For a long time there wasn’t much happening over at Penn: their reels began to look and feel pretty old-school. In recent years, however, ownership changes and investment in plant and technology have resulted in a succession of new reel designs. Penn’s current crop of mass-market spin reels all have martial names: Battle, Fierce, Conquest and the latest, Conflict, perhaps reflecting the company’s determination to win back market share. The Penn Conflict is designed in the US, but like most reels today it’s manufactured in China.
The CFT2500 is the smallest Conflict reel Pure Fishing imports into New Zealand, but it proved perfect for catching predominantly pan-sized Waitemata Harbour snapper. In the two years I’ve been using it, the Conflict has also accounted for a bunch of rat kingfish and plenty of bigger snapper, up to around 6kg.
The reel’s detailing is rather nice. It looks suitably hardcore in shades of stealth black and gunmetal grey with very-understated graphics. The skeleton style handle has an EVA rubber knob, flattened to fit between thumb and forefinger, with two ball bearings for smoothness, and it comes apart for servicing. Weighing-in on my digital kitchen scales at nearly 300 grams, including line, the Conflict CFT2500 is no clunky heavyweight, but it’s no super-lightweight either.
Its heft reflects robust engineering. Penn’s Conflict series shares essentially the same solid internals as the Penn Spinfisher V and also the Battle series of reels, with a few upgrades. Solid metal body, a heavy-duty brass pinion, stainless steel and machined aluminium drivetrain and Penn’s well tested HT-100 multi-element carbon-matrix drag should ensure the reel has a long and trouble-free operational life.
Penn put in quite a bit of effort to get the weight down: with a ported spool, ‘techno-balanced’ graphite rotor (1000 to 4000 models) and that skeleton handle, for instance, along with a slimline gear case. These all save weight, but Penn have opted for a rugged, solid aluminium bail arm, in two pieces for easy servicing, and the reel body is metal for strength. Somewhat oddly, considering the ball bearings in the reel’s handle, there isn’t one for the bail roller; just a plastic bush. Mind you — the line roller bearing always seems to be the first reel component to fail, so perhaps the bush is a good idea. After two years of weekly use, my bail roller is certainly still turning just fine.
There are eight ball bearings in total, seven of them rubber-sealed to exclude water. Sealed bearings are great, though they don’t spin quite as freely as unsealed bearings, but I think I’d happily trade a little ease of winding for longevity. Rubber sealed bearings can be serviced easily enough by lifting the seal with a Stanley knife or similar and packing the bearing with good quality grease, though so far I haven’t bothered. Indeed the reel has received no attention at all apart from a gentle wash-down with fresh water (with the hose, not warm water and a rag, which would be much better!) and a squirt of WD40 or CRC whenever I remember.
A bit of online research — I haven’t opened up the reel — reveals the anti-reverse bearing isn’t sealed, so it might be worthwhile to pack that with grease to prevent corrosion and premature failure, but (see above) so far, no issues. There’s a back-up anti-reverse dog mechanism, something usually found only on high-end reels.
The CFT2500 is by no means waterproof, but the bearings are well protected so it should survive salt spray. It certainly does plenty of duty aboard my kayak where it gets inundated in saltwater at times.
I spooled the little reel with around 250m of new generation 4kg Berkley Fireline Tournament Exceed, which is still on the reel, although the first 50m or so has faded to white. The machined and anodised aluminium ‘Superline’ spool has a grippy rubber insert on the arbour, so there’s no need for nylon backing to prevent slippery braid rotating on the spool. Some anglers may still choose to use backing, but I didn’t bother with it and can report that the spool system works as claimed. I’ve had no line slippage issues with similar ‘braid-ready’ spools from Abu, so the rubber insert is a worthwhile innovation.
The line is marked with handy line capacity rings, and it laid onto the spool beautifully. It’s a sign of a good lay-up when you can fill a spool to the brim and the line doesn’t come off in clumps. The Conflict easily passed this test.
The familiar HT-100 drag system was pre-greased in the factory, providing super-smooth operation. The drag has keyed carbon washers, so they work on both sides, giving more drag capacity and smoother start-ups, and it’s well shielded against water incursion. Claimed maximum drag is around 5kg for this model, and it’s really smooth right through the drag range with virtually no sticking on start-up, and progressive adjustment – as good a drag as I’ve come across for a reel of this size, more than up to taming the hardest-pulling fish it’s likely to connect with.
The gear ratio is 6.2:1, which translates to wrapping 84cm of line around the spool with each turn of the reel’s handle – plenty fast enough for soft plastics and most spin fishing applications too.
Where it counts the reel specs are spot-on: sealed drag, all metal body, seven shielded ball bearings, heavy-duty bail arm, ‘Superline’ spool, machined aluminium main gear – and the price makes it really good value.
The drag system is a cracker and I like the reel’s solid feel. I also like the handle with its soft-touch EVA grip: substantial without being overkill on a small reel. The bail arm mechanism works well – Penn have engineered the bail arm ramp to prevent accidental bail closures while casting – and the line lays beautifully on the spool. The bigger sizes have plenty to offer too, especially if you want strength and durability at a reasonable price.
For the price, this little reel ticks an awful lot of boxes and I happily use it as a frontline, everyday fishing tool. It matches up nicely with the Penn Regiment (another military reference from Penn…) 4 -7kg rod.
The rod’s a nice fishing and casting tool: lightweight and responsive with comfortable, good-looking grips, a sanded all-graphite blank and attractive bindings. Bound with braid-optimised Fuji K guides (plenty of them), its action is faster than some rods I’m used to, but the light tip provides good sensitivity, especially when fishing lightweight jig heads. It’s a great match for the CFT2500 Conflict, but would balance nicely with any 2500 - 3000 size reel.
The test rig, including line, retails for around $480, which is pretty good value for a competent soft bait and light spin-fishing outfit that won’t let you down in a hurry.