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Carmen Macdonald

A passion for fishing and hunting grew into a career that's included Alaskan guide, media sales, writer and the politics of outdoor recreation. My company, Vaunt Marketing, represents industry-leading brands in the US and Canadian markets.

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June 26, 2012

Redefining Reel Sizes

by Carmen Macdonald

It's been more than 20 years since Tuf-Line released the first braided Spectra fiber fishing line. In the first ten years, only a few knew what it was. Over the next ten years, braids exploded to the point that manufacturers from Tuf-Line to Sufix to Berkley are now producing designer braids with specific applications in mind.

Spectra fiber fishing lines exponentially increased breaking strengths in comparison to monofilament lines of similar diameter. What we have come to take for granted at the tackle shop was, and is, revolutionary.

As anglers, we took this incredible increase in breaking strength with extremely small diameters and, and, and… fished it on the same gear we'd always used for monofilament lines. Kind of anti-climactic isn't it? 300 yards of 25-pound monofilament takes up X amount of space. 400 yards of 50-pound braid takes up less space. Shouldn't we gain in this equation with lighter weight and a reduced footprint throughout our gear?

The simple fact is that braided lines constructed of Spectra and Dyneema fibers so radically altered the game, fishing reels have just begun to catch up. Reels designs now have the capability to be much smaller, with drag outputs suitable for much stronger braided lines. Yet to date, very few maximize this opportunity. And those that are out there seem to suffer from impressions and expectations with regard to physical size that are grounded in a world dominated by monofilament.

Last month I had the opportunity to visit Venice, Louisiana with the Northwest sales representatives from Okuma Fishing Tackle, as well as two members of the team at Fisherman's Marine & Outdoor. Of course, we were equipped for anything with Makaira, Cedros, Andros and Isis reels, Makaira, Andros and Cedros Coastal rods.

We met our captain for day one ay 5:30 in the morning. Two dock carts were brimming with outfits. Upon laying eyes on the carts, the captain glances around his boat, then back at the carts. It was quickly obvious that some sorting of gear was going to take place.

Let's take these, leave these, take these. You can picture the conversation. I had stepped away, but by the end of it, all of the Andros reels and the rods they were on were summarily dismissed and packed back in the rented minivan.

On the first day anywhere, you have to differ to the experience of the captain.

The Okuma Andros is one reel that was designed and constructed specifically for 50-pound braid. It's an incredibly compact two-speed lever drag featuring 15-pounds of drag at strike, 24-pounds at full. It's backed by a 17-4 stainless steel drive system and holds a touch over 400-yards of 50-pound braid, all in a reel that you can lay out in the palm of your hand.

The captain was unfamiliar with it, judged it simply by size and the discussion was over.

We caught four yellowfin tuna that day from about 30- to 65-pounds. All of them came on Makaira 20 or 30 sized offshore reels. It was overkill at it's best. For a bunch of Northwesterners, fighting the gear was as much work as the fish themselves.

Day two, different captain. We skipped the conversation about what gear to bring along and simply loaded it all quickly, making it work. Off we go, headed 65 miles offshore to a location called Devil's Tower.

I tied short six-foot bumpers of 50-pound fluorocarbon to the 50-pound braid on three Andros combos, along with a Makaira 10. About 30 minutes out from our destination, the deckhand leans over to me and asks, "Which rods do you want to use for live bait?"

When I pointed them out, I got the look back that can only mean "really?" Yes, really.

I had to go through the one-two on specs to get past the deckhand. In the end it came down to the fact that if we got the crap beat out of us by a fish, we'd rather go down on the small gear than to walk all over sub-hundred pound tuna with gear fit for fish two and three times that size.

The deckhand smiled, "Let's do it!"

Arriving at Devil's Tower, busting yellowfin covered a half a mile. Two baits get pinned on the Makaira 20's… we had no confirmation of size at this point, better safe than sorry on the first one. The Venice area has plenty of tuna in the 100- to 200-pound class.

It took maybe a minute for the clicker to go nuts. Come tight, Randy is on it. 35-pounder.

We circle back and I grab an Andros. Rather than slow trolling a bait off the outrigger, we're going to do it more West Coast style, dead boat and free-swimming baits.

It took about 12 seconds to get bit on the lighter 50-pound leader. Everybody grabs a rod at this point. Braille a few baits over the side and the school is suddenly trying to chew the paint off the bottom of the boat.

What followed was an intoxicating blur. Controlled chaos. Baits went over the side and were eaten immediately. Yellowfin boiled everywhere. They darted in all directions, dark silhouettes amazingly visible in the crystal clear, purple-tinted water of the Gulf of Mexico.

Laughter and high-fives. Of course it's fun when the fishing is wide open, but it's even more so when you're matched properly with gear. The little Andros 5 and Makaira 10 two-speeds owned these fish of 25- to maybe 50-pounds, with plenty to spare. We'd have been fine with 80-pounders. Beyond that, it might have gotten interesting.

Comfortable, controllable, light, easy, fun…that's how we fished.

After a couple hour melee, we went on to other things (both days included lights out fishing for a host of species on the rigs). The deckhand twice went over the Andros and Makaira throughout the rest of the day. How much drag? How much line pickup? Complete freespool at those numbers?

Seeing is believing, and he now had the bug.

In my albeit limited experience in saltwater fishing on two coasts and south to Costa Rica, fish over 100-pounds have been the exception rather than the rule, with the only exception being billfish. Dorado, yellowtail, amberjack, rooster fish, snappers, most halibut and tuna, big lings, they're all in the wheelhouse of these small, easily-handled and incredibly fun next-gen reels.

With modern design and materials including carbon fiber drags and premium stainless steel gears, there's only one limitation to how small a reel can get. That's spool diameter. You can only make the diameter of a reel so small and spin it with so high of a gear ratio. In a big fish reel, in addition to drag output and raw strength, you also have to be able to gain line to win the battle. As spool diameters get smaller and smaller, there's only so many tricks to play before you're just not gaining line when cranking. In the Andros, a custom spool and frame design maximizes the diameter of the spool within the overall frame size. In high gear it picks up 42.1-inches of line with each turn of the handle. Keep in mind though that that is with a nearly full spool. Dump half that line on a big fish and the number goes down. Something to keep in mind anyway as more reels enter the category and you're making comparisons.

In addition to the Okuma Andros, have a look at the Avet Raptor SX and Shimano Talica II. In all cases, you're looking for strike drag ratings roughly 30% of the breaking strength of the leader. To get the most out of 40- to 50pound line, you'll want drag output in the range of 15-pounds of drag at strike.

The next ten years should be outstanding as companies invest in new tooling and designs to begin to take full advantage of braided lines. Fishing is not getting any less expensive. With every day on the water precious, refined and balanced equipment that maximizes the enjoyment of every fish becomes more and more important. My only question is how long, as anglers, our predispositions to "understood" reel sizes, their drag outputs and capabilities will take to catch up to the gear as it comes out.

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