I’ve had several questions about the choices I make for fishing gear. How did I find the perfect fishing rod for each of my needs? One of my rigs that I carry on every trip is my topwater casting rod. Primarily I use this for casting lures at the "bust-ups" - when predatory fish like Tuna, Mackerel, Tailor, and others push schools of bait to the surface, trapping them in a "bait-ball".
Over time I've had a few different rigs, but I have settled on a good combo that works very well in our local waters. Below I’ll discuss the reasons my final choices have been right for me. They may not suit you, but might arm you with the knowledge of what i required so you can make your own informed choices.
Brands are not so important to the final choice you make, but I'll mention what I use. The important things are the specs of the gear for specific methods of fishing.
Let’s get onto the first combo I'd like to discuss, my lightweight topwater casting rod.
For many PWC fishos in Australia and in other regions around the world with tropical and sub tropical waters, one of the easiest ways to cut your teeth with the fishing PWC and catch some good-sized fish species is using a rod to cast lures when fish are "busting up". Many fish species have worked out that it is easier to herd baitfish up into a "bait-ball" (also called a "meatball") by pushing it to the surface. It's not unlike the working dog herding sheep into a pen. The baitfish have nowhere else to go once they reach the surface, so it gives the predators the ability to feed on a great number of fish with far less effort.
Casting a lure into the “bust-ups” as the fish are attacking the bait is often the perfect time to get a trophy-sized fish grab on to your line!
So what do you need for this, and what choices are important? I’ve used a few different combos over the years and think I have found the best one that suits the many species and size of fish I get most often on our local waters. But I think this combo will work in most locations for similarly sized fish- those up to around the 10KG mark.
1. Casting distance is very important.
Sometimes the fish are shy and may dive down deep as you approach. To make it easier on yourself, choose a rod that allows you to cast a lure from a very long distance away from the bait-ball. You'll find that a rod that is at least 7’6" is best.
2. Choose a rod that has larger guides
It is quite easy to lose a lure as you try a long cast in rods that have fine guides. You put a lot of force into flinging that lure a great distance, only to hear a "snap" as the line gets caught somewhere. Your lure keeps going unattached to the line and is lost! It can mean several minutes lost to re-rigging, not to mention get costly if you're using an expensive topwater lure.
Braid lines are thinner and will cast further. In addition, always try to cast with the braid to leader joins beyond the rod tip to further minimise any chance the line can become caught on the cast.
My chosen rod is the well-priced Shimano Jewel 802 spin rod. As I said, brands aren’t important but the specs are. For me, a length of 2.44 m or 8’ is great for the required long casts. The guides are large so also minimise the "snap offs" !
This one is rated for PE3-5 line. Roughly speaking that means you might use a line rated at 25-50lb (20-25Kg). I'm using a 45lb line. I now always buy the better braids as they generally are smoother, thinner, and have a superior breaking strain to others with the same rating.
With good technique, I can average 60-80m casts using a 55g lure. This rod can comfortably handle a 10-15KG fish. The guides are good mid-level quality and are holding up well for me despite being on the water most weekends. The rod is lightweight, inexpensive, and easy to handle.
3. Choose a reel with the highest gear ratio
A high ratio reel gives you a very fast retrieve of the lure to simulate a fleeing baitfish. Look for a reel in the ratio of 5.6:1 or better.
For pelagic fish like mackerel, you’ll also find that if you wind too slow, you may get your lure bitten off! Mackerel have very sharp teeth that interlock like scissors, so expect to lose lures if you wind too slow- or indeed too late- after casting! You need to wind as fast as possible to have any chance of landing these toothy critters, and the higher gear ratio will help you immensely.
I currently use a Shimano Twin Power 5000, which is spooled with a very thin Shimano Ocea 8 core 45lb braid. This braid seems to be about as thin as a regular 30lb braid, and is very smooth so will go through the guides easily. The reel has a ratio of 5.7:1 which means for every rotation of the handle the spool turns 5.7 times, which equates in this case to getting 112cm of line back per turn! That’s perfect for the need, plus the reel's drag rating and resistance to saltwater deterioration are legendary. The only downside is the reel's handle is slightly shorter than some -which I assume is required or the better retrieve ratios- and it took me a few sessions to master faster winding after coming from my previous reel.
I use to have a Sargossa 6500 and it has a slightly longer handle and may be more comfortable for beginners to use- not to mention more cost effective- yet still a quality reel and can do the job.
I mentioned earlier that casting lures at the fish "busting up" is a great way to cut your teeth and get your first trophy-sized specimens. The technique is to first find where the fish are herding the bait to the surface.
Look for congregations of sea birds flying around together and diving into the water. They follow the fish and the bait, and when the predatory fish are pushing the bait to the surface, they will be diving into the water and trying to grab the bait too!
The predatory fish generally herd the bait into the current, and most of the time- but not all of the time- this is into the prevailing breeze. You can see the direction the birds are flying and they will be hovering into the wind. The more birds that are in one spot, the more bait and predators!
The best time to cast is right when the predatory fish start attacking the bait. You can easily tell when by the water being chopped up, and you will see the bigger fish on the surface momentarily as they plough through the bait school. It is nature's food chain at it's best!
The technique is to get upwind/upcurrent of the action. This means you want to be in the place where the predators will be pushing the bait to- not from. Do not come up from behind. From the side is sometimes OK as long as the bait school is not moving too quickly as you will likely miss out as the school moves quickly past you. .
From an "upwind" position, move in slowly to your casting distance. It can pay to cut your engine once you get close enough to cast, as that may give you more than one cast attempt at the bait-ball before the fish "sound"- meaning when they stop the attack and go down deep again. The sound of the engine will likely cause the fish to sound -unless the feeding is very chaotic! I have had bait-balls try to hide under the ski with predators still smashing the bait despite me being there!
PWCs will tend to turn sideways to the wind and swell when you turn off the engine, so get some practice casting to the side when both standing (for greater distances) or sitting down if the bait ball is close.
Cast you lure over the bait ball or right into the middle. If you land the lure right into the bait ball you may find that if they are mackerel you will be snipped-off before you have a chance to wind, so I would recommend casting to the side or past the bust up first. That allows you a few winds to get the line slack in before starting the fast retrieve. Otherwise if you land right in the middle of the bust up, start your fast retrieve very quickly!
Keep your rod tip down and wind like crazy! You generally can’t outrun a hungry fish. Once you feel the hook up, lift the rod and keep the pressure on.
You may also get some foul hookups- where the fish aren’t hooked in the mouth but somewhere else on their body. The fish can sometimes feel twice the size they actually are if they are not hooked in the mouth. This is quite common for fish like Tuna as they attack bait in very large numbers and come right along the surface when doing so.
So, cast long, wind like crazy, and hang on!
Other Uses for This Rig
I also use this rod when I'm fishing for Mahi Mahi on the offshore FADs. It is especially good when fishing with live bait.
You need to cast the live bait somewhere near the FAD, and you’ll have far better success if you are sitting well away from it. The long rod means I don’t have to whip the rod at any great speed to get the bait to travel 20 or 30 metres. A light "flick" of the rod tip does the trick and gives the bait the best chance of staying on the hook and surviving the cast- at least until the Mahi come along!
I have been most successful catching Mahi using live Yakkas (Yelllowtail Scads). I use a 7/0 circle hook and push that through the membrane just in front of the Yakka's eyes. I don’t generally like to use a hook through the mouth as I find the mouth area very soft and deforms easily. The bait may not survive more than one cast if using the lips as the anchor point. Bridling the Yakkas using a rubber band is also a great way to keep the Yakka alive and active for a longer period. (see some of my live bait fishing videos for an explanation of"bridling".
It’s been a journey of mistakes that led my to the above gear, so I hope you can take something away from my own findings, and choose your perfect spin rod for casting lures or live bait!
Please feel free to comment!
Please watch the video that goes over 3 of my favourite fishing rigs -and why I have chosen them: