FishingFishing GearFishing Reels

Tuna Reels – Little Giants

I have to admit that I was among the most vocal critics of using what I deemed “tiny” or smaller reels to subdue large game fish — mainly tuna. I based my opinions on a wide variety of experiences and observing anglers gain line one inch at a time using the little original, souped-up Penn 12T reels. I also saw anglers fumble to stop a blistering run by a nice tuna that took a little spool right to the knot. The unmistakable pow! of the knot exploding. But that was years ago… today’s new reels have made me a believer!

I saw enough broken off fish back in the beginning to affect my opinion, but in all honesty, there was a bias on my part. Change and evolution, both in fishing techniques and equipment, are often difficult to accept by those who practice their profession or passion regularly.

“Anglers often get caught in a rut of doing it like they always have because, well, they’ve always done it that way.”

Despite my aversion to the miniaturization of big-game reels, innovators seeking to improve live-bait fishing off the West Coast advanced the trend by making reels lighter but strong enough to battle big fish. These trailblazers refused to accept the sacrifice of having to lug around a heavy outfit to have a chance at landing a big tuna. They also recognized that anglers fishing with large, cumbersome reels were not nearly as effective in their bait presentation as anglers with lighter, smaller outfits. That part didn’t draw any disagreement from those in the big-gear camp. It was just accepted that the sacrifice of a few or more bites was worth the advantage once engaged in battle.

Fast-forward about 15 years, and the smaller reels have evolved to what I now freely recognize as the standard those early innovators worked to achieve. I am utterly amazed at how effective these new models are. I am a tried-and-true Shimano man, touting the TLD series reels in the 90s followed by the Trinidad and Talica series. But, I also credit AVET for their SX, JX, and HX series, and to Accurate for the Boss reels that have accomplished the same goal of compacting strength, power and capability into what I’ll still label “tiny” reels.

The torque generated in these little reels amazes me. Based on what I saw 15 years ago, I would have told you the amount of drag we’re seeing these reels put out was impossible. From an engineering perspective, I suppose it has to do with the gear ratio relative to spool diameter, but the technical details don’t really matter. The most important thing is that these reels effectively handle fish that by any standard are way too big to battle on small reels.

I’ll use the Shimano Talica 25 as an example. I was given a definitive education about its capabilities over the past few months. In particular, the Talica 25s that were brought on board and fished exclusively by anglers from Thailand that showed up to fish a tagging voyage with us on the Royal Star. The reels proved not only worthy of battling giant yellowfin tuna — they dominated them.

When the Thai anglers said they wanted to fly-line sardines with the Talica 25s using 100-pound Spectra backing, and short 100- or 130-pound fluorocarbon top shots, all the crew and I could do was hope for the best. Knowing they were accomplished anglers, I felt they certainly had a good chance, but I also thought that they’d be extremely limited in their ability to land a giant yellowfin after a certain point. If that point does exist, we never found it. One after another all of the Thai anglers wound in the highly spirited, 125- to 225-pound yellowfin of the Revillagigedo reserve using the Talica 25 reels. These guys never skipped a beat.

Better Bait Presentation

An angler using sardines or any other variety of small finfish for live bait with a smaller, capable reel will present the bait more effectively, and receive more bites. Between the lighter weight of the reel, and the corresponding ability to fly-line with almost zero restrictions, the little rigs are impossible to beat. And now that these reels have the guts to handle whatever happens to climb on the line, there are only solid reasons to add one, or several, to your arsenal.

“These smaller reels are about as multi-purpose as you can find.”

You can target any fish — big or small —with any of the Trinidad and Talica 10 to 16 sizes, the Avet SX and JX or the Accurate Boss. Just the other day my six-year-old son Duke used his Trinidad 14A to catch bass and white fish at Guadalupe when the tuna weren’t biting. Then I cut the sinker off and fly-lined a sardine that resulted in a 90-pound yellowfin. The reel was up to both tasks without changing a thing — amazing! Fishermen are always seeking advantage over the inevitable fact that our quarry seems to get more difficult to deceive every year.

Fluorocarbon, short leaders, Spectra line, smaller hooks and now that they are fully capable, smaller reels, all lead to more fish on the deck for today’s angler.

Tuna Reels

Capt. Tim Ekstrom
Captain Tim Ekstrom has spent the majority of his life working at sea in the San Diego sportfishing industry. A pantheon of legendary mentors influenc...