Choosing The Right Tuna Reels For You – Trolling, Spinning, Jigging & Popping

Choosing the Right Tuna Reels for You – Trolling, Spinning, Jigging & Popping

It’s not always necessary to invest in top-of-the-line fishing gear, but there are situations where you have to make sure you get something tough and built to last. Fishing for tuna is one case where you need to have the best equipment possible.

Tuna are strong, fast, and persistent. If you land a big one, be prepared to spend a long time reeling it in. Battling a tuna puts a lot of stress on your rod and reel, and you have to make sure your gear is up for the challenge.

It’s true that you get what you pay for. Some anglers might be tempted to get a sub-par tuna reel to save a bit of money, but, in the long run, this may end up costing you more money. Low-quality reels are more likely to break, which means they need to be replaced often. By the time you’ve bought two or three inexpensive reels, you probably spent more money than you would have if you just bought the right one in the first place.

Choosing the Right Tuna Reels

There are so many models to choose from and a lot of things to consider when picking a tuna reel. Here are some of the main things to consider:


The first thing to consider is what type of tuna you’re targeting.

Yellowfin tuna is probably the most popular species, in part because they taste so delicious. They vary widely in size, weighing anywhere from 10 to 200 pounds, though most fall in the 30 to 50-pound range.

Bluefin tuna are also really popular and significantly larger than yellowfin. Adult bluefins can weigh nearly 1,000 pounds, but around 500 pounds is more common. You need some pretty hefty gear if you’re going after adults, though you can use light reels for smaller juveniles.

The third common species is skipjack tuna. Skipjack is much smaller than yellow and bluefin, and are found just about everywhere in the ocean around the U.S., including all along the west coast and, on the east coast, from Massachusetts to Brazil. Adult skipjack tuna weigh around 40 pounds. They’re not as popular as the other varieties of tuna, so they’re plentiful and ready to put up a fight.

Choosing the Right Tuna Reels for You - Trolling, Spinning, Jigging & Popping 1


So the first thing you have to do is decide what type of tuna you’re fishing for. If you’re only interested in smaller tuna, say, under 30 pounds, you can probably get by with a decent saltwater reel. For bigger fish, though, you need to get something that’s the appropriate size.

You should also consider where you’re fishing to make sure you get a rod with the right line capacity. For example, if you’re heading out to deep water, you don’t want a rod that only holds 500 yards of line.


Drag is the part of the system that puts pressure on the spool to prevent too much line from being pulled out when you’re fighting a large fish. Without a proper amount of drag, the fish can easily overpower the reel.

If you’re after tuna that are under 100 pounds, a drag of about 20 pounds should suffice. If you’re targeting larger fish, say, over 200 pounds, you need a reel that has roughly 40 pounds of drag.

It’s important to remember that max drag is the most drag that a reel can produce, but that doesn’t mean the reel performs optimally at max drag. So, if you’re aiming for 20 pounds of drag for a smaller tuna, you should actually get a real with a max drag of 30 or 40 to make sure that the reel performs optimally at the drag you need.

Type of Reel

There are two types of reels used to fish for large species like tuna: conventional wheels and spinning reels.

Conventional reels are made for bottom fishing and pulling up big fish from deep water. They’re made to handle large fish that put up a fight by taking on most of the pressure to prevent damage to your other equipment. Conventional reels don’t have the backlash protection that baitcasting reels do, and you may need to practice a bit to get your casting technique down. That said if you prefer trolling or a deep dropping approach, a conventional reel might be just what you’re looking for.

Choosing the Right Tuna Reels for You - Trolling, Spinning, Jigging & Popping 2


If you’re looking at a heavy-duty conventional reel, you’ll notice that they come in one or two-speed configurations. One speed reels have a single gear and aren’t as versatile or easy to use as two-speed reels. With a two-speed reel, you can switch between a high gear when you want to reel something in quickly and a low gear when you’re more concerned with power. When you’re fighting a large tuna, having two speeds is a good idea because you can switch back and forth as needed, depending on how the fish is reacting. When you’re caught in a battle with a monster, it’s always good to have options.

Spinning reels for tuna are just like the spinning reels you’re probably already used to, but they’re much stronger and bigger. These reels have rigid bodies, heavy max drags, and large line capacities. Spinning reels are ideal for jigging and popping and are designed to last even after significant saltwater exposure.


Proper tuna gear is not cheap, but it’s worth investing in quality equipment upfront because it will end up saving you money in the long run. The right equipment is less likely to break and will last a lot longer than low-quality gear.

Good equipment will also outperform cheap gear so you’ll have more success landing a fish and a more enjoyable time out on the water.

Another thing to consider is that, as you improve, you might want to upgrade to a top of the line reel. If you start with a decent one, you can easily resell it down the line and put that money toward something new. Quality reels hold their value pretty well so you may end up getting close to what you paid for it.

You Get What You Pay For                                                                        

Choosing the right tuna reels will set you up for success when you head out on the water. While it may seem like a bit of an investment, in time, a high-quality reel ends up paying for itself.

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Roy Ericson

Roy Ericson started fishing when he was just a boy, like many of us did. He spent far too much time on the piers not being able to catch anything, until his uncle brought him deep sea fishing, out to the lakes of Michigan, where he lived, and to the various ponds in neighboring states. He’s been all over, caught over 400 different species of fish, and doesn’t believe you should embellish your stories. He’s just here to teach you about his absolute favorite thing in the world: fishing.