Months of planning, weeks of preparation, days of travel, and hours of casting all culminate in a single moment. And when a triple-digit tuna explodes on a surface popper, the last thought in an angler’s head should be, “Do I have the right gear?”
Throwing huge poppers for massive tuna is a scenario that many anglers dream of. With improvements in braided line and spinning reels this endeavor has exploded in popularity over the last 20 years. To help make sense of all the options available in 2023, I’ve listed the top four factors I look into when choosing a spinning reel specifically for chasing these gargantuan pelagics.
Line Capacity vs Reel Weight
“You won’t catch anything when your lure is out of the water.” This painfully obvious quote from an old fishing mentor has stuck with me over the last 15 years. Throwing poppers can be extremely tiring and over the years I’ve noticed an obvious trend: The anglers who spend the most time casting catch more and better fish.
So when choosing a spinning reel an angler shouldn’t just pick the largest reel that holds the most line. Instead it’s a compromise between weight and line capacity, with lighter reels being easier to cast for a longer period of time.
If the target fish weigh under 200 pounds, a 14000-class reel can perform beautifully. This size can hold around 450 yards of 50-pound braided line (packed on tightly), which should be plenty to tame a big tuna, combined with proper drag settings. At 25 ounces when fully spooled, the Shimano Twinpower SW 14000 offers a beautiful balance of weight to line capacity.
- Budget Option: Shimano Spheros SW 14000 (25.5 ounces fully spooled)
- Best in Class: Daiwa Certate SW 14000 (24 ounces fully spooled)
- Author’s Choice: Shimano Twinpower SW 14000 (25 ounces fully spooled)
Over the last few decades, reel companies have integrated ridiculous maximum drag capabilities into their reels. However, if you were to ask any seasoned angler you’d quickly learn that not all drag systems are created equal. A quality reel not only puts out tons of drag pressure but it does so with silky-smooth operation that remains consistent over an extended fight.
Fishing reel drag systems work by creating friction, which inevitably produces heat. If a reel can’t effectively dissipate that heat, the drag will start to become “sticky.” This can lead to break-offs and pulled hooks. With fight times over 30 minutes commonplace when battling big tuna, the ability to maintain drag pressure over an extended period is critical.
It’s worth noting that very few scenarios, including tuna fishing, ever call for more than 30 pounds of drag, However, in my own personal tests, I’ve maxed out my Daiwa Saltiga 14000 at a whopping 53 pounds. I’ve also marveled at its drag performance when fighting huge tuna, tarpon and sharks.
- Budget Option: Penn Spinfisher VI 6500 (30 pounds maximum advertised drag)
- Best in Class: Daiwa Saltiga SW 14000 (55 pounds maximum advertised drag)
- Author’s Choice: Daiwa Saltiga SW 14000 (55 pounds maximum advertised drag)
- Honorable Mention: Shimano Saragosa SW 14000 (33 pounds maximum advertised drag)
Gearbox and Sealing
This prettiest car on the track can still come in last place. It’s what is under that hood that really matters. With saltwater reels we have to take it a step further and protect what’s under the hood from corrosion while simultaneously delivering smooth operation.
Gears, materials, seals, bearings, and bushings all matter. Corrosion can seize a bearing completely. Heat can cause a bushing in a line roller to hang up, causing a fish to break off. Under pressure from a good fish, the screws holding a gearbox in place can back out, causing the drive gear and pinion to grind against each other. In a high intensity fight, many things can and do go wrong, so choosing a reel with quality components is crucial.
Typically I’ll look at three things here:
- What materials the main gear and pinion are made from.
- Where does the reel have bearings? I like to see them in the line roller, beneath the pinion, and at the handle entry point.
- Is there enough sealing around key areas like the line roller, gearbox, handle entry points, and above the pinion gear?
While stronger gearing exists, I’ve found that the Shimano Saragosa SW has a perfect blend of high-quality components, bearings where necessary, and sealing that is every bit as good as its more expensive counterparts.
Note: The best-of-the-best spinning reels will also include a backup anti-reverse clutch, which isn’t present in most 14000-class reels.
- Budget Option: Shimano Spheros SW 14000, which offers the same internals as Saragosa, minus the line roller design
- Best in Class: Daiwa Saltiga SW 14000, which has a Duralumin main gear, marine bronze pinion, magnetic sealing for smooth operation and backup anti-reverse
- Author’s Choice: Shimano Saragosa SW 14000, with a cold-forged aluminum main gear, brass pinion, and best-in-class sealing
Gear Ratio & Cranking Power
When popping for tuna, spinning reels with a high gear ratio reign supreme for three main reasons:
- In order to work a popper effectively, a reel is required to pick up all of the slack line in between pops. In order to do this in a rhythmic and seamless manner, a reel that picks up 53 inches per turn of the handle will be much superior to a reel that only gains 40 inches per turn.
- When a school of tuna begins to blitz on bait, an angler sometimes only has seconds to reel up and cast. So the faster the reel can crank in the popper, the faster the angler can get it into the strike zone.
- Any angler who has fought a tuna species knows that the tuna may turn back towards the boat and completely slack the line at any point during the fight. The hook can easily come out when the tension drops. Therefore a reel with a high gear ratio is preferred to minimize any potential for slack.
It’s worth noting that a higher gear ratio is a double-edged sword. While it allows for more line to be gained per turn, it decreases the torque the reel is able to put out. So when a 200-pound tuna is pin-wheeling under the boat those cranks will most definitely be more difficult with a high gear ratio reel versus one with a lower gear ratio.
Here are some of my favorite high speed spinning reels:
- Budget Option: Shimano Spheros SW 14000 (6.2:1 gear ratio, 53 inches of line retrieved per crank)
- Best in Class: Daiwa Saltiga SW 14000 (6.2:1 gear ratio, 53 inches of line retrieved per crank)
- Author’s Choice: Penn Slammer IV 6500 (6.2:1 gear ratio, 48 inches of line retrieved per crank)