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Reel Review

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

Ergonomics: Abu Garcia sticks to proven designs and tradition more than just about any other tackle manufacturer in the business. Their conventional round baitcast reels are immediately recognizable no matter what color and size variation they are offered in. The company even pioneered a new look with their EON series, true the design polarized most anglers, but kudos to Abu for sticking to their guns. On the other hand the spinning reels have really evolved over time, and while you can see elements of past reels in the new Cardinal 500’s the majority of the reel’s cosmetics have been altered.


More aluminum armor

The Cardinal 502 weighs in at 9.7oz which is really right within the norm for a reel this size. While fishing the reel it didn’t feel too heavy and balanced out our drop shot rod rather nicely. I think the design of the reel actually appears heavier than it really is due to the use of the metallic plating. The Cardinal reels seems to put a renewed emphasis on clean design with this model, and the 100, 300, and 500 all ship with a similar rubber knob. This small rubber knob is more ergonomic than a wooden barrel knob, and is quite comfortable when sandwiched between your thumb and index finger. The free switch is located right behind the rotor on the underbelly of the frame on all three levels of Cardinal reels, and we found it easy to engage and disengage on the fly. When traveling the machined handle on our test reel was easy to break down by simply rotating the knob which is attractively adorned with the familiar Abu Garcia seal.


The machined aluminum handle is very impressive for a reel in this price range

Price& Applications: If there is one category that the Cardinal 500’s would enter and be the favorite to medal it would be in the “price” competition. Regardless of size each of the three 500 series reels only retails for 64.95. This is only twenty dollars more than a Cardinal 300, and thirty dollars more than a Cardinal 100 reel. The C502ALB we tested can be used for bass fishing, Steelhead, Stripers, Redfish, and even some inshore species. Overall for the price the Abu is a terrific deal for the amount of reel you are getting, even when you figure in the graphite spool. While not the most refined reel, it is hard to complain about a 10 bearing spinning reel for under 65 dollars. In fact I purchased the reel in this test for only 59.99 at a local retail store.

The Cardinal 502ALB's 5.5:1 gear ratio recover 25.5 inches of line per crank with authority


The Cardinal's rubber knob is comfortable and easy to grip even when wet


No Abu would be complete without the seal


Overall the new Cardinal 502ALB proved to be a quality reel at a great price, and while the reel could use a tad bit more refinement its certainly worth what we paid for it



Abu Garcia Cardinal (C502ALB) Ratings (?/10)


Overall construction quality is quite good. The metal finish feels as solid as it looks. There is no plastic to be found on this reel. Only downside to the total package is the cheap graphite spare spool.


Overall very strong in all categories. Lacks some refinement in both the retrieve and drag adjustment categories, but normal operation is quite good.


A very good price for a 10 bearing all metal reel. Priced in the mainstream range this reel is a good deal when you consider the features and performance the Cardinal offers


There are a number of new features in this reel like the accu-balanced rotor and advanced oscillation, making this the most advanced Cardinal to date

Design (Ergonomics)

Overall ergonomics are good. There are lighter reels out there, but most have plastic knobs and switches while the Cardinal focuses on all metal construction for superior durability.


The 502 size is great for bass, stripers, redfish, and even some inshore species. The all metal construction held up well in our tests and should be fine for light salt as long as the reel is rinsed after each outing


Total Score


Pluses and Minuses:

                 Plus                                    Minus

J Plenty of reel for the money L Needs more refinement when it comes to the retrieve
J Quality materials and construction L Drag adjustment could be more precise
J Feels powerful, very good line lay during both fast and slow retrieves  
J Modern appearance  
J Reasonable price  


Conclusion: The new Cardinal reels are certainly a departure in design from the more traditional look and feel of Cardinals of seasons past. The new metallic finish modernizes the look of the reel, while the new gearing and bearing count help bring up the performance. Rating this reel was a bit of a challenge. While the reel looks the part, the refinement still leaves a little to be desired. What most stands out about this reel is how much product you are getting for the money. For 65 dollars this reel is certainly worthy of consideration by any angler looking for a mainstream reel with all the features that make sense, and not a lot of the fluff you can do without. When you look at the entire new lineup of Cardinals the 300 series might actually be the sweet spot rather than the 500‘s however. Costing only 45 dollars the 300 series reels rival the 500 in features, offers the same retrieve ratio, actually weighs a tad bit less, and gives you the same basic ergonomics and contemporary design.












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