Well now, the Penn 965, you ask?
The closest reel that can be DIRECTLY compared to the Penn 965 is the Calcutta 400 - either the plain old 400 or the newer 400B - NOT the 400CTE. That reel is of a higher order, I mean in the pantheon of cool high-end fishing gear.
So if you want to make such a comparision, I am qualifed to have that discussion, since I regularly work on both reels for myself and my buddies.
I know its the popular position to make nearly EVERY Shimano the favorite in every comparison, (especially here on this board) but in THIS specific case, the Penn wins.
All it takes is a comparative teardown of the two reels, side-by-side, to see that the Penn has far more robust gears (Steel not Brass, IIRC), better internal part finishing, far less internal plastic, much easier to handle drag washers, and to my eye and feel, better anodizing of the sideplates and frame.
One of the big knocks on the Penn 955/965/975 is that the free spool button tends to get stuck in the down position, leaving the owner in the lurch as far as retrieving his lure or bait. Well let me say this, every instance that I've ever seen this, it has been directly traceable to a decided lack of maintenance.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not saying the owners neglected their reels. Far from it, but a few nights of heavy casting with the surf crashing on your head, or maybe a couple of bass chumming trips with nice salty/sandy clam belly juice dripping down into the reel from the free-spool button - and it will stick in the down position - count on it.
And certainly we all know that the worst possible thing we can do for our baitcasters is to blow a high pressure stream of water at them at the end of the trip. Right? Doing that about guarantees that the reel will fail, and maybe as soon as the following trip. No heavy stream of water on these reels please, regardless of who built it. I like a hard spray on the rods, but a very light misting of the reels only. In fact I like to do each setup twice - I think the first spray off dissolves the salt and the second washing will move it off the rod/reel. Follow up with a nice damp rag at the house and the outfit will be good to go next trip.
What specifically happens with any of these reels is that SW migrates down from the button into the reel, hardens and contaminates the grease on the free-spooling parts and causes them to hang up when the button is depressed. A simple cleanout and relube with the PROPER lube immediately fixes the problem.
Funny that exact same issue regularly afflicts the Calcutta 400, causing the free-spool thumbar to stick at the bottom of its travel. Yet most of the posts that I've read over the years praising the Cal400 conveniently do choose to look past this quandry - why the Penn 965 doesn't get the same pass, I'll never know.
For that matter, nearly every Abu baitcaster ever built has the exact same problem with internal SW migration and temporary free-spool button/thumbar malfunctioning - in fact, its been my experience thsi is even more of an issue with the Abu reels - but again, totally fixable with just the most basic of disassembly and relubing.
All of these reels, and I include the new Daiwa Luna 300 in this discussion (though I've never had the pleasure of working on one), all of them have lots of frame openings that seem to actually encourage SW contamination. And in every case it seems that all that is needed is a slightly stepped up maintenance regimen.
What I do to preclude this issue from manifesting itself is to use ONLY Marine-grade wheel bearing grease in the reels I work on - you know - the green grease we've used for years on our boats and trailers.
I've tried them all - Garcia's stuff, what's it called, Silicote? Daiwa Shimano's in-house grease, Lubriplate white lithium, Quantum Hot Sauce, SuperLube Synthetic and God only knows how many other greases. I'v gone back to what I originally started with - green marine wheel bearing grease. Its the only grease I've ever used that really does resist SW intrusion/contamination.
It actually seems to shed water, never gets those gritty little salt crystals in it that SuperLube seems to collect and it NEVER hardens into a viscous or tacky mass, like white grease, Superlube or most of the factory greases. Great stuff - and it ought to be, it was designed to live for entire seasons insde the submersible wheel bearings of marine trailers. I really, REALLY recommend it.
As far as light oils for handle spindles, ball bearing lubing and levelwind pawls, I very much like ReelX (Same as SpeedX, if you can find either one - its the same stuff) or the red version of Rocket Lube. Both are excellent.
A little far afield of the original question, but I thought this was a good place to talk about high-performance reel lubes - seeing as all the baitcasters I've ever worked on seem to suffer from the exact same issues.
One other point - many of the original 965 reels came from the factory with only ONE spool ball bearing. This went on for more than 10 years - as far as I can ascertain. This is one of the big reasons that the Penn took some verbal beatings - that it couldn't cast with the Calcutta 400 - or especially not with the better Abu casters.
It was a very simple matter to put a second ball bearing on the spool spindle - it was actually the exact same bearing as was used on the other side of the spool - and the inclusion of it by a reel tuner "in the know" made those early 965s every bit the long-range csaters that the other brand reels were. Better in fact. Not to mention it also smoothed out the cranking, especially under pressure.
Just a season or so ago, I did this upgrade on a good buddy's oldie 965 - he never really cared for that reel because it just couldn't give him the distance he required.
So anyway, I did the bearing upgrade, fine tuned a few other things inside that reel and the first time he used it he shocked himself, he was getting so much added cast distance. That reel has gone from his least favorite caster to his go-to, "reach for first" bass caster. Since then I've done one other of his reels and a few more for other fishers - and all rave about how much better their reels cast. - Oh well, another small super-tuner trick now out of my bag.
No need to worry about this with a newer 965, they are factory-equipped with the "proper' number of spool bearings, right from the get-go. Took Penn a while, but its all good now . . .
This post edited by Leprechaun 07:53 AM 03/22/2008