Tuna Fishing on a Budget: Getting Started with Tuna Popping

Let’s talk tuna fishing on a budget. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that you need the best gear to catch more and bigger fish. As fisherman, each time we purchase a new rod, reel, or lure, it gives us the feeling that we’re better fisherman because of it. Simply put, buying new gear renews our confidence in ourselves and it’s part of what makes this sport so exciting.

Ask around, and many fellow fisherman will tell you that “tuna fishing” and “budget” don’t belong in the same sentence. This is because it can be incredibly expensive to properly outfit a sport fishing boat with all of the necessary rods, reels, lures, gaffs, and other type of gear that is required for a safe and successful day of tuna trolling. A lot of it has to do with how incredibly tough these fish can be on our gear, but at the same time you don’t need to get caught up in buying the best of the best. In fact, getting started with tuna fishing can be relatively inexpensive and we’ll show you some quality equipment that can get you on the water without breaking the bank.

What is Tuna Popping?

When most people think of tuna fishing, they think of trolling a whole spread of lures behind a big sportfish boat. While this method is extremely effective, a new method of tuna fishing has exploded onto the scene in recent years and it’s called tuna popping. Tuna popping involves an offshore spinning outfit spooled with braid and paired with a 7-foot or longer spinning rod. At the end of the braid is a fluorocarbon leader that we then tie onto our lure of choice, typically a stick bait style lure, a popper, or a soft plastic lure like a RonZ.

This method of fishing is not much different from plugging or popping for inshore fish, with the main difference being the size of the gear needed to tame these feisty fish. The best part of this fishery is that it is perfect for small boat fisherman with offshore capable center consoles.

In order to better understand what it will take to battle with one of these fine fish, we’ll show you some of the gear that we recommend below.

Tuna Fishing on a Budget: Popping Gear

You don’t need to invest in a whole spread of rods and reels to go tuna popping. A single popping outfit is all that you need to get started in this game. With budget in mind, but also considering the durability of the items you intend to purchase, the following are a few recommendations for some gear that will get you started.

Tuna Popping Rods on a Budget

Putting your lure in front of a surface feeding tuna usually requires a long, well-placed cast. For this reason, rods in the 7-foot to 8-foot range are ideal. The rod should offer a soft tip for casting lures as small as 2-ounces and a powerful mid-section in order to put the heat on a submarining fish.

Here are a few rods that we recommend:

OTI OceanXtreme Popping Rod

Tuna Fishing on a budget - OTI OceanXtreme Tuna Popping Rod
OTI OceanXtreme Tuna Popping Rod

The OTI OceanXtreme rods are proven popping rods that have defeated monster fish, far beyond what they were designed to do. These rods feature Fuji K Alconite Guides, a composite blank, a 2-piece design, and a padded rod sock to keep your rod in tip-top shape. With four sizes to choose from, you’re covered from school tuna all the way to Giant Bluefin Tuna.

These rods retail for $239.99 – $269.99

Jigging World Ghost Hunter Popping Rod

Tuna Fishing on a budget - Jigging World Ghost Hunter Popping Rod
Jigging World Ghost Hunter Popping Rod

The Ghost Hunter popping rods are an exclusive from Jigging World. These light-weight high tensile rods feature quality Fuji Alconite guides, are super strong, and feature a parabolic action that will help to put maximum pressure on those big tuna.

Available in 4 sizes from 100 gram to 300 gram and retailing for $279.00-$329.00

Tsunami Airwave Elite Bluewater Popping Rod

Tuna Fishing on a budget - Tsunami Airwave Elite Blue Water Tuna Popping Rod
Tsunami Airwave Elite Blue Water Tuna Popping Rod

Coming in at 8’6″, the Tsunami Airwave Elite is the longest rod that we recommend for Tuna popping. These rods feature the same tough Fuji K alconite guides and the blank is made using Tsunami’s own high pressure production techniques.

This rod comes in two weights, Heavy (40-80lb) and Extra Heavy (50-100lb) and retail for $199.95-209.95

Okuma Cruz Popping Rod

Tuna Fishing on a budget - Okuma Cruz Tuna Popping Rod
Okuma Cruz Tuna Popping Rod

For the truly budget-minded angler, the Okuma Cruz Popping rod is a great choice. These rods utilize a composite carbon fiber and glass blank, alps guides and reel seat, and an aluminum gimbal (H model only).

These rods come in three sizes – Medium 30-65lb, Medium-Heavy 50-100lb, and Heavy 65-150lb. Retail price is 179.99-189.99.

Tuna Popping Reels on a Budget

The key to choosing the proper reel for tuna popping is selecting a reel with durable gearing and a strong drag, capable of putting 20+ pounds of smooth drag pressure on a fish. The following reels are excellent choices, capable of putting the brakes on most tuna that swim.

Shimano Saragosa SW 10000/20000

Tuna Fishing on a budget - Shimano Saragosa Tuna Popping Reel
Shimano Saragosa Tuna Popping Reel

Short of spending a small fortune on a Shimano Stella, this “poor man’s Stella” will get the job done in style. This impressive blue water reel is capable of putting out up to 44 pounds of drag (depending on model), and sports the latest in gearing and construction from Shimano.

We recommend two models depending on the size of the tuna you intend to target. For tuna up to 150lbs, check out the Shimano Saragosa 10000, capable of putting out 33lbs of drag and holding approximately 300 yards of 60-pound hollow core braid. For the larger school tuna and giant tuna fishing, look into upgrading to the Shimano Saragosa 20000. This reel can put out 44lbs of drag and has the extra line capacity you’ll need for these larger fish.

These retail in the $300-$400 range, but you can often find them for under $300 via Amazon or eBay.

Quantum Cabo 100/120 PTSE

Tuna Fishing on a budget - Quantum Cabo Tuna Popping Reel
Quantum Cabo Tuna Popping Reel

Built on a stainless steel forged and machined drive gear with a triple supported shaft, it’s no wonder this reel can withstand drag pressures over 60 pounds. Although fishing that kind of drag pressure is impracticle, it’s nice to know there is an insane amount of power in this reel.

The two sizes we recommend are the Quantum Cabo 100 PTSE and the Quantum Cabo 120 PTSE. These reels retail for $299.99 and $319.99, but can be found for well under $300 on sites like eBay or Amazon.

Fin Nor Lethal 100

Tuna Fishing on a budget - Fin Nor Lethal 100 Tuna Popping Reel
Fin Nor Lethal 100 Tuna Popping Reel

If you’re looking to spend as little as possible but still need a reel that’s up to the task, look no further than the Fin Nor Lethal 100. This workhorse of a reel is capable of putting out 45 pounds of drag and is constructed of all aluminum. This is a big reel and is considerably heavier than some of the other reels on the list, but it is built to last.

This reel retails for $129.99 but you can typically find it for less on eBay or Amazon.

Wrapping Up

With budget in mind, it’s still possible to get into tuna fishing without spending thousands and thousands of dollars. Grab a rod, reel, and a few of the hundreds of available stick baits and poppers and you’ll be ready to tangle with some big tuna. This is tuna fishing on a budget.

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