Santa was kind to me this past Christmas and brought me a brand-new Abel TR-2 fly reel, presumably to be used on my 5wt fly rods. I’ve been a fan of click-and-pawl reels for a long time (it’s my opinion that you don’t need a disc drag reel for 90% of trout fishing anyways) and recently picked up a 1970 Hardy Princess for my 4wt bamboo rod, so I was eager to see how the Abel TR-2 could combine modern machining processes with the old-style drag system.
The short of it is this: the Abel TR-2 is hands-down the best trout reel I’ve ever used. Part of the fun of fishing click-and-pawl reels is the sound, and the Abel sings, as a friend of mine put it, like Adele. Its internally-adjustable drag tension is simple, and there is absolutely zero startup inertia when a big fish takes your fly and immediately zooms off upriver. At $295 for the base version (the model I used, in glossy black) it might be the best trout reel in its price range. Now let’s take a closer look at this great piece of gear.
What I loved
The Design: Abel’s tagline is, “World’s Finest,” and in terms of design, I have to agree. The TR-2 just looks spectacular. On my Winston BIIIX, the TR-2 just looks like it belongs on that rod, as opposed to the bulkier, futuristic-looking disc drag reels in that price range (Nautilus FWX and the Lamson Speedster, to name two). For anglers who value tradition over the industry’s current desire to leave tradition behind and create gear that’s honestly just overkill (Sage rods are glorified broomsticks, and there’s no need to use a Lamson Konic Drag system when fishing for 14-inch trout, which makes up more of our trout fishing than most anglers will admit) the design of the TR-2 hearkens back to the good ole’ days when the rivers weren’t crowded and most rods were still bamboo.
Per Abel’s website, the spool, frame, drag knob, and reel foot are built from 6061-T651 cold finished Aerospace grade aluminium. That’s pretty good, from what I understand. The drag system is built with 303 heat-treated stainless steel, and the spool has a standard arbor size. In layman’s terms, it’s built as well as any high-end reel on the market, and the standard arbor held the 100 yards of backing and full 90’ WF fly line I loaded on it.
I also loved the burled wood handle. It’s a nice touch to a reel that already reeks of class. The way the spool sits on the frame also makes the TR-2 ideal for palming when handling really big fish.
Performance: I tested the TR-2 on the Green River over a weekend, fishing it on my Winston from a drift boat and wading for two days. I didn’t break off a single fish, and the drag kicked in as soon as the fish took off. I didn’t adjust the drag at all – just left it at the settings it was at when I pulled it out of the box.
The click sound was music to my ears, and I was able to put enough pressure on fish, especially bigger ones, to land them quicker without the fear that I’d break my tippet. On most of my disc drag reels, I’m always worried about horsing fish in because of the half-second pause between the fish taking off and the drag engaging, which results in a lot of breakoffs.
I horsed in a couple of rainbows pushing 20 inches, and as any angler who’s fished the Green can attest, those Green River bows are feisty buggers. The TR-2 handled them all with ease.
What I didn’t love
The Internally-adjustable drag: One of my favorite things about my 1970 Hardy Princess is that I can adjust the drag (albeit slightly) without popping the spool off, adjusting hex nuts, and popping the spool back on. Especially when fishing a river like the Green, when a cast can land you either a ten-inch cutthroat or a 20-inch brown, a tuned-up drag is a must. While the TR-2 worked flawlessly out of the box, I would appreciate the ability to adjust the drag via a nut or screw on the outside of the reel.
Slower line retrieval rate The standard-arbor design, while large enough to accommodate plenty of backing and line, doesn’t lend itself well to reeling in line quickly. A large-arbor reel, while a bit bulky for my tastes, does have an advantage in this category when you hook up with a fish and have 20 yards of slack line in front of you.
The Final Say
I’d recommend this reel to anyone whose primary target while fly fishing is trout, especially on small-to-medium sized waters. It’s an incredibly well-built piece of gear, performs flawlessly, comes with a lifetime warranty, and is easy to clean. It really does sing like Adele when a big fish is ripping line off it, and it’s light – much lighter than it looks. At $295 for the base model, I don’t think there’s a better trout reel in the $2-300 range than the Abel TR-2.
Spencer is a fly fishing writer based in Utah. His writing has appeared in Hatch Magazine, KSL.com’s outdoors section, On The Fly Magazine, The Orvis Fly Fishing Blog, and in the Standard-Examiner. If he’s not on the river, he’s at home tying flies or writing.Connect with him on Twitter or Instagram