Penn Fathom Review – A Reel Steal! – Star Drag, Single & 2 Speed Models

In the big wide world of fishing gear, nothing comes to mind faster than Penn reels. Penn has made its mark as an American household name and is feared by fish worldwide. The following Penn fathom review will include the star drag, lever drag, and two-speed models. Penn Fathom reels are affordable, effective, and durable, making them one of the best value purchases on the market.

Penn Fathom Reels

Penn Fathom Star Drag Reel
Fathom 30 Star Drag Reel

Product: Penn Fathom Star Drag, Single-Speed Lever Drag, & Two-Speed Lever Drag Reels.

Overall Ranking: 93 out of 100.

Price: Middle to a lower-middle range.

Company/Owner: The Jarden Corporation.

Website: PennFishing.com.

Intro To Penn Fathom Reels

My first experience with Penn Reels was roughly 10 years back after I purchased the Penn International 955. This proved to be an effective, sturdy reel for the lagoon style fishing I was using it for. To this day, it’s a superb reel against California Halibut and Spotted Bay Bass. Years later, its durability helped sell me on the Penn Fathom.

The Penn Fathom has proven its reliability and power time and again. Penn offers several models of the Fathom of which I use the star drag 40 wide-spool.  I would recommend every single model depending on your needs. 

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Penn Fathom Models, Specs, & Features

Models

Penn Fathom Star Drag Models

• FTH12    • FTH15    • FTH25N  

• FTH30    • FTH40

Penn Fathom Single Speed Lever Drag

All models start with the FTH Fathom designation.

• 15LD  • 25NLD  • 25NLDLH  • 30LD   

• 30LDLH  • 40NLD  • 40NLDHS  • 60LDHS

Note: LD stands for Lever Drag. LH stands for Left Hand. N stands for Narrow and HS for High-Speed.

Two Speed Lever Drag 

• 15LD2  • 25NLD2  • 25NLD2LH  30LD2   

• 30LD2LH  • 40NLD2  • 60LD2

Specifications Of Penn Fathom Reels

Star Drag Specs

Within the Penn Fathom family of reels, the Star Drag offers the smallest model. Starting with the size 12, you’ll spool 360-yards of 12 LB mono or up to 230-yards of 15 LB mono. Each reel size increases the strength of the test you can use. Looking at the largest star drag 40, you can put 350-yards of 30 LB mono and up to 220-yards of 50 LB mono.

Fathom Star Drags are all 6-bearing reels and they all have a max drag of 25-pounds. The gear ratio stands at 6.0:1, also the same for all size models. Retrieve rates go from 25″ on the smaller models, and up to 40″ on the larger ones. Weights of the reels start light at 15.5 ounces on the size 12 and get up to 18.7 ounces on the size 40 model. Note that the size 25 model is a narrow spool reel.

Penn Fathom 40 Star Drag Reel
Penn Fathom 40 Star Drag Reel

Single-Speed Lever Drag Specs

Penn Fathom lever drag reels offer the same sizes as the star drag models. They do add the larger size 60 model. which isn’t available in the star drag series. You can still find the narrow spool in the size 25, but now also in the size 40. Penn manufactures the lever drag reels for left-handers but only in sizes 25 and 30. Finally, the Penn Fathom single-speed lever drag series offers two high-speed models in sizes 40 and 60.

The lightest of the lever drag series (size 15) holds 355 yards of 12-pound mono and up to 200 yards of 20 LB test. Moving up to the largest size 60 model shows the range of line tests in the series. It holds 480 yards of 40-pound mono and up to 315 yards of 60 LB test. Fathom single speed lever drag reels have a weight range of 15.1 ounces in the lightest size 15 models and get as heavy as 27.3 ounces in the size 60.

Ratings for maximum drag range from 20-pounds to 40-pounds, depending on the model size. Gear ratios start at 5.3:1 but drop at the size 40 to 4.8:1. With the two high-speed models, you’ll find gear ratios of 7.1:1. Fathom lever drags retrieve line beginning at 27″ (in the size 15) and go up to 60″ in the size 60 model. All Fathom single-speed lever drag reels operate on a 5-bearing system.

Penn Fathom Single Speed Lever Drag Reel
Penn Fathom Single Speed Lever Drag Reel

Two-Speed Lever Drag Specifications

Penn Fathom two-speed lever drag reels have almost exactly the same line ratings as the single-speed series. There’s a 5-yard difference in the size 25 and 30 models. Two-speed models also offer left-hand versions, but don’t have the capacity for a high-speed model. Like the single-speed series, all Fathom 2-speed reels use a 5-bearing system and have the same maximum drag ratings.

Because of the extra gear, Penn Fathom 2-speed reels weigh a bit heavier in the hand. The lightest size 15 model weighs 15.6 ounces and the size 60 goes up to 27.3 ounces. Last but not least are the retrieve rates and the gear ratios, which you can view in the list below:

  • 15LD2: Gear ratio of 6.1:1 or 2.8:1 – Retrieve rate of 31″ or 14″ respectively
  • 25NLD2: Gear ratio of 5.5:1 or 2.7:1 – Retrieve rate of 38″ or 19″ respectively
  • 25NLD2: Same as the right-hand model above
  • 30LD2: Gear ratio of 5.5:1 or 2.7:1 – Retrieve rate of 38″ or 19″ respectively
  • 30LD2LH: Same as the right-hand model above
  • 40NLD2: Gear ratio of 5.0:1 or 2.5:1 – Retrieve rate of 42″ or 21″ respectively
  • 60LD2: Same as the size 40 above
Penn Fathom Two Speed Lever Drag Reel
Penn Fathom 30 Two Speed Lever Drag Reel

Penn Fathom Reel Features

Tough Metal Body & Side Plate

No matter which Penn Fathom model you prefer, they all feature a strong full metal body and side plate. Every reel has a protective layer of paint to prevent rusting. You can see the dents in my reel that expose the metal. Even in prolonged saltwater conditions, the reel still shows no sign of oxidation.

Stainless Steel Gears (Marine Bronze In The Star Drag)

Both the single-speed and two-speed lever drag models feature the strong, rust-resistant properties of stainless steel in the main and pinion gears. The Penn Fathom star drag series uses marine grade bronze for the main gear. You won’t have to worry about stress fractures or gears snapping with stainless steel, even when cranking on a heavy load.

Live Spindle (Star Drag)

For you, the jig rod iron throwing enthusiasts, the action on the Penn Fathom star drag is out of this world. Before buying mine, I watched the spool free spin for minutes before attempting to balance and stop. Use the outside tension knob to fine tune the spool to the weight of your jig and let it fly. The live spindle free spool gives you that casting distance to reach outside boils!

Shielded Stainless Steel Bearings

All Penn Fathom reels use high-quality stainless steel ball bearings. On front and back, the bearings have a shield that guards the balls in their runway. They prevent those gritty particles that saltwater is known for from entering the inside chamber. Shielded bearings are a must use component on saltwater reels, or they won’t last long.

HT-100 Drag System (Star Drag)

Penn HT-100 Drag Washer
Penn HT-100 Drag Washer

Penn Fathom reels incorporate an HT-100 drag system. What exactly does this mean? Penn HT-100 drag washers get their name due to the results of wear testing. HT stands for high tech and the value of 100 for miles. Penn HT-100 drag washers show no sign of wear after 100 of friction. For a complete explanation of HT-100 drag washers, visit AlanTani.com.

Dura-Drag System (Lever Drag Models)

You’ll find a change in the drag systems of the Penn Fathom lever drag reels from the HT-100 washers in the star drag. The advanced technology in the Dura-Drag washers is well-suited to the mechanics of the lever drag design. Much thanks to Steve Carson for his input. Be sure to read his comment about the Dura-Drag system at the end of the article.

Instant A-RB (Star Drag Models)

Penn Fathom star drag reels engage the drag by means of an anti-reverse bearing. The benefits of an A-RB system are a silent retrieve and an instant hook set. They don’t hold up under duress as well as ratcheting gear style systems, like the ones in the Fathom lever drag reels.

Double Dog Anti Reverse (Lever Drag Models)

Unlike the anti-reverse bearing, ratching dog style systems tend to click on the retrieve. Penn Fathom lever drag reels use two dog anti-reverse gears, each on separate sides of the spool. This evens out the braking system and provides the ultimate support to the HT-100 drag system.

Line Capacity Rings 

On the inside of  Penn Fathom spools, are layers of rings which indicate the level of your line. These work well to indicate how much line is left when fish take long runs. The top line ring can also be a good alarm bell to refill your line.

Quick Shift Trademarked 2-Speed System

Penn uses a proprietary 2-speed gear shift system which appears on the outside of the reel. You can see the knob that protrudes from the base of the crank-shaft. Switching gears requires nothing more than a quick press of the button. Drop into low gear or back to high with the Penn Quick Shift system.

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Pros & Cons 

Pros of the Penn Fathom Reel




Though Fathom reels have a full metal body, their weights balance well with the majority of saltwater rods. Put them on a Daiwa VIPA, Seeker, or Phenix rod and you’ll have an effective setup.

Penn Fathom drags are smooth, feature a fine tune knob, and 25 lbs of maximum resistance beats many reels in the same class.

Penn parts are easily replaceable and they upgraded their bearing system when they built these reels. I stood in the store and watched it spin freely for several minutes before it slowed, rolled back and forth, and finally found its center. Amazing!

Cons of the Penn Fathom Reel

The full metal of the frame and side plate isn’t as durable as aircraft grade aluminum, though this is reflected in a lower price. Metal is also a heavy material, which can make a big difference in larger 2-speed models. If this is a big concern, I suggest taking a look at Accurate Fury or Siegler SG reels. 

Penn Reel & Customer Support

All Penn Fathom reels include a limited manufacturer’s warranty for a one year period. Penn goes to great lengths to ensure customer satisfaction. Parts for Penn products are much easier to find than many other brands and maintenance is a cinch. Visit the Penn website for information on Frequently Asked Questions, Warranty, and to contact a representative.

Review wrap up

92 out of 100 anglers approve of Penn Fathom reels

The Penn Fathom star drag has been a treasured addition to my fishing arsenal. I highly recommend this reel and haven’t heard any negative feedback about it from anglers, on or off the water. The effectiveness of the Fathom matched with its price make it a top value product in the fishing industry.

I welcome and encourage all questions, comments, and feedback. Don’t hesitate to speak up about your own experience or lack thereof. Until next time, tight lines and boiling seas. FishtFight.com.

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16 Comments

      1. James Lewis

        Yes, I think Penn would deny your claim and so would I. I own 4 fathom reels all cast aluminium. If you review at least read Penn’s own description first.

    1. Hi Steve. You know I got some help pointing out the error on the Fathom. I did not remember that I referenced it in the Penn Torque Star Drag Review as well. Thanks for the heads up. Geoff.

  1. Steve Carson

    Hi Geoff,
    You mention under the “cons” the high gear ratio.
    It may have been added in at a later date, but photos of the 2-speed lever drag models are now also pictured, which offer very low gear ratios after a quick downshift.
    Steve

    1. Hello again Steve. You hit the nail on the head. I added these later for the benefit of anglers, so they could see that Penn also makes the Fathom in 2 speed lever drag models. The Penn Fathom was my very first reel review. I need to go back and update the whole review. Since that time, I’ve become much more thorough in my reviews. Time for a little clean up. Thanks again for all your input. Geoff.

  2. Clark

    Hi Geoff, just found your site while researching the Fathom and I love your reviews. Would love to see a more thorough review on the Fathom like on most of your others (which you have already mentioned) and it would be great if you included the level wind version. I am looking at the Fathom level wind as an all around reel for light trolling, reef fishing, and live bait chunking to shark and tarpon here in Brunswick, GA because I can only purchase one pair of outfits at this time. I’m choosing the level winds due to my wife and several friends that are new to fishing. Again, great reviews!

    1. Hello Clark. Thanks for dropping a line and well met. You know I shy away from levelwind reels in offshore models, but I can understand your situation and why you want them.

      The biggest concerns with levelwinds are always casting and fast runs by powerful fish. That being said, it takes extreme circumstances for either to be an issue. They work great for those learning the reel. I personally love them in smaller baitcasters.

      Thanks for the reminder about the Penn Fathom. I’ll put it as a priority on my list, and I’ll add the levelwind. I absolutely love the performance of my Fathom star drag. It’s handled some nice tuna.

      Thanks again for the kind words. It’s good to hear that anglers like yourself are finding the info usefull. Till next time. Geoff.

  3. Joe

    I have “and love” a 25n 2 speed. I have only used it a couple times and it easily did the job bottom fishing to 170′ and pulling in juvenile Yellowtail outta San Diego. Now considering a 40n 2 speed for larger fishes in the 100lb range.

  4. brian

    I am trying to buy saltwater reel for under $300 for offshore fishing. I was wondering if you could help make a recommendation. I have narrowed it down to the reels below. This would be my first investment in a decent reel and a bit nervous about ordering one.

    TUH-0002-1 – Seigler Small Game Conventional Lever Drag Reels

    FIN-0299 – Fin-Nor SLD20 Sportfisher Lever Drag Trolling Reel

    DAI-1361 – Daiwa Saltist Single Hyper Speed Lever Drag Conventional Reels

    MXL-0044 – Maxel HY25-BG Hybrid Star Drag Reel – Black/Gunsmoke

    FIN-0300 – Fin-Nor SLD25 Sportfisher Lever Drag Trolling Reel

    AVE-0185-3 – Avet HX Single Speed Lever Drag Casting Reels

    FIN-0389 – Fin-Nor Lethal Lever Drag Reels

    PEN-1316 – Penn US Senator Casting Reels

    SHM-3169 – Shimano Torium Star Drag Reels

    SHM-0854 – Shimano TLD-2 Speed A Lever Drag Reels

    PEN-1193 – Penn Squall Lever Drag 2-Speed Reels

    PEN-1027 – Penn Squall Lever Drag Reels

    SHM-0668 – Shimano Torium Reels

  5. Steve Carson

    Hi Geoff, one item of note, the drag material used in the “Lever Drag” Fathom reels is “Dura-Drag”, the same material used in the more expensive PENN International and Torque lever drags. This amazing material does not lend itself to use in star drag reels [yet], so the drag material in the Fathom star drag models is the HT-100.

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