Odds are, as an aspiring tuna fisherman, you’ve undoubtedly struggled with what to buy for your personal tuna tackle. Obviously, there are a myriad of choices available both in tackle shops and online, but what makes one rod different from the others for albacore?
There are several styles of rods necessary for success in our Albacore fishery; live bait, swim bait, surface iron, jigging and trolling. By far, live bait will account for the majority of tuna you will catch in Washington. This write-up will focus on live bait sticks and what makes one better than another.
First consideration for every tuna fisherman is budget. What we’ll focus on is three classes of expenditure, under $100, between $100 & $200 and over $200. Which class you buy from will often depend on how many bait rods you need. Guys who own and operate their own tuna boats will often need anywhere from four to more than ten bait rods. Most guys who crew up with other captains will need only two to four max. Reasons for rod count varies greatly from person to person, tactics, convenience and tournament environments will all affect rod count.
Let’s look at what makes a live bait stick different from say, a swim bait stick. Often, anglers will use one rod for both styles of presentation, and this can work, but I prefer to use different rods to fishing live versus plastics. The most important attribute in a live bait rod is in the tip action and the taper in the blank. A good live bait rod tip will be “whippy” when held in one hand and wiggled, like when you used to do the rubber pencil in grade school. You’ll want that softer tip because generally no weight is used in your presentation, and a hooked anchovy weighs as much as half a clothespin. Fly-lining is a term thrown around a lot, and will be a tactic important to you when fish are boat shy. Fly lining basically means you’re using a method similar to fly fisherman in delivering a nearly unweighted presentation to the fish. In order to properly load the blank and cast your bait, you’ll need the upper 3rd of the blank to be very light action. Having a “fast” taper will give you that whippy tip and a butt section that will have the power available to move the fish once hooked up under load.
Generally, standard issue live bait rigging results in using 25lb fluorocarbon leaders. This will dictate the drag pressure you’ll be fishing, ultimately affecting rod choice. Again standard issue live bait stick is an old-school all glass 270. What is a 270 you say? The 270, 870, 670 numbering system was initiated with the old Sabre rods in So-Cal many years ago. Different companies rate their rods differently, and sadly, there is no real standard adhered to. One company’s rod will differ from another in a number of ways. A 270 is a 7ft rod, and is almost always rated at 12-25lb. A good 270 should be able to lift 10lbs of dead weight in a static test while rigged with 25lb line. This reflects the load the rod will see when a fish tries to sound, or run to the depths while hooked. We’ll discuss drag ratings more later on.
Since bait in Washington runs small more often than not, the standard issue bait hook will be a #4 Owner Ringed Flyliner. These are great hooks, and are rather strong relative to their size. They will limit you to around 10-12lbs of drag to keep from bending them and eventually breaking resulting in lost fish. Again each component falling within the working limits of the rest of the package, a 270 is really all you need based on the “package” approach.
So, let’s talk rod selection. We’re going to do some name dropping here, and associate cost as well. For the average crewman, durability is king. And nobody does durability better than Shakespeare’s Ugly Stick “Tiger” rods. The two juggernauts in tuna tackle here in the US are Seeker and Calstar, also producing amazing durability and refinement in tuna tackle. The dividing line is cost. Your average Seeker/Calstar 270 class bait rods will run you up a $170 bill. The Ugly Tiger rods will set you back $60. Backbone relative to rating is a little skewed between the two groups here as well. Looking at the high end, both rods being 270’s, Calstar’s offerings will tend to be a little stiffer than Seekers rods. Just like Salmon/Steelhead tackle up here in Washington, G-Loomis rods will tend to be stiffer than a Lamiglas within the same class of rod. Where the Ugly stick falls into all of this is precisely this, it has a decent tip for bait, has backbone to haul fish to the boat, but while feeling similar to a 270 class tuna rod, it is overrated at 15-40. The Ugly Tiger rods rated 20-50lb are a good all-around rod in that they will serve as trolling rod, and a reasonable bait rod. They lack any kind of finesse a guy needs for flylining, but will put fish in the boat.
So, in keeping with the name dropping and getting back to the price brackets, here is a list of Albacore live bait rods that will serve well with 25lb line while keeping within the 10-12lb drag settings.
Fin-Nor Offshore series
Shakespeare Ugly Tiger rods
Penn Power Stick rods
Seeker Classic series live bait rods
Calstar West Coast series live bait rods
Lamiglas Tri-Flex Saltwater series
Diawa Saltiga G Conventional rods
Shimano Teramar Inshore & West Coast series
Shimano Tallus Bluewater series
Fin-Nor Power-Lite series
Seeker Black Steel series live bait rods
Calstar Gra-fighter series live bait rods
G-Loomis Pro Blue series
Again, these opinions are Mike’s and do not represent those of Kerry Allen or gigharborfishing.com.
But, when I go rod shopping I’m take Mike with me.