A couple years back, PENN gave us the opportunity to field test the new International VISX reels. The timing could not have been better considering the unprecedented bluefin tuna bite that SoCal anglers have been blessed with for the past few years.
The El Nino of 2015 brought many unfamiliar species to our local waters with wahoo and blue marlin heading the list. Most notably, the change in ocean currents brought swarms of large bluefin tuna, the likes of which have not been seen in California waters in a hundred years.
These new heavyweight visitors to our waters caused local anglers (myself included) to take a look at their tackle and realize that in most cases, we were very much under gunned. The standard SoCal quiver of 20#, 30# and 40# outfits was just not going to cut it anymore.
These fish also necessitated non-traditional tactics to get a bite.
For most anglers, skipping a yummee flyer lure from a trolled kite was the main tactic for big bluefin. “Skipping” for big bluefin presents its own tackle challenges including line capacity, drag pressure and cranking power.
Enter the PENN International 50 VISX. Right out of the box we knew this was the reel for the job. The new International is lighter than previous models and features silent dog gears to go along with PENN’s legendary toughness.
We promptly spooled the reel with approximately 750 yards of 130# Hollow Berkley Big Game Braid. I prefer the hollow line for big tuna fishing as it allows the use of a loop-to-loop connection with a short (30’) wind-on leader of 200# Big Game Fluorocarbon. The silky-smooth connection eliminates bulky knots and allows the angler to wind the fish right to gaff without the help of a wire man.
The reel is not a “wide” model, which I prefer in most cases, especially when harness fishing. The narrower profile doesn’t wobble as much under hard cranking. This gives the angler more stability when fighting a fish in the harness.
Another requirement of this fishery is durability, and that’s always been a cornerstone for PENN. Blistering run after run and fish after fish, our PENN 50 VISX reels have provided silky-smooth drag with zero issues.
We matched the reel with a PENN International INTVI506080RS rod. This is a 6’0”, 50-80# rod that’s suited nearly perfectly to the 50 VISX. We prefer to fish bent butts on bigger fish, so a quick swap of the screw-on butt to an AFTCO stand up bent butt and we were ready to roll.
Once hooked up, you’ll remember why big game anglers have trusted PENN for decades.
Like its predecessors, this reel is solid and strong. The drag provides smooth, confident stopping power even when these fish make seemingly endless runs for the horizon. The gearing provides crazy torque in high gear to the point that we don’t use the low gear, except on stubborn fish that are straight up and down. Lastly, the new dog gears are super quiet and smooth.
Over the last couple of years, this has become our go-to rig for skipping the yummee flyer, fishing mackerel on the kite or dropping a squid down 100 feet for a nighttime tuna bite. After three seasons of fishing hard, our primary rod and reel combo has caught over 50 big bluefin without so much as a check up from the reel doctor. At the end of the trip the combo is simply washed and dried with a chamois.
You can’t ask for more than that from your tackle, so check them out next time you’re gearing up for big fish and see for yourself why they earn the moniker, Ol’ Faithful.
Check out the PENN website for more details on all of the PENN International Series.