A year with click and pawl: the Abel Classic Series

gear bag“What do you mean they don’t have a disk drag? How are you going to stop the fish?!”

Abel Spey and Switch ReelsIn the good old days, fly anglers didn’t rely on technology; it was mano y mano, the sportman’s grit and determination against the quarry’s fight for life. Then fishing folks got breathable rain gear, bear-proof beer coolers, and heated leather seats, along with disc drags pilfered from the Porsche 911 GT3. Enhancing skill, through experience, gave way to buying competitive advantage. Still, the spey casting community waxes nostalgic every chance possible (even more so than the average fly-fisher, accelerating after a whiskey drink), and Abel Reels answered the call by taking off the training wheels.

The Abel Classic series are adjustable pawl click reels designated for the two-handed fly rod angler. Built with extreme durability and simplicity in mind, they are nearly impervious to damage from everyday river abuse, and are so short on parts that mechanical failure means first getting run over by a tank. Constructed of 6061-T651 cold finished aerospace-grade aluminum with stainless steel internals, they are a breeze to keep fit – push the stealthy release lever to pull off the spool and voila’…barely any parts. The entire reel consists of twenty-one pieces, less than a handful of which are removable, or even moveable. There just isn’t much that can go wrong.

The reels range in size from 3.3 in. X 0.8 in. for the namesake Classic to 4.05 in. X 1.0 in. for the svelte looking Spey. They aren’t light by modern fly reel standards – the midsized Switch weighs in at 8.5 ounces – but they aren’t supposed to be. The additional heft aids the fulcrum effect two-handed casters yearn for, keeping the rig’s center of gravity close to the bottom hand and forcing it to do more of the work. Arbors are small – a couple hundred yards of thirty-pound dacron leaves room for plenty of forty-pound mono running line and a fat Skagit head. Then there is the sound.

What little outgoing resistance the Classic series reels do provide comes from stainless steel springs pressing against one of two pawls – they can be flipped in a jiffy for right or left hand retrieve, and tension is adjustable via the drag knob. Those pawls in turn mesh with the gear affixed to the spool, and boy do they sing sweet song. The noise the reel makes is something close to a 80’s era two-stroke moped with a gaping hole in the muffler. A real head-turner, that popping squeal, and I’ve strategically used the action of pulling line off the reel to divert fellow anglers’ attention so I can poach their runs. Only the ones I know will pitch in for the bar tab, of course.

Abel Spey and Switch ReelsI’ve fished with these reels for nearly a year now. They’ve been bumped, slammed, dunked, and haphazardly tossed on the river’s edge when a hero shot was the order of the moment. They’ve pulled in trouts, chums, and even chinooks, although the latter are such bruisers that I will be hard-pressed to target them again without drag. It’s not that the reels aren’t up to the task, but the angler has to have serious game when the fish are close to the net – I’ve lost some beautiful specimens because I am admittedly not there. The reels are showing only the slightest signs of use, despite being hauled down tailwater canyons in Wyoming, across bulging freestones in British Columbia, and bouncing around jetboats in Alaska. The occasional scuff or nick is unavoidable, but I’ve gone a step further by ignoring their inherent beauty, instead treating them like crap; yet the finishes, which Abel is renowned for, still haven’t lost their luster. Grit has rarely made its way inside, and even when it has popping off the spool for a cold-water rinse puts the issue to rest faster than slipping the sea-sick a double dose of Dramamine.

I don’t collect gear. If I fancy an upgrade, I’m dumping existing stocks just as fast as the new kit arrives. That said, I ordered all the Classics (one for each two-hander I have) with name engraved on the backs. No chance of trading up to something [supposedly] better, but I’ll never have the need to – they are lifetime pieces of equipment, ones I know will be functioning to perfection long after I am unable to step foot in the river.

MG signing off (because simplicity reigns supreme, but beauty and longevity aren’t half bad either)

Editor’s Note: Cold hard cash was exchanged for all reels depicted and/or described here. That is all.


Doug K says:

had not seen those before, very nice..
I’m still fishing click-pawl, an Orvis CFO and Hardy Viscount from the 70s. Never had a failure of any kind on these, but I’ve worn out a couple of disc-drag reels in that time.
Also have an ancient Hardy Perfect which is too heavy to be pleasant, caught a number of fast saltwater fish on it without drag problems. Maybe I need a two-handed rod to put it on, hm thinks..

They certainly “take a licking and keep on ticking.” Rumor has it one of the Abel guys took the Switch model to the Bahamas and bagged some sweet bonefish with it too.

I highly recommend the two-handed route – a fantastic, if challenging, learning experience, but a very pleasurable fishing method. You actually wind up yearning to make another cast.

[…] A Year With the Click and Pawl.  Michael Gracie admits that he’s cool with not having a disc drag. […]

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