I went down the Van Staal route some time ago, basically because I wanted a reel that wasn’t going to let me down. Experience up to that point with the various fixed spool reels available (late ’80’s and through to the early ’00’s) had been disappointing, though it has to be said my (and my fishing companions) usage of them was probably outside the warranty, i.e. in that they got submerged quite a bit (we were already fishing in wetsuits back then).

A new Van Staal

Anyway, prior to my first trip to Montauk, I decided that I was going to make sure I didn’t end up in the same situation that I had been left in, on occasion, by my current reels. My first VS (VS200) was bought back in 2005 and believe me spending $619 (now $739) was not a decision I took at all lightly. At todays rates that was £384. I think some people look at Van Staals and think: ugly, agricultural and monstrosity, and when they try to ‘twirl’ the handle, recoil at the resistance compared to the multi-ball bearing ‘modern’ reels. But, of course, they might be missing the point. The VS might well appear to be something from the dark ages (though, personally, their appearance appeals to my aesthetic) but they will continue to function long after most other reels have seized up . . . depending, of course, on how the reels are used.

Van Stall on the rocksSuffice to say that the functionality was a revelation, and I would not now revert to more ‘regular’ reels. I’m not saying that there are not great modern reels on the market, because quite obviously there are . . . but what isn’t so readily available are reels which are ‘bombproof’. Reels which will survive being constantly dunked underwater, used underwater and survive three weeks of near constant usage in less than salubrious conditions . . . and keep going, AND, not require any maintenance. One favourite trick to demonstrate the VS’s ability to survive, and I’ve seen it done on several occasions, is to dump rod and reel on the beach and heap sand over the reel, then pick the rod back up, step into the surf, swill the reel in the seawater, cast, and then retrieve. Yes, there is a little grating and graunching but it doesn’t refuse to work and a few casts later and you wouldn’t know it had been subject to that ‘abuse’.

Van Staals will break and need parts from time to time but they repair well, and you do not get yours sent back with a note saying “it’s not worth fixing because its full of sand” as I’ve experienced from other well-known brands! All reels, even Van Staal’s, do require some maintenance. The ‘old’ versions were only servicable by Van Staal themselves, but the modern ones can be self-serviced with a kit that can be bought for just shy of £80 and which will, in fact, allow you to service the reel three times. There is also the option to send the reels back to the USA for a service, or to the European dealer in Germany.

I haVan Staald to have my ‘regular’ reels sent to the UK dealer to be serviced and the cost was (and this was a couple of years ago) £38 or so each . . . and in between I replaced bearings myself a couple of times. I also ended up putting one in the bin a little later when it just became unusable. But, again, I have to qualify my comments by saying the reels were getting occasionally dunked in salt-water, and I don’t think most of todays reels are designed to take it.

I’m not sure why (I think I thought it would be easier to use than the bailess version), I decided that I needed a bailed version of my 150, and in 2007 I duly shelled out $739 (£458) for the VS150B. I’ve barely used it . . . because, in truth, once you’ve adapted to, and got used to not having a ‘bail-arm’ you realise that you don’t ‘have to’ have one. Plus there is a large weight penalty for the bailed versions.

The real value of this reel for me is the fact that in 20 days of hard fishing in the USA I do not have to spend precious time repairing it and servicing it like I did when I first went with some other reels, because they had seized up, and were full of sand. Does it make sense to spend the best part of a day that is costing you over £100 on a 20 day trip servicing a reel, and on top of that you might miss the best fishing of the trip? This could have happened to me this year when I had 30 Bass up to 25lb in a 4.5 hour period. I never repeated that level of fishing again on the trip. It does depend on your hunger of course, but to have missed that stella day just because of gear failure, and to have heard about it, would have been crushing.

A large Striper landed with the aid of a Van Stall reelThe line lay is far from perfect, its hour-glass shaped, but it does not matter very much in a real-life fishing scenario. Too much value is sometimes placed on nice line lay which does not get you much in extra distance. I fish mine underwater, yes I reel it underwater with no problems, but if you do that it does need servicing at shorter intervals. Look after your VS and it will look after you, but you do not have to ‘baby’ it one bit.

So to sum up . . . yes, Van Staal’s are expensive compared to ‘some’ modern reels, and, yes, they are ‘agricultural’ in appearance, also yes, they are not as silky smooth as multi-ball bearing reels. BUT, they absolutely will not let you down, and getting a ‘proper’ service is not difficult. Both my reels feel as good as new and I’m sure are going to give me many more years service. I like to fish, and my VS’s keep me fishing when other reels would have given up the ghost way before ‘I’ am prepared to.

Authors: John Morgan & Mike Oliver

  1. I bought a VSB150 some years ago because I had heard they were waterproof and bombproof. Can’t pretend that I ever enjoyed fishing with it as much as a “modern” spinning reel, but I could see the point of it, and especially when using the butt section of a lure rod as a wading stick – after very little use I took it for a trip after big golden dorado in Argentina, and about day three the bail arm flies off into the water, never to be seen again – yes, I hear how people say that no bale arm is the way to go, but I like having one, and on that trip a lot of precision casting of surface lures was required around structure and in a lot of current, so no bale arm for me was a complete pain and the reel let me down big time. Credit to Van Staal, they shipped the reel back to the US and repaired/serviced it, but after that I lost all confidence in the thing. I completely get why they are so loved, but I never loved mine at all. Sold it……….

  2. Hi mike and john, During one of those blitzs of big fish mike was speaking of I was into a good fish and felt my reel siezing up. I managed to land it but then had to leave the beach and effect repairs causing me to miss some of the best fishing of the trip. I remember walking off the beach passing bent rod after bent rod and upon my return still seeing everyone into fish I grugingly agree with you. Dont worry mike I havn’t bought a new reel yet, may hold out for a vs250.
    Cheers mike c

  3. Great blog guys – years of experience fishing with these things in the conditions they were designed for, sure do count when it comes to providing an honest evaluation.
    Henry – it sounds like maybe you just got unlucky and bought a faulty one – thats probably exactly what would happen to me! Glad to hear you had a positive experience with their service team sorting it for you.

  4. Simon,

    The nuts and bolts of the VS were provided essentially by John Morgan and filled out a bit by myself.

    But you have done a great job of compling it and arranging it in a very proffesioanl way and made it far more readable.

    Thank you for your time doing this.


    Henry I can’t tell you how frustrated I was to hear of your bad experienec with your VS. As a big game reel it would not be on my list. I don’t fish the bailed versions so can’t comment on them. If you ever wish to fish for Stripers on the NE coast of the USA or wet suit in Europe then apart from Penn Torques and ZeeBass the only choice is a VS and the VS is the most proven out of the three mentioned.
    Perhaps one day you might be interested in joing me and the Brit crew in Montauk in the fall and enjoy some real full on fishing that can take your beath away.
    I hope one day you will reverse your decision and take up another VS but try and let it be bailess. Its not hard to get tha hang of bailess.


  5. I have liked the idea of a Van Staal for a long time now, I like the look of them and the simplicity of them compared to multi bearing modern reels.
    Thanks to the views of long term VS users on the B.A.S.S forum I have now bought myself a VS150 in Silver, hopefully this is the start of a long lasting relationship with Van Staal.

  6. The van steel reel i am sure is a fantastic reel what i can never understand is why people spend so much money on fishing gear For the past 18months i have been using a cheap fixed spool reel with 15 lb mono for my bass fishing from shore it has not let me down yet i fish at least twice a month in wales when it breaks i will buy another one i pay around 15.00 a time so does not matter the rod i use is a 10ft daiwa powermesh x 65.00 great rod and i should really match it up with a daiwa excelor 4000 s so maybe i will but still not breaking the bank the fish don’t care what rod and reel you are using i understand you get better feel and touch with a decent reel and rod but for now i catch plenty of good size bass with my gear

  7. Phil, people have to spend their money on something, for some it’s beer and cigarettes, for others it’s cars.
    I neither smoke nor drink, and I drive a modest car, so for me it’s fishing tackle.
    Each to their own.

  8. Hi Rob
    Thats fine i understand why you use decent fishing gear the feel and closeness to the fish im sure is great all i mean is using gthe gear i use works ok though not as good as yours im sure eventually i probably will spend more on reels ect as its like driving a mini or a rolls royce happy fishing and tight lines

  9. Just as an update, since buying my first VS150 and having got to like it so much I recently added a slightly smaller VS100 to my reel collection and have not used any of my Shimano reels since, not even my 4000 Stella.
    Bailless is definitely the way to go.

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