We here at openbow.org are big fans of spinning gear for tuna. We feel a good spinning outfit with a properly placed reel seat puts the angler in a much more comfortable fighting position than a conventional. Adequate taper and solid lockdown points on modern blanks afford the opportunity to lift the head of a big fish. And the fast retrieve of a spinning reel equals more line back on the spool every drop down. The boundaries of what is capable with modern spinning gear continue to be pushed and 2017 was certainly an eye opener for what is possible. Serious giant class bluefin tuna were regularly being taken on spinning gear off both the Outer Banks in the spring and Cape Cod in late summer/fall. With these types of shenanigans going on we decided to get the details from some local Northeast pros on their spinning gear games and pass it on to our community of fishing enthusiasts.
- What is your “go to” spinning jig outfit (rod/reel/line) and what do you think makes a good “budget conscious” outfit for someone looking to break into the game?*
- What is your “go to” popping outfit (rod/reel/line) and what do you think makes a good “budget conscious’ outfit for someone looking to break into the game?*
- What is your favorite mainline to leader connection for jigging and why?
- What is your favorite mainline to leader connection for popping and why?
- What are the top three topwater baits in your bag?
- What are the top three jigs in your bag?
*We cannot cover everything in one Ask a Pro Series and the issue here will be the class of tuna being targeted. In almost ALL of the suggestions listed, there will be an option to bump up or down in class. Please remember that in the case of reels, it will often come with a change in gear ratios, line capacity and drag (potential topics down the road). If you are like most of us and cannot swing multiple rigs, it is best to err on the side of caution and be ready when some larger class fish move in.
Capt. Gene Quigley – Shore Catch Guides, New Jersey
Captain Quigley runs his 36 Yellowfin “Reel Freedom” out of Manasquan Inlet NJ. He has been voted a top 50 Captain by Saltwater Sportsman and is a Field and Stream top 100 guide. Capt. Quigley is one of the pioneers and first anglers to successfully land inshore bluefin tuna on topwater spinning gear. He is a regular presenter at saltwater fishing seminars and is always looking to pass on knowledge to fellow anglers.
Capt. Louis J. DeFusco – Hot Reels Sportfishing, Rhode Island
Captain DeFusco has put guests on anything from inshore bass to daytime swordfish and everything in between. He has been fishing spinning gear for tuna as long as most and has fish to 82″ on his resume. He is networked with some of the absolute best in the game and has also put in many hours presenting at seminars and passing on what he knows.
Sami Ghandour – Owner, Saltywater Tackle Inc.
Sami is one of the pioneers of the Japanese style jigging and popping tuna fishery here in the Northeast and has turned on countless anglers to this fishery over the last decade. His business operates out of Sayreville, NJ where he and his partner, Paul, sell and ship high end jigging and popping gear all over the world. Sami also serves as a professional guide on exotic fishing expeditions. Most importantly, he is always looking to pass on helpful advice to his fellow fisherman.
Capt. Steve Fernandez – 64 Viking “Five Seas”, 25 Regulator “No Name”, Long Island, NY Captain Fernandez came up old school working the pit for some of the best in the business. Today he is at the helm of a 64 Viking and in his spare time can be found fishing the inshore grounds on a 25 Regulator. We here at openbow.org know, if you are looking for Steve you will definitely “find him where the fish are”. He has hooked and landed all shapes and sizes of tuna on all types of tackle and his experience is invaluable.
Kyle Oneppo – The Tree Guy Sportfishing, Rhode Island
When he isn’t running his 28 Bluewater “The Tree Guy”, Kyle can be found on the front of one of East Coast Charters sleds working for Capt. Jack Sprengel. At just 19, Kyle’s resume is stacked with more big tuna on spinning gear than those 2-3 times his age. His name comes up in any conversation about the best young fisherman in the Northeast jig and pop game at the moment.
Capt. Gene Quigley
- My go to jigging rod for our area is the Saltwater Tackle Outer Banks 300. This rod has tremendous balance and is light enough for smaller jigs and smaller tunas but can also handle the larger stuff. Most of my fishing is inshore with bluefins from 40 to 150lbs and yellowfins in the 30 to 80lb range. My preference is a conventional set up, matched with an AVET JX Raptor and Powerpro hollow ace line. For spin set ups, we have been having great success with the 6’2″ Shimano Game Type J matched with Shimano Twin Power 8000. I tie all my jigs on direct using a uni knot.
- For popping and casting stick baits I really like the El Maestro 77H and the Race Point 100 matched with the Shimano Twin Power 10000 or a Van Staal VSB 200 spooled with 60# PowerPro hollow ace. It’s really important however to make sure that you are matching the rod with the size fish you are targeting. These are both somewhat lighter rods for fish in the 50- 100lb class. Once you get over that size it’s important to move up to a beefier stick. When the bigger fish in the 70 plus inch range show, the Race Point 250 is the go to rod matched with a Shimano Stella 18000.
- All my jigging leaders are loop to loop. Because I use all hollow core braid I splice loops and use 25ft fluorocarbon wind on leaders from 50 to 80 lb. This makes for very smooth connections through the guides and eliminates any bulky knots.
- I have been using the Saltywater Tackle twisted leader system for all my casting applications offshore. I can tie one of these leaders in less than two minutes on the boat and I have never had one fail. This system uses a 4 ft section of twisted 100 lb monofilament as the main top section that gives the leader stretch and durability. The bottom section going directly to the lure is a 4 ft piece of 70# or 80# fluorocarbon. You can vary the pound test of the tippet section depending on water clarity or if the fish get line shy but just be sure to adjust your drags accordingly. Make sure you use the mono/flouro combination as this is what makes the leader so effective. (Editor’s Note: The Saltywater Tackle Twisty Leader can be seen in the How-to section of OpenBow.Org)
- This is a tough one. I use a variety of different baits all dictated by water conditions, clarity, type and size of bait, and feeding depth. For below the surface or deeper feeding, I like the Siren Seductress 165, Tackle House BRITT as well as the Daiwa Dorado Pencil. These lures sink fast but also have tremendous action. For floating and top water applications the Shimano Orca and Colt Sniper accounted for a lot of fish this year. When throwing poppers I like lures that will cast far and give off a lot of splash and wake like a Mad Mantis.
- Another very tough one. Variety is super important with jigs. Water currents and bait size play such a big role and there are so many different actions on the market it can get confusing. Our main bait off NJ and NY are sand eels. I prefer jigs that are smaller and usually in the 80 to 120g weights. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the CB One F1. This is a tremendous sand eel imitation and it drops fast and has great action. Other go to jigs for me are the Shout Shab Shab and the Stingo PBJ.
Capt. Louis J. DeFusco
- My two favorite rod and reel combos for jigging tuna in the Northeast are a Shimano Twin Power 14000 with Crafty One Customs 250g jigging rod and a Shimano Stella 18000 with a Shimano Ocea Plugger MH. The Twin Power is loaded with 65# Power Pro Depth Hunter and the Stella is loaded with 80# Depth Hunter. For a more budget minded setup, I have seen the Van Staal 325 jigging rod perform and that mated to something like a Shimano Saragossa 10000 would work well and keep the price reasonable.
- Only one “go to” setup for popping tuna and that is a Stella 18000 on a Ocea Plugger rod. The rod has tremendous lifting power with zero hurt to the anglers back and I have taken bluefin up to 82″ on it.
- FG knot due to its strength and zero resistance through the guides.
- Again the FG knot due for the same reasons above.
- Strategic Angler Espanda, Siren Deep Seductress 155, Toro Tamer Swimmer
- 10″ RonZ Silver with Owner Big Game Hook, Point Jude Deep Force Slim, Shimano Butterfly Flat Fall Series
- There are many rod brands out there that are suitable for our New Jersey bluefin tuna fishery that range from the lower $400 mark to the $700 depending on clients preferences and budget, the following brands are some of the best in the market (Smith, Hot’s, MC Works, OBX and Valley Hill). As for reels I personally prefer the Shimano Stella for this game as you never know when you will encounter the big one; however, the Saragosa or equivalent is capable of doing the job for the size of fish that we normally encounter in our waters. My personal set up would be an Outer Banks OBX-300 jigging rod matched with a Shimano Stella 10k with a PE5 or PE6 line. I use a PE line versus hollow line when it comes to jigging as the line tends to cut better through the water column.
- New Jersey offers great shots at winter bluefin tuna from early November to early January taking into consideration that every year is different. Rod brands to choose from are Tenryu, MC Works, Saltywater Tackle El Maestro series along the Race Point line. The El Maestro series was developed specifically for Northeast inshore Bluefin Tuna some to cover topwater stickbait and poppers and some for sinking stickbait. Pairing any of the above rods with a Shimano Saragosa or equivalent is the way to go and I would run a Jerry Brown Hollow line in 60lb. As an entry set up, you’re realistically looking to spend approximately 1k on a popping tuna outfit.
- My favorite main line for jigging is Shout Sasame and Sunline PE Jigger. Attaching a PR Knot (Page Ranking) from the main line to your fluorocarbon leader is the way to go and rest assured if it is done properly, you will have the best unbreakable knot in your hands.
- When it comes to popping line, I prefer Jerry Brown Hollow and for the class of fish in Jersey a 60lb Jerry Brown is the way to go. We have developed a good leader system to attach the main line to the top shot called twisty leader. It is honestly one of the best leader systems you can use out there. It might sound complicated and may not be the best-looking knot, but it is not difficult at all and once you get used to it you will have all the confidence in the world to tangle and land your fish of a lifetime. The system consists of the main line attached to the Twisty leader by way of a Cat’s Paw which is a loop to loop attachment while the end of the twisty leader is tied to the Fluorocarbon leader with a figure eight knot or Double Overhand knot. (Editor’s Note: The Saltywater Tackle Twisty Leader can be seen in the How-To section of OpenBow.Org)
- Variety is always the key so I will have a couple of lures to cover all aspects and scenarios. For budget top water stick baits go with Shimano Head Dip, Tackle House Floating Britt and Carpenter Gamma. For sinking I like the CB One Ozma, Drifter and Rookie, Tackle House Britt Sinking, Siren Deep Seductress, Daiwa US Liner, Tackle House Shibuki (these are hot items in New Jersey). If the bite is on smaller bait, then the Tackle House Flitz, Tackle House Bezel, or CB One Ozma is what you’ll need. There are so many good lures out there ranging from $28 to $50 that are suitable and ideal for the size of bait we have in our waters.
- CB One jigs along with Hot’s drift tuna are some of the best. The CB One Quick Zero1 along with the F1 series are my go to jigs for New Jersey Bluefin tuna.
Capt. Steve Fernandez
- I am different than most when it comes to choosing spin-jigging/popping setups. My primary setup is a Stella 18000 paired with CTS BJ-704. It is what I call a hybrid setup. Longer than your standard jig rod, and shorter than your standard popping rod. At 7′ it allows me to fish both jig/pop comfortably, with the backbone to stop most any fish you will come tight with. As far as a more budget setup, I am certain there is no reel that is more bang for your buck than a Fin Nor Lethal 100. We have it paired with a Saltywater Tackle OBX400 jigging rod. I have personally landed bigeyes to 240lbs on this setup and it has withstood some unbelievable abuse. We hooked a bigeye 500′ down and wound up having to clip the reel off to a 50w and sent it in the water. An hour later we got the original rod back and proceeded to land a 240lb Bigeye. This reel is still in our lineup after being 300′ under the surface. For $120 I think it’s a reel everyone should have in their sheath when headed offshore. As far as string, I always like Daiwa Saltiga Metered boat braid; it’s very soft and supple, and very knot friendly. It is metered every 10m, so when jigging, you always know you are in the strike zone.
- Again, I may be different than most, however all my popping rods are CTS BJ-704’s with either a Stella 18k or 10k depending in the size of fish we are targeting.
- I like to keep my connections as simple as possible so I go with 2 options. Tying my leader/mainline direct to a 230 Spro swivel is one option. However, the more common is a surgeon’s loop–yucatan knot. This is the same connection I use when tying topshots instead of splicing (re-topping at sea). It is unbelievably strong, as the mono wraps around the braid and not the inverse, as under high pressure braid can “burn” through the monofilament. This is the knot I use for all spectra/braid to mono connections.
- When fishing topwater there is much less of a need for stealth. I like to keep my leaders short, whether I am using a swivel connection or a knot. This ensures that my connection will be outside of the top guide while casting, as you know the cast accuracy and distance play a huge role in enticing a bite when chasing topwater tuna.
- In no particular order, HERU Skipjack, Yozuri Sashimi Bull, and Shimano Orca. You can also throw in the Shimano Waxwing, as it can be worked similar to a topwater plug.
- As far as jigs, again depends what I am targeting. The old faithful hammered diamond jig is always in my bag. Longfin more than most seem to prefer chrome jigs, although I have caught all tuna species on an 8oz hammered jig. The Sting-O PBJ jig is also a favorite in the canyon. I tend to stay away from flutter jigs and slow falling jigs when in deeper water. It allows you to cover much more of the water column in a shorter period of time. If we locate a body of fish at a certain depth, I will switch to a slower falling jig to maximize time in the strike zone, I really like the new JimyJigs Rudos for this purpose.
- Once you hook one bluefin on the jig your life will be changed forever. If you’re entering the tuna game and do not see yourself spending $1200 on a single reel there is a perfect market of reels still available for you. Normally, when jigging you encounter bigger tuna because most of the time that is where the much larger fish cruise and take the “easy pickins” of food just mowing the bottom eating Cod, Haddock, Herring, Mackerel, and whatever else they can get a hold of. With bigger fish comes heavier gear as you would imagine. If I was joining the game, I would tend to spend less money on my reel and focus on the rod because you can carry that rod over if you do decide to buy the more expensive reel. I would start off with a Saragosa 20000 made by Shimano. This reel has the drag and components to land a big fish and you will also be able to enjoy smaller ones. You just need to maintain the reel after every trip and monitor the reels performance. However, once you catch your first tuna I’m sorry to say this but you’re going to be addicted. So to scratch the itch, next I suggest the Shimano Stella 20000. I prefer the 20000 for jigging simply because it is a bigger reel and holds more line than the 18000. The rod I would match either of these reels with is a Crafty One Customs AMF 550. This rod has plenty of lifting power and it is around 5-6’ which is perfect for working a jig with all day. The 20000 holds plenty of line so I like to use 100lb Bullbuster Hollow Core. This not only ensures the line will withstand the fight but as you move on you will learn ways of splicing long leaders on that some prefer for jigging.
- When chasing bluefin tuna on topwater, you need to be very responsive and you must be able to reach the fish. Bluefin tuna are some of the fastest moving fish in the ocean and when the fish are on top feeding they display their speed quite often. Once a captain decides that is how he is going to target the tuna you will be casting all day so this is something you must remember when buying a set up. I personally love the Crafty One Customs gold edition popping rod. This rod is the perfect length to throw heavy lures all day long but it is also very light and manageable to work with throughout the day. The rod can also handle every sized fish that you are put up against and it can withstand the daily abuse. The reel of choice if I was new to the game would be a Shimano Saragosa 18000. I went with the 18k because it is lighter and smaller than the 20000. This makes it easier to cast all day long and it makes it more manageable to hold throughout the day. When fish are on top the boat is usually already on. So if you do hook a big fish it is not hard to react and keep line on the reel. On my top water set up I prefer 80lb Bullbuster hollow-core. With the hollow-core you might not hold as much line but the strength of your line is much better because it is “double” plus it also does not need to be taken off after one fish.
- Jig fishing puts a lot of strain on your knots because it is a constant “jerk” on the lure which can test the longevity of your knot prior to even hooking up. I have one knot I trust my life with when connecting braid to leader material and that is the FG knot. This knot can be tied at high speeds and on the go. Once you dial the knot in you will never tie a different knot again. The knot is also low profile so it will cut through the water nicely so that the jig is not affected by unnecessary weight. When jigging I tend to tie a 10-15’ leader simply because it does not affect the cast or jig. This is another reason I prefer the FG because in the end game it goes through the guides very smooth ensuring no extra strain on the fish in crucial moments.
- Casting a knot in and out of the guides all day can ruin a lot of things. First, it can ruin your guides if you have a big knot coming in and out of the guides all day long. Second, it can cut or fray your mainline resulting in the loss of a fish. The last and the worse one is it could ruin your cast by the knot becoming stuck in the guides. The knot I prefer to use for this is also the FG knot. If I am tying it at home, I will sometimes add some glue to ensure the knot flies through the guides without any hesitation. The reason I use this knot is because it is a short and low profile knot which does not reduce your casting distance at all. It took me many years to dial in a system where my knot was strong, yet compact and this is the way I have discovered and more importantly trust the FG.
- Every angler stresses about what they are throwing in front of the fish. Is it the correct size or color, etc? When Bluefin tuna feed, they do not care if your lure is pink, yellow, or blue – they’re going to eat it if it is presented correctly. This being said, every captain has his selection of go to lures. My top three casting lures have been proven over years of catching. My number one go to lure is a 10” RonZ (silver,white, or green). My next two lures are both custom made lures that have proven their worth in my tackle bag trip after trip. The Strategic Angler Espada floating is my go to when the fish are feeding on halfbeaks. This lure is the perfect profile and swims just like the tunas favorite topwater baitfish. The other lure is also made by Merv at Strategic Angler and it is the Nautilus. This lure is perfect when the tuna are favoring smaller baits and are really dialed into the smaller profiled lures. I will put my money on all three of these in different scenarios during different times of the year, simply because I have seen them work first hand. Once you see a lure work, it’s natural to gain confidence in it and continue to throw it.
- When jig fishing for tuna I am usually more concerned with the weight of the jig rather than the color. When the tuna are spread out, I usually drop the 10” RonZ down to my desired depth and just forget about it until it goes off. When the fish are in shallow water (100-200’) all over the water column, I like the Point Jude 7oz jig. This is a lighter jig so you can work it all day long but it has enough weight to hold a depth for a period of time. Point Jude also makes a 9oz jig which is the last jig I want to fish but when the fish are deep there is no choice. It is a heavy jig but it can fish waters up to 450’ deep with ease. I have caught many fish on all three of the jigs but my best overall performer is the the 10” RonZ.
Editor’s Note: The purpose of “Ask a Pro” is not to confuse but to provide legitimate opinions from a variety of professionals that test their equipment and techniques on a regular basis. While there may be quite a lot of information to filter through – remember – this is not a “forum” with “armchair fishermen” commenting on the latest and greatest gear. We want you to TRUST our information!!! As a result, our mission is to be professional angler driven and provide you with the best information possible. We are confident that any of the gear or techniques discussed in our “Ask a Pro” series will increase success the next time you fish. Fish the Front!!!