Our overall rating:4
- Large Power Handle
- Wide Level Wind
- Auto Clutch feature
- Holds a lot of line
- Lightweight for its size and power
- Excellent cranking power
- Free spool clicker option
- Auto clutch
- HT-100 Drag is fantastic
- Braid ready and line capacity rings
- Non-disengaging level wind
- Line counter can be jumpy
- Start up inertia is a bit high at extreme drag ranges
Large, conventional reels are a mainstay of saltwater fishing chasing after the largest species in the ocean. You will find them on any lake in the world working deep water for rockfish and trophy cats.
For a reel to be useful and successful in this arena, they must provide incredible robustness, cranking power, and be able to carry a lot of line.
PENN has introduced a line of conventional reels that are more than able to function effectively in these areas. There are very few conventional reels on the market that can compete with the price of the PENN Warfare line.
Not only are these reels extremely affordable, but they are effective on the water chasing after the same fish species as the more expensive conventional reels. They come out of the box looking like they are built for war, as the name implies, with black graphite and aluminum and red accents.
The Warfare has its pros and cons, as does any product, and in this review, we will take an in-depth look at the makeup of these reels and how that translates to performance on the water.
PENN Warfare Key Features
- Lightweight graphite frame and side plates
- Aluminum ring reinforcements
- Machined brass pinion and main drive gears
- HT-100 Carbon Fiber Drag System
- Level Wind and Star Drag Model Options
- Line Counter Options
- Oversized fighting handle
- Shielded, stainless steel ball bearings
- Instant Anti-Reverse
- Machined aluminum spool. Braid ready and line capacity rings
PENN Warfare: In-Depth Review
The Penn Warfare has two lines of reel models. These include the Warfare Star Drag and the Warfare Level Wind models. The majority of features and performance characteristics that we will cover in this review pertain to both lines of models.
Where there are differences, we will be sure to make a clear distinction between the Level Wind and Star Drag models.
The PENN Warfare Star Drag has two models, the WAR20N (narrow spool) and the War30.
The PENN Warfare Level Wind line has quite a few more options. LW indicates level wind, LH indicates left-hand retrieval, and LC indicates line counter.
Models include the WAR15LW, WAR15LWLH, WAR15LC, WAR15LWLCLH, WAR20LW, WAR20LWLH, WAR20LWLC, WAR20LWLCLH, WAR30LW, WAR30LWLH, WAR30LWLC, and WAR30LWLCLH.
Both the Level Wind and Star Drag models have frames and side plates made from quality graphite material. This keeps both the weight and the price down compared to other conventional reels of this size.
For reels meant to take on large amounts of force and continue running smoothly, graphite might not seem the best choice.
While the frames and side plates are well constructed, PENN has also used aluminum ring plates in the side plates to add extra support to the frame.
PENN also uses a unique V-shaped design with Star Drag models in the front and back of the spool frame which further helps distribute the torque and pressure from trying to put lift and cranking power into large fish running deep.
Ease of Use
These reels, both the Level Wind and Star Drag models, have large, extended power handles that are easy to use and allow you generate a lot of cranking power and leverage on large fish. We also like the free-spinning oversized football grip that is used on these reels.
We are not huge fans of the plastic material used, but that is just our opinion. Some might like the feel. From the smallest to the largest model, working large fish is fun.
The extended aluminum handle and star drag are designed well, and you can easily adjust the star drag in the midst of a fight.
The drag adjustment is also audible making it much easier to know where you are it in the drag while trying to land fish. The spool lever works perfectly and has a little resistance behind it to switch between an engaged and free spool which we like.
There is nothing more annoying than knocking this setting off in the middle of working a large fish.
And honestly, we like the graphite frame in that these are lightweight reels compared to other conventional reels of similar sizes and uses. It reduces the amount of fatigue caused from using these large reels for long periods of time.
All models of the Warfare are built to hold a tremendous amount of line on their machined, cold forged aluminum spools, including a lot of monofilament.
Even the smaller models, such as the WAR20N and WAR15LW, can hold over 200 yards of 20lb line. The WAR20N can hold 255 yards of 20lb mono which is incredible for its size.
PENN accomplished this by making the spool narrow and much taller than is often seen on conventional reels.
And with being able to hold this much mono, you can imagine how much braided line these reels can be spooled with.
It’s perfect for fishing deep and fighting large and aggressive fish. All spools for these reels also come with line capacity rings so if you keep track of how much line you are spooling on the reel.
You can quickly tell how much line you have left when a big cod or musky is running. These spools are also braid ready, so you can maximize the amount of line on your reel.
Overall, line capacity is not an issue whatsoever with these reels.
Conventional reels are not really meant to be thrown around like a low profile baitcaster or even a spinning reel, but having the ability to cast accurately and with some distance is still important enough to discuss.
The Star Drag models are more efficient in casting because of the lack of a level wind. Even with the level wind models the level wind is a titanium nitrate and is extra wide which helps reduce friction, and it allows just about any knot to pass through it.
The Level Wind models also have a non-disengaging spool which makes the casting much better than expected. Both are going to get your lure out there if you are not just releasing line.
Though not really casting, we do want to discuss line release used for trolling or downrigging in this section.
Obviously, both lines of the Warfare have a lever release that will allow line to leave the spool, but the Level Wind has model options for a line counter attached to the reel.
The line counter is a little jumpy, but it keeps accurate measurements of the amount of line leaving the spool and is a key feature for a lot of anglers.
The Star Drag models do not have this option from the manufacturer. When trolling, there is also an audible clicker option for when in free spool to alert you to takes.
The retrieval for these two lines of Warfare reels from PENN is silky smooth with their two shielded stainless steel ball bearings. The machined brass pinion and main drive gears also aid in the smooth function of these reels while retrieving.
For larger conventional reels, both lines of the Warfare have decent gear ratios with all of them having a 5.2:1 besides the WAR30 models which have a 3.9:1 gear ratio.
The lack of level wind on the star drag models really increases the line retrieval speed of those two models which have 34” line retrieval rate compared to the 29 and 27-inch retrieval rate of the level wind models.
Even with the higher gear ratios on these larger reels, they do not sacrifice cranking power. All of these models can handle several ounces of lead and are great at working deep running lures and bringing those bottom dwellers up to the surface.
Of course, the WAR30 models has the most cranking power of all the models with its much larger gear system, but the machined brass gears really do a great job of maintaining functionality during an intense fight.
Most would assume that the graphite body would be a liability in this category and while heavier, metal body reels might outperform in this category, the Warfare is nothing to complain about.
If we’re talking big fish, then we most certainly have to discuss the drag system performance of the Warfare model. All models have the heralded HT-100 PENN drag systems, and all are able to dish out a max of 15lb of drag.
We are a little surprised that there is not a higher max drag with the size of these reels, but the system overall is efficient enough that less pressure is still able to put the stop on far and deep running fish.
We really like that you have control of the entire range of the drag and the audible adjustments from the star drag. The pressure put on the spool when the drag is engaged is very consistent and silky smooth. There is little to no jerk at all even when you get high into drag range.
The start up inertia is negligible at lower drag pressures, but it is noticeable when you get up in the higher end. It is something to keep in the back of your mind to protect your line.
The PENN Warfare is an offering that does not have many competitors. The Warfare is a lightweight and affordable conventional reel that has the ability to go after big fish and work deep water.
We love the feel and ergonomics of these reels that give you the ability to work with them on a long day at the lake.
There are numerous models available to really fit the specific need that you have, and they are built to last.
Whether you are looking to purchase your first conventional fishing reel or are looking for an affordable back up to your fishing outfit, you would be remiss to not take a close look at the PENN Warfare.
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