Henry Gilbey
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Penn Slammer III 3500 spinning reel review - under £150 in the UK

I love fishing with a buttery smooth and light as a feather spinning reel as much as the next angler, but with how a lot of us go about our lure fishing, the argument is always going to be there that far too many of these often not cheap spinning reels simply aren’t up to what we are putting them through. It’s not the size of the fish we catch that’s harming our reels (I wish!), rather it’s the constant casting and retrieving and then of course the many chances there are for saltwater to get inside various parts of the reel which we all know tends to be the start of the decline process………….

I’ve seen and also heard of too many higher end spinning reels essentially trashed and in need of a service after only one or two hectic surf sessions over in Kerry for example, and how many of you have accidentally drowned your lovely smooth coffee grinder and found that it does indeed feel like you’re grinding coffee beans when you next take it fishing? Why do you think I am so intrigued to get hold of the Van Staal VR50 that I spoke about on here the other day? I look after my gear as best as I can, but I know for example that my spinning reel took a lot of saltwater on board after a couple of north coast sessions recently. I have washed it as best as I can - I submerge the reel in a sink of warmish water and turn the handle multiple times, then I take the spool off and leave it all to dry - but of course I worry that saltwater has got inside and in due course I will end up fishing with a not bloody cheap coffee grinder.

Penn Clash 3000

Penn Clash 3000

Nobody is ever going to argue that the US tackle brand Penn make the lightest or uber-smoothest or subtlest spinning reels in the world, but a hell of a lot of use with their Clash 3000 has left me wondering why on earth more UK and Irish lure anglers haven’t latched onto this thing for example. For sure you need to underfill it otherwise it simply will not behave on the wind knot front, but if you don’t get greedy then to me the Penn Clash 3000 is a serious amount of spinning reel for the money (review here). The one I have here is as smooth as it was on day one, and whilst that smoothness might not quite be as smooth as say a decent Shimano reel, firstly how many lovely, shiny spinning reels don’t stay smooth enough for long enough, and do we obsess about smoothness and uber-lightness when instead there has to be the argument that longer lasting and more robust would surely serve us better?

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So we come to the Penn Slammer III series of spinning reels, and specifically this 3500 size one that I have had here for a while now. It’s the smallest in the Penn Slammer III range and is about the same size as a Shimano 4000 spinning reel although with that big gold handle it does look more substantial. You also get an optional “soft grip” handle in the box - the same handle that I like so much on a Penn Clash - and whilst I initially changed to this when I first got the reel because that kinda blingy gold handle looks heavy, in fact it isn’t at all (it’s hollow) and I changed back to it. I love winding in with this big gold handle and it gives me such a feeling of confidence. Damn this reel is a machine!

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It’s smooth, but not that buttery smooth sort of feel as a Shimano or a Daiwa out of the box. This Penn Slammer III 3500 loaded up with line weighs 403g, whereas the 2016 Daiwa Certate 3000 loaded with line weighs 280g and the discontinued Shimano Sustain 4000FG loaded with line weighs 300g. The Slammer is obviously a touch heavier and this might put some anglers off, but it’s interesting once you strap this spinning reel to various lure rods how good it feels to fish with, and how that extra bit of weight in fact helps balance some rods out. I come back again to do we obsess about feather-light spinning reels and do we actually need them to be ever lighter? 

Interestingly this Penn Slammer III 3500 that I have been using a fair bit and also handed over to a couple of clients in July is arguably smoother again than when I first loaded it up with line (I had to play around with the washers to get a good line lay), indeed it slightly reminds me of how a Van Staal seems to almost run in over time. I can’t prove this and it may be a load of rubbish, but this Slammer is plenty smooth enough whilst also giving me a huge amount of confidence that I could pull the plug out of the sea with it. There’s a reported 30lb of drag on offer if needs be, which let’s face it we don’t for our fishing, and as much as I tend to wind my drag up tighter than most anglers, if and when a fish takes a little bit of line, crumbs does it come off nice and smooth and easy. Not a hint of snatching. As I said, this thing is a machine.

Now the big thing to me is Penn saying that their Slammer III range has “IPX6 Sealed body and spool design” and also “Sealed Slammer drag system with Dura-Drag”. I looked around for a definition of IPX6 waterproofing and came up with this “In order for a product to receive an IPX6 rating, one of the many tests that the product must endure is a minimum of three minutes of powerful jets spraying at least 100 liters of water per minute all over the outer casing of the product without the water ever penetrating. There are also various dust tests conducted to ensure the product is sealed and completely dust tight. It is important to remember that an IPX6 rated product is not submergible in water. Completely submersible products with absolutely no entry points for water intrusion are awarded an IPX7 rating.”

So because this is not my reel and it doesn’t really matter what happens to it, on multiple occasions now I have fully submerged this Penn Slammer III 3500 in saltwater when it’s on the end of a lure rod, given it a good bit of shaking around in the water, and then carried on fishing with it. When I get home I tighten the drag down, hose it down with freshwater as I would with any spinning reel I have been fishing with it, loosen the drag off, and leave it to dry. I know this Slammer isn’t designed for full submersion, but it isn’t even a single percent less smooth or rough or noisy and I have to say that this fills me with confidence when I am lure fishing and because of conditions and/or location I simply can’t stop my spinning reel getting good amounts of saltwater over and no doubt into it. I have oiled it and greased it just as I would any spinning reel, and sure it’s a little heavier than other similar sized spinning reels I have here, but damn this Slammer III continues to grow on me. I really, really like it.

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For the most part I have strapped it to longer and more powerful lure rods when I am doing that kind of lure fishing because it feels like that kind of reel, but I did put it on a brand new Major Craft 9’ 10-30g lure rod for one of our clients in Kerry last month and he got on with this setup really well (rod review to come). I have heard from a few anglers using this reel on rods like this and they are getting on with these setups really well. As I said earlier, don’t get greedy and try to overfill a Penn reel although if you stick to that final gold line on the spool then you can fill a Slammer III up a little fuller than you can a Clash - which to me matters not one bit because who really cares if you lose a metre of distance to get a spinning reel which behaves properly? I was trying out a new braid out on the reel to start with and there were a few wind knots which did worry me a bit, so I changed over to the rather awesome and not expensive but for whatever reason seems to fly under the radar SpiderWire Stealth Smooth 8 braid (review here), kept to the loading guideline on the spool, and there hasn’t been a single hint of casting trouble since. And yes, I stopped using that new braid!

Logic might say that I should be using the lightest spinning reel possible on what is by a degree the lightest and most responsive and downright special 9’6’’ lure that I have ever fished with - the outrageously accomplished Shimano Exsence Infinity S906M/RF 9’6’’ 6-38g (review here) which somehow keeps on getting better and better the more I use it and discover how much it can actually do - so last week I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see how this slightly heavier Penn Slammer III 3500 spinning reel might do on it. I’ve been fishing a very light Shimano reel on this rod since I first got it, but up on the north coast especially I’m shipping too much saltwater into this reel for my liking - hence giving the Slammer a go.

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And blow me down if this Slammer/Exsence setup doesn’t feel rather bloody lovely, indeed as I made reference to earlier, there’s an argument that a slightly heavier reel on the butt-end of a lure rod can actually help balance the thing a bit better. It probably also helps that Mark and I had a really good session on medium sized surface lures when I was trying this setup out, but I was surprised how good this rod and reel felt together. I will definitely be fishing this setup more and more, and especially when conditions are bouncing etc.

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So there you go - so far this Penn Slammer III 3500 is one hell of a spinning reel, and the fact that I can easily find it online for under £150 makes it remarkable value for money in my book (you don’t get a spare spool, but that seems increasingly normal these days). As ever I will report back in due course and if anything were to go wrong with this reel, but at the moment my confidence levels in it are sky high. I really want to try a bit of heavy duty surf fishing this autumn and winter especially, indeed I’ve got a St.Croix Mojo 10’6’’ ¾-4oz Surf Spinning rod winging its way to me for a bit of a play to see how it might work for this style of bass fishing (these bods here are now selling and distributing doing St.Croix here in the UK)  - and as sure as mullet might refuse a nice bit of bread I won’t be strapping a high-end Japanese spinning reel to this rod and wading out into a surging dollop of autumnal swell. Nope, on this rod will be this Penn Slammer III 3500 spinning reel because so far I am trusting it to keep going in conditions like this, plus it’s a bit of a stunner to fish with……………….