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September 21, 2007

The Mini Monster Killers

Thanks to modern reels, rods, line and fighting belts, fishermen are taking on outsized game fish on lighter, easier-to-handle tackle - and having more fun in the process.


The tackle can handle it. Can you? Strides in technology allow anglers to target big-game species on lighter tackle with excellent results.

The big yellowfin grabbed the bait and took off against 30 pounds of drag. The top shot of 80-pound mono disappeared from the diminutive reel in a heartbeat, then the braided line began to melt away. I settled in for a long tug-of-war, my knees locked against the coaming, my weight balanced against the drag pressure. After 20 minutes I had the drag lever pushed well past strike, generating over 40 pounds of braking power, and was praising the little powerhouse of a reel out loud.

The tackle I was using consisted of a Tiburon Smart Shift 30/80 reel mounted on a 5 1/2-foot Penn Tuna Stick. The outfit weighed in at about 5 1/2 pounds and was indicative of a new trend in big-game fishing - the use of smaller, lighter reels packed with super-thin braided line - that is rapidly gaining popularity around the country. It started, once again, with California's long-range fishermen, but it didn't take long to migrate to other areas.

Stand-Up Origins

Modern stand-up tackle evolved through long-range fishing, where anglers battle big tuna without the benefits of a fighting chair or a moving boat. Rods had to perform under an entirely new set of rules, so manufacturers developed short-stroke designs with radical tapers that made them lighter, stronger and far more capable of dealing with the extreme forces needed to best pelagic heavyweights. Crude belts and harnesses were replaced by innovative designs that, coupled with the new rods, made it easier for an angler to put the brakes on big fish.

The Mini Monster Killers
Since the invention of ultra-thin braided line, long-range anglers can use lighter gear to beat large tuna from the deck of a stationary boat.

The one thing that seemed to lag behind was reel development. Stand-up aficionados fishing 50-pound class and heavier had to deal with reels that were heavy, bulky and, frequently, not up to the task. A 30W was designed to generate just enough drag pressure for 30-pound line, and while you could load it with 50-pound, it really wasn't capable of handling the additional strain.

The early answer to the problem was modifying stock reels to produce more drag so they could be "fished up" a class or two. Beefed-up 30s were loaded with 50- and even 80-pound line, but there was another problem - inadequate line capacity. A 30W will only hold so much 80-pound mono, and it wasn't always enough to stop a brawny yellowfin or bluefin.

A Fine Line

The development that lit a fire under the "small reels for big fish" trend was the introduction of super-braid lines made from Spectra or Dyneema fiber. These lines are far thinner than Dacron and about a third the diameter of mono of comparable breaking strength. Thanks to super-braids, 600 yards of 80-pound line could be packed on a 30W reel and still leave room for a 150-yard top shot of 80-pound mono.

The Mini Monster Killers
This angler put the brakes on a hard-running wahoo with his sized-up light-tackle outfit.

That was all it took, and reel manufacturers soon started coming out with scaled-down lever-drag models capable of generating drag forces far beyond what would be consistent with their size rating. Imagine loading a 16- or 20-pound-class lever-drag reel with 50-pound super-braid and putting 30 pounds of drag on a charging fish. Or loading a 30W with 80- or 130-pound line and being able to push the drag past 40 or even 50 pounds to beat a 300-pound-plus bluefin. Spend some time checking out the "mini monster killers" from Accurate, Tiburon and Avet and you'll see exactly what I mean.

The standard bearers in the big-game reel market aren't taking a back seat either. Shimano's new Triton 16 and 30LRSW can be pushed two or three line classes, and Penn's new 30VSW has an optional clutch assembly right in the box that will boost the drag potential to an amazing 50 pounds at strike while maintaining total free-spool. That's all you need to pack it with 130 and take on really big fish.

Knot So Fast!

The Mini Monster Killers
Patrick Finucane, right, holds the 56-pound-plus yellowfin David Hale stopped with 40-pound line at Guadalupe Island.

All the pieces of the puzzle are in place, but before you rush out to challenge monsters with a fly swatter there are some nuances to understand. When you're clipped into a stand-up outfit and leaning way back against an inordinate amount of drag pressure, you must have complete confidence in your tackle and connections, and one of the few drawbacks of super-braid line is the potential for improper or poorly tied knots to slip. In addition, all knots must be small and tapered so they can pass smoothly through the rod guides without snagging.

When it came time to rig up some tiny tackle for big fish, I called Ken Corwin of Ken's Custom Reels in Oceanside, California (760/967-reel; e-mail KenCorwin@Cox.net), at the suggestion of the folks at Tiburon Engineering. Ken rigs over a thousand outfits each year for long-range patrons, and his reputation is on the line, so to speak, every time they hook up. He assured me that if I followed his advice and used the knots he taught me, I could expect a zero-percent failure rate. He patiently walked me through the process and, in doing so, taught this old dog a few new tricks.To learn how he does it, follow the steps below.

FILLING A REEL WITH BRAIDED
LINE AND A MONO TOP SHOT

The Mini Monster Killers

Super-braid line is pretty slick stuff, and can slip on the reel arbor under pressure. If a fish takes enough line to get you close to the bottom, that can be a problem.

The Mini Monster Killers
The 150-yard top shot of Hi-Seas Black Widow 80-pound monofilament on this Tiburon Smart Shift 30/80 reel (above left) covers the approximately 500 yards of Bully Braid (above right).

  • So step one is to wrap the arbor of the reel spool with a double layer of Flex-Wrap, a porous cloth manufactured for medical use that is non-adhesive yet sticks to itself. It's made for wrapping sprains and is available in drug and sporting-goods stores. In this application it serves as bedding that will allow the braided line to grip the spool without slipping.
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  • Next step is to double the end of the super-braid and tie it to the arbor using a five-turn uni-knot (see above). Wind the braid onto the reel under pressure, being careful to cross-wrap the line sufficiently so it won't dig into itself the first time a big fish gets down into it, and leave enough room for a minimum of 100 yards of mono as a top shot.

Why mono? Super-braids have zero stretch, which is good for some fishing applications, such as jigging and bucktailing, but with big fish a little stretch is a good thing. The top shot acts like shock absorber to help cushion the impact of a hard strike or a wild leap, and is easier to crimp or tie. Top shots can be the same test as the braid or heavier, depending on your preference.

Another benefit of using a monofilament top shot is that it can be easily replaced if it gets old or becomes damaged during a fish-fight. Rather than having to endure the time-consuming task of replacing an entire spool of expensive super-braid line, you can simply remove the front section of damaged mono, connect the fresh top shot to the braid, and wind on the new stuff. It's a much easier and cheaper solution than filling the entire spool with braid, as long as you tie the braid-to-mono connection carefully every time!

THE BIMINI

Probably the most critical connection is the one between the backing and the top shot, as it will bear most of the strain and pass through the guides many times during a typical fight. The knots have to retain 100 percent of the strength of the lines being joined while being small enough to pass through the guides without a hitch. The knot system Corwin recommends is remarkable for its size, simplicity and strength. Here's how to do it:

  • After spooling the reel with braid, create a loop about a foot long. The loop is created with a 42-turn Bimini twist, but after rolling the line back over itself, only tie a single half hitch through one leg of the loop. Be sure to use enough line so the tag end will be at least 12 inches long when you finish. If you've never tied a Bimini in super-braid before, you are in for a treat. It is extremely easy to work with, and the finished knot has a small diameter.
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  • Now either have someone hold the end of the loop or place it in a hook (I have a large cup hook screwed into my workbench for just such work) for step two.
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  • With the loop secured, stretch the tag back toward the bitter end of the loop and form a seven-turn uni-knot around the double line, winding it back towards the Bimini. Snug it up slowly and carefully so the wraps roll up over the tag end of the Bimini. The uni-knot not only "locks" the Bimini in place, it creates a taper in the end of the knot that allows it to pass more easily through the guides.
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  • Finish it off by clipping the tag about 1/16-inch from the knot.

THE WORM KNOT

The knot that really makes this system work is the one Corwin uses for connecting the mono to the braid loop. Called a worm knot, it is easy to tie, but requires some strength.

  • Start by passing the mono through the loop, then wrap it around both legs, working toward the Bimini. The number of wraps varies according to the test of the mono. Corwin recommends 11 wraps with 50, nine wraps with 80, and seven wraps with 130.
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  • After the final wrap, the tag end is brought back to the front of the loop and passed through it in the opposite direction from which it entered the loop. This "locks" the knot as the wraps are tightened. Wet the braid and mono thoroughly (saliva works fine) and get ready for the hard part.
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  • Cinching the knot is critical, and requires sustained pressure by pulling very hard on the standing portion of the mono. You do not have to hold the tag end, as it will not slip back into the knot, but you must secure the braid to keep it stationary while you pull on the mono. The knot has to be cinched in one, smooth motion or it will not form the desired tight wraps with a tapered shape. You may have to practice this a few times before you understand just how much pressure to exert.
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  • Finish the knot by clipping the tag about 1/8-inch from the body of the knot and, using a lighter, carefully heat it so it melts flush with the rest of the knot.

THE FINISH LINE

Wind on the mono top shot under pressure and you're done, or very nearly so. The final step depends on where and how you fish.

  • Long-range fishermen use the light stand-up outfits to fish live bait, so they employ a live-bait hook on a short fluorocarbon leader attached to the running line via a barrel swivel. The leader is short so the baits can be cast from the boat.
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  • On the East Coast, canyon fishermen might opt for a five- or six-foot leader connected to a circle hook for drifting live or dead baits back in a chum slick.
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  • And anglers who target North Carolina bluefin tuna will probably employ a long wind-on leader via a loop-to-loop system, since they will be trolling horse ballyhoo. Whichever terminal setup you use, rest assured that your ultra-light big-game outfit will provide you with plenty of drag.



SAMPLE DRAG RATINGS OF
POPULAR "MINI" BIG-GAME REELS

The current crop of downsized two-speed reels are designed to handle 50-, 80- and even 130-pound super-braid lines. They provide generous line capacity when using braids, offer significant strike-drag ratings, and generate considerable resistance at full drag. The drag data below was provided by the respective manufacturers.

The strike settings are measured with the reel able to achieve total free-spool. The full-drag statistics are, for the most part, conservative estimates, since maximum output can vary from reel to reel within a model line. For example, Sarkis Alajajyan, one of the brothers who design and manufacture Avet reels, is adamant that max drag out of the box is 15- to 20-percent less than what can be achieved once the drag assembly is broken in, which usually only takes one or two good fish. Dave Nilsen at Accurate was quick to tell me that all of the Platinum Twin Drag reels can be pushed to well over 50 pounds at full, while the 30 can be pushed to 75! The full-drag estimate by Tiburon for the SST 30/80 was 26 at strike, yet I was able to push it to 32 at strike without affecting free-spool, and got well over 40 pounds at full. Here are a few of the notable reels on the market and the approximate output of their drag systems. -Gary Caputi

ACCURATE www.accuratefishing.com

Platinum Twin Drag 12 25 lb. strike 50 lb. full
Platinum Twin Drag 30 30 lb. strike 70 lb. full

AVET www.avetreels.com

EX4/01 20 lb. strike 30 lb. full
EX4/02 20 lb. strike 30 lb. full
EX4/02 25 lb. strike 40 lb. full

SHIMANO www.shimanofishing.com

Tiagra TI16 22 lb. strike 30 lb. full
Tiagra TI30WLRS 25 lb. strike 35 lb. full

TIBURON www.tiburonengineering.com

SST 12/50 15 lb. strike 25 lb. full
SST 16/80 24 lb. strike 35 lb. full
SST 20/80 24 lb. strike 35 lb. full
SST 30/80 26 lb. strike 40 lb. full

PENN www.pennreels.com

International 30VSW
(standard)
30 lb. strike 35 lb.full
International 30VSW
(optional clutch)
45 lb. strike 60 lb. full