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September 21, 2007

Spin to Win

The new generation of spinning reels can stand the test of tuna and then some.


POWER PLUS: State-of-the-art drag systems are the source of strength for big-game spinning reels.
Photo: Al Ristori

Having been around since the relatively early days of spinning reels, I've consistently advised anglers to use spinning tackle only for what it was intended-casting to small gamefish. When targeting bigger fish, conventional gear provides far greater power and more efficient drag systems. However, that was long before spinners were developed with drags that could handle the blistering runs of large tuna and billfish. Combined with modern super-thin braided lines, spinning reels are now capable of catching almost anything short of giant tuna. If the angler can stand up to a long battle, these reels can certainly absorb the punishment.

Just last winter, armed with a Shimano Stella STL10000FA, I fought a 170-pound yellowfin tuna for 5 1/2 hours off Isla Montuosa, Panama. The Stella features a maximum drag of an incredible 58 pounds, though I can't even imagine hanging on to a spinning outfit set that high. Captain Travis Peterson of Pesca Panama set the drag on our reels at 20 pounds, and it was about all I could handle when the yellowfin got serious about getting out of the area. With 80-pound braid and big-game spinning gear, I was literally tethered to that yellowfin. Unless the hooks on the Yo-Zuri Surface Bull popper pulled or the leader frayed, there was little likelihood that the tuna would break off. Even in my younger days, I wouldn't have been able to hang on to that rod for hours, and I certainly wasn't about to do that at 69 years old. I sat on the seat in front of the center console and put a rag on the edge of the gunwale to partially rest the foregrip of the rod-a two-piece, 81/2-foot Lamiglas. I still had to hold the rod, but at least I was able to relieve some of the pressure on my right arm, so I'd be able to stand up and pump the tuna when, if ever, it finally got tired.

I put on as much heat as I could handle and hung with the fish. Although Peterson and fellow skipper Ben Floyd were worried about my technique, I used gloved hands to add pressure by pulling on the heavy braid just as I do when using lever-drag reels. There's little likelihood of breaking heavy braid, and the line can be quickly released whenever the fish surges. That extra pressure is often enough to turn the tuna's head and get him into the final circling-and it worked. I gained line on every rotation and the fight finally ended. I'm not exactly sure what was more impressive: a truly huge yellowfin in the boat or the performance of my spinning tackle on a tuna of mega-proportions.

I put both the Stella and the Daiwa Saltiga spinning reels through their paces again in January with some help from my nephews Bob and Todd Correll. While I concentrated on plugging for cuberas and roosterfish and avoiding another 51/2-hour battle with a yellowfin, the Corrells took on the tuna. Each made short work of 100-pound-class fish though they grunted and groaned far more than the reels, which performed flawlessly.


WHIPPED: Todd Correll relied upon his Daiwa Saltiga to boat this 100-pound-class yellowfin.
Photo: Al Ristori

How'd They Do That?
Make no mistake, this new breed of spinning reel is nothing like those your father-or I-once used. As the former director of field testing for the Garcia Corporation, the company that imported Mitchell spinning reels, I couldn't have imagined that spinners could stand up to large tuna. Those old models were good reels, but the drags were inadequate, and only the largest could carry enough monofilament for a big-game fight. Nowadays, capacity is no longer a problem and braided lines provide high breaking strength. Much has changed.

Although spinning isn't about to displace conventional tackle when it comes to big-game fishing, heavy-duty spinning reels will stand up to the toughest tests for those willing to get involved in a battle royal.

How is it possible to overcome the inherent lack of power in spinning reels and develop so much drag pressure? Jeremy Sweet, who helps engineer Shimano reels, says that there are four keys: moving the standard stack of washers from under the spool into the reel, tight machining, using superior materials and plenty of anti-rust stainless-steel ball bearings-at least ten times more corrosion-resistant than standard stainless-steel ball bearings. Further, Shimano's direct-drive mechanism links the drive gear straight to the handle shaft for increased power. The larger Stellas feature 15 ball bearings plus a roller bearing.

Toru Takahashi, product manager for Daiwa, says that their Saltiga reels take big-game spinning to the next level by eliminating two big problems: a weak bail and anti-reverse. A heavy-duty, tubular stainless Air Bail and a permanent anti-reverse add backbone to the reel as do innovations, such as the Digigear digital gear design and Zero Friction Mainshaft. Saltigas feature 14 ball bearings and a roller bearing, which provide the smooth operation necessary to deal with big fish. A sealed, water-resistant drag and baked washers will stand up under the hottest runs. Though they don't list drag pressure, Takahashi felt safe in estimating at least 33 pounds for the salt water Saltigas, and more than 50 pounds if really screwed down.

Whereas we used to worry about reel performance on big gamefish, now the biggest problem involves hanging onto the rod and running out of steam. Big-game spinning reels are more than a match for even the toughest fish that swim.


Armed with a Stella, Bob Carrell goes toe-to-toe with a hefty tuna.
Photo: Al Ristori

Battle Plan
Here's how to fight big fish-and win.

1. Make It Fit
Before you get near the boat, set up your gear. Strap the reel rest to the rod, put on your belt with the gimbal slightly above mid-thigh and position the harness so it is between the top of your butt and your waist. Loosen the reel lug straps almost all the way, put the rod butt in the gimbal, attach the harness straps and adjust the length so the rod is situated 15 degrees from vertical with your knees just slightly bent. Your hands should be able to reach the reel handle and rod grip at full extension.

2. Set The Drag
With your belt and harness on and the rod clipped into position, set the drag using an accurate spring scale. Pull line off the reel against the drag and reel it back a dozen or so times to warm the washers before setting it at about 1/3 the breaking strength of the line. Pull against the scale the same way you'd pull against a fish, using your weight to lean back against the pressure.


TAKE FIVE: Don't fight the first run. Lean back and let your body and gear do the work.
Illustration: Dan Marsiglio

3. Kick Back and Relax
When a tuna or billfish makes that hard first run, take a break. Lean back in the harness, knees bent to load the rod and counterbalance the pull with your weight, not your muscle. The belt and harness are designed to let the fish make those blistering runs without wearing you down. There will be plenty to do when the forward motion ends.

PUMP AND REEL: To turn the fish and gain line, lean back by bending your knees as if lowering yourself into a chair.
Illustration: Dan Marsiglio

4. The Line Never Stops
If the fish is running, you should be resting. But when it stops, pump and reel. If you fail to follow this technique, the fish gets to rest and the fight drags on. As soon as the first run stops, put the pressure on and start gaining line. Use your body weight to raise the rod tip with the harness straps, not your arms. Don't try to lift the rod tip high-it's wasted energy. Lift just high enough to get a turn of the reel handle with each pump. Need some extra drag? Palm the outer edge of the spool as you lift or when the fish makes its second or third run. Just be prepared to release it if the fish lunges.

MAKE IT PAY: Rise quickly and crank. Find a rhythm to keep the fish coming to you.
Illustration: Dan Marsiglio

5. End with Authority
The longer the fight, the more pressure you put on the fish. Break its will and you can beat a big fish faster than you might think. When the endgame is near, palm the reel and lift. Be prepared to pop the rod out of the harness if the fish lunges under the boat so you can get the tip in the water. Make the fish pay for every yard. When a tuna begins to circle, use its swimming pattern to gain line on every revolution until the wind-on leader is in the wireman's hands, and the fish is gaffed or released.

Big Reelers
Going into pelagic battle? Better bring along the big guns.

Shimano Stella 20000FA
Giant tuna may be built like torpedoes, but this reel is nothing short of a tank. The twin-disc drag can handle smoking runs while a slow oscillation feature lays line evenly on the spool to avoid knotting. A manual bail trip offers better line control when a big boy picks up the bait and fully machined aluminum components mean this reel can take a serious beating.
Line/Capacity: 30-pound/320 yards
Gear Ratio: 4.4:1
Maximum Drag: 58 pounds
Line Retrieve Per Crank: 41 inches
Weight: 32.6 ounces
Price: $700
Contact: Shimano; (949) 951-5003; www.shimano.com

Van Staal VS300 Series
Meet the Terminator of spinning reels. With internal components machined of solid titanium and titanium nitride, the VS300 series can withstand and conquer fish of any size. The waterproof drag is silky smooth with two ball bearings while the large-diameter main shaft is nearly indestructible. The T6 aircraft-grade aluminum spool and casing ensure that big fish and the elements won't bust them up no matter how hard they try.
Line/Capacity: 25-pound/375 yards
Gear Ratio: 3.25:1
Maximum Drag: 43.4 pounds
Line Retrieve Per Crank: 30 inches
Weight: 24 ounces
Price: $680
Contact: Van Staal; (800) 718-7335; www.vanstaal.com

Daiwa Saltiga SA-Z6000GT

Photo: Manfred Koh

If you worry about big fish reducing spinning reels to rubble, you need Digigear. What's that you ask? Digitally designed stainless and brass alloy gears that come standard in Daiwa Saltiga reels. Combined with the Zero Friction Mainshaft and a rock-solid drag system, these gears ensure a powerful retrieve and peace of mind when slugging it out with pelagic predators.
Line/Capacity: 25-pound/190 yards
Gear Ratio: 6.2:1
Maximum Drag: 33 pounds
Line Retrieve Per Crank: 50.4 inches
Weight: 28.7 ounces
Price: $800
Contact: Daiwa; (562) 802-9589; www.daiwa.com