It’s been a long wait—27 years in fact. That’s how long it has taken Abel to decide on releasing a sealed-drag reel, which is perfectly understandable when you consider that Abel has been an industry leader with a product range featuring cork-based drags that performed (and continue to perform) very well.
First, a few words from Abel: The SD series is a collaborative effort with Oregon reel designer Joe Saracione, and is the culmination of three years’ worth of design, testing and fabrication. Abel’s Sealed Drag Reel consists of stacked multi-discs and a proprietary gasket seal that completely locks out moisture. The aluminum drag discs are hard anodized for abrasion resistance and allow free motion at low drag settings, yet with enough friction protection to last throughout a lifetime of heavy drag operation. The anodized aluminum sealed drag cartridge, coupled with a 330 degree angled cam system drag knob, features 20 detents (clicks) of adjustment for virtually infinite settings using an infallible draw bar tightening system.
My initial impressions:
The porting on the SD bears a more modern look than previous Abel models. Pick one up and you’ll note that the porting, lots of it, is responsible for a very light product (an SD 4/5 weighs in at a lean 160 grams). But the reel still feels like a solid product in hand where basic functions are concerned.
The drag knob is medium-sized and full center—exactly where a drag knob ought to be. The drag system allows the user to click into 20 different settings and stops at one full rotation. You can also dial the drag setting in between those 20 clicks. The clicks aren’t audible, but you do feel them when operating the drag.
Abel had the good sense to design the SD as a quick-release model, done via a few rotations of a centered cap on the spool side: I was able to remove the spool and replace it in 20 seconds flat. That’s the kind of speed that will amount to a few extra fish over the entire career of the reel, or some extra fishing time at the very least.
I tested the smallest SD model available, made for a 4 or 5-weight system. Abel undoubtedly designed the reel to pair up with the light fly rods that make up most of the catalog today. Anyone who owns some older Abel products, or older reels in general, will immediately note the weight difference in corresponding models.
The drag itself (a permanently sealed Rulon-based washer system) is notably fluid, even when operated at full friction. Rulon is known for a very low friction coefficient, excellent abrasion resistance, a wide range of operating temperatures, and chemical inertness. I wouldn’t recommend using the SD 4/5 (again, the smallest model offered) for stalking salmon, but I can state that even this diminutive model has salmon-stopping power. On a lighter note, the SD’s startup inertia is near zero, so you can enjoy fishing that spider-web tippet without worrying about break-offs when a fish decides to streak away with your #20 BWO.
Aside from a quick rinse after a day on the water, the SD series requires zero maintenance.
Note that the SD series features medium-large arbors.
This reel gets top marks on all fronts, and stands a good chance of becoming fly fishing’s icon product of the year.