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Reel Review

More for the money...the redesigned Cardinal 502ALB spinning reel (continued)

Casting: As with most other spinning reels the casting distance was very respectable, and well beyond what most angler will require in the vast majority of normal applications. Line is laid very evenly on the spool which helps facilitate a more friction free cast. In all the casting distance of the 502 is exactly what you would expect from a quality reel, nothing exceptional, but nothing to complain about either. Once you have cast your lure you will notice that the 502 has a superior bail mechanism to previous Abu Cardinals. Not only is it easy to engage and disengage. In fact it flips back with a rather satisfying “click” that lets you know the reel is ready to retrieve.


The Cardinal's main spool features attractive porting for weight reduction

When we first examined the Cardinal’s retrieve we noted that it felt smooth and powerful, but not completely friction free. You can detect the gearing in the center of the reel when the reel spins freely. During our field tests the “geary” feel is amplified a notch when there is any resistance on the end of the line. Overall the reel is quite smooth for a reel in this price category, and while it won’t win any awards in terms of refinement it also won’t perturb anyone but the most persnickety, like myself. One thing we did notice was absolutely no spool wobble in our test unit. This is unlike most reels in the same price range. Abu Garcia actually put a lot of attention on achieving a special oscillation to minimize spool movement, and the end result is better line management and a cleaner feel when retrieving briskly.


A look inside

Drag: The Cardinal’s actual multi-disc drag system is quite smooth and didn’t exhibit signs of choppiness in the lab or in the field. The drag system is capable of delivering 7.3lbs of counter pressure, and does so with confidence. Still the drag disc system does have some flaws, and interestingly these problems come not from the actual drag washers but from the adjustment knob. The adjustment knob puts pressure on the spool by applying down-force to top of the disc array, but unfortunately the bottom of the knob has a relatively small circumference, putting direct pressure primarily on the center of the washer. The knob itself is not as refined as it could be, and has a bit of give either way between clicks. These two factors together make for a somewhat sloppy drag adjustment. While the actual drag is both smooth and powerful, making detailed adjustments is difficult. The adjustment feels like there are only three levels, low, medium, and full, rather than a complete range. While this should be enough for the majority of anglers and applications, it would be nice to see an adjustment system that matched the quality of the actual internal system.

Unfortunately the spare spool is made out of graphite rather than aluminum


The drag knob could use some refinement


While the actual drag system is quite good, the knob doesn't adjust in small increments as well as some competitor offerings


Playing a bass during the tests the Cardinal felt "powerful" rather than "refined"


The anti-reverse switch is metal as well, and located on the bottom of the reel directly behind the rotor


Durability: The Cardinal looks like a hard-wearing reel with a plate of metal armor covering its entire body, and in this case looks are not deceiving. The reel’s finish is quite stellar, and held up nicely to a variety of abuse tests ranging from submerging to direct contact with a file. While the finish would scratch the damage is far less noticeable on this reel than a colored reel, simply because of the metallic finish. It is probable that the Cardinal will look newer for a longer period of time than the vast majority of reels, but we will revisit the topic again after we have had the opportunity to fish the reel over the course of the entire season. When it comes to durability that is more than just skin deep Abu also clearly has made an effort to improve the value of the series. The new multi-disc drag system held up well, as did the oversized bail and line roller. The new bail is thicker in diameter, and actually looks more like the Daiwa Air Bail than a traditional wire design. There are no plastic components on this reel, and overall the Cardinal is built well enough to provide anglers numerous seasons of reliable performance.


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