Fishing stories

Vintage reel project II: Rebuild complete!

The thing about a broken foot is that you’re not distracted by things like, well, going fishing. Instead you’ve got some spare time on your hands where you might for example, start rebuilding your old man’s 1950-something Penn fishing reel that’s staring at you from the work desk.  If you missed the first installment of the Vintage Reel Project, basically I scored a bucket of fishing reel parts that, when fully assembled, dad used to hook and land a cracking Kahawai in the late 50’s.  In my current condition, the project has come along much faster than I had anticipated.

Armed with an exploded diagram, a full set of screwdrivers, a can of degreaser, a bottle of reel oil, a heap of caffeine and absolutely no idea what I was doing, I made a start.

Almost there?
Almost there?

After an hour of careful cleaning, rust treatment and assembly I took this photo.  I was pretty happy with my progress thus far.  There had been plenty of trial and error and it was starting to look like a fishing reel.  After the second hour however, I stepped out for some fresh air, no closer to the dream of holding a functional reel.  I dare anyone to put the clutch mechanism together based on the diagram alone.  It’s not that the order of the tiny springs and metal pieces is a mystery, it’s how they all go together when you’ve only got two hands to hold five things at one time that baffled me!

Fortunately my new friends at who provided the diagram came to the rescue again.  This time on Youtube.

Even with the video by my side it took a couple of attempts to make everything fit.  The first time the ‘dog’ was facing the wrong way.  An amateur mistake.  But once back together for the second time, I was stunned.  I adjusted the side plate, the star drag and tightened the remaining bolts.  Then I gave it a test ‘cast’ and wound the handle.  For a reel that has been unloved for perhaps 40 or 50 years, it ran beautifully.  It’s quiet and the clutch engages and disengages really well, especially under light load.  Sure the design of the star drag has improved a bit over the years, but this was essentially Penn’s entry level, hard working reel.

Caption goes here
Still shiny after 55 years – albeit with a bit of polish
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Penn 85 – “A favourite for salt water and inland river fishing.  Low cost star drag model.  Free spool action with a sliding click. All exposed parts are plated and corrosion resistant”

All that is left now is to spool her up, fix it to a rod, tie on a metal lure and the scene from 1958 is almost complete. I have started to consider what line to put on it? Do I keep with tradition and use some good ol’ fashion monofilament. Could it handle the demands of modern braided line – or is that cheating? But without ‘cheating’ and looking at Youtube, I wouldn’t have been able to put it back together.  And at this stage I don’t think I’m willing to fashion a rod out of a car aerial like my grandfather, so maybe I should be happy with what I’ve achieved thus far and accept modern advances in rods and fishing lines.

aaaargh, decisions, decisions …

Dad and I have booked a trip to Wonboyn Lake on the far south coast soon.  So whatever I end up choosing, this is without doubt, the right occasion for the mighty Penn to rise again.


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3 thoughts on “Vintage reel project II: Rebuild complete!

  1. Find yourself an old solid or hollow glass rod at a garage sale. That would go just fine with the Penn reel. A few weeks ago I picked up an old English made Ambidex spinning reel. It feels great with an old Jarvis Walker Black Queen rod. Fifty years ago this was the ducks guts in cutting edge fishing technology. Fun to fish with.

  2. Thanks Steve,

    I did a bit more digging and the spool is only Bakelite (plastic), so I’m reluctant to put anything too modern or demanding anywhere near the reel now. Which means no braid and no graphite rods. As you’ve suggested, I’ll keep an eye our at the local garage sales for a nice fibreglass rod and match it with some 10-15lb mono. Should do the trick!



  3. Pingback: Vintage reel project: Rebuilding a 1950′s Penn 85 | Flick and Fly Journal

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