Henry Gilbey
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Van Staal VR50 review - not cheap, bought in the US, have now sold it, gutted……….

Firstly, a very Happy New Year and I hope you all had a good Xmas where Santa saw how good you have been all year and came down the chimney with sacks of shiny lure fishing tackle. I was really good last year (?) so I went and bought myself an early Xmas present in early November in the shape of the fully-sealed Van Staal VR50 spinning reel. I simply couldn’t resist any longer - I had had a brief go with a mate’s one over in Ireland and loved it, a few guys I know have got these reels and have been loving them, so I talked myself into buying one from the US, hoping that it might be THE spinning reel for me and how I go about a lot of my bass fishing…………

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And I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to love this new reel. The Van Staal VR50 is very light, size wise it kinda sits in between a Shimano 3000 and 4000 spinning reel, it’s meant to be 100% sealed against any water and/or sand or grit getting inside and damaging the reel like it’s too easy to do with too many of the spinning reels we might use, it’s far smoother and lighter and lovelier to lure fish with than the other two Van Staal reels I owned a while back and ended up despising, overall it feels like a machine, and the line-lay is better than on those older Van Staal reels albeit you can see it’s not as good as a Shimano, Daiwa, or even these modern Penn reels that grow and grow on me - so most of me absolutely loves this Van Staal VR50.

But I’ve sold it, and I am gutted. I had all these plans that the VR50 would work so well for me that I’d flog a couple of Japanese spinning reels I have here and buy a second VR50 because what it offers anglers who fish in and around saltwater makes so much sense - but for me it’s not to be, and I will explain why…………..

I bought the VR50 from the US to use on the single best lure fishing rod I have ever used, this ridiculously good Shimano Exsence Infinity S906M/RF 9’6’’ 6-38g (review here) that has been in my armoury for nearly a year now and I am still finding reasons to love it more and more each time I fish with it. I didn’t technically need a new spinning reel to go with this rod, but I just so liked the idea of a lightweight, 100% sealed spinning reel that I wasn’t ever going to have to worry about getting wet or dunked or even using the rod/reel as a wading stick when needs be. My mate who has owned his VR50 since about May last year assures me that he hasn’t yet shown it a freshwater hose in all that time and all the reel is just getting better over time.

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So my VR50 did indeed sit very nicely on this particular 9’6’’ Shimano rod, and I loaded it up with a brand new Sufix braid that’s not on the UK market yet and took it out fishing. I can remember that first session with this rod and reel combination - it was early November and I had a few bass off the top in some fairly bouncy conditions and everything worked perfectly. As per the photo above I had loaded my new VR50 up fairly close to the spool lip and I had no issues at all when casting hard lures like the Patchinko and so on. All good so far.

Now in truth I haven’t fished with the VR50 nearly as much as I’d have liked to thanks to the raging conditions and/or filthy water that we were then beset with for most of the pre-Xmas time that I so look forward to each year for bass fishing - but obviously accepting that it’s winter, and in some winters we are going to get a pasting from the weather. The few times I did manage to get out and at least have a bit of a go and the Shimano rod and Van Staal VR50 combination worked great, although I did drop the line level down a bit after a couple of very minor wind-knots. I put this down to me initially overloading the reel in the first place and it worried me not one bit, and I also tried the reel on a new lure rod that I will review soon but it’s already a go-to for me because it’s so good and it fills a gap for me. Again, all good save for a those minor wind-knots.

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But then conditions calmed right down after Xmas, and whilst I haven’t exactly been hauling the bass in, at least it gave us a legitimate chance - and my mate Mark did drop a couple of very tidy fish the other day. I feel for him of course, but at least it keeps the hope alive. Calmer conditions though was when things started to go wrong for me and this lovely VR50 - clear water and/or flatter seas and I am often going to turn to my beloved 6’’ OSP DoLive Stick rigged weedless and weightless, and at say 75% casting power this 9’6’’ Shimano rod and VR50 spinning reel combination was as sweet an experience as I had hoped for from the off. I know when I’m loving my gear because I think I sometimes give a little grunt of satisfaction as the lure flies out and everything feels so much like a natural extension of my arm - is that just me?!

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It’s when I would sometimes turn to cast a DoLive into a bit of breeze and put a bit more power into my cast that I started to get problems - I could feel the odd cast almost “catching” in the first ring/guide on the rod, and then from that I got a few wind-knots that I couldn’t unravel. I thought about it some more, I dropped the line level even more (as per the photo above), and I took the rod/reel combination out fishing again. Again, utterly sublime at full power with various hard lures, and all good at say 75% on the DoLives, but even with that low line level I’d get that “catching” feeling with more power on the cast, and then I got a really proper wind-knot that kinda finished it off for me.

Now there could of course be a number of reasons why this was happening, but the simple fact is that when using a number of different spinning reels on the same rod (Shimano and Penn), I haven’t had a single “catch” or wind-knot or hint of an issue - and I don’t need or want this VR50 so badly that I’m prepared to make allowances for a spinning reel I can’t trust 100%. With other anglers I know and know of getting on so well with their own VR50 reels there could of course be an issue with how I cast a lure when I turn the power on a bit, but again, I can turn it on with all my other reels and I don’t get a problem.

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Is it a case of one single spinning reel refusing to play nice on one particular lure rod, which annoyingly I own and can’t get enough of and wanted the reel for this rod? I have been loving the new Sufix braid which was on my VR50, but to give the reel a fair chance I even changed the braid over on the VR50 to another new Sufix braid that isn’t quite on the UK market yet but will be replacing the outstanding Sufix Performance Pro 8 (this new stuff is easily as good and quite possibly a bit better again at around the same price, but in reality how do you really tell if a fantastic braid is that bit better than another fantastic braid?), and again I got the same problems but this time at an even lower line level, as per above. Both new Sufix braids have performed absolutely flawlessly for me on other reels, so it’s not the braids which I think are pretty damn special.

So I sold the reel, and I’m gutted. I realise that these issues could be completely unique to me and how I was fishing the reel on my Shimano rod, but with how well so many spinning reels work so well at so many different prices these days, I’d rather go fishing than have to spend time ironing out the variables to try and get what is potentially such an incredible spinning reel for our lure fishing to work properly for me. I know I’d be fine with hard lures and casting weightless soft plastics at 75%, but sometimes I want to put the power on, and blow me down but sometimes my casting isn’t quite in the groove and I need a reel to behave with me. Damn, damn, damn. So near yet so far, but I am now doubly interested to see the smallest 2500 size of the new Penn Spinfisher VI because the two bigger ones I have been playing with (3500 and 4500) are turning out to be very, very interesting reels with a lot of resistance to water and sand ingress at some remarkably cheap prices and I can fill them right up and they are performing flawlessly………..

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