More crafty engineering to outmanoeuvre water. The back of the rotor has slanted inner walls all around (red arrow) to hinder the entry of water from light sprays and force any droplets to slide out. This also allows fuller and easier access to the rubber ring of the rotor-brake (blue arrow) so that it's easier to rinse and oil for a longer service life. All sizes have a rotor-brake that positively holds the rotor still when the bail is opened for a cast, and all sizes have manual bail closure.


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This though is the main reason I put this reel ahead of its predecessor on the sealing spectrum. They finally got rid of the spool hub layout which has been in use since the 1999 Team Daiwa X and replaced it with a fresh clean design that provides superior sealing among other advantages. The convex seal (red arrow) is so precise it barely touches the wall of the recess (blue arrow) yet it fully seals it. Actually if you pull the spool off quickly you can hear an air suction pop. This degree of precision creates effective sealing without much friction, something that both increases drag smoothness as well as reduces wear to the seal. Additionally, this new setup makes adjusting spool shimming exceptionally easy, and as a bonus it provides a highly stabilising base for the spool.


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The same sealing principle is employed at the other end of the spool as well. The drag knob's seal (red arrow) has been relocated from the knob's rim to the pressure plunger's rim, therefore the seal has become smaller and contacts the spool across a smaller area than in the previous generations for minimal friction. This picture captures two additional features aimed at stabilising the spool and refining drag performance. The first is the shaft extension (blue arrow) which slips snuggly into a special housing in the knob (yellow arrow) to prevent any tilting of the knob, something that guarantees even pressure distribution throughout. The second is the top spool bearing (inset, green arrow) whose gigantic size yields maximum durability, high stability, and unprecedented smoothness in spool rotation. It's an open bearing for easy maintenance and lubing, and it's safely tucked under the knob's seal so being an open bearing is highly advantageous without any disadvantages.


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The relocation of the drag knob's seal is also meant to allow the new drag clicker to operate unmuffled from its new location at the top of the spool. This is, without a doubt, my favourite thing about this reel. A few years ago I injected new vocabulary into reel discussions by evaluating drag sounds and dividing them into categories such as 'buzzing', 'smacking', 'ringing', etc., today I'll be adding a new one to describe the 2020 Saltiga's drag sound; 'strikes'. The system makes good use of its location, not quittened by a seal nor buried within a skirt, smartly utilising the metal spool cap to amplify and tune the acoustics, to produce a distinctly loud and extremely crisp striking sound. It is, to the best of my recollection, the loudest drag sound of any spinning reel I've come across. A couple of people told me it sounds similar to the drag of a big conventional reel, which is close enough but not exactly. The unmistakable crispness of these strikes sets them apart from anything else. Find one and listen to it yourself. It's genuinely special.


That epic drag sound though isn't the best friend for someone who's trying not to attract attention, as I was soon to discover once I began real life testing. By the time I had the reels and was ready to go, the pandemic was beginning to slowly shut down the globe. I woke up every morning to some new arbitrary restrictions, cancelled bookings, safety requirements, and international travel seemed all but impossible for me. I had to quickly find alternatives before everything was completely gone, so I had to resort to party boats. Well, I hate party boats, which would not come as a surprise to you since you already know that I hate everyone and everything in this miserable world except my Lord and Saviour Naomi Watts, hallowed be Thy Name. Well, maybe I'll add another exception for cookie dough ice cream, but only if I get to lick it off Naomi's neck. I digress though.


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Of course I wouldn't come near the 4 hours trips because these are the ones favoured by families having fun with their annoying children, as well as clueless college kids who usually get bored 20 minutes in and drop the rental gear then begin drinking and making out. Not that I mind it in any other place or time, but it's kinda hard to focus on assessing drag progression or the effect of line lay on casting distance when some fierce dry-humping is taking place a few metres away. I opted for the 8 and 12 hours trips instead, covered parts of the reels with tape to mask their identity, and other than polite nods of acknowledgement I kept to myself and tried to remain low-key. It was mostly a successful effort, but on more than a handful of occasions I could sense the curious looks when the drag went off, and twice fishos came to say hello and ask what I had in there. Not blaming them, I myself would've acted curious had I heard a spinning reel making those assertive strikes.


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My setup changed very little from start to finish. The 20000 was spooled with 100# JB HC ending with a spliced 90# Seaguar Blue Label BG fluoro leader and a 5/0 - 7/0 hook for bait and live bait, and when nothing was happening with that I'd pick up the 14000 filled with a more castable PE5 Sunline Monster Battle, FG knotted to a 0.60mm Platil Ghost fluoro leader ending with a snap swivel for quick switching of jigs or stick baits depending on where we are. Yep, I'm the kind of lunatic who would jig with an XH reel, but it's done for the sake of testing.


Various species were caught, mostly Snappers, King Macks, and Groupers up to about 30 kilos. I found myself reaching for the 14000 more since fighting a 30 kilos fish on the 20000 felt less of a 'fight' and more of a 'kidnapping'. Case in point, one morning I hooked something that the medium action rod couldn't pump efficiently enough so I leaned over the rail pointing the rod down then virtually cranked what turned out to be a ~25 kilos Stingray with little effort. Not that it became much fairer to fish with the 14000 anyway. That medium Saltiga still overpowered everything it came across, it maintained awesome pulling power despite its ultra speedy ratio, and once something was on it became only a matter of minutes before it was splashing on the surface and a deckhand yelling 'net or gaff?'. I always go with the net for no other reason than being terrible at memorising local regulations, and the last thing I want is to gaff something only to find that it's out of season or that its length exceeds the limit for harvesting. You'd laugh your derrieres off if you ever see me fishing while repeatedly consulting one of those laminated fish charts showing what's legal and what's not. But I digress again.


Now let me tell you something about the pulling power of the new Saltiga. Playing jigs, retrieving poppers, or reeling in a chunk of bait I did not feel an increase in cranking power over the previous model. This isn't a bad thing since that previous Saltiga possessed what I considered to be the most powerful retrieve of all ambidextrous reels. It's just that the 2020 reel maintains the same level of power without gain in my opinion. What I found to have dramatically improved though is the pulling power when the reel is under load. Naturally any reel would require an 'extra amount of effort' to wind against a heavy load, and I feel that this required 'extra amount of effort' has become smaller in the new Saltiga compared to the last one. At first glance this phenomenon seems intriguing. If the efficiency of the gearing has been improved then one expects to feel that gain both when it's reeled against low and high resistance. It can't be the gearing then, the gain must have come from something that becomes engaged when the reel is under load, which would certainly be the completely new oscillation system.


Oscillation mechanism is largely neutral when a reel operates under little or no load, but when there is high resistance on the line, the main shaft comes under increased torque that would cause friction and energy losses if not mitigated properly. In every previous Saltiga that mitigation was done via ball bearings at the bottom of the oscillation block for a smooth rolling motion, in the new Saltiga though the bearings are gone and instead the block slides back and forth on a single guide rod that goes through its top. This doesn't sound very original, but it actually is. Look at this diagram


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I'll keep it simple. Imagine that the main shaft (red) is under a certain amount of torque in the direction of the blue arrow. The shaft is inserted into the oscillation block (grey) therefore the entire block wants to rotate under the torque. Now if you want to place your finger somewhere on the block in order to resist that torque, which location would make it easiest for you, A or B? Of course B. The farther you go from the rotation axis, the main shaft in this case, the less energy you'll need to expend to counter the torque. Daiwa employed this simple principle of physics and placed the guide rod (black circle) as far away from the main shaft as possible, assuring that the torque affecting the main shaft would only produce vanishingly little amounts of friction in the oscillation cycle. The small white circle around the black guide rod in the diagram is a synthetic bushing inserted into the block to further reduce friction, and the entire thing floats above the oscillation gear without resting on it or rubbing it. This is how the new Saltiga generates more cranking power than the previous ones when under load, by virtually nullifying the effects of that load. No reel, current or discontinued, matches the pulling power of the new Saltiga under load. Nothing even comes close.


Funny enough, with this new oscillation system Daiwa inadvertently pays another tribute to the origins. This combination of a locomotive gear and guide rods has been popularised by other brands over the years, but its earliest successful form originates in the Olympic LG III 750. Olympic had a close relation with Daiwa in the early days of both brands, and I believe Olympic eventually got absorbed into Daiwa although the historical material isn't clear enough for me to say it definitively. The 2020 Saltiga therefore carries inside it an 'in-house' historical design that's been altered and refined to perform in a way that pushes familiar boundaries.


During that initial testing phase I got perhaps 55 hours of active fishing out of the reels, was eyeing more, but life had other plans...


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What began as a crisis suddenly turned into an apocalyptic event. Staggering death tolls, draconian orders, and rapidly changing and often conflicting rules for doing pretty much anything. Unsurprisingly, almost every boat I know either stopped operations or said I could make a booking but it might get cancelled if they don't get enough people. It was time for me to pull the plug and hunker down until some sanity is restored. Those who follow the news page would've seen my lockdown chronicles, culminating in the blog post where I explained the lack of updates and outlined the multitude of issues I was facing such as the fights to get refunds from airlines and the rest of it.


That post had unexpected effects. Many of you reached out with offers to facilitate my return to fishing, including invitations to take me out on private boats or hook me up with local fishermen/guides in a few countries. I carefully studied each potential destination, researched the best ways to get there and back, prepared some contingency measures, and by the end of July I had picked a few of my favourite global spots and started the process of reactivating. It's only appropriate for me to take a second here to express my gratitude to each person who helped me get back on the water, including those who reached out but I couldn't meet this time. Over many years the fishing community has proven to be the finest and most reliable bunch of people around.


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Having begun serious fishing I finally got a chance to realistically evaluate certain features, one of which is the new spool lip. The lip is a narrow hardened ring, placed further down the spool's edge than any lip I've seen before. I do not recall seeing any official claims that it casts further than its predecessor, but to get this out of the way let me tell you that it doesn't. Once more, not a bad thing since the previous generation cast so well only dedicated long-spool distance reels could outcast it. This new lip though does something else; it makes more of your line usable when there isn't much of it left on the spool. To better illustrate that let me tell you how it was on the water...


We were jigging near a wreck that's almost 130 metres down. Deep currents were so powerful that even the hefty 500 grams jigs would drift away and by the time they reached the bottom almost 200 to 230 metres of line would be out. This amount is more than half the capacity of the 14000, therefore as the jig sinks the line level on the spool dips substantially. In other reels, when line level dips too much while it's coming off the spool, one feels slight 'tugging' as coils closest to the front flange of the spool come off at a sharp angle with more friction against the spool lip. In the new Saltiga though there is no such tugging due to the relative height and strategic forward location of the hardened ring. By stripping the line from its advanced position it acts as if the spool is slightly longer than it actually is, therefore the line comes off at a milder angle with less friction. Of course I'm using 'sharp' and 'mild' angles figuratively to keep it simple since not everyone would know the meaning of such terms as 'acute' or 'obtuse'.


This is a feature that you might never take advantage of if you have no need for extremely deep drops, but for me it was a true blessing. Once at the bottom I would not jig all the way up, rather I'd do 50 to 60 metres then open the bail and let it drop again since that was the depth at which fish were hitting. In other words I was continuously operating with low line level on the spool, so the absence of tugging allowed my jig to drop more rapidly and provided me with a better feel of what was happening to it as it did. The fact that Daiwa would think of such detail is beyond me. In my day-dreams about how spinning reels could be improved, it never once occurred to me that it's possible to mitigate the tugging at low line levels. Daiwa's people seem to function on a whole different level. Anyway, in case you were wondering what sort of fish is worthy of such torture, here you go


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Reef Donkey, the mighty delicious Amberjack. Pulled roughly a hundred of them give or take a few on both reels, including some really big ones, and they never fail to put up a fierce fight that sends my heart racing and saturates my body with adrenaline. Did I say 'delicious'? Let's make that 'probably delicious' because I did not get to eat any this time. I killed a handful of smaller ones for dinner, but to my absolute horror each single one had worms near the tail. I left them to my guide who wanted to remove the worms and eat them, and instead settled for an unappetising dinner of crisps that had gotten smashed to smithereens during the series of flights and land transpiration. But I digress yet again.


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Over the following weeks I barely stopped. If I was not fishing I was on my way to the next fishing destination as I fought that lingering boat rocking sensation. I was fuelled by an intense hunger for being out on the deep blue water after months of lockdown, and thinking back I might have actually spent more time floating than on dry land in August and the first two weeks of September. I got to pit the reels and myself against a long list of species such as Dorados, Bonitos, Groupers including one I estimated at ~80 kilos and another in the lower 70s, Narrow-barred Macks, Bluefins a handful of which pushed the 100 kilograms mark, Bigeyes, and Spangled Emperors which I lovingly call 'little torpedoes'. You'll know what I mean if you've ever caught them. As usual everything was treated with respect and released alive, with the exception of only a very small number that was killed either for immediate consumption or as gifts to my guides to take to their families.


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By then I had learned a lot more about the 2020 Saltiga. The various spool stabilising mechanisms came together with the new weave of the large number of drag washers operating at low stress and rapidly ejecting heat through radiation surfaces and air passages to produce drag performance that I'm struggling to describe. I can probably write two or three paragraphs filled with superlatives and exclamation marks, but instead I'll just say that it's everything one would ever want in a drag, and that the higher the drag setting goes the more obvious its superiority to anything else becomes.


Additionally, I believe that in this reel the ATD grease has finally become what it was meant to be. When that grease first came out years ago I tried it out, then in my usual cold brutality called it a bunch of rubbish that does either very little or nothing at all depending on the reel's size. In the 2020 Saltiga though the ATD grease shines through, most likely thanks to the fine washer surface and exceedingly rigid metal rotor. The responsiveness of the drag is blazing fast, and within a certain range it's even preemptive. This is no exaggeration; normally a fish would make a burst and you feel it then the drag responds, but within a particular range of pressure the drag of this Saltiga would actually intercept this cycle and release line before your body feels the burst and your brain processes that it's happening. I mentioned that to a mate, he said it's probably just me because my brain is 'slow' according to him, but then I handed him the rod on the next hit and after landing the fish he said I was certainly on to something. This drag made me question my own sanity, and I'll just leave it there.


I also got to figure out what the 'Monocoque' body is actually about, but I'll begin with what it is not about


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These are Daiwa's own words, and they are utter nonsense. The new Saltiga has a frame and a side cover just like every previous Saltiga, and there is no reason based in engineering or logic to call this arrangement 'Monocoque' or claim that it 'does not require a body cover'. If anyone has an actual structural analysis proving that the side cover played a role in previous reels that it does not in the new one, I'd like to see it.


The new body has its advantages though. The side cover is a screw-in type, therefore no space is wasted on accommodating screws and all available space could then be occupied by a colossal drive gear, which in addition to its large diameter is also extremely thick.


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This is a photo I received from the reel's debut in Japan, showing a side by side comparison between the drive gear of the new Saltiga and the previous one, which was itself one of the biggest in the industry. In addition to the increase in overall diameter, each of its teeth is almost three times the size of the previous ones, and they are cut much deeper thanks to the increased thickness of the gear. When these immense teeth engage the similarly substantial pinion, the contact area between them is the biggest of any spinning reel to ever exist. There has not been another spinner where the gears mesh across such a large area, and this includes even the classic worm-gear drive reels known for their extreme longevity and virtual indestructibility mainly due to the large gear meshing area. Spreading the workload and stress across a larger area results in reduced wear and increased strength since more force could be applied without fear of breakage or warping.


The new gear still retains the thin 'male' gear shaft, which permits the drive gear to be minimally offset to the pinion for higher transmission efficiency. The increased thickness of the gear allows it to grip that stainless steel shaft more firmly across an increased surface area for even more strength. I heard an insider rumour that during the creation of this reel the new gear was stress tested against the previous one, and separating its plate from the shaft took more than three times the force it took to separate the previous gear. I believe it. This is not an invitation to crank a heavy fish with a spinning reel, but if you happen to be one of those crazy hardcore fishos who punish their reel like that, you probably won't be able to break this new gear since that requires more power than humans can produce.


The new drive gear is made from a special duralumin alloy that Daiwa calls 'G1', but its composition and processing details are kept under wraps. Now I could either type a bunch of numbers for tensile strength, fatigue limit, fracture strain, etc., or I can just say that from a fisherman's perspective this material is incredibly strong, durable, resistant to corrosion, and very light. How light?


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As implausible as it sounds, this bigger and thicker gear is actually lighter than the smaller previous one. They proudly exhibited that fact with displays like this one during the Japanese shows held earlier this year. These exotic alloys have become essentially a Daiwa's speciality, and there is no better testament to this than the reputation of the C6191 gear which today still powers many Saltiga Z reels made 19 years ago. The drive gear of the 2020 Saltiga is accurately CNC cut, and coupled with a pinion made of their tried and tested marine bronze it maintained the same out-of-box smoothness after some of the longest and harshest testing I've done in recent memory. It still runs without a hint of geariness, noise, or play, and the entire drive train shows no sign of wear that I could detect or discern.


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The screw-in side cover is machine-cut, allowing it to have an anodised finish.


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The other side has a similar anodised screw-in cover, even though the body is closed beneath it. This precise mating of the machined anodised covers and the cast painted frame creates an alluring contrast that screams of craftsmanship. On the practical side, with these screw-in covers in place over 70% of the frame is protected by anodising, which is the toughest finish for this application. The rest is finished by a new painting process, which is described as a completely different approach aiming to yield tougher results than previously possible. Judging the durability of a new finish without years of use is almost impossible, and anything I say about these finishes is and will always remain an initial evaluation, not some sort of a final conclusion. With that in mind, I did see some very encouraging signs that the new paint on the 2020 Saltiga is indeed tough. The reels did not acquire the normal usage marks, such as the depressions in foot paint where the rod grips it, and while I frequently rested the reels on rough boat floors their rotors did not develop the hair scratches usually associated with this. I strongly believe that if basic rinsing is carried out at the end of each fishing day, the new Saltiga will never develop the dreaded paint bubbling. Here is a simple pictorial guide to the correct rinsing procedure..


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In addition to rinsing the body normally, remove the handle and cap and let freshwater enter both openings, rinse the line roller as you spin it with your finger, and tighten the drag and let water enter around the drag knob to clean the clicker. Pretty easy, and even out on the ocean with precious bottled water it takes only a mug filling of it to do the whole routine.


The fresh platform of the 2020 Saltiga gave designers complete freedom to forge an 'ecosystem' of closely interconnected features working seamlessly to maximise performance. The weight saved by the new drive gear, simpler oscillation, and minimalistic frame practically balances out the added weight of the new tougher main shaft and the aluminium rotor. Having become metal the rotor could be made more compact, which in turn allowed the stem of the reel to be shortened without decreasing the clearance between the rotor and the rod. The stem has become only a few millimetres shorter, but this markedly increased its strength by reducing the bending moment generated at the foot, and of course a shorter stem means a bit of weight saving that goes back into the 'ecosystem' to be utilised somewhere else.


All of these little intertwined bits created a whole that is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts, culminating in a fishing experience unlike anything previously known to me. No matter what fish I targeted, what size it was, or which technique I used, I constantly felt a unique sense of confidence and full control. The Saltiga weighs and balances right, casts as far as gravity would let the lure go, when something is hooked the spool's sound is rewarding, nothing in the reel flexes or bends,the drag intervenes intelligently as if it's a thinking calculating organism, the legendary clutch buried into the frame stops the rotor solidly without squishiness or give, all while I'm positively holding the comfortable grip and pushing the beefy gearing to generate enough pull to rival a small lever drag reel. I probably should close this paragraph with a short all-encompassing analogy, but there isn't anything analogous to this reel. There just isn't.


At that point I had added roughly 170 hours of fishing time since reactivation, but I wasn't yet ready to wrap it up. It's never a matter of a certain amount of time for me, rather I stop only when I feel a certain satisfaction that all what needs to be done has been done, and I wasn't there yet. The 14000 had already given me all its secrets and I desired nothing more of it, but the 20000 still needed to tell me where its limits are. My guide knew what I wanted, and he kept talking to other fishermen until he got a tip that some huge bluefins have been lurking somewhere. We headed out while it was still dark, and my fisherman's sense told me I'll soon be fighting more tuna than I can handle.


12 hours later the only tuna we'd seen was the one in my sandwiches, whose mayonnaise had gotten bad under the hot sun making them inedible and leaving me with a growling empty stomach. My 'fisherman's sense' turned out to be as much of a disappointment as I was to my poor parents, and my hunger was becoming worse by the minute I actually considered nibbling on a dead octopus that we'd brought as a potential Grouper bait. I was almost about to call it a day when a school of False Albacore appeared beneath us, providing some needed action in a rather boring day as well as a chance to secure a proper dinner. I always delayed killing fish to the end of the day so they'd still be fresh when we dock. Got a few ones that were above average, so I let them go and kept looking for the right size. Another one came splashing, still bigger than I wanted, so I leaned to release it but then noticed that it was leaving a trail of blood in the water. The hook was clean in its mouth, so I decided to haul it in to inspect


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Something had ravaged its back near the tail. I knew there were Barracudas around, but in my experience they usually go after smaller fish that they can bite and fully control and rarely attack something this size. The next logical suspect was sharks, which my guide knew very little about but said others in his town spoke about occasionally catching Makos. Well, a few years ago a shark literally mopped the beach with me and left me broken in body and spirit, and I thought that this might be a good change to finally salvage my 'shark pride'. I had a length of wire trace that had been in my bag for years and I just let it be, crimped to what appeared to be a 9/0 circle hook at one end and a swivel at the other. I had probably picked that thing from Academy or BassPro in 2016 and no longer had its packaging, so I had no clue what the trace or swivel were rated at. Nevertheless I Palomared it to the leader on the 20000, then cut up the bitten fish and stitched the hook into the chunk that had the bite vaguely hoping that this would somehow increase the chances of another bite.


Strapped the gimbal, rod butt in, and off went the bait. It dropped for a few seconds then the line went limp. Closed the bail and started winding the loose line, completely perplexed as to how I could've possibly lost the bait like that and wondering if the swivel had gotten completely corroded and just broke off, but then I felt it. A massive pull that caught me completely off guard as I stood winding what I thought was a broken line. Apparently what happened is that it took the bait on the drop then swam upwards giving the illusion that I've lost the bait. Took me a second to regain my balance and put the rod back in the gimbal, then started sizing up what I had. It certainly was not what bit my Albacore. It was much bigger, and I was in absolute awe as it continued to pull line against at least 13 kilos of drag steadily although not at a particularly high rate. That initial run went on for maybe 3 minutes, then it seemed to change direction and go sideways which was my signal to put my back into it and do some massive pumps, but I couldn't budge it or turn it towards me and instead with each pump the spool let some line out...


...I felt that I needed more drag power than I could manage standing up, so I sat on the floor right next to the rail with the rod sticking out a safe distance. I then cranked the drag up to around 20 kilos, briefly touching the spool's face to check for heat but it felt no hotter than the surrounding air. From that stage it became kinda repetitive. The fish would head out in runs of up to 4 minutes, during which I would remain still with my feet firmly against the rail while gripping the rod as high on the blank as I can safely go for better leverage. Once a run was over I'd begin pumping and slowly gaining until it ran again, then I'd get back to the 'standby mode' deadly focused on conserving my energy by not making redundant moves or doing any feeble attempts to pump against that sort of power. I was also lucky that the fish had so far remained on one side so I didn't have to move and lose my foothold, which would've forced me to reduce drag pressure and let it take more line. Almost 35 minutes into it the fish no longer could pull against the drag for any length of time, and I finally began gaining more line than I was losing. I no longer felt the weakness of hunger, and I became single mindedly intent on maintaining my discipline and methodically reeling that thing in...


...the storyteller in me wishes it was an epic multi-hour fight that one can recite to an excited table at the pub, time and again leaving everyone on cliffhangers while slowly taking a sip from a cold Guinness Draught, but it only took 70 minutes or about until the dark shadow appeared boatside. I grabbed the leader with my hand so that it counts as a successful landing in my book, then pulled on it and took my first good look at the exhausted fish. It wasn't a Mako. It was a Great White, and taking in its length and girth I immediately knew that it was comfortably over 200 kilograms, making it the biggest fish I've ever caught proper. I'm saying 'proper' because when I was young I took turns with others winding big multipliers from fighting chairs with all sorts of huge billfish at the end of the line, but that's not something I'd count or care for. This was my actual personal best, and it was such a magical moment. Of course it's a protected fish that by law can't be targeted and must be released without a second of delay once identified, and that's exactly what I did, snipping the trace pretty close to its mouth and sending the beautiful beast on its way. It's a circle hook, and I still got most of the trace after cutting it, which makes me believe that the hook is in its mouth and will probably fall off in a few weeks causing no harm.


The promotional catalogue of this reel states this


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Now I can't ask you to wait until I test it on a 400 kilograms fish or you'll be waiting for a few decades, but considering how my new best catch didn't seem to challenge or even bother the Saltiga, I'm willing to bet good money that it can indeed land a 400 kilograms fish. These numbers used to be unimaginable when discussing spinning reels, but apparently it's time to reassess certain beliefs.


As we near the end of this article some of you are probably wondering why is it that this time I went light on technical aspects and instead focused heavily on fishing. I did this to address a potential misconception about the nature of these reviews, one that became increasingly visible to me during the virus lockdowns. It took different forms but the gist of it was as follows; a reader would get in touch to ask when this article will be coming, I'd reply that there is no specific date because I'm unable to fish, but then I'd get a follow up asking me to just take it apart and review it. When that kept happening, I began to realise that the overwhelming technical details in these reviews overshadows any mentions of actual fishing and real life testing, therefore in the minds of some these reviews became essentially about disassembly and commentary, which is not and will never be the case.


I gave it some thought, then decided that this time I was going to write a 'fisherman's review'  instead of an 'engineer's review'. I picked this article for that purpose for two reasons. Firstly, you'll still get to see the technical details of this reel in another context next year, and, secondly, this article will probably become highly visible so it's a good vehicle to reach as many people as I can with this simple message; I do not review, evaluate, judge, compare, or assign scores to reels without exhaustive fishing and thorough testing first. This ranges from hundreds of fishing hours crisscrossing the world in the case of new reel platforms, to maybe a few afternoons seaside in the case of spin-offs of reels I've already tested or an added size to a familiar series, etc.        


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One belief I've always held is that no reel is or will ever be perfect. There will always be room to improve or certain aspects that I could imagine ways to enhance. Even when I reviewed the 2014 Expedition, a reel I highly admire, I still criticised its messy spool shimming system and called it 'a pain'. Actually the fact that I've always found issues or deficiencies served to reassure me of my own fairness. Those who declare things 'perfect' are either the sponsored clowns at the forefront of every trade, or people who sincerely believe it but lack a full grasp of the subject. This is why the 2020 Saltiga put me through an identity crisis of sorts, having gradually come to the realisation that the only objective thing to say is something that I used to think could never be said objectively; this reel is utterly perfect in every aspect and on every level. Its design is perfect, its build is perfect, and its performance went beyond perfection and practically forced me to recalibrate my imagination and shift what I used to believe were the upper limits of what's achievable by a spinning reel.


Hobbyists and passionate collectors usually dream of an object that they can't possess, either due to its rarity or because it doesn't exist yet. An item of such greatness in one's mind that it takes an almost mythical value, ultimately being designated one's 'holy grail'. A term you'd be familiar with if you've spent any time among enthusiasts of things such as coins, timepieces, artwork, stamps, banknotes, guns, sports memorabilia, etc. This Saltiga is exactly this to me, the almost mythical item that I've always wished would one day exist, and now it finally does. Over hundreds of hours I made a special connection with this reel, and being a finely crafted item I still enjoy it even when it's not being used. Sometimes I take it out just to feel the smoothness of the rotation, spin the spool to hear its lovely strikes, or find new angles to admire the light reflection on that immersive deep blue finish. And as I type this article with the reel sitting on my desk looking clean and peaceful, I can't help but smile recalling that only days earlier it was covered in saltwater, fish blood, and my own sweat as the drag screamed braking the runs of one fish after another under a burning sun. My smile stems partially from the fond memories, but mostly from a deep sense of fulfilment that after a lifetime of looking I finally found it - my elusive holy grail.


Alan Hawk

September, 22nd, 2020


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