Shilton Saltwater SL series review continued…

Shilton Saltwater SL series review continued…

This is the second review in a series of on-going articles that will focus on the performance of the Shilton Saltwater SL series reels. The reviews may include photos and information on the SL6, SL7 and SL8 reels.


I’d like to start this post with a correction pointed out by Chad Hubbard from Shilton Reels; in my previous post ( I commented on the neatsfoot lubricant included in the reel pouch and that it could be used on the metal parts of the reel. The sole purpose of the neatsfoot lubricant is to moisten and lubricate the cork drag disc and Shilton Reels do not recommend using it on the metal parts of the reel as a means of protection against corrosion.

Speaking of corrosion, I’ve noticed some surface corrosion on the stainless bearings inside the spool assembly (sliding over the spindle) after extended saltwater trips and sometimes even after spraying the parts with 100% pure silicon spray to prevent this; to prevent corrosion, I normally clean my reels thoroughly after every saltwater trip by stripping the line off in a shower and rinsing it to the backing loop with cold freshwater; once the line is rinsed, I take the reel apart while the line is still lying on the shower floor and rinse the reel parts with luke-warm freshwater; after the rinse, I spray the water and any remaining loose dirt off the reel parts with a narrow muzzle fitted onto a high pressure spray can containing 100% silicone spray; once the reel parts are shiny clean and they are covered with a layer of silicone lubricant, I re-assemble the reel and wind the fly line through a soft, dry cloth back onto the spool. The cloth dries the line and provides friction to wind it up tight enough to prevent the line from cutting into itself when fighting the big fish you hook on the next fishing trip to the sea.

As far as silicone spray brands go (and I’ve tried many), Spanjaard works the best and lasts the longest – if you can get about ten ‘reel cleans’ (five cleans times two reels) out of one can, then it’s a good brand. This is usually enough ‘cleansing’ for most saltwater reels, but it has to be applied frequently (after every day trip or at least every second day of an extended saltwater trip, i.e. a 6-7 day Seychelles trip). It is important to wipe the exterior parts of the reel with a dry cloth (or paper towel) to rid most of the greasiness from the silicon spray before the reel is used on the next outing.

However, after I detected some corrosion on the Shilton stainless bearings after extended saltwater trips, I discussed my reel cleaning method with other people and Edward Truter mentioned the following: Use Quantum Hot Souce grease (a sticky red grease) on the inner moving parts (including bearings) of your reels, it blocks water out completely and prevents corrosion well. I haven’t tried this method yet, and although it sounds reasonable, the red grease should be kept away from the cork drag at all cost.

Local (South African) fish on the Shilton SL saltwater series

Since the Socotra Island Archipelago trip in October 2014 (, I’ve started to target fish species that are less frequently caught on fly tackle in South Africa, including dusky kob and spotted grunter. Although these fishes are not by any means comparable to GT’s (for instance), a smooth drag system is essential when fighting kob or grunter. Both these fishes can be caught from the shore in Southern Africa, which is standard practice for the guys that target them on fly tackle.

Other local, saltwater fishes landed on the Shilton reels by Feathers and Fluoro team members in the past few months included blue sharks, large striped mullet and juvenile garrick. Although a slightly more robust drag system was necessary to fight the sharks, a smooth drag was important to protect the light tippet material used when we targeted the faster smaller species, i.e., the striped mullet and juvenile garrick.

The author fighting a blue shark approx. 25 miles off Cape Point.
The author fighting a blue shark approx. 25 miles off Cape Point
Blue shark landed on the Shilton SL8 reel.
Blue shark landed on the Shilton SL8 reel
Billy De Jong is the lucky chap that caught this beautiful spotted grunter on a Shilton SL7 reel
Billy De Jong is the lucky chap that caught this beautiful spotted grunter on a Shilton SL7 reel

The Shilton had no problems dealing with any of abovementioned fishes; however, in my previous review I mentioned that sand entering the gaps between the reel frame and spool and other moving parts did not cause the grinding noise one would expect after dropping the reel in the sand (this was my finding in Socotra). I visited the West Coast with Jimmy Eagleton and after a successful kob fishing session, coarse, black mussel grit had entered the reel gaps and made the most horrid grinding noise and almost ceased the spool movement. The reel was disassembled and cleaned before fishing was continued the next day. So it was evident that very fine sand may not produce friction and/or the grinding noise, but very coarse sand and shell bits are a problem in this saltwater fly reel (the Shilton SL 6 was used in this case).

The author with a silver kob landed on a Shilton SL6 on the West Coast of South Africa
The author with a silver kob landed on a Shilton SL6 on the West Coast of South Africa – photo by Jimmy Eagleton

The Shilton SL series plunger function and construction

Chad addressed the issue I experienced in Socotra with the one way plunger getting trapped in its housing when sand enters the gap between the plunger and its housing by suggesting a slight ‘stretch’ of the springs inside the chamber. Unfortunately this was not a long-term solution to the one way plunger problems and exactly the opposite happened on a more recent saltwater trip; instead of sand entering the one way plunger housing and creating a ‘free-spool’ action, sand collected in the one way plunger housing and blocked the plunger from moving back into its housing, creating a ‘fixed-spool’ scenario where the spool could not move forwards or in reverse. This would most certainly lead to a popped tippet if it does happen just before a fish is hooked or while fighting a fish.

After fixing the issue, by opening the plunger housing and removing the sand, it was clear to me that the visual gap in the housing was not the only issue. Very fine sand had entered the 1/10th of a millimetre slits surrounding the one way plunger inside its housing and ceased its action. Note that a fairly fine screw-driver is required to open the plunger housing and although I was lucky enough to ‘rinse’ the sand from the plunger housing previously, it did not fix the problem in this last scenario. If you don’t carry a Leatherman with you on fishing outings (my Leatherman has a number of screw-driver bits from fine to large), the plunger issue may be a nightmare to fix on a fishing trip. The Feathers and Fluoro team would like to recommend revising the engineering behind the one way plunger mechanism and besides closing the visual gap between the housing and the one way plunger (in its normal, engaging/protruding position – as shown in the photo below) the plunger should fit more snug to prevent any sand from entering the housing around it.

Shilton reel drag 6

Conclusion of this review

Despite the fact that there is still room to improve the Shilton SL series (as described above in this review), this Shilton range is still hardy and the performance will beat many other brands that manufacture ‘larger’ reels (designed for 8 – 12 wt or even heavier rods) suitable for saltwater species. The Shilton SL series reels are not complicated to use or take apart when cleaning the inner parts; they are also hardy fishing tools – the spools are very strong and do not bend easily when dropped on the floor for instance. However, if opening a reel to fix a ratchet/plunger issue from time-to-time is not your thing, a Shilton SL series reel may not be the reel for you.

Shilton review small b

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