Daiwa Catalina 2011 : The Review

Hello again

Since the release of the first Saltiga nearly a dozen of years ago Daiwa have maintained a tradition of following their flagship reel by a watered-down version, capturing some of the allure of the high end Saltiga while costing less. The main purpose of that second tier reel was to maximise profit from the new production line that had just been set for the flagship reel involving new moulds, software, and outsourced parts made especially for them. Since expensive flagship reels will never sell in numbers that would keep the production line working at full capacity, a second tier reel being produced on the same machinery and assembled by the same people would bring more profitability. Shimano have been doing that as well with a Twin Power reel coming after each release of a new Stella.

Daiwa's second tier reel has evolved significantly. The first offshoot of the 2001 Saltiga Z was a reel named "Saltiga Blast", which resembled the Saltiga Z externally and shared some parts and design aspects with the flagship reel, but it was of a horrible quality and had no sealing, and sure enough it was discontinued and replaced with the first Catalina in 2007. That Catalina shared much more parts with the Saltiga Z and was similarly waterproof and of a significantly higher quality than the Blast, but it had fewer bearings and used Daiwa's second tier gearing consisting of a brass pinion and an aluminium drive gear, as opposed to Saltiga Z's first tier gearing comprising a stainless steel pinion and a marine bronze drive gear.

In 2010 Daiwa released their latest flagship Saltiga in medium sizes, followed in 2011 by the smallest and biggest sizes in the lineup. Similarly the new Catalina followed a year later with the medium ones in 2011 and the smallest and largest in 2012. The reel in this review is the Catalina 6500H released October 2012 and I was among the very first people in the world to purchase one. The reel sells for $800-$850 depending on where you buy it from, and I had to order direct from Japan since they were not yet available internationally. I only review reels after a considerable amount of time fishing and testing, usually 2-4 months, but I'm exceptionally reviewing the Catalina after only 6 trips and less than 4 weeks of testing for reasons that I'll explain later on. The review is not going to be as big or detailed as the 2010 Saltiga review, but rather it will focus on detailing the differences between the Saltiga and the Catalina and discussing the effects of those differences on the performance.

What comes with it

It comes with the same double pocketed reel bag that comes with the Saltiga, a Japanese manual, a multilingual manual (English, French, German, and Spanish), a reel ID card, a spool band, spool shims to change the line lay shape, and a special metal key to disassemble the handle knob (red arrow).

Daiwa's Japanese site lists both the Catalina and Saltiga 6500H as being the same weight of 795 grams (28oz), but that is not true. The Catalina actually weighs 799 grams (28.1oz), and the Saltiga 6500H weighs 828 grams (29.2oz) according to my faithful scale. Daiwa rates the Catalina at 30KG (66lbs) of maximum drag, exactly the same maximum drag they claim for the Saltiga 6500H. There is no fish I could catch that would come close to pulling line at those crazy numbers, so I tested maximum drag using weights and scales and both reels comfortably did 27.5kg (60.6lbs) of drag. I didn't go further because there is no point since that was about 12lbs more than the highest drag I've ever fished in real life, and I doubt that anyone can hold onto a rod at 60lbs of drag stand up for any considerable amount of time. As indicated by the model numbers, the Catalina holds exactly as much line as a Saltiga 6500H does, which is about 300 metres (~330 yards) of PE-8 braid (0.47mm thickness) in one of those rare cases where the advertised capacity matched real capacity.

The drag

The Catalina has the exact same drag washers and metal discs as in the Saltiga. And when I say that I don't mean similar ones, but rather the exact same ones they put in the Saltiga down to the factory's serial number which I checked myself. The drag of the Catalina is the drag of the Saltiga, and it performs incredibly smooth. I threw stick baits to BFT and caught Dorado trolling, then since these weren't really productive I resorted to jigging and bottom bait fishing despite the high speed of the reel to test the drag properly, and in short you can't tell the drag from that of a Saltiga.

The Catalina has a seal mounted on the drag knob (red arrow) just like the Saltiga. The first difference from the Saltiga is the pressure disc (red X); the pressure disc of the Catalina is plastic instead of metal as in the Saltiga. To me the only reason they went metal on the 2010 Saltiga was to catch up with the Stella SW. The old Saltiga/Dogfight/Expedition reels all had plastic drag pressure discs, and for more than a decade there has not been a single case of melting reported on any of those reels, and they didn't even have that extra insulation disc of the new Saltiga and Catalina (blue arrow). So in practical terms the pressure disc of the new Catalina is a cost cutting measure that is not at all a downgrade since it was used in the previous generation of the flagship Saltigas. Note here that I'm talking about the internal pressure disc only. The external shell of the drag knob in both Saltiga and Catalina is still plastic.


In my Saltiga review two years ago I found that the plating of the knob clicker teeth was chipping off and falling into the drag washers, but soon afterwards they fixed that in all Saltigas and accordingly Catalinas too since they share the same part. The dark stuff in the above photo of my Catalina is normal grease smudges, but the plating remained perfect. 

Spool hub

The spool hub in the Saltiga is 2 pieces because a ball bearing sits just above the shims, but in the Catalina the spool has no ball bearings, hence the hub is one piece. The absence of the bearings in the spool is the second difference from the Saltiga, and on that I'll quote something I said when I reviewed the Penn Torque a year and a half ago; "Same goes for the two bearings inside the spool. They are definitely a beautiful refining touch, but they serve no practical purpose, especially in a part of the reel that purposely generates friction". So I've always believed that spool bearings are just a refining touch with no effect on performance, and testing the drag performance of the Catalina only affirms my belief. Again we find that the missing spool bearings is a cost cutting measure that's not a downgrade. Not only this, but if you read my review of the 2010 Saltiga you will find that one of my biggest gripes was that the useless ball bearing in the hub was limiting the addition of shims and causing all sorts of problems. The Saltiga 6500H comes with one shim installed, and you can either add one more or just leave it as it is. You can't remove that original shim and lay the spool on bare metal, and you can't add more than one extra shim because that third one will become wedged beneath the ball bearing and jam the bearing completely still. Look at the 2010 Saltiga review for details and photos. In the Catalina though (above photo) and because of the absence of that annoying bearing, several shims (red X) could be added with ease to freely adjust the line lay as you'd do with the superior design of the Stella SW. Another advantage of the Catalina's design is that the rigidly seated one piece spool hub reduces spool tilting compared to the Saltiga. The only actual downgrade here is that it has only one O ring (blue arrow) instead of two in the Saltiga, which doubles as a retainer and a seal. It provides less protection against water intrusion than the Saltiga's double O rings, but it was sufficient enough to keep water out during a few test submersions and cleaning in a bucket of freshwater after each fishing trip. This downgrade should have no effect, unless you will submerge your reel frequently. 

The exact same components as in the Saltiga. The shaft seal (red X), friction washer (blue X), O ring seal of the retainer plate (blue arrow), and the ball bearing inside the nut (red arrow) for the floating shaft feature.

The rotor of the Catalina is the Zaion rotor of the Saltiga with the same factory serial number. The red arrow points the now familiar smudges of magnetic oil. That thing just likes to go places!!

The mag-seal of the Saltiga is used on the Catalina. The blue arrow points the barrier of magnetic fluid that creates a seal without any friction, and the red arrow points the new stainless steel plate they added to the large Saltigas and Catalinas to catch splattered magnetic fluid. When I reviewed the Saltiga in 2010 I took issue with the mess created by the fluid, and although this new plate does not eliminate the problem completely, it reduces it dramatically as you would see if you compare this photo to the ones in the 2010 Saltiga review. I still prefer the old school clean rubber seals, but if this magnetic technology takes your fancy then go for it as I believe it has  been improved enough to achieve reliable functionality.

The mag seal unit being removed, and it's markedly clean on the back. No leaks or splattering into the clutch despite about 72 hours of fishing and maybe 10 more hours of land testing and weight pulling stresses. The magnets are notably more powerful that hardly a drop or two of fluid were squeezed out when I removed the unit, so I decided not to top the fluid up when I reassembled the reel.

The anti-reverse clutch

The same Japanese made one way clutch of the Saltiga. Together with the proprietary clutch of the Stella these two are in a world of their own in reliability and strength, and that's why the design of both hasn't changed for more than a decade now.

Again, when I tested the Saltiga in 2010 I mentioned that the flaps of the retainer of the pinion's bearing got bent out and allowed the bearing to move. The retainer got updated since, and this is no more an issue in later Saltigas, and because the Catalina uses the same part the retainer in my reel was flawless and the flaps (red arrow) remained perfectly straight. Looking at the specific issues dealt with on those reels I have no doubt that my Saltiga review found its way to Daiwa in Japan and they acted on it.     

Moving on to the gearbox

The rear shield of the Catalina is made of plastic instead of metal as in the Saltiga, and after using the reel and checking it out I have no doubt that it's another cost-cutting measure that is not a downgrade in practical sense. The shield of the Catalina is made of a very thick and quite strong plastic that from a functional standpoint is superior to the metal one on the Saltiga; the plastic shield of the Catalina can stand hits that would dent the metal shield of the Saltiga, and being mainly a replaceable bumper designed to take abuse the price of the Catalina's is very appropriate at 800Yen ($9) vs 5800Yen ($70) for the metal one of the Saltiga. Actually it might not be seen as a downgrade at all if you consider that the venerable Stella SW has a plastic body shield as well. Being plastic on the Catalina it has no seal, but regular exposure to saltwater and intentional submersion of the entire reel caused no corrosion or staining to the metal behind it as could be seen in the photo above, thanks to Daiwa's highly resistant finish used on both the Saltiga and Catalina.

The shields of the Catalina and Stella side by side, showing how the one on the Daiwa is easily 3 times thicker!

The red arrow points the side cover seal that goes around the entire perimeter of the sealed gearbox.

The drive gear

This is a game changer. For the first time ever the second tier reel has the exact same drive gear as the flagship reel! This is the time proven and tested drive gear of the Saltiga made of C6191 marine bronze and cut in a 3D numerically controlled process that Daiwa calls "Digigear". This complicated cutting operation creates teeth on both drive and pinion gears that are perfectly matched even across curvatures, resulting in a larger contact area which translates into better power transmission, smoothness, and the very well known durability of this gear.

The pinion

The pinion also comes straight from the flagship Saltiga. The pinion of this Catalina is a special bronze alloy similar to the C6191 marine bronze, and this pinion is found in the 2010 Saltiga 6500H as well. Catalina and Saltiga reels of all sizes now share the same drive gear and pinion, which is the C6191 drive gear and either a bronze or a stainless steel pinion depending on size and speed. For example the pinion of the 6500H model of both 2010 Saltiga and 2011 Catalina is bronze, while the pinion of the 4000H model of both the Saltiga and Catalina is stainless steel. That wasn't the case with the previous generation where the 2001 Saltiga had better gearing than the 2007 Catalina. I put the gearing through its paces, cranking fish when I should have pumped, excessively retrieving and releasing trolling rigs as the boat travelled at high speeds, and contentiously casting and retrieving poppers even when no fish was hitting, all to punish the gearing as much as I could...   

Nothing. No volume loss, no surface wear, no edge rounding, and no tip damage minute or big. This isn't an exact science, but I've examined hundreds and hundreds of spinning reels of all configurations and degrees of use over decades of my fishing life, and I believe that I've developed a good ability to evaluate the strength and durability of a part based on how it's faring relative to the use it has been through. To me this gearing is every bit as tough as that of the previous generation of Saltiga.

Here is another difference between this reel and the Saltiga. The Catalina has two synthetic rollers (blue arrow) instead of ball bearings on the bottom of the oscillation block. These rollers are as smooth as the ball bearings of the Saltiga, they remained in a perfect condition even after my severe stress tests with the 27.5KG (60lbs) load described earlier, and durability isn't an issue since this is the same composite used to make the sleeve of the oscillation stud and the floating shaft washer in the old Saltiga and I've never seen any of those components worn out or damaged. The red arrow points the emergency mechanical anti-reverse that comes into action if the one way anti-reverse clutch slips or fails. The emergency stop of the smaller Saltigas and Catalinas engages a ratchet on the drive gear, while in the bigger Saltigas and Catalinas it engages a ratchet on the pinion for more strength.

This is one of my all time favourite photos, showing parts in battle positions The blue arrow points the emergency dog ready to engage the ratchet if the pinion spins back, and the red arrow points the washer suspending the main shaft free of contact with the pinion to complete the floating shaft feature.

The spring loaded double oscillation gears mounted on a ball bearing (red X), and the stud has a rubber ring (red arrow) for the silent oscillation feature. All these parts are shared with the Saltiga.

The oscillation pinion with a waterproof O ring inside (red arrow), again the same parts that go into the Saltiga.

The ornamental side plate has a different styling to the one of the Saltiga, but it's metal as well and similarly sealed underneath (red arrow).

The external handle seal (red arrow) keeps water out of the handle's opening. If you'd fished the 2010 Saltiga quite enough you'd probably have had this seal occasionally falling out as you unscrewed the handle at the end of a fishing day. The seal of the Catalina did that once and I have no doubt will do it again. Daiwa needs to address that because it's annoying and I've lost seals from my Saltigas more than once.

The handle is considerably different than the Saltiga's. The stem is the same machined one that goes into the Saltiga, but the shroud is less ornate, and the grip of the Catalina is made of expanded rubber (EVA) while the grip of the Saltiga is aluminium. The grip is a matter of personal taste. Catalina's grip is less slippery, but it retains fishy smell and I don't know how to deal with that. Ultimately though I hate the grips of both reels since they are round and I happen to prefer T grips over round ones. There is only one bearing in the Catalina's grip (blue arrow) instead of two bearings in the Saltiga, but the screw is similarly sealed with an O ring (red arrow) to protect the bearing from water intrusion. There is no sealing on the inner end of the grip though.

The same one piece hollow bail wire of the Saltiga.

The same bail arm material and construction, but on the Catalina the finish is silver as opposed to the black finish of the Saltiga's bail arm. This is a matter of styling, both finishes are excellent.

Line roller is sealed on both sides.

The roller itself is identical in design to the Saltiga's, but again the finish is silver instead of black. Photographed above with its two corrosion resistant ball bearings (CRBB), two seals, and an adjusting washer.

The bail mechanism and rotor brake ring (red arrow) are the same used in the Saltiga. When you open the bail to cast the rotor will remain still and the bail can only be closed manually, just as I like it. I really wish that in the next generation Stella they will drop the automatic bail return in the smaller reels.

And finally, the spool lip is the same one on the Saltiga but finished in mat silver instead of black. There is no difference in casting distance between the two reels.

In the past I never felt the need to review Daiwa's second tier reel since it was highly downgraded mechanically and its price was pretty close to the flagship reel. Now that the Catalina is almost the same reel as the Saltiga while being $450-$500 cheaper in 6500H size, I just couldn't let it go. Yes, the Catalina has 5 less bearings than the Saltiga, but two of those are the spool bearings that I've always believed were useless, two in the traverse block were replaced by rollers that are as smooth and durable, and the fifth missing bearings is in the handle and it makes zero felt difference. Two metal parts of the Saltiga were indeed replaced with plastic in the Catalina, but both make no difference since the drag knob's disc is the one from the old Saltiga that never failed, and the rear shield is 3 times as thick at the Stella's and actually more resilient than the metal one on the Saltiga. Other than this nonsensical bling, what really matters in a reel is equal between the Saltiga and the Catalina; gears, anti reverse, drag, rotor, and body. Daiwa rate both reels at 66lbs of maximum drag because they know they're equally strong, both are equally smooth and fluid, the Catalina wins when it comes to ability to shim the spool, and finally the Catalina is more than an ounce lighter due to less bearings and the two plastic parts replacing metal ones.

I did not need to test the Catalina for long because I had already tested the parts making it, albeit inside another reel called Saltiga 6500H which I've owned for nearly a year now. I loved the reel and fast tracked this review over other reels because I felt some guilt letting people buy Saltigas when they can save a large amount of money buying a Catalina instead. If you have already decided on a Saltiga, give the Catalina a look first if it's available in the equivalent size and speed. The Catalina is available in both high and low speeds in 3xxx, 4xxx, and 5xxx sizes, and for now only high speed in 6xxx size with the slower Catalina 6500 to come next year. Not only that it's a good alternative to standard Saltigas, but actually instead of buying a $1400 Dogfight you could buy a 6500H Catalina and an RCS-7000 spool ($325) for a total of only $1150, and you will have the original Catalina 6500H spool as an extra or you can sell it for a couple of hundred dollars to take the total cost even lower, and you'll have what is for all intents and purposes a "Dogfight" that's just not black. The Catalina creates a unique situation where a single company is making two true super spinners, and in response I've updated my lists today to reflect that with the proper score given to the Catalina according to my set of criteria that awards more points to actual functionality than it does to bearing count and aesthetics.

I've blown $800 plus shipping and import duties on a reel that I absolutely don't need because I care about you smelly bunch, so don't hate me if I go on an extended break from reviews for a few months!! 2012 was my most productive year with 7 reviews, and I really hope that you've enjoyed all of them

Cheers all and be safe on the water.

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Alan Hawk
November, 24rd, 2012

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