Fishing stories

Vintage reel project: Rebuilding a 1950’s Penn 85

I’ve been taking a little trip down memory lane recently. It all started when dad found an old black and white photo of him as a child holding a huge Kahawai (Aussie Salmon). After a couple of discussions over dinner to tease out the details, we came up with this post. The second trigger for my recent nostalgia was a trip to New Zealand to attend my grandfather’s funeral. I don’t believe my maternal grandfather was a fisherman but nonetheless he had acquired a fascinating array of fishing gear.  These included bamboo and dowel rods, a Mitchell 301 reel, and several ‘Academy plastics’ reels.  Thanks to this website – I’ve been able to date the Mitchell reel from the serial number.  It was made in France in 1960.

Mitchell 301 Reel made in france
1960 Mitchell 301 – made in France.  It still winds great and I hope to catch a fish on it soon

It was while dad and I were looking through this old gear that my uncle remembered another reel.  But this one was inside the house, not in the garage with the rest.  He produced an ice cream container full of plastic and metal pieces. All I could make out from the array of screws, springs and washers before me was that it was an overhead reel and that it was a Penn No. 85. This wasn’t from my grandfather but rather from my nanna on my father’s side. Realizing the significance and age of the reel, my uncle had taken it into the local tackle shop for an expert opinion. “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like that” the shop attendant said. “That’s pretty rare I reckon”. My uncle duly put the reel in a ‘safe place’.

So how did it end up in pieces? Did I mention that I have twin cousins? When they were about 10 they extracted the reel from the safety of the cupboard and decided to take it apart and then try and put it back together.  Needless to say, taking it apart was the easy bit  …  Boys will be boys! My cousins are now nearly 20, so it’s been sitting in pieces for 10 years.

Can this be rebuilt
A vintage Penn 85 – Can this be rebuilt?

The plot thickens

Remember the line tangle that forced dad to stop retrieving for a few seconds in the big Kahawai story? The overrun that allowed the metal lure to flutter seductively down into deeper water, where the fish inhaled it?  This all happened on an overhead reel.  The penny dropped; “Bloody hell, it was a Penn 85” dad said.  The conclusion from all this was that the bucket of parts in my hands dated back to some time before 1958.

In that instant I decided that I wanted to rebuild the reel and without any objections from the family, I packed it in my bag and brought it back to Australia.  But why stop there?  Why not try and replicate the scenario in 1958 and catch a salmon on it – using a metal lure!  It’s going to be a big challenge.  Spinning reels are my preferred choice these days and I’m not sure if I have a suitable rod.  Plus, I’ve never even serviced an overhead reel before, so I have no idea of my chances of putting one back together.

A lucky break

The internet is an amazing thing however, and I’ve managed to find the part list and exploded diagram at  After a few minutes diligently ticking off the parts on the list this morning, I’m happy to report that I have every single last washer and screw required!

Penn 85 diagram jpeg
Penn 85 diagram

So what I lack in experience I can hopefully make up for with technology and motivation.  See, at the moment I’ve got a broken foot and I may not be able to fish for another month.  What a perfect time to begin the Vintage Reel Project.

Wish me luck and any advice will be greatly received!


Continue to the rebuild – Part II

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3 thoughts on “Vintage reel project: Rebuilding a 1950’s Penn 85

  1. Pingback: Vintage reel project II: Rebuild complete!
  2. I am rebuilding a Penn 85 and, naturally, I lost the tiny spring (I believe it is #14 in the schematic). Do you know where I can find another of these springs?

    1. G’day Tom,

      Sorry, I don’t know off the top of my head where you would find spare parts for an old reel like this. I would start by googling it and failing that, look for forums that specialize in older fishing gear and try asking them. Sorry I can’t be of much help, I was spoilt in the sense that I still had all of the parts required for the rebuild. Let us know how you get on though, it would be interesting to know if you can still get parts for these old reels?

      Good luck!


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