As anglers, are we stubborn or just too dumb to respect the limitations of our gear? It seems we love to push tackle beyond what it was originally designed to do, then blame manufacturers for making wimpy equipment.
Those days have ended, amigo. The steadily improving quality of superbraid lines in recent years led to their increasing popularity among fishermen of all types. This braid boom sparked a parallel revolution as tackle manufacturers realized the need to produce reels capable of withstanding merciless punishment dished out by enthusiastic (or dumb) anglers using thin yet ultra-strong lines.
Superbraid's characteristics present many reel-design challenges. The wispy stuff often sneaks into gaps between spools and side plates; manufacturers responded by tightening tolerances and using machined rather than stamped components. Incredibly tough lines tempt anglers to use brutal drag settings whenever possible, so manufacturers fortified reels with beefier gears and improved drag systems. Thin diameter translates into more line capacity in less space; anglers wanted stronger reels, not necessarily bigger ones.
Today's selection of compact powerhouses lets us physically downsize offshore tackle while upgrading in terms of strength and fish-stopping capability. As a result, "light tackle" doesn't always mean using light line. The combination of superbraids and mighty-mite reels allows us to use lines as strong as 65-pound test on easy-to-manage gear.
Exemplifying the trend, the Daiwa Saltiga series features models that are considerably smaller than traditional saltwater reels. "They're designed to handle braided line, so you can go out and catch nearly anything that swims on a relatively lightweight reel," says Daiwa vice president of Eastern operations, Bill Liston.
Accurate Fishing Products boasts an impressive engineering lineage thanks to a parent company that makes parts for the aerospace industry. "We apply advanced, computer-numeric- machining technology to building reels," says Matt Harper, Accurate's customer service manager. "We're the Ferrari of fishing reels because we target the high-end market."
This "Ferrari" sports an extremely rigid chassis because Accurate creates reel frames, spools - even handle arms and knobs - from bar-stock aluminum. "We cut the bar stock to size and machine it to specifications, with no casting or forging," Harper says.
An inflexible frame holds the bulletproof drive train - stainless-steel main and pinion gears - in precise alignment under extreme forces such as those generated by a fat tuna pulling against heavy drag. "Accurate engineers its reels to take that kind of load and pressure," Harper says. "They're made for extreme fishing right out of the box, and with basic maintenance, they'll last more than one lifetime, so you can pass them on to your kids."
Other manufacturers also rely on machined-aluminum frames and heavy-duty components to make reels tough enough to take the rigors of fishing with braid. Penn goes one step further with the recently introduced International Torque series. The Torque's patented Integrated Side Plate (ISP) design centers on a one-piece, machined-aluminum side plate that provides exceptional strength and rigidity. The solidly housed drive train remains immune to misalignment under the stress of heavy drags and strong fish.
Maintaining perfect alignment under load allows Torque's ISP design to incorporate high-speed gearing without sacrificing power. These reels can put the screws to a fish while cranking at a blistering 6.3:1 gear ratio.
The trend toward faster, stronger reels has produced many viable options for anglers. "In the past, manufacturers tried putting high-speed gears in a standard gear box. Those early designs led to the common misconception that high-speed reels have no power," says John Bretza, national sales manager for Okuma. "Adding an oversize gear box to the reel lets us increase the gear diameter and use bigger teeth, so we can actually gain power with the speed."
Case in point: Okuma's Titus Gold TG10S pulls in line with a 6.2:1 gear ratio, yet stands up to tough adversaries. Bretza says he has caught 200-pound striped marlin with this reel and knows of long-range anglers who have used it to best 100-plus-pound yellowfin.
Featuring a machined-aluminum frame to reduce flex, and heavy-duty, stainless-steel gears, the TG10S can also generate 27 pounds of drag. "We recently took a five-day tuna trip and fished 65-pound Spectra on these reels because the drag system can handle it. Most anglers use 50-pound Spectra on the reel, but you can use 65-pound with no problem," Bretza says. "The choice depends on how much line capacity you need."
Harper says the Accurate Boss Magnum TwinDrag 197 can produce more than 30 pounds of drag. "I often fish one with 15-pound mono, but many anglers load theirs with 50-pound Spectra and a 40-pound-mono top shot," he says. "While I'm chasing 20-pound albacore, you can chase 70-pound bluefin on the same tiny reel!"
A patented twin-drag system makes these extremes possible. Like a car's disc brakes, drag plates on both sides of the spool apply even pressure to a greater surface area than conventional drags.
"The smooth, powerful drag makes it possible to use such small reels for big fish," Harper says. "The stopping power can tire fish quickly for a safe release, and the smoothness helps you stay in a long fight on lighter line. As you play a fish, the smooth drag won't spike or stick, which could break the line."
Manufacturers usually rate drag output as the maximum pressure possible while still maintaining free-spool capability. In other words, you can often tighten down to squeeze a few more pounds of drag out of a reel. But sometimes the amount of adjustability is more important than a drag's all-out maximum force.
Shimano offers nine interchangeable drag cams for the Torsa, so anglers can tune the reel to suit specific applications. The standard cam that comes with the reel generates 30.8 pounds of drag at max strike and 34.1 pounds at max full. The BFS50 cam, designed for bottomfishing, achieves 22 pounds at strike and 39.6 at full. The greater difference between strike and full produces a steeper drag curve, which means adjustments at small increments become more difficult.
"This curve is perfect for bottomfishing, while the other provides more control when fighting tuna, for example," says Jeremy Sweet, reel product manager for Shimano.
Perhaps we should thank those "dumb" anglers for spurring the downsizing evolution in offshore tackle. While nobody suggests pursuing grander black marlin with them, the new generation of stronger, smaller reels offers a big handful of advantages.
"Consider how awkward it can get to dance around the cockpit wielding a 50-wide or even a conventional 30-pound reel," says Ben Secrest, sales manager at Accurate. "Now you can use reels that are smaller, more comfortable to hold and easier to manage, yet they perform the same tasks as the larger reels. They land big fish. I know guys who catch 200-pound tuna with an Accurate 665. The fight lasts 90 minutes, and they're not tired afterward."
Harper feels the trend toward smaller yet perfectly adequate tackle reflects the reason we get on a boat and head offshore: "We call it sport fishing. The right combination of tackle makes it more fun."