I have noticed that in recent years northeast anglers trolling spreader bars for larger bluefin tuna have found the technique less and less effective and increasingly more and more “artificially” caught fish are taken on jigging and casting lures. Yet what impresses me is how many people are still trolling the same old spreader bars around, watching jiggers and casters catching fish while their spreader bars remain untouched. It’s a shame because with the purchase of just one or two new tuna jigging casting rods and reels to add to your collection, you can literally quadruple the amount of techniques to have in your arsenal.
For discussion’s sake, I personally view casting and jigging as the same technique with only minor differences which include leader length, rod length and whether or not you cast 100’ or drop 100’ to tuna. Some people get very specific as to what they want to do on the water: Some anglers only want to cast using specific lures. Others will only jig. People can be quite religious about what methods they want to use. Me? I just want to use what’s working and this playbook based around a casting and a jigging rod has served me well by enabling me to adapt to so many situations.
I am continually amazed by all the high-end tuna jigging and casting rods and reels on the market that can handle these fish. All the major reel companies make a reel that can handle these fish, each with their own following. I have a vast pro-staff, each with their own favorites. I have fished with them all, and I like them all. Yes, these reels are all amazing, but these fish are huge. You will need some maintenance to keep these reels going. The best advice I can give on selecting a reel is to buy whatever your local shop supports and can help you with ongoing maintenance.
With jigging reels, you have two ways to go: conventional or spinning. Each outfit has its following. I like conventional setups for big fish as they are easier to strap in, fight and use low gear but I don’t love working the rod. I like spinning rods for finesse situations but my forearms hate me after fighting fish over 100 pounds.
- Conventional Rod & Reel Pros:
- I would hands down much rather fight a fish on conventional gear with a two-speed reel. You can strap into a harness and more easily use your legs to fight fish.
- The torque nature of a convectional reel is better suited for jigging heavy metal of very high speed jigging.
- Jiggers on party-head boats can rest the rod on the rail to fight big fish.
- Double duty as blue water trolling rod.
- Conventional Rod & Reel Cons:
- Harder for some anglers to work a conventional rod, especially with slow jigging soft plastics.
- Spinning Rod & Reel Pros:
- Many anglers find spinning rods better for slow jigging or with a method with log sweeps to be easier.
- Able to belt out a cast if necessary.
- More sensitivity with lighter jigs.
- Spinning Rod & Reel Cons:
- Much more work to fight a fish.
I personally think there’s a place for both style jigging rods. I carry two spinning and two conventional on my boat. I tend to prefer jigging with soft baits over metal so I use my spinning outfits most of the time. Once I land a large fish on a spinning rod, I am reminded how much I prefer fishing a big fish on a conventional rod.
Captain Mike’s Bluefin Tuna Jigging Rods & Reels
Spin Reel Jigging: The rod is a powerhouse and very light.
- Rod: St. Croix Mojo MJJS58XMF 5′ 8″: I have caught a number of tuna close to 300lbs with this rod. They improved the components on this rod but they left the blank untouched, which is awesome. It’s light, hard to break and a pleasure to fish with. This rod has enough backbone for ANY tuna you would be willing to catch on stand-up and certainly any jigs you would want to fish. It’s a stiff rod; so don’t skip your kettle ball carries at the gym! I fish this rod most often with a 6oz Hogy Harness Jig or 6oz Hogy Pro-Tail Paddle and it casts those lures surprisingly well in a pinch.
- Reel: Shimano Stella 20000: This reel is a workhorse. This reel has a large line capacity and a beefy drag system. I am on my 4th season with my Stella 20000 and together, they have caught (and lost!) dozens of Bluefin, some pushing larger than 300lbs.The gear ratio on the 20000 is fairly slow. I personally jig with mostly soft plastics and slow is hands down the best way to fish them. A reel with a faster gear ration is harder to fish slowly. The reel has more torque, which is more suitable for the largest Bluefin you will tangle with. A 55lb drag which is more than enough.
- 4.4:1 Gear Ratio
- 31.2oz in weight
- 41” line intake per crank
- Holds 320 yards of 130lb. hollow core
- 55lb drag
- Line/Leader: I use 130lb Jerry Brown hollow-core on my jigging reels. A lot of anglers will use 100lb, but I like the extra beefiness of the 130lb, especially if you need to hand line a big fish at boat side. For jigging, I like long 30’ wind on flouro leaders. I typically jig with 130lb fluorocarbon leader, but I will go as high as 175lb if I am breaking off fish or as low as 100 if I think the fish are being finicky.
- Connection: I prefer loop-to-loop connecting wind-on leaders over a knot between my braid and flouro due to the reliability and how easy it is to swap out leaders. I often go up and down in size and I also frequently put new leaders on. I literally change them after every trip, even if I didn’t hook up. I have spliced loops put on my tuna jigging and spinning reels at the beginning of the season and often in between trips if I break them off. I have my local shop do this. If I need to retie a loop due to a broken line, I will tie a Bimini hitch or a spider hitch on the water depending on how much time I have or how cold me hands are!
Conventional Reel Jigging: This set up is a beast. The rod itself may be a little clunky for jigging but when paired with a Shimano TAC25 and a 40’ Mono wind-on leader, it make an outstanding trolling rod for an 8-rod trolling spread.
- Rod: TZC-59MHSB-SR 5’9″:Last year was an epic year for jigging BIG BFTS off Chatham. Although I have always been a spinning guy as I like the rod action better for jigging soft plastics, it is hard to ignore how much easier on your body conventional gear is when you can strap into a harness and have a different leverage angle. I think I will be using this outfit more often as I get older. I never would have selected this outfit in a million years on my own
- Reel: Shimano TAC25 with 100lb hollow core. The drag system is comparable to a Shimano TIAGRA 80 but paired with the rod above, the outfit weighs less than a wire line trolling outfit. I can carry my entire spread to the boat in one trip. I have trolled for tuna up to 300lbs in deep water with this set up and have had zero issues. The gear ratio on the TAC is very high, which makes it a little challenging when fishing soft baits but it’s absolutely doable. The low gear is so powerful, smooth and buttery and make for easy work of a big fish.
- 52:1 High & 2.3:1 Low Gear Ratio
- 31.2oz in weight
- 46/20” line intake per crank
- holds 470 yards of 100lb hollow core
- 30lb Drag
- Line/Leader: The same as above
- Connection: The same as above