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Targeting and casting to large bluefin tuna on spinning gear is the ultimate offshore challenge.
By Capt. Jack Sprengel
Tags: offshore

It takes a certain type of person to want to target a highly evolved, big game species like tuna on spinning gear. Typically the ones who fit the bill are Type A personalities that are both strategist and thrill seekers alike. Chances are if you didn’t huff and flip the page as soon as you read the title, there’s a bit of one inside you!

Tuna on spinning gear has come a long way since I was first introduced to it. We were using beefed-up musky rods and the largest, most rugged spinning reels money could find. Believe it or not in many cases we even still used Dacron or mono for line.

It was the advent of super-lines that changed the program. Braided lines brought super high strength with low diameters. Now we could spool our reels with much heavier line and enough of it to target larger fish. So a bunch of hardcore “Run and Gun” style enthusiast charged out to sea and began to heave plugs and jigs in front of much larger year classes of fish. Unfortunately the rods being used were beef-stick style, fast action set ups that would explode in the up and down position, assuming the reel didn’t disintegrate first.

What finally took it to the next level was the birth of a style of fishing known as “Jig and Pop.” Yes jigging has been around forever and so has popping; I hear it all the time. Well trust me not like these guys were doing it. A group of anglers and manufactures alike began to hit to drawing board from scratch, focusing science and technique to create a whole new lightweight super powerful line of equipment that could handle the intense pressures of up to 40-plus pounds of drag on extremely large fish. They recreated rods at the molecular level applying the science of nano-technology, creating easy to carry, near unbreakable blanks.

Where am I going with all this, I wanted to clarify that when I’m talking about “Tuna on spin” were talking about Jig and Pop style fishing which focuses as much emphasis on the skill sets and physicality of the anglers involved as it does the ability of the Captain and crew to find the fish, handle the vessel and properly land fish.

It takes a certain type of person to want to target a highly evolved, big game species like tuna on spinning gear.

Let’s talk tackle; again this type of gear can range quite a bit depending on the size class and species you are targeting. Since most of the tuna accessible to the readers of this publication are costal bluefin, we’ll focus our rigging and strategy there. Typically what works for bluefin works very well for all other tuna species.

Even though you can and likely will encounter them both larger and smaller than this, the typical size tuna taken by this method range from 50 to 250 pounds. I personally bring set-ups that are geared very specifically to size. But if you’re just starting out you can begin with a more mid-range set-up that I would consider a catch all.

Let’s start with the reel. There are lots of choices out there, but for me there is only one: the Shimano Stella. If I’m looking for a catch-all size I like 18000SW. If you’re on a tighter budget and really only want to dip your toes in, the new style Shimano Saragosas are incredibly powerful for the money and certainly capable of landing most tuna in the size class mentioned. If you maintain other brand loyalties, make sure to do you homework. You need a light-weight reel due to the physicality involved, with the capacity to hold at least 300 yards of tightly-packed 80- to 100-pound braid, plus a bit of space to accommodate a 10- to 20-foot wind-on leader of 80- to 100-pound fluorocarbon. The reel also needs to be capable of sustaining smooth drag operation efficiently over 25 pounds for extended periods of time.

Once you have selected a reel you have a few choices for rods; first you must decide whether or not to go custom or factory made—either choice is wrong. You may want to keep your initial costs down by purchasing a factory-made rod to start, but you will likely go all custom as your skill sets develop.

You’ll also want to think about whether you’re going to be an all-out caster or if you want to learn to jig as well. I highly suggest both, as jigging can be hands-down the most effective means of coming tight on tuna. The reasons for wanting to determine this are the physical requirements of each style.

Popping or top-water rods should be longer and faster to give good casting distance and impart action on the surface; while jigging set-ups should be shorter in length and more moderately parabolic, keeping the weight of the jig and the impact of the hook-up close to the angler’s body in the strait up-and-down position. Think about holding a dumbbell on the end of a broomstick verses at the end of rolling pin; you get the drift. If you’re unsure, you can get way with a more parabolic style rod in the 6’6” to 7’6” to do double-duty. That’s what I cut my teeth with.

Regardless of rod style or brand it needs to be light weight due to the aggressive nature of the fishery and to avoid any unnecessary fatigue; there will be no shortage of fatigue already, trust me! Then the rod should be rated for at least 50 to 100 pounds and ideally, as many of these are rated in grams, should fall in the range of 250 to 500 grams. My favorites are 325 to 350 grams for starting out and for a wide range of fish sizes. These make for very comfortable and forgiving set-ups for beginners. I suggest looking at Shimano, Star and Van Staal brand rods for factory made. If you want to try custom you can look up Crafty One Customs in Rhode Island, Jigging World in New Jersey or Saltywater Tackle in NY.

Now for the line—it’s gotta be braid so that part is easy! What you do have to consider is the reel you’re using and the efficiency of the roller bearing. If you have a high-end machine like a Shimano Stella you can choose to use either standard braid or hollow-core.

Many of the elite jig-and-pop anglers and captains today use hollow-core for its strength and “splice-ability.” In other words hollow-core braid has a Chinese finger trap type of quality which means once you send another line like braid or a fluorocarbon leader up inside the braid, it tends to clamp down and lock onto it when pulled back out. This makes the hollow-core braid ideal for seamless, wind-on leader systems or for back-splicing an eye to create a loop for attaching pre-made wind-on leaders utilizing a cats paw method. The best three lines to use in my opinion are Power Pro Hollow Ace, Jerry Brown and Cortland C16; you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Call me unconventional but I like the lower profile of standard braid, specifically I like Power Pro Depth hunter which is a form of metered braid. Metered braid is particularly useful when targeting fish with a jig at a desired depth because every 25 feet or so the line will change color. This makes for quick adjustments with less guess work involved. However should you choose to go the standard braid route you will have to forgo the inline splicing method for your wind-on leader system.

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