Amid the current profusion of fly reels on the market, it's hard to imagine much new being brought to the table. But Waterworks-Lamson builds a number of noteworthy innovations into the saltwater Cobalt (5/6 to 11/12). Even looking at the Cobalt, you sense something slightly unusual—the spool and frame ports are asymmetrical, some larger than others to distribute mass in a way that eliminates the need for a separate spool counterweight. Less visibly but more significantly, the inside and outside diameters of the case are machined on different centerlines, putting less material at the bottom of the frame and more at the top, underneath the reel seat, where it does more good by adding strength and stiffness—no small consideration in fighting powerful, hard-running saltwater fish.
Much, in fact, about the Cobalt addresses strength and toughness. The MICRALOX finish offers twice the durability and 55 times the corrosion resistance of standard Type II anodizing. In protection from the degradations of saltwater, there's no such thing as overkill.
A spool held to the spindle with a nut for a more secure mount replaces the familiar pop-out design. The drag is a super-sized version of Waterworks-Lamson's signature conical brake (as smooth and reliable as any I know), built specially for the Cobalt with a carbon alloy friction surface for heat stability at high RPMs. Completely sealed, it requires no lubrication and remains waterproof to 30 meters. The drag adjusts in half-pound increments through a 12-pound range, but you can change the window from 0 to 12 pound, or 2 to 14 pound if you prefer to match the requirements of your target species. (It entails tools and loose parts; I'm not anxious to try in the field.) Once you've dialed it in, you can mark specific settings on the drag knob and instantly adjust from stripping tension to fighting tension with repeatable, reliable results.
Tarpon are a bit hard to come by in Oregon, so I took the 11/12 model to an estuary for a shot at fall Chinook during one of the worst salmon returns in memory. The fishing lived down to my expectations; the reel exceeded them. The frame proved commendably rigid—no flexing or twisting or play when you bear down on it. It felt like a full-cage frame. I had a particular interest in how it would behave with a monofilament running line behind a shooting head since this setup can cause problems with many single-sided reels; the thin mono can sneak through gaps between the frame and spool and end up outside the reel, wrapped over a frame pillar. But I never had the slightest problem. I have only one, very minor, quibble—the drag knob, which I find found stiff to operate—though this may well relax with extended use.
Decidedly not a scaled-up trout reel, the Cobalt is engineered for heavy lifting and longevity, built from the ground up specifically for big dogs in the salt. $570-$800 | waterworks-lamson.com