Published Oct 1. 1999 - 23 years ago
Updated or edited Oct 28. 2021

Waterworks ULA reel

Larger arbor reels are much touted as the best thing since sliced bread. A reel that's designed and tooled like the ULA reel just might be - but not because of the large diameter spool.

Usefulnes and facilities: 5
Quality of workmanship: 6
Price and performance: 5
Combined rating: 5
Waterworks Lamson
Waterworks ULA
Purist series starts at approx. US$260.- and Force series at US$350.-. Spare spools are typically a bit less than half the reel price.
These prices have been updated late 2002.

Design and functionality meets in perfect harmony in the ULA reel.

Larger arbor reels are much touted as the best thing since sliced bread. A reel that's designed and tooled like the ULA reel just might be - but not because of the large diameter spool.

My last reel...

I actually thought I'd bought my last reel a long time ago when I aquired a Lawrence Waldron anti reverse reel. But I'm not immune to tackle fever, and after having finished some photo work for a catalog for a local flyshop, I had seen enough of the Waterworks ULA reel to wet my apetite.
I went to the shop and fondled it. And I was amazed. This was the first reel I had seen since my Waldron, which actually made me want to own it. It was not only a sight for sore eyes with its special design and color choice. It was also very lightweight but still comfortably sturdy, very simple in it's construction, and very smooth in its operations.

The design of ULA reel sure sets it off from the pack. Not only is the construction basically different, but the color combination of black and light gray tinted with a bordeaux handle is radical.

Unique design
Unique design
Martin Joergensen
Taken apart
Taken apart
Martin Joergensen

Taking the reel apart is a question of a bit of force. The inside reveals what it should on a good reel: nothing! Simplicity is the key to strength and hassle free function.

A simple click
A simple click
Martin Joergensen

Mild violence

You can break down the reel in the usual two parts: spool and reel house. Taking apart the reel is a question of pulling the two pieces from each other using a mild force. The reel is kept together by a small O-ring mounted on the axis, and snaps apart and together with a reassuring small 'plop!' - the hallmark of precision. The reel features an adjustable ratchet, which unfortunately requires a small hex key for the adjustment, but usually will require only one setting.

Two versions

The reel comes in two versions - with and without a brake - called the ULA Force and ULA Purist. The Purist model without the brake is basically a spool on a reel house which seems no more than a bent piece of aluminium plate. The construction is extremely simple and elegant, but still renders the impression of strength. The Force model with the brake - which is the one we review here - has a thicker spool center, which contains the brake. This is constructed with a conical bronze tube and a one way roller bearing. The adjustment is uniform and precise and of course without steps and the breaking effect is smooth as melted butter. The adjustment knob is placed on the rear side of the reel and not perfectly ergonomic, but on the other hand it blends in well with the design of the reel. My experience is that it's only set once or twice during a trip and I never touched it during a fight, so I'm not worried about that.

Left or right

The reel comes in several sizes for line weights ranging from 2 and 3 to 8. There is even a special spool which can acommodate a larger amount of backing and a light salmon line.
It can be turned left or right with a small tool, which the shop owner will have. I don't see this as any drawback, as a reel only needs turning once, and that's when you buy it.

Salt water

I use my equipment for salt water fishing, and this reel has already seen the harsh conditions of the Danish coast. It has no marks or visible indications of that meeting. I had to grease the handle once to get it to stop squeaking, but that's all the maintenace the reel has had in six months except for a moist cloth. That can be considered very well done.

Size doesn't matter

I'm not a member of the avid large arbor community that hails large diameter spools as the solution to all loose line trouble. I do not oppose the fact that a larger diameter will pick up more line - that's true enough - but it's also true that almost any reel will become large diameter if you put 200 yards of backing on it. The ULA has no particularly large outer diameter. It's not larger than my Waldron, which picks up just as much line per revolution. The difference lies in less weight for the ULA and more backing on the Waldron - simple as that!

I have always considered simple construction and few parts that hallmark of good design. Adding gizmos and gadgets and pawls, springs, and screws is no challenge. Removing them and still have functionality can prove difficult. This reel features a very simple design, but still works perfectly. Highly recommended.

Update mid-2003

I have now used the ULA in my day-to-day fishing for a couple of years, and apart from a bearing that has been changed due to rust (a flaw in the early reels repaired for free in the shop while I waited), I have experienced no problems with it.
I have caught many kinds of fish on it - including strong bonefish, pike and sea trout - and it has performed perfectly.
I occasionally dip the reel in salt water while fishing to remove sand and dirt, and the reel has not complained about that yet. I rinse and dry it out after each trip and take it apart from time to time to inspect the inside, but no trace of rust has shown since the change. The outer appearance is also unchanged even though I am not known to be gentle with my gear.
Still a great reel in other words.

Update ultimo-2009

As you can see from the original date of this review, I have had the Lamson for seven years now, and although I have had to exchange (or have the shop exchange on the guarantee) the central bearing, it still works like new. It is an amazingly sturdy reel considering the light construction, and I can only say that I have been very pleased with it. It's got some nicks and scratches, but as a whole it's unmarked by time, and rolls like it has many years in it yet.

Update late 2015

Bought in 2002 and fished every year since that, this reel still works and almost looks as new. It's still a fantastic reel, and one that I cherish and will keep on using. Apart from the one bearing change and a drop of oil to the handle now and then, the reel is essentially maintenance free, and will most likely be going strong for many years to come.


The first known re...

The first known record of a fishing reels dates from the Sung Dynasty in 12th century China. In a painting by a famous artist of the era, Ma Yuan, an angler with a rod and reel is depicted.

(from an article by Ed Herbst)

who made 1st reel an...

who made 1st reel and rod

Martin Joergensen's picture

Ralph, Perfectly!...


Perfectly! I just used it this past week, and it keeps on performing like a charm. The same bearing is still running, and apart from a bit of squeaking from the handle when it runs "out of oil" once a year or so, there is nothing at all to put a finger on. I use it in salt water at least once a month, most times more often. It gets dipped and cleaned in the salt, and I rarely rinse it in fresh water after use. It runs smoothly, brake is perfect, has no play anywhere.

Top notch reel and I love it!


Hello Martin! How...

Hello Martin!

How does your Waterworks Reel perform 4 years after the update?



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