Just like electronic gadgets, fishing reels keep getting smaller and more powerful. In the last decade, the advent of braided fishing line has increased the demand for more powerful rods and reels. This change in gear set forth a shockwave of design innovation throughout the industry and created an entirely new style of big-game fishing.
Thanks to lightweight alloys and powerful drags, anglers can load small lever-drag conventional reels and even spinning reels with 300-plus yards of 100-pound test "super line," commonly known as braided line for its woven construction. With these lighter set ups, thrill seekers are targeting larger offshore game fish by casting or jigging artificial lures.
The jig-and-pop community has pushed this evolving gear to its very limits by targeting some of the world's most powerful game fish. To catch such powerful fish on lighter tackle is keeping rod-and-reel manufactures on their toes, demanding they create gear that is not only more durable, but lighter and more dynamic. This reduces angler fatigue during intense battles using 20-plus pounds of drag on 50- to 150-pound class gear.
I'm a devout student of the jig and pop genre, and I've spent a fair deal of time running boats and working in the cockpit. Over the course of the last few seasons, particularly during the fall yellowfin bite in the Northeast, we began to use a few of our favorite jigging setups when chunking for tuna. It didn't take long for us to realize that it was not only more fun to land fish on this new gear, but also easier and more efficient.
One morning after a productive night jigging session for yellowfin, we put out the riggers and began to set up for the morning troll back up the slick. We set out the big gear up first, with a mix of spreader bars in the spread. Then we tried something outside of our normal program. Instead of filling the inside of the spread with 50s and 30s, we decided to change things up and rigged all of our jigging set ups with jet heads, bird-machine combos and diving swim baits.
A quick cover up with a mix of yellowfin tuna and albacore provided the perfect opportunity for a head-to-head comparison of the gear. As anticipated, the new setups made short work of the fish, with less effort on the anglers and more control than those fish caught on 50s. The dynamic nature of these new rods also made it easier to maintain a state of constant pressure on the fish. Our landing ratio on the new gear was higher than the older, larger equipment, and we reduced the number of pulled hooks, even with less experienced anglers. Needless to say the light bulbs went off.
The only issue we ran into was that when the inside spread gets busier when fishing nine lines or more, you'll want to employ longer top shots of fluorocarbon or monofilament. I'd say at least 100 feet or more to prevent braid-on-braid tangles or shearing of any other lines that come in contact during a tuna's initial run. Outside of that, this transition to upgraded, downsized gear has drastically streamlined our operation.
Now we even utilize two super-stout spinning reel set-ups consisting of Shimano Stella 18000's and matching 80-pound class Shimano Terez rods so we can cast to exotic species when the opportunity arises. When not using them to cast, these rods are my favorite for trolling deep divers and jets off of the corners just outside the wash. The spinning rods can be easily changed out with jigs for fast-moving streakers.
Naturally you'll always want to have two to four large conventional trolling reels on bent-butt rods ready for deployment. These heavy-tackle setups are ideal for pulling the large spreader bars we run when targeting bigeye tuna and giant bluefin. We still roll with four big Shimano Tiagras on every trip. However, the next six setups are all smaller, multiuse rigs capable of heavy drag. These small, tough reels are more enjoyable to use and cable of beating up big tuna.
If you haven't already tried the jig and pop, it's time to give it a chance. I guarantee it will become your preferred gear in the spread. You may also find yourself becoming more aware of other offshore opportunities, such as jigging around debris for wahoo and big dorado or scoring large yellowfin behind a school of porpoise on a popper. You'll put more fish in the box and have a blast doing it.
More crews are using today's smaller, more powerful rods and reels when jigging artificials and throwing poppers to big tuna in the Northeast Canyons. Photos courtesy of Capt. Jack Sprengel.