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Jan 19, 2010 2:04 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

The latest Penn, the latest disappointment

Jan 19, 2010 2:04 PM

I opened up one of the new “spring” fishing catalogs the other day—they come in early December now—and there it was. Gleaming gold and black; resplendent in its engineered effusiveness; proudly sprawled across an entire page as though it were the flagship of a cosmetics line; boasting a price tag higher than anything before it: The biggest in a long line of disasters by the company that once ruled the fishing world: Penn Reels.

I’m talking about Penn’s new spinning reel/battlewagon the Torque, the company’s long-awaited attempted entrée into the world of high-tech, high-priced spinning reels. At $659 it doesn’t quite reach the lofty price heights of some of the trophies from Van Staal, Shimano and Daiwa on the following pages, but it gives them a run for their—er—your money.

I’d fondled one of the prototypes of this supposed latest and greatest design by Penn last fall. It’s pretty much exactly what I expected when I first heard they were going to try to tap into the coveted niche of top-end reels: it’s heavy, overwrought, overpriced and its engineering still doesn’t even come close to the quality of the reels from other manufacturers it is supposedly competing with.

Penn has once again missed the boat, something they have done consistently for the last 20 years, give or take, at the expense of fishermen who used to rely on their reels as trustworthy workhorses.

They had earned that reputation legitimately. Penn’s reels, for decades, were the standard in the fishing tackle industry against which all else was modeled and measured. Their reels were the centerpiece of every tackle shop display case. Their exploded parts diagrams papered every service room wall. Penn Zs, Senators, and Internationals were on every rod from Cape Cod to Kona. Surfcasting, snapper popping, tuna trolling, you name it, they had the market cornered.

There were two reasons Penn owned it back in those days. First of all, for a long time, they made really, really good reels. The Senators were pretty much the best star drag reels made back in those days. They were a durable and strong and well put together reel. The Internationals, the reel that really defined Penn for a long time, were not the absolute best reel in their class, but they were half the price of anything better (like the Fin Nor Tycoon) and Penn’s omnipresence meant that the globe trotting big game anglers could find parts if needed just about anywhere in the world.

Penn had it all. Then they lost it. I always say it was the introduction of graphite to the fishing reel market that started their downfall. Penn introduced graphite reels to the world with the SS series. But other companies employed it better and advanced their technologies and engineering better and it sent Penn on a drunken design quest that has still not sobered up. The hangover is the Torque.

With its black and gold vents, angular edges, machined nooks and crannies that seem to have no purpose, it looks like a cross between Darth Vader’s tie-fighter and some sort of salad chopping tool Ron Popeil might be pitching. Its infinite anti-reverse still isn’t as tight as the Van Staal, its drag still isn’t as smooth as Shimano and it’s twice the size and nearly half-again the weight of the Daiwa it supposedly competes with. And gone is the ability to basically buy any part in the reel at the local tackle shop and replace it yourself. The only place it competes is in its high price, which in the wake of a recession might not have been the smartest move on Penn’s part.

Penn still has some good reels, so there is hope. They’ve done a decent job of updating the Internationals with the V series. The Senators and Jig Masters are still very nice reels for the cost and the SS series and Spinfisher series are good quality reels at affordable prices.

But their high-speed conventional and spinning reels are simply not up to snuff. Expensive reels have flooded the market since the Van Staals set the bar above $400. But more expensive is supposed to mean better, as it did with the VS and Shimano Stella, and the anglers who shell out more than a week’s paycheck for a reel expect to get what they pay for. When they don’t, they will not be happy. The Penn lineup may be a price-point cheaper than the Japanese versions, but the Shimanos and Daiwas are such far superior reels in quality and durability that few fishermen will take long to realize they are a better bargain.

I had hoped the recession would have convinced Penn that it was time to run the other direction. Bring back the Z series surf reels—a simple, easy to self-service, durable product that costs less than a whole set of truck tires and will last for years and years.

The price of fishing reels has gotten entirely out of hand. In the new, more frugal world we are no doubt entering, some more down-to-earth products, not space ships, should be in the catalog pages.

Catch ’em up, folks. See you out there.

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This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By fishy (92), East Hampton on Jan 19, 10 1:38 PM
So true. Penn has never been the same for 25 years.
By Dayo (33), Sag Harbor on Jan 20, 10 9:46 AM