Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Penn Spinfisher Fixed Spool Reel: SSV3500 Spin

So, another season and another new reel! What I hear you cry? Are you mad? What happened to all the others you've had?

Truth be told, is that the supposedly waterproof Alcedo lasted longer than most, but ultimately failed (twice). First time the spool jammed (and what else I don't know). Secondly the handle broke (rivet actually wore out, therefore unfixable). Italia fishing charmingly charged me £4 to send me my old handle back. Thirdly, the spool head lifting mechanism, that basically is a piece of metal with a groove in it for a pin on the main cog, shattered into pieces. This last one can only be down to poor quality alloy casting.  Quite a mess, as you can see:
The wrecked gears of a two year old Alcedo Aluminum MTC Match Reel
Now I could send good money after bad, thinking along the lines that having one wrecked reel will do for spares for the new one. But what if this is a design fault? Can't buy spares for them. To be fair to Alcedo, their Marine Spin reel (also reviewed on this site) has fared much better and is still going OK. But I felt it was time for a change.

Never really got on much with Penn fixed spools in the past. Always seemed a bit like dinosaurs from another (all metal) age; strong but too heavy, with a somewhat agricultural line lay and gearing.  But last year Penn released a new watertight version of their Spinfisher series.  The new spec has one or two nifty features, and I feel the time has come to have another look at their latest reel.

Penn SSV3500 Spin
The baby of the series is still a pretty hefty beast. Penn seem to think their sizing should be a size larger than everybody else's for some reason, so for most of us a 3000/3500 size reel might be around the 300g mark or less. Not the SSV3500, on my scales this reel comes in around 412g mark (without line), so around an extra 4oz will be in your hand all day when casting. But does this matter, if we get five years out of it?  Is the extra weight a sign of robustness? Only time can tell, and I must admit that I don't really notice the extra weight so far.
SSV3500 between the Abu Cardinal Saltwater 174i (left) and the Alcedo Marine Spin 5000 (right).  The Penn reel is heavier than both and just marginally smaller than the 5000 sized reel.
The Penn SSV3500 feels smoother than previous Spinfishers that I've owned. Annoyingly, there is still a bit of play on the reel handle, something that you don't tend to find with brand new reels around the £100 mark (admittedly the SSV3500 is just short of that) but overall the reel is smooth and feels hefty and strong. The reel has the usual number of bearings, though Penn do stress that these are sealed and corrosion resistant.  However, I've never had the bearings on a reel fail.  For me, it's always the internal gears that go first, and saltwater ingress is the problem there. Hopefully the 'watertight' construction of the Penn SSV3500 will stop that being the first point of failure.

The reel's drag is also sealed and seems smooth.  This is important, as the reel has no reverse, it's in permanent anti-reverse mode.  If you like to play fish using the reverse rather than the drag, this might not be the reel for you.  For me, I grew up trout fishing and have always played fish using the reverse gear of the reel. This was partly down to the poor quality of fixed spool drags 30 years ago. They were unreliable, sticking things that were best screwed down tight and forgotten. But modern sealed drags are different. They are reliable and smooth, and the arguments for maintaining a reverse gear on the reel are not as strong. Finally, it must be said that playing trout out on a mountain river using your reel's reverse is one thing. Trying to control the heart stopping plunge of a big pollack at sea using a reel's reverse gear is not going to happen.  What is certain to happen is a breakage of something!

There is one killer feature I love on this new reel (other than it being watertight): a friction stop on the spool head when the bail is open. This is such a simple idea, but it effectively stops any chance of the reel handle swinging round and triggering the bail arm to close during a cast.  For the vigorous casters out there, we've all had to suffer snap offs with expensive braid and watched our expensive Japanese plugs disappear into the distance. I reckon this should cure it. Yes, it's a friction stop. So you can force the handle to turn and it will trigger the bail arm to close as normal, but it encourages you to flick the bail arm over yourself after casting which I have always considered a good habit to get into.

The reel itself comes with a nice parts plan and helpful instructions on filling the spool / line lay (more below):
Ah yes, the line lay. This is probably the only weak point of the reel. Never been a strong point of Penn's in my opinion compared to the Japanese competition, and frankly it is a bit "rustic" if you get my drift. To be fair, Penn do supply some washers with instructions on how to fix the line lay if it tapers in either direction. But I'm mystified why they can't build it so that the line lay is straight? Most decent reels just work straight off, with no adjustment needed. I'm not sure what's going on here, and sure enough, I filled up my reel with 13lb Grauvell Teklon Gold Mono that has a diameter similar to most 8lb mono and the line lay ended up tapered with a slight gap under the top lip of the spool and narrow at the top than the bottom:
The less than stellar line lay of the Penn SSV3500.
I did as suggested and fitted a narrower washer to the base of the spool and we'll have to see if it rectifies the line lay over the course of the next trip. It might not be an issue, but it does seem a bit odd to have to do this on a brand new reel.

So do I recommend the Penn SSV3500 for sea kayak fishing? Not yet, it needs to last a couple of seasons first! But from the spec, the reel ticks most of my boxes for sea kayak fishing.  It needs to be watertight and saltwater proof. These are the absolute minimum requirements for sea kayak fishing, as our reels get splashed every minute or so when trolling, either by paddles or waves. There's no way to avoid this, so any reel has withstand this treatment. Then there's the price. True, the Penn isn't the cheapest reel out there. But it is the cheapest watertight (not waterproof) reel out there.  Penn do have a good reputation for making reliable, robust reels, albeit at a weight cost!  But if you're considering a new reel for sea kayak fishing, there are very few around that can do the job if you want one that you can use for more than just a season and I'd definitely check it out.

As always, I'll update the review at the end of the season (which is pretty soon now) to let you know how the reel has performed on the sea.


  1. Nice post!

    That Alcedo now is quite useless...It really seems like a bad design fault or maybe cheap metal with defect...

    Best of luck and let's see how tight the Penn really is!
    Looking forward for the "part 2" :)


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