What Features Make the Best Jigging and Popping Reels
Reels with certain characteristics will outperform others when it comes to this type of fishing. I don't like to get into specific brands or models, but I will give you some guidelines and features you'll want to look for when choosing your reel.
For spinning reels, I will focus mainly on popping aspects because you will almost always be using a spinning reel when popping and many of the features relate to both types of fishing. There are many new larger spinning reels hitting the market every year as more and more people decide they want to target large pelagic fish with lighter tackle. Many of them are capable, but there are features you should look for when making your decision. Gear ratio is something important to consider. Higher ratios are generally sought after by popper fisherman so that they can easily keep up with their surface lures, while lower ratios can be more suited for jigging and for specifically targeting larger model fish where power and torque are more valuable than speed.
Spinning reels should be as light and compact as you can get away with, while holding the appropriate amount of the class line you're using. Heavy and bulky reels will cause added fatigue and can throw off the balance of your combo. I love reels that accept aftermarket or larger spools because you can choose your desired frame size and gear ratio in the reel, and then customize your line capacity, or have different line types on additional spools ready for your anticipated situation. I personally love a smaller framed reel with a larger capacity spool.
For conventional reels, I will focus on jigging because it is far more common to use your conventional reel for jigging, as there aren't nearly as many people casting poppers with conventional reels. Although models like the Shimano Tranx and Daiwa Lexa are helping conventionals become more popular amongst popper fishermen. When jigging, I always prefer a reel with a tall, narrow spool. You will pay with line capacity, but you will be rewarded with almost effortless line management and the narrowness also helps keep your reel from wanting to wobble side to side when speed jigging.
Longer power arms, instant anti-reverse, lever vs star drag, the reel's physical size, and available aftermarket components are just some of the options you'll need to consider when choosing your reel. Many require a compromise, but the best thing you can do is find out what is most important to you and then see what models offer those features in your price point. I personally go for tall and skinny, lightweight, as close to instant anti-reverse as possible, and a line capacity of at least 300yds of my desired line. You'll also generally find longer handle arms, round or aftermarket knobs, and upgraded drag washers in my conventional reels.
Line and Leader Material
There are basically two options when it comes to your choice of spectra lines and they are solid or hollow. This is going to come down to personal choice, budget, and intended use, but I will generally use hollow for popping and solid metered braid for jigging. A spliced loop coupled with a wind-on leader, specifically designed for jigging and popping, will deliver a completely knotless transition from main line to leader that retains 100% breaking strength. Even though you're not looking for casting distance, I still like using wind-ons while jigging, but I will tie a small Bimini twist or spider hitch loop in the end of the mainline for the connection. I love the metered lines for this application because you can drop your jig to a precise depth and keep your jig in the desired strike zone.
My wind-on and tied leaders are made from Jinkai leader material because of it is very soft and has almost no memory. A short bite leader may be desired of something more abrasion resistant, or fluorocarbon if you desire. Since jigging and popping strikes are usually violent and reaction driven, I don't personally feel that a full length fluorocarbon leader are needed, unless it's just something you want to use. Leaders should be kept as sort as possible as mono going through your popping rod's guides will kill casting distance and will eat up sensitivity from your jigging setup.
Tools and Accessories
One tool you don't want to be without is a good, solid pair of split ring pliers. Look for a set with a wide front tooth and a good set of cutters that will slice right through spectra without fraying the ends.
Gloves can also be important, as you will be far more active when you're jigging and popping. You'll want to protect your hands from the reel handle which can create blisters, spectra lines that can cut deep into your fingers and hands, and from any number of things you'll encounter while fishing can help keep you on the rail longer and enjoy your trips that much more.
Fighting belts and plates can be tricky with this type of fishing. Many of the commonly available gimbal plates are designed for use with more traditional gear and will need to be altered or replaced all together when jigging or popping. Look for plates that are extremely light weight, offer the use of a larger side cup along with the gimbal pin, and ones that allow for the longer butt section without stretching your arms out of a comfortable zone. It is also very important to know when and when not to use your gimbal plate. Leaving your gimbal in the belt WILL CAUSE YOU TO HIGH-STICK YOUR ROD when the fish is near the boat. High sticking is the #1 cause of rod failure and 99.9% of the time it happens right at the boat when the rod butt should have been tucked under your armpit and not in your gimbal belt. I will go into this deeper in the Fighting Techniques section, but get that gimbal out of the plate when your fish is getting close to the boat!
Leverage is your friend when using light tackle. You will not have the luxury of using brute force with this type of gear, so learning how to create the proper angles will bring out the hidden capabilities in your gear, resulting in shorter fight times and less fatigue on the angler.
Create the Correct Angles
We've gone over and over keeping the butt section of your rod in your armpit while working lures and fighting fish, and now we put that to use. Your upper body can take the strain off your arms and distribute your effort throughout your body. Using only your arms will quickly tire you out while fishing, and you'll start your fight off in the hole if you hook up on a big fish.
Think of your body as the Y axis and the rod at a resting position perpendicular to your
body as the X axis.We will work predominately in quadrant 1 and 4 while fishing. Forget
2 and 3 for now, as they are behind you. Ok so now that you have visualized this,
remember this fact, any time the rod is above the X axis (into quadrant 1), you are at a
mechanical disadvantage. Keep your rod tip low, lift to 0, and repeat with short strokes.
You want to gain small amounts of line with short pumps and keep the fish moving toward
you. Lengthy lifts will create large bends in the rod, taxing your body and the rod itself. It
also gives the fish a chance to rest, as no line is coming in due to the rod bending.
Try this at home. Tie a 10lb dumbbell to the end of your line. Now start at 0 and lift up. You're probably getting a large bend in the rod and the weight probably just moved toward you and barely left the ground. Now try by reeling all the way to the weight and lifting up to the 0 line. The whole weight came up with the rod and it was bent significantly less than before right? Success!! And you didn't even need your physics or algebra books! Another great feature working here is that by pointing the rod at the fish, you're letting the reel's drag do the majority of the work. You're also forced to lock your legs into the gunnel of the boat, adding to your body's stability and leverage.
Avoid High-Sticking Your Rod
Everyone's favorite subject is always high-sticking and they love to tell you how they have XX years of fishing experience and they never ever high stick. They can't imagine why their rod broke, but it sure as heck wasn't their fault for using improper technique. It MUST have been a defective rod...
A 20lb schoolie tuna can easily snap a high-end heavy duty bluefin tuna rod like a twig if you lift at the wrong angle. Believe me, I have witnessed this and even done it myself. The main cause of high-sticking is going to be angler fatigue. It is difficult to fight these fish with light gear and heavy drag, and even harder when you try to use your standard gimbal plates with the longer butt sections. Proper setup and technique are paramount in avoiding these costly lessons. Always think of your upright body as the Y axis and the rod leaving your body as the resulting equation. A 45 degree angle should be the maximum you create. The planes shift as the fish dives deep or gets closer to the boat. For example, if you stay at the 45 degree angle you started with when the fish was on the surface early in the fight when the fish dives or comes closer to the boat, you are now at a much sharper angle and high-sticking your rod. Down deep or near the boat, you'll need to adjust to shorter strokes and possibly even transition to your armpit to point the tip more in the direction of the fish to create the correct angle and gain the most leverage on the fish.
This is obviously easier said than done (notice the above transition from proper technique to high-sticking as the angler tires and the fish gets closer to the boat). Work with these techniques and consciously think about your positioning throughout the fight and you will shorten fight times, conserve energy, and put the heat on your fish like never before.
Now that you have your major components in hand, let's get them ready to fish. I will walk you through the way I prepare for a fishing trip, including several tips and tricks I've learned along the way. In no way am I stating that the way I rig up is the only way to do things, but I have compiled a list of knots and terminal connections that I use and trust.
From the Spool to the Lure
The line to spool connection is something that will start a few debates. I like to start with a short length of electrical tape on the spool (Fig 1) itself. This will keep your spectra from walking around the spool and won't take up capacity like the finger tape or mono will. I will run the line twice around the spool and into a 4-6 turn cinch knot (Fig 2). With the double loop, you'll need to "walk" this knot down tight and the double legs will want to squeeze the spool rather than slide around it (Fig 3). I'll then leave a small amount of the tag end and make sure the first couple of wraps lay it tightly against the spool (Fig 4). The rest is done on a spooling machine (if possible) and under steady pressure so that the line is very tightly packed onto the spool. This insures you'll get the most capacity and keeps the spectra from digging into itself under heavy drag settings.
Main Line to Leader
Once your main line is on the spool, it is time to create your connection to the leader. There are several connections that can be used here from the ultra-complicated PR Knot to the simplest uni-to-uni connection. The key is to choose one or two connections and practice them until you can tie them in your sleep. The pitching deck during a wide open bite is the wrong place to practice your Bimini Twist. My mid and heavy popping outfits are all spooled with hollow core spectra with a 4" loop spliced into the end (Fig 1). From there, I'll attach my wind-on leader with a single loop to loop connection.
For the solid core spectra that I have on my light popping and all jigging combos, I like a very short loop made with a Bimini twist (Fig 2) or spider hitch (Fig 3). Then you will consider this loop as a single line and use it to connect to your mono leader via another wind-on, uni-to-uni, or reverse Albright knot. I'll base the knot decision on the use of the combo and size of line/leader, with the heavier gear getting the wind-on or albright and lighter gear getting the uni-to-uni. A Bob Sands knot can also be used with a light popping setup because the orientation of the mono tag end helps the knot fly through the guides without snagging on the way out.
Leader to Lure
The last connection you will deal with is tying your leader to the lure. Again, there is any number of knots to use for this connection, but I will show the one that I use exclusively. This is a basic 4-turn cinch knot with one special twist; that I tie it with a double line. To begin the knot, double back several inches of leader and then crease the bend to a sharper point (Fig 1). This will help lock the bend's position and help the double line to act as a single. Now tie like you would a standard 4-turn cinch (Fig 2). Carefully tighten down the knot, making sure the wraps stay put and don't overlap. You may need to adjust the tag end to keep the knot sliding smoothly. The end result should be a nice and neat barrel with two legs going through the eye of the lure/swivel (Fig 3).
The real trick is the quick change terminal rig at the business end of all my combos. I tie my leader to a swivel/split ring combination. That I'll then connect to the eye of the lure or jig (Fig 4). A swivel/split ring will give a far superior connection to a snap swivel, while keeping the changing of lures a breeze (this is where the good split ring pliers come into play). You can keep your rods rigged and ready to deploy with this simple connection and not have to worry about poppers, hooks, and jigs destroying your guides and rod blanks. You'll save time and leader tying multiple knots, be able to quickly swap lure colors and styles, and the biggest secret (the one I hate to give away) is the number of assist hooks you'll save by keeping them tied up and only swapping out jigs. There's no need to have assist hooks on every jig. Just get hooks on all your jigging outfits and then choose whatever jig works best for the situation at hand. When you need a change, swap the jig, but keep the solid ring and hooks on the line.
Your rods and reels are probably going to be the largest investment you make when it comes to getting started in this type of fishing. Most people start by making due with combos they already have access to in order to make sure this is something they like doing. If you're wondering how much difference a purpose designed jigging or popping rod makes, I assure you it's significant. The handle section, rod's action, components, blank materials, and several other factors go into the design of these rods in order to make this very active way of fishing as comfortable and as efficient as possible.
What Features Distinguish a Specialized Jigging and Popping Rod?
Now that you've decided to take the plunge and get geared up for this exciting new way of fishing, what are you looking for? Key features are built into the design of these rods to reduce fatigue and allow you to stay on the rail longer and ultimately land that prized catch on what is, most likely, the lightest offshore gear you own. These features generally begin with a very lightweight blank that is built with carbon fiber or graphite with a moderate to moderately fast action. This rod is probably uncomfortably shorter than you're used to, but I assure you, you will appreciate this and the leverage you'll gain later. The grips are generally EVA and will be shaped very thin. The last thing, and possibly the most important, is the length of the butt section. The butt of the rod should run under and extend all the way through your armpit. Our factory rods place the reel stem (the center of where the reel attaches into the seat) at 17in from the bottom of the gimbal. A normal multi-purpose rod will generally have a butt length of 12-13in. The extra length of this section is very important for because you're going to rely on your upper body, both in the presentation of your lure, and when fighting and controlling fish. This is discussed and demonstrated in more detail in some of the other articles.
What rod should I get for ________?
I always advise my customers to buy the combo for the fishing they do 90% of the time. For example, people who target 50-80lb yellowfin tuna in their home waters, but make a trip for Bluefin or GTs once a year, should buy the combo suited for the yellowfin and either borrow and combo or charter a captain who provides jigging and popping gear for the other situations. At least until you begin stockpiling your quiver of setups for every specific situation. It is a good idea to start with a more universal combo so that you can dial in what characteristics are important for you. For popping, an OceanXtreme 60/80 with a larger spinning reel spooled with 65-80lb spectra is a good place to start. This combo will be heavy enough for your average bluefin tuna from 80-150lbs and a perfect combo for yellowfin in the 50-100lb range. For jigging, a 400g Fathom Blade with the same size spinning reel will work in a wide range of situations and for several species of bottom fish and tuna.
Now that you've been on a few trips, you've seen and used some other people's gear, and have been able to gather more insight on all these new specialized fishing products you're being inundated with. You're ready to add some rods and reels to help fill in the gaps you've found. This is where I like to add in lighter jigging and popping combos. I've found that reels with additional and aftermarket spools will allow you to add line capacity to smaller frame spinning reels and save the weight and bulk of the larger reel. These lighter combos will quickly take over as your favorites once you see how much less fatigue you'll endure after the reduction in weight and bulk. Throw in a light bait catching combo and a heavier outfit for chunking/live baiting and you are ready to go on a multi-day jigging and popping trip.
Choosing the Right Jigging Rod
I really like a shorter (5'2"-5'8") rod for mechanical, or speed jigging. It helps keep the strokes shorter and more efficient. This is nice for fast moving jigs, deeper jigging, and with the use of heavy jigs. A moderate action rod is preferred here, as it imparts the full action of the rod to the jig. The rod as a whole should load up and spring back with the weight of lifting the jig. If only the tip loads, the jig will have a shortened movement and less overall action. This is why it's also important to match the power of the rod to the jigs you most commonly use.
There are times when a longer jigging rod (5'8"-6'6") may be preferred. Different situations may call for a longer sweeping stroke, or you may want a multi-purpose rod so that you can live bait, troll, jig, and bottom fish with the same rod. Even in some situations, a jigging rod may be used to lob poppers when there is no room to cast a popping rod, or if casting distance is not a big concern, and you want to take advantage of the improved leverage of a jigging rod.
I feel like you're making a far smaller compromise when you use a slightly longer jigging rod to live bait or bottom fish than you are trying to use a heavy glass bottom rod to jig with. With the combination of spectra lines and extremely powerful, small frame reels (the narrower the better for jigging) on the market, you can get all the power and line capacity you need in less than half the size and weight of a traditional bottom fishing combo.
Choosing the right popping rod.
The ideal length of a popping rod is going to change a lot depending on the circumstances in which you're fishing, so it's important that you evaluate where and how you'll be doing the majority of your topwater fishing. 7'6" is pretty standard, and is a great place to start. Many think that length in the rod equates to distance in your cast, but this is not always the case. The blank materials used, guide layout, and angler technique all go into casting distance and should be considered when choosing a rod. If distance is most important, then choose something from the Tuna Sniper line, but be warned, to achieve those distances, you'll be fishing a rod that is inherently less forgiving to the angler, and will require more care in handling. If distance isn't as important, a more moderate and shorter rod like the OceanXtreme may be more suitable. A slower action will cost you a little distance, but will absorb more of the fight, and bring some of the leverage back in your direction. I always try to plan ahead and take the combo best suited for the fish and situation I plan to encounter on my trip.
Key features to watch for are proper length between the reel seat and gimbal, proper action in the rod blank, and the use of the right components. I can not stress enough, the importance of having a long enough butt section so that you can use your upper body when working poppers and fighting fish. This is the number one feature that will give you the ability to reduce fatigue, adding time on the rail, and give you the most possible control fighting the fish when you transition out of your fighting belt. A moderate action blank will deliver a uniform, parabolic bend from the tip through the power section of the rod. This tip will load down into the rod, ripping your popper down through the surface of the water. With a faster action rod, only the tip will flex and the rod will not fully load. This makes you work twice as hard to get the same action in your popper. The last thing to look for is the use and proper layout of components. Having the right components on your rod will help to maximize your casting distance, fighting ability, and ergonomics.
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