Shilton SL7 Fly Reel Review (Hands-on Tried & Tested)

Explore the Shilton SL7 Fly Reel in our review, revealing its top features and exceptional performance for avid fly fishing enthusiasts.

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Having spent around 30 years chasing fishing around the globe with my fly rod (10 of them as a guide) I have seen my fair share of reels, and none quite compared to the reel I am going to talk about now in this Shilton SL7 Fly Reel Review.

The only reels on the rental rods in Alphonse, Farquhar, Cosom, and Astove in Seychelles are Shilton SLs or Shilton SRs and this is where I was first introduced to them.

Since then, I have fished with my SL7 for 6 years and there is no reel I find more reliable, not one. My SL7 has caught marlin, sailfish, GTs, and roosterfish, and has never failed me. Want to know what makes this reel so awesome along with all about its specs, features, pros, and cons? Read on below.

Shop The Shilton SL7 Fly Reel

View the Shilton SL7 Fly Reel and compare prices on TRIDENT.

Shilton fly reel taken apart on the desk

Why Trust My Shilton SL7 Fly Reel Review?

At Into Fly Fishing, we only ever review fishing gear that we have owned and used. My Shilton SL7 has been on quite a tour in the last 6 years and has been put to the test against some of the toughest species and in some of the harshest environments.

Watch the Shilton SL7 Fly Reel Review

YouTube video

How I Fished The Shilton SL7 Fly Reel

I haven’t been very nice to my SL7, to be honest. It has been dunked in the sea and then caught a GT in Seychelles.

Caught a fish using the SL7 Fly Reel

It sat on deck all day in the salt and sun in Galapagos and then caught multiple striped marlin. I am pretty sure it was underwater all day while wading for roosters in Costa Rica and it still delivered.

Paired with a Rio Elite Flats Pro 12 wt line on my Sage Motive, or with the Rio Elite Flats Pro 10 wt line on my Sage Xi2, it is a reel that is as versatile as it is reliable.

What’s In The Box?

When you buy a Shilton SL7, you get more than just a reel in the box. Here is what you’ll find when you open the box.

Photo of the shilton SL7 Fly Reel

Reel Cover

The Shilton SL7 will arrive in a reel cover to keep it safe in shipping and so you can keep it safe too. It’s thick, padded, water-resistant, and big enough to clip around your rod and reel. Plus, there is a slot for the included reel lubricant.

Reel Lubricant

It’s very thoughtful of Shilton to include some reel lubricant with the SL7. Use it to keep the reel fresh and ready to go.

SL7 Fly Reel

When you first pick up the SL7, it fills you with confidence. It is tough, well-machined, durable, makes a great noise, and is very smooth to play around with.

Shilton SL7 Review Features & Specs

Next up in this Shilton SL7 fly fishing reel review, we take a deep look at all the features and tech specs of the SL7 reel. I’ll discuss it all from materials to durability, the drag system and usability plus lots more so that you can decide whether this is the right reel for you.

Weight

  • Physical Weight: 10.7 oz (303 g)
  • Available Weights: 11/12

The Shilton SL7 is lighter than a lot of other 11/12 wt reels on the market, but it is still heavy enough to be tough and robust. It balances an 11/12 wt rod beautifully and I even use it on my 10 wt now and then, and it works pretty well on that too.

Warranty

The Shilton SL7 fly reel comes with a lifetime warranty as standard. The warranty only applies to the original owner, so it can not be transferred. If anything goes wrong with the reel, it will be fixed or replaced by Shilton.

Sound

I love the sound the SL7 makes. It has a soft click on the out and on the in, which is not too loud as to overtake the situation but loud enough that everyone knows what is going on. It is ideal in my eyes!

Reel Handle

The reel handle is excellent on the SL7. I can always find it when I have to, my fingers never slip, and it is very easy to use. The handle doesn’t protrude much either and I never get my line caught on it.

Drag Knob

The Shilton SL7 drag knob is grippy with obvious + and – signs on the outside. It is not the biggest drag knob in the world but it is very quick to find and easy to turn in the moment.

Shilton SL7 Disassembled on table

It takes a few full revolutions to get it from min to max drag, so it can be hard to know where you are at.

Retrieval Rate

The Shilton SL7 spool is a large arbor spool and when filled with backing, delivers quite a solid retrieve rate. It is not the largest retrieve rate out there on 11/12 wt reels but it is around average. You won’t have any issues keeping up with a big fish on the SL7.

Changing Spools

To change spools on the SL7, you need to open up the screw on the drag knob, remove the drag knob, and take out the entire center pin. This makes changing spools quickly in the moment a no-go, but your spool will never pop off the reel no matter how much pressure a fish is putting on it.

Line Capacity

The Shilton SL7 is made for some of the largest saltwater species one can target on the fly and it has a line capacity to match. You can cram on 300 yards of 80 lb braid onto the SL7 plus a 12-weight fly line.

Drag System

The SL7 drag system is about as reliable as they come. Made from custom-made cork (which is almost maintenance-free) the drag is incredibly smooth. It starts from close to “free spool” and goes all the way up to 12.6 lbs of drag at its maximum. That is more drag that you should ever need to use.

Drag Adjustment

To take the SL7 from zero to hero you will need to do 3 full rotations of the drag knob. This is pretty solid in my eyes, but it is hard to know where you are as the drag is not 100% linear. 1.5 turns is not 1/2 the drag force, so you will need to feel your way around it.

Drag Seal

The drag on the SL7 is not sealed, and for you good reason – you can always fix it when fishing in a remote place. Some anglers may worry about an unsealed drag, but I prefer them as there is nowhere for dirt, salt, and rust to hide in a place I can not see.

The SL7 doesn’t need much maintenance either – a little rinse after fishing and a deeper service every 3 months is enough.

Available Colors

You can buy the SL7 in a larger range of colors including black, titanium, red, blue, purple, turquoise, and burnt gold. It is easy to pick a color to match your rod.

Build Material, Finish & Durability

The SL7 is made from super high-grade machined aluminum that comes with a hard anodized finish.

Shilton SL7 Lying down on table

Machined aluminum is about as tough and light as it gets, add in the hard anodized finish and you have a serious reel. It can be dropped, dunked, covered in salt, left in the sun, and it will still catch fish.

Overall Ergonomics

Overall, the Shilton SL7 is a wonderful reel to use. It is not light, it isn’t heavy, the drag is epic, and it can catch most fish up to 200 lbs. The drag knob is easy to find and adjust mid-fight. The reel handle is comfortable and easy to use – it is a great bit of gear to go up against big fish with.

How The Shilton SL7 Fly Reel Compares

The 11/12 wt reels that best compare to the Shilton SL7 are the Hatch Iconic 11+, Mako 9600B, and the Nautilus CCF-X2.

Photo of me Fishing with the Shilton SL7 Fly Reel

All these reels have a sealed drag, unlike the SL7, so are not fixable on location. The Mako has more drag tension but is much heavier and much more expensive than the SL7. The CCF-XS and Iconic 11+ have a faster retrieve rate but a lower line capacity.

Overall, I think the SL7 wins when it comes to price vs functionality.

Shilton SL7 Review: My Personal Thoughts

Pros

  • Durable
  • Incredibly reliable
  • Easy to use in high-pressure situations
  • Unsealed fixable drag system
  • Needs very little maintenance
  • Awesome drag that is tough and reliable
  • Not too heavy
  • Easy to change from RH to LH retrieve

Cons

  • It doesn’t have the highest retrieval rate
  • It is hard to tell where you are in terms of drag

If you haven’t noticed, I am kind of in love with the Shilton SL7. This reel has been with me for years and has helped me catch some of the most incredible fish of my lifetime. I honestly have nothing bad to say about this reel, it does it all from subduing 1 meter plus GTs to 200-lb striped marlin.

FAQs About Shilton SL7 Fly Reel

I am sure you have quite a lot of questions about the Shilton SL7 fly reel and I have answered some of the most frequently asked ones below. If your question has not been answered, please feel free to ask it in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

Where are Shilton fly reels made?

Shilton fly reels are made in South Africa and then shipped across the world. You can buy them in Europe, South Africa, and the United States.

How do I know what size fly reel to get?

Your fly reel needs to match the weight (wt) of your fly rod. The rod should be marked with a number next to a # sign. So #11/12 is an 11/12 rod that needs an 11/12 weight reel.

What weight rod is the Shilton SL7 for?

The Shilton SL7 is made for 11 and 12-weight rods, however, you can get away with using them on a 10-weight rod too.

Why is the SL7 drag system unsealed?

It surprises people that the SL7, a saltwater fly reel, is not sealed but this was actually done on purpose. You can access, clean, and fix an unsealed drag whereas you can’t do this with a sealed drag, it has to go back to the manufacturer if it ever fails.

Is the SL7 good value for money?

Yes, the SL7 is great value for money in my eyes. It is priced around mid-market in its reel class but delivers way beyond this and comes with a lifetime warranty.

Watch the Shilton SL7 Fly Reel Review

YouTube video

The Verdict

I love the Shilton SL7 and you have probably worked this out having ready my Shilton SL7 fly reel review. There is no other reel (bar perhaps a Mako) that I would feel comfortable using when trying to catch fish of a lifetime.

Shop The Shilton SL7 Fly Reel

View the Shilton SL7 Fly Reel and compare prices on TRIDENT.

If you are looking for a saltwater reel that will deliver time and time again that doesn’t break the bank, the Shilton SL7 is it in my eyes.

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Growing up fly fishing on the sea, streams and lakes of Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles and offshore, there are not many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand. He has guided for over 12 years and has cast a line almost everywhere including the rivers of Norway and Iceland to the beaches of Costa Rica, the lagoons and banks of the Galapagos, the highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, the Himalayas and the flats of Mexico, Belize, The Bahamas, and Seychelles.

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