First impressionsIn keeping with Penn tradition, the new Spinfisher V series of reels give the impression they’re indestructible.
With all-metal bodies, handles and spools, cast zinc aluminium main gears and stainless steel main shaft, they look and feel solidly made. Their black and gold colour scheme harks back to classic third generation Spinfishers which were once the reel of choice for anglers targeting tough sportfish on spinning tackle.
The reelThe Spinfisher V 3500 is the smallest model in the Penn Spinfisher range, distributed in New Zealand by Pure Fishing. It’s not a flashy reel in the way some reels are with their drilled and ported handles, ‘skeleton’ frames and colourful decals – matte-black and gold is as flashy as it gets – but it is well priced and seriously capable.
Styling is nicely understated, which reinforces the reel’s no-nonsense feel. It’s no lightweight though, with its solid metal construction and heavy-duty drivetrain, but the upside is that such well-proven, durable materials should ensure the reel has a long and trouble-free operational life.
As the smallest reel in the Spinfisher V range, the 3500 is an obvious choice for softbait fishers, so this was the primary the task I set it as well. As noted, at 410g it is heavier than most comparable reels I use for soft-bait fishing, but you quickly get used to the extra weight.
With a respectable line capacity of 210m-plus of 10-pound (4.5kg) superbraid or a similar length of 4kg mono, it has the drag capabilities and superbraid-ready design to handle 15 or 20-pound (7kg to 9.1kg) braids without risking the reel’s structural integrity.
The ‘Slammer’ sealed drag system incorporates Penn’s by now familiar HT-100 drag washers, the same material Penn use for their big game reels and high end Torque models. There’s one washer on top of the spool and two below for increasing stopping power and the drag washers are pre-greased in the factory, providing super-smooth operation, Claimed maximum drag is around 9kg for this model.
The little Spinfisher’s drag is really smooth, with progressive adjustment (lots of turns though) and it doesn’t tighten or loosen itself off once it’s set. It’s as good a drag as I have come across and far better than most.
In real fishing situations, 9kg of drag is overkill for a reel this size and I never came close to dialling it up to max. The test reel was spooled with the new light-green 6kg Berkley Fireline Exceed, so I probably never used more than 3 or 4kg of drag pressure. There was certainly plenty of drag left over.
If, however, you wanted to spool up with heavier braid for situations where it’s imperative to lock and load in order to horse a fish out of trouble, it’s good to know the Penn has the drag capacity to cope.
Incidentally, the 4500-size Spinfisher V is exactly the same reel with a larger capacity spool, so the the beefy drag system begins to make sense. Anyway, more drag is better than less, though I suspect you would risk damaging gears or other mechanical components if you regularly insisted on using the reel with maximum drag.
The 3500 is a good choice for heavy soft plastics duty and other lure fishing styles – slow jigs, inchikus, blades and hard-bodied lures – for snapper using slightly gruntier and/or specialist rods.
The rodThe Berkley 4-8kg Dropshot is the fourth generation of this popular rod series. Lighter than earlier models, it’s a seven-foot, two-piece IM7 graphite rod. It’s a good soft bait rod, a little more through-action than some, but not really the subject of this review other than the fact it was supplied with the reel.
The reel feels a tad heavy on this rod, and anyway, the Spinfisher V 3500 has the ability to fish heavier lines than the rod can manage.
The rod is just fine for normal soft plastics work though, happiest casting jig heads between ¼ and ? ounce and easily subduing the usual run of snapper, kahawai and John dory that eat soft baits in local waters.
On the waterI used the reel quite a bit to fish large soft baits, small stick baits and blades/hard-bodied lures, selecting a heavier rod for this purpose than the Berkley Dropshot 4-8kg supplied with the reel. If anything, I liked the balance better with the heavy rod and the reel’s rock-solid feel certainly inspired confidence.
I used the Penn Spinfisher-Berkley Dropshot combo regularly over a month or so of fishing, including a five-day stint out of Whangaroa, Northland, with the Match Fishing League television series.
I caught a couple of modest-sized snapper on sinking stickbaits and a decent 4kg fish on a seven-inch Gulp!, but nothing that really challenged it’s fish-fighting abilities. Using the Spinfisher V in local waters with the lighter rod and four and five-inch soft baits produced plenty of 1.5 to 2kg Waitemata snapper, kahawai and trevally, plus a bunch of gurnard in the Kaipara Harbour. I also used the reel in combination with other rods for non-softbait fishing styles as already mentioned.
I felt the 3500 was smooth enough to wind, but not quite as free-spinning as some small spinning reels, perhaps due to it’s solid internals and rubber water exclusion seals (six in total).
I tended to reach for the Penn whenever I wanted to fish slightly heavier gear or try some hard-bodies, or a small surface popper. It performed very well in a variety of roles, though it wasn’t always my first choice soft bait reel, largely because its weight begins to tell after six or seven hours of soft bait fishing.
Penn claim the reel is completely waterproof in normal fishing conditions and that it will withstand dunkings and any amount of spray. I didn’t dunk the reel, but it copped plenty of spray during winter fishing expeditions and appears no worse for wear. That said, I get a bit nervous when I see the words ‘waterproof’ and ‘fishing reel’ in the same sentence: in my experience water finds its way into every reel eventually, so it pays to treat them accordingly.
Worthwhile featuresI like the engraved lines on the base of the reel’s spool that tell you at a glance how much line is left. Fill the spool to the outermost ring and its at full capacity; by the time the second ring becomes visible you have two-thirds of a spool left; expose the third engraved ring and you have only one-third of your line load left on the spool. The spool arbour also has a rubber ring designed to prevent braided line slipping on the spool. By all accounts the non-slip system works better than most and the test reel gave no problems in this regard.
I quite like the handle, which has a substantial soft-touch paddle-shaped grip I found easy to hold. I prefer it to the minimalist handles of some far more expensive reels.
The bail arm never once tripped when I didn’t want it to either, though tripping it by winding the handle takes considerable force, and the gear ratio (6.2:1) is a good compromise between power and speed. Each turn of the handle retrieves 76cm of line.
Quality where it countsPerhaps its most impressive feature is the drag system, which is really good, but I also got to like the 3500’s solidity, weight aside. The reel feels pretty unbreakable. It’s smooth, though not especially free-turning – it requires a tiny bit more effort to fish with than with some of the super lightweight, ultra-expensive models on the market do – but the flip side of that is the likelihood the Penn will give years of service.
Where it counts the specs are spot-on – sealed drag, all metal body, five shielded ball bearings, oversize bail roller – and the price makes it really good value. The bigger sizes have plenty to offer too, especially if you want strength and durability, plus stopping power, at prices that won’t make you blush.
As a dyed-in-the-wool soft-baiter, I just wish there was a smaller, lighter 2500 size reel in the range…
Reel specifications Penn Spinfisher V 3500Ratio: 6.2:1 (76cm per turn)
Capacity 230m 10lb braid, 300m 0.20mm
Max drag: 9.1kg
Approximate retail: $199
Features:All metal body
5 shielded stainless steel bearings
Slammer HT-100 drag system
Friction ramp to prevent premature bail trip
Oversize bail roller
Thicker heavy-duty aluminium bail wire
Stainless steel main shaft
Gold anodised spool and handle