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The Best Big Game Fishing Reel: Shimano Tiagra or Penn International?

Looking to buy a new big game fishing reel? You can’t go wrong with either the Shimano Tiagra or Penn International. Which one will you get?

When talking about big game fishing reels, no other reels get glorified more than the two “gold standards”. The Penn International and the Shimano Tiagra.

Both reels are constantly under serious pressure to perform during big-game tournaments around the world.

They have reached legendary status by successfully landing world record fish, reliably and consistently.

Plenty of charter captains around the world either fish Internationals or Tiagras exclusively, and for a good reason.

They are highly reliable, durable, and are made with the best components available.

Both have rich histories and have been battle-tested for decades, further solidifying the trust between anglers and equipment.

Which one is best for me?

If you are planning to invest in bulletproof game fishing reels for your boat, you will not go wrong with either of them. But you’ll still have to choose right?

In the ideal world, it would be great to be able to own both Tiagras and Internationals. But the deciding factors will be divided into two main categories.

Ease of maintenance and personal preference.

A third deciding factor could be aesthetics or looks. Some like their equipment to be uniform. But this is minor. Most anglers will be happy if the reel catches fish without breaking.

Both reels are similarly priced so budget constraints won’t be much of an issue. And if you are considering fitting out your game boat with any of these reels, the budget will be the last thing on your mind.

This won’t be an in-depth review of Penn International and Shimano Tiagra.

This post will be more like a side to side comparison to help you decide which reel to buy for your big game outfit.

Let’s start.

Penn International VI and VISX

penn international visx

The Penn International VI is the 6th iteration of the Penn International series of big game fishing reels and was released back in 2017.

The Internationals are made in Philadelphia, U.S.A., since their birth over 50 years ago.

This 6th version of the International has received a complete makeover, with a focus on the drag system.

Differences Between the International VI and International VISX

There are two main differences between the standard VI and the VISX.

First is the frame design. The standard International VI is made primarily for fishing with monofilament has the well-known top bar with the beautifully engraved INTERNATIONAL label and model number.

The VISX is designed for use with braided line and has an open-top design, allowing anglers to control line with the thumb and fingers more freely.

It also has a more aggressive drag curve, which makes sense as you will load heavier braided line onto the reel for maximum power transfer.

The VISX versions are only available in 12, 16, 20, 30, and 50 sizes. They are designed for braided line, so they will be able to hold ridiculous amounts of braid. Perfect for small reel – big fish style fishing.

The Body

The body and side plates are fully made out of machined anodized aluminum. This allows it to be fairly light for its massive size.

The smaller sizes from size 12 (880g) to size 50 (1871g) are very manageable even with standard stand-up gear.

The bigger reels from size 70 to size 130 are meant for fishing on bent butt rods in the rod holders.

The reels are also available in silver if you’re the type who wants a subtle and softer look.

The Drag

The Penn International VI utilizes Penn’s trademark Dura-Drag.

The Dura-Drag washers are basically lubed carbon fiber washers. The exact specifications are unknown and are surely confidential.

The lifespan of the drag washers has been proven so much not just by us here in Vanuatu, but from reports coming from all over the world.

We’ve read some reports that claim that they’ve used their Internationals with Dura-Drag washers over 10 years without any sign of failure.

Apart from its longevity, the drag is also extremely smooth across the entire spectrum of drag settings from low to high, without any sign of jittering, jerking, or inconsistency throughout the fight.

A major design change from the International V was the position of the drag mechanism.

The International VI has the drag mechanism set alongside the internal gears on the handle-side side-plate, allowing Penn to shave off excess weight from the left side of the reel.

This also meant a change from a “pushing” towards the left side-plate drag mechanism to a “pulling” to the left handle side-plate drag mechanism.

The design change had no negative effects on the overall drag power but did help shave some weight off the reels.

Penn also added a quirky little feature that may go unnoticed by most anglers – an adjustable strike button.

Penn calls it the Versa-strike positioning system. It’s an adjustable strike position to play around with. Anglers who like using lighter lines may appreciate this feature as it allows you to set the drag’s strike to a lighter setting.

A bit gimmicky, but innovative at the same time.

The Internals

The Penn International VI has fully stainless steel main and pinion gears. Essential for corrosion resistance and durability.

They also utilize the ever-reliable double-dog ratchet-style anti-reverse mechanism. The double dog makes so much sense as having a backup anti-reverse mechanism is always a great idea when battling granders.

The 2-speed gear shifting system is called Quick Shift. Penn improves on their previous iteration by making the shifting between gears a one-handed operation.

A simple push-button on the handle arm’s shaft to engage the low gear, and another button on the handle arm in the proximity of the first button to disengage.

You’ll easily get in and out of gear while keeping your hand on the grip. All the control with just the gripping hand’s thumb.

All internals are supported by 5 heavy-duty, anti-rust bearings to keep everything inside stable and keep the reel performing smoothly.

Check out Penn International prices by clicking here.

Shimano Tiagra

shimano tiagra

The Shimano Tiagra is an extremely popular game-fishing reel and has been touted as the top choice for serious big-game anglers.

Shimano quality is what it is. We cannot deny how well made their products are and how well they perform under pressure. This build quality and performance is expected in their top tier trolling reels.

The Body

Like most of Shimano’s heavy-duty reels, the Tiagras get the Hagane treatment as well.

A one-piece full metal frame that is made extremely stiff to resist flexing, keeping the inner components and gears aligned all the time.

Weight-wise they are significantly heavier in comparison to the Penn Internationals.

Comparing the size 50 reels side to side, the Tiagra weighs in at a whopping 2444g. 573g heavier than its Penn International counterpart.

The Drag

The Tiagras have Shimano’s reliable Cross-Carbon drag washers installed, but with added lubrication to keep them impervious to saltwater.

Shimano calls it a Hydrothermal drag system. A self-lubricating system that works with heat.

When drag pressures heat up the washers, the lubricant changes viscosity to allow a more even spread of lubrication, keeping things smooth without overheating.

The cross-carbon washers are cross-hatched, making a “rough” texture for more grip and more ventilation to prevent overheating. Great for lubrication to work through.

The drag range across the entire spectrum of settings is smooth throughout, without any signs of slipping, jerking, or inconsistency throughout the fight.

As expected from a top-tier game reel, the Tiagras have an awesome ratcheting lever drag mechanism.

Accurate drag adjustments can be made, from the drag pre-set knob to the lever drag adjustments. Both have loud and solid clicks.

The Internals

The Tiagras utilize Shimano’s HEG or High-Efficiency Gears.

A large drive and pinion gear are installed for more leverage and power. All kept in place by the stiff one-piece frame.

A twin pawl anti-reverse mechanism is also in place. Two arms or “pawls” lever over an anti-reverse gear. This system is standard in the Shimano big game range.

Anglers will also love the 2-speed gear shifting mechanism as Shimano’s system is what other brands try to replicate.

An easy one-handed gear shift operation. Big push button to engage low gear at the handle shaft end, and a disengage button on the handle itself.

You’ll get in and out of gear while keeping your hand on the grip at all times.

Both size 130 and 16 have 6 S-ARB corrosion-resistant bearings supporting the internals while the rest of the sizes in the range will have 4 S-ARB bearings to support the internals.

Check out the Shimano Tiagra 30W here.

Major Comparisons

Weight – Weight-wise, Penn Internationals have the upper hand. They’ve worked hard to shave off as much weight as possible, even changing their drag system to help shed weight.

Ease of Maintenance – Penn has a simpler internal build, thus making it easier to maintain and service. Shimano Tiagras are big in the fishing industry and the chances of local tackle shops adept at servicing them are great. You’d be better off sending your Tiagras to a shop for servicing if you are not confident in your tinkering skills.

Variety and Versatility – The Penn International VISX is the wild-card in the battle between these two behemoth game fishing reels. Having a reel designed specifically for use with braided fishing line adds to the variety for anglers to choose from.

If you’ll most likely fish braid, and want a more aggressive drag curve, the smaller but more aggressive VISX will fit your needs well.

If simplicity and uniformity is your flavor, the industry-standard Shimano Tiagra is the way to go.

Last Cast

Offshore fishing for big-game species is tough on equipment and gear. Both rod and reel play vital roles in battling our desired targets.

Serious fishing requires serious gear. Equipment that can handle whatever the ocean throws at them.

We need gear that will not only perform well under pressure but will also give us peace of mind when fishing.

Both the Penn International and the Shimano Tiagra are up on the top shelves of tackle shops worldwide for a reason. They are the industry’s “Gold Standards”.

Both are bulletproof and will last a lifetime if maintained well.

As mentioned previously, you won’t go wrong with any of these. It will all come down to personal preference and ease of maintenance.

The tackle nerd who loves tinkering with gear will love the Tiagras.

While the weight-conscious angler who loves aggressive styling and looks, and simple internal mechanisms will love the Penn Internationals.

Are you team Penn International or team Shimano Tiagra? 

If you are looking for a true sport fishing company that offers you more than just a Vanuatu fishing adventure, look no further than Ocean Blue Fishing.

Call us now at (AU) 1300 564 616 or at (INTL) +61 436 020322 or you may also contact us through our website at www.oceanbluefishing.com/enquire

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The Best Big Game Fishing Reel: Shimano Tiagra or Penn International?

John is originally from the Philippines. John has extensive guiding experience throughout Asia and...Learn more
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