When the idea of starting Hooked Up first entered my mind around 10 years ago, one of the things I used to sit and think about in my naivety was “I’ll get sent Stellas to review”. As a die-hard tackle enthusiast the idea of owning or reviewing a Stella was always appealing. High-end gear has always been a passion of mine, and while I’ve bought and owned around four or five Stellas since I started this mag, I’m still extremely excited to be reviewing Shimano’s latest version.
For a company with a history as rich as Shimano, a new model of its flagship reel is a big deal and it causes quite a stir among enthusiasts of high-end gear. The Shimano Stella is the reel that brought the concept of high-end spin reels to the forefront of fishing and forever changed what was possible for modern angling. It wasn’t just about the heavy drag pressures, precision gearing and a body that could handle that pressure, it was also the fluidity, line management, castability and prestige.
The Stella FJ was released at 2018’s Yokohama tackle show and I was in Japan at the Osaka show a few months later to see it in the flesh, along with the pandemonium it caused among Japanese anglers. It was impressive to look at and touch, but I was keen to get one in my hands and on the water.
The FJ series offers five models that suit a huge range of species and target methods for inshore and inland fishing. I thought I should explain some of Shimano’s acronyms to give anglers a better understanding of what’s on offer: PG stands for Power Gear, so a reel that’s better suited to fighting fish and cranking them in from the depths (none in this range). HG stands for High Gear, providing a faster gear ratio that is great for anglers jerkbaiting, stickbaiting and popping. And XG stands for Extra Gear, which provides an even faster ratio for high-speed spinning, popping, jerkbaiting in fast currents and working squid jigs. Finally, C stands for Compact, meaning the body is the same as the preceding smaller model but the spool is larger and often the drag pressure and internals slightly more powerful.
The range offers 1000, 2500HG, C3000XG, 4000XG and C5000XG sizes – a good range that covers most bases for Australian inshore, estuary and lake/river fishing. Hooked Up was sent the 4000XG to test and review.
I should point out the price first. This is a Stella, it’s the Rolls-Royce of fishing reels and if you want to get your hands on one of these reels you’re not going to be left with much change from $1000. This makes it the most expensive reel of its kind on the market. I’ll address whether I think the price is justified towards the end of the review, but I thought I should mention it before we began.
The new Stella comes in a subdued silver and chrome colour scheme with small delicate cut-outs around the spool. It looks classy, refined and modern while at the same time it has a mechanical aesthetic that looks like it was inspired by The Terminator. Visually I prefer it to the two preceding models and think it’s an amazing design. It’s becoming harder every year to design reels that look original and Shimano has done a great job with the latest model.
For about six weeks through the early stages of winter, I spent two to three nights a week using the 4000XG to target mulloway in my local system, the Patterson River. It’s a hard system to fish and the mulloway are a very difficult target in a highly pressured and suburban noisy canal system, so you’re therefore casting a lot – and a lot of casts is what’s required. For the test I spooled the 4000 with 20lb Shimano Kairiki and I paired it with various rods as I was casting various lures, from jerkbaits through to swimbaits. Each rod I paired it with was high-end as I didn’t want anything to hinder its performance. It’s a reel worthy of a rod of equal quality.
At 255 grams the 4000 is extremely light and feels amazing in the hand. The ergonomics of the reel are close to perfection, with everything balanced and proportioned perfectly – it feels like a reel you know well from the first cast. With a target species that I was unlikely to make contact with and the knowledge a lot of casting was ahead of me, the Stella made the thousands of casts a lot more enjoyable. It’s light and beautifully balanced, offers exceptional accuracy and effortless casting, and with 98 per cent of the fishing in the dark, it was a joy to use due to its superior line management.
Retrieving lures was just as enjoyable thanks to Shimano’s new MicroModule II gearing and Silent Drive, which provides what’s possibly the smoothest and quietest operation I have ever experienced with a fishing reel. It was clearly evident how much sensitivity was transferred from the reel to my hands, which gave me better control of my lure. Each vibration, knock and pause was more pronounced, which was appreciated in the dark environment.
The handle is perfectly proportioned to the size of the reel so whether I was just slow-rolling a swimbait or aggressively working a jerkbait, it felt just right. The T-style handle knob is well designed, made from soft rubber that feels good to hold and offers sufficient grip even with wet hands, however, I did question how I would like it during a fight. Line management is as good as it gets with the line coming back on like it was freshly spooled on a machine.
That mulloway I spent all winter targeting never appeared except for an enormous boof right at my feet that amounted to nothing but another 100 casts. So once snapper season rolled around I left the jewfish to concentrate on a more accessible species. The 4000 is as large as I would go for snapper, even big snapper, but as it’s so light and refined you can get away with it. It’s a versatile size that would be just as suited to mulloway, kingfish, barra or cod.
It didn’t take me too long after working a 120mm wriggler before I hooked up and the drag started screaming off. With a light hook gauge on my jig head and 12lb leader I didn’t want to give the fish too much drag pressure and every run showed the drag system to be ultra-smooth and perfectly consistent. The Stella is so light you’re almost expecting a little flex in the reel body but there is none to be found – not a rattle, slip or slight bit of movement. It’s a very reassuring feeling.
Even on what was only a 3kg snapper I was wishing that a round power knob was fitted to the 4000, the T Style knob just doesn’t feel reassuring to hang on to during battle. It’s a large enough reel with the gearing and drag pressure to warrant this style of knob. This is the only negative about I could find with the Stella, aside from that it comes close to perfection.
If you can afford to buy this reel, and possibly even if you can’t quite afford to buy it, I highly recommend doing so. You’re maybe never going to own the big house on the hill with a Porsche in the driveway but you can own this Stella, and in the world of fishing, it’s the same thing.