The Penn International VI Series: Improving on a Classic Reel

Last updated on November 1st, 2020

penn international vi series big game trolling reels

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The Penn International series is widely regarded as one of the best big game conventional reels on the market. This is nothing new either, as the International Series has been regarded as the premier casting reel since the original series debuted more than 50 years ago.

Anyone in the market for a battle-tested, quality casting/trolling reel for pursuing blue water trophy fish should take a hard look at this reel. The all-metal International Series has been the flagship model for the company and the go-to big game fishing reel for countless sport fishermen for decades. But it’s been a while since we’ve seen anything new from the series, until recently that it is!

After 15 years, the Penn International finally returns with a new line-up, the International VI – the sixth generation in the illustrious series.

The release of the Penn International VI has certainly got anglers excited, as the latest International comes with some awesome improvements over the already outstanding V series, not to mention a few new features that are a first for the series.

This review takes a closer look at the Penn International VI series to see if it lives up to the hype. 

A Closer Look at Penn’s New International VI Reels

PENN International VIS 2 Speed ReelSee on Amazon for full details and prices

The Penn International VI series is one of the largest and best offshore casting and trolling reels available, coming in a variety of models to provide the right features and sizes for all types of deep-sea fishing adventures. Keeping with tradition, the Penn International VI is made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the USA just like all the other International series reels for the past 50 years.

Featuring an updated Quick-Shift II dual speed gearing system, Penn’s proprietary sealed Dura-Drag, a lightweight build with an ergonomic handle and an innovative adjustable strike stop, there is so much to like with the new Penn International VI series.

The latest International, which comes in 14 models/sizes and 2 color options (gold and silver) as well as two gearing choices – single-speed (VI models) and 2-speed (VIS models), was released onto the market in September of 2017 after much anticipation from the angling world.

The International VI comes in 3 single-speed models (INT12VI, INT30VIW & INT50VIW) with the rest of the series offered in 2-speed configurations.

Models ending in “W” are wide-body, extra line capacity reels perfect for loading up with heavy-test mono line; those ending in X” are the more compact, topless reels with an aggressive drag that is well-suited for heavy braid lines.

Same Quality but Lighter Design

Despite the strength of these reels, the International VI series features a very lightweight design. This is credited to a retooling of the body by Penn so that the drag elements are repositioned from the left to the right side of the reel, allowing for a reduction in the metal used – and significant weight savings.

The overall weight-savings over the previous Series are about 7% – 10% across the board (between 3 to 13 ounces depending on the model), with the Penn International 50 and 70 size reels benefiting the most.

The reel body and side plates are made from strong but lightweight, one-piece machined and anodized aircraft-grade aluminum. Maintaining the reel’s rock-solid construction while shaving off weight is certainly beneficial to anglers battling successive big game fish in open water.

Now, handling is a bit lighter and less strenuous, making those extended battles with the biggest species easier.

Quicker Shifting Between Gears

With the exception of the 12VI, 30VIW AND 50VIW models, which are single-speed, all other VI series models are built with precision machined stainless steel 2-speed gear trains (main and pinion gears).

The result is one of the most versatile and best performing big game fishing reels on the market today. The gears are built to last –  even after heavy, repeated hook-ups in challenging saltwater conditions.

The new Quick-Shift II 2-speed gear system has been retooled for faster, uninterrupted control over reel speed and torque than the previous version, allowing you to choose between additional speed or more cranking power on the fly – exactly what you need when battling big, bruising tuna or speedy, powerful billfish such as sailfish and marlin.

PENN International VIS 2 Speed Reel

Buy International VIS 2-Spd Reel on Amazon

The ability to easily and quickly switch between speeds mid-battle is made possible by Penn’s redesigned, intuitive push-button system conveniently integrated into the crank handle’s base.

Now there is no need to look down or take your hand off the reel to switch between gears. This feature alone, in my opinion, makes the new International series a top contender for one of the best deep-sea fishing reels available today.

It’s small features like this that can make a big difference during those intense battles. Let’s be honest, the last thing you need while in mid-battle with the trophy fish of a lifetime is to have to take more than a second to stop and switch gears. This is definitely one of my favorite features on this outstanding reel. 

More Bearings for Improved Smoothness

The bearing count has been increased in the VI series for smoother operation. The previous International V had 4 shielded stainless steel ball bearings in all sizes with the exception of the two largest models, the 80VSW and 130VSX, which had 6.

The new VI series has 5 bearings across all sizes but the massive 130VIS which comes with 6 SS shielded bearings

Durable Dura-Drag System

Another feature not to be overlooked in the VI series features the innovated and incredibly durable Dura-Drag System previously used in the International V Series as well as the new Penn Slammer III spinning reels.

The trademarked sealed Dura-Drag has been in use on the International reels for years now, but it continues to be one of the best, most durable drag systems in use today. It uses 2 oversized drag washers impregnated with a special phenolic compound to resist heat and premature wear, even under extreme loads.

The result is a drag that remains smooth as well as powerful over time, even after many hard battles with big fish. Broken lines, pulled hooks and missed opportunities are greatly reduced with the smoother start-ups and more consistent drag pressure across the spectrum.

As noted previously, in a change from the previous generation of International reels, the drag system has now been moved to the right-hand side of the reel.

The drag operated with a push action before but has now been replaced by a pull system when engaging the drag lever. As stated, the retooling of the drag helped the company to reduce the amount of material used in the reel, thereby also reducing the weight.

Furthermore, the drag system now features the new Versa-Strike adjustable strike stop that is the first of its kind on the market. This isn’t something found on any previous lever drags, with the strike stop being adjustable across the entire strike zone.

Simply loosen the button with a flat-head screwdriver to move the strike button to the desired position. This ingenious feature you to control the fighting range of the drag to suit your fishing style, targeted species, and specific test fishing line. 

New Ergonomic Handle

The handle has also seen some changes, now being ergonomically designed for easier operating. The previous range featured a T-knob grip, but the VI series now features an angled knob for better handling.

This innovation gives you more cranking power due to the straightened position of the wrist when turning the handle. Not only that, but the handle is made from a hard-rubber that is perfectly contoured for a more comfortable grip, which helps in prolonged battles with big pelagic fish.

Also, with the introduction of the new Quick Shift II system built into the handle, you no longer need to remove your hand from the handle knob when switching between gears. 

A Better Anti-Reverse System

Another major change from the V series is the introduction of a “Double-Dog” ratchet, multi-stop anti-reverse system, that is a major improvement over the previous system. Handle back-play is virtually eliminated with this upgrade.

The previous generation featured a ratcheted lever that produced a fair amount of noise on deck, which often made communicating on the boat somewhat difficult – especially when multiple reels were being cranked at the same time!

The anti-reverse eliminates all ratchet noise, resulting in a near-silent system – expect no more loud clicking with the Penn IV series.

Going Topless – The VISX Models

PENN INTERNATIONAL VISX 2 Speed, INT50VISXBuy International VISX 2-Spd Reel on Amazon

I have always liked the International open-top or topless reels for those situations where I am more concerned with line strength than line capacity.

The VISX Internationals satisfy that need with 5 improved models from which to choose – from the compact 12 VISX all the way up to the 50VISX. All VISX models are 2-speed and come with significantly higher drag ratings than their non-SX counterparts.

These reels have a narrower profile than the standard VI/VIS or the wide VISW models and are great for use with higher test mono lines but, with their prodigious drag, they are especially suited for heavier braid.

In addition, they are a good choice if you like placing your finger on the spool to get a greater feel for what is happening at the end of the line and/or want more granular control.

The Penn International VISX adds an additional size to the line-up – a 20 size reel – that was not available in the V series. The 20VISX is a good choice for anyone who likes the 30 but would also prefer a lighter, more compact reel without giving up much with regards to gear ratios or drag strength.

To that end, the new addition has 4.1:1/1.4:1 gear ratios – the same as the 30VISX – and puts out 50 lbs of max. drag at the full position, just 5 lbs less than the larger 30VISX.

  Reel Aesthetics and More

While not a new feature, the Penn International VI series comes in two color options  – the classic Penn gold and an attractive silver finish that was first introduced in 2015 after much clamor from anglers.

So, there was no doubt that the new series was going to include the silver. Many sport fishermen, not unlike other sportsmen, like to coordinate their gear – in this case with their boats, other tackle, and so on – so they prefer the silver as it matches up easier most other colors.

I find the color, like many other anglers, to actually be a more practical choice because it is better at hiding wear and tear than the gold, which tends to highlight scratches a little too much to my liking.

Another new and welcome feature added to the VI series is the line capacity rings that have become standard on nearly all Penn reels.

Finally, all VI reels come with the standard one-year warranty from Penn.

Final Review Thoughts on the VI Series

Penn has once again raised the bar for big game reels with the latest update of its classic American-made International  Series.

What Penn has accomplished with the release of the International VI was to take an already legendary offshore reel and make it even better. It may be another 15 years before Penn updates the series again given the array of forward-thinking innovations that went into this one.

Until next time, friends…

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About Avid Angler

Dave "Avid Angler" Miller has been an author and contributor to Reel Adventure Fishing since its inception, going back to 2010. Dave has fished just about every freshwater and saltwater body from coast to coast and enjoys putting a lifetime of angling experience to use in helping others to become better anglers. In addition to penning featured posts, Dave also writes a good deal of our product reviews.

3 thoughts on “The Penn International VI Series: Improving on a Classic Reel

  1. Ridge Harris

    The VI series looks like it’s a top-of-the-line reel for anyone serious about big-game fishing, but how does stack up against the Shimano Tiagra since they’re both roughly around the same price?

  2. Aaron

    Thanks for the post. I like Penn’s redesigned push-button system. It’s integration into the crank handle’s base is handy. I might need to pick one up!

    1. Avid Angler Post author

      Yeah Aaron, I really like that feature too! This has been a great offshore reel for so many years, but upgrades like push-button gear shifting, a beefed up anti-reverse and the lighter design make the VI even more compelling.

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