Article; Portland Tuna- What I've Learnt

Southern Bluefin Tuna, Kingies, Marlin and other game fish.
Wolly Bugger
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Joined: Sun Mar 06, 2011 5:25 pm

Re: Article; Portland Tuna- What I've Learnt

Post by Wolly Bugger » Sat Jun 03, 2017 6:14 am

ncr1 wrote:Gaining Leverage – Physics Works Against You!

A proper discussion about fishing rod action and design would be lacking without first exploring the physical principles of the lever and leverage. A famous quote by Archimedes was ‘give me a lever and a place to stand I and will move the earth’. For a less extreme perspective, consider the force a Collingwood supporter can impart at the head of a set of bolt-cutters. The same principle will also apply for the curved end of a crowbar (Yes Maggie supporters, I can hear your response: “Leva princsapoles. Wat da eff?? Ah, stuff it, time 2 steal sum sh**!”). And the longer the handle, the more force we can exert for the same amount of effort. Sounds great hey! Unfortunately, when you’re the angler holding onto your favourite game outfit, and you’ve finally connected to the fish of a lifetime, you have actually found yourself on the short end of the stick (literally). Based on the principles of physics, the fish actually holds the leverage advantage!

For those who already own a pre-rigged 24kg or 37kg outfit, I have an exercise for you. Firstly, track down a dead weight – let’s say 13kg if you own a 24kg outfit, and 20kg for a 37kg outfit. The dead weight can be anything you are able to easily connect a fishing line to, e.g. some dumbbells from your home gym; a bucket fitted with a strong handle that is filled with an appropriate volume of water, etc. Now, head out to your shed or backyard with your pre-rigged outfit, a gimbal belt, and your dead weight. Securely (and safely) connect you wind-on leader or double to the dead weight. Initially, instead of using the rod to lift the weight, simply pick up the weight with your bare hands and lift it up towards your chin 2-3 times, in a similar motion as if you were lifting with the rod. Reasonably easy, hey! Now, with your gimbal belt strapped on and both hands firmly on the foregrip, try to lift the same weight with the rod. Bloody difficult, isn’t it?!! This exercise should also give you an idea about what you’ll be up against if you want to utilize your outfit to its maximum potential (as discussed in the previous post).

These differences you felt are the principles of a ‘third-order lever’ in action, which in contrast to first- and second-order levers, does NOT offer a mechanical advantage. In the context of a fishing rod under load, the fulcrum is the rod butt (e.g. for gamefishing, where the butt slots into the gimbal belt), the effort point is where your hands are located on the foregrip or where the harness is clipped onto the reel lugs, and the load point is at the rod tip. For explanation purposes, let’s start by saying that the rod has no flex whatsoever, like a broomstick. When a fish is peeling line away from you, the load the fish is pulling against will equate to your pre-defined drag setting coming off the rod tip (excluding the effects of water drag on the line). This will be your output load. The amount of output load will determine how much force you the angler, must apply to the effort point to keep the rod in the same position, or if you apply more force, to allow the rod to be lifted upwards. Unfortunately, because a fishing rod is a third-order lever, this means that the effort point will generally be positioned closer to the fulcrum than it is to the load point, meaning there will be less overall load at the load point (what the fish is pulling) in comparison to the overall load at the effort point (what the angler is pulling). That’s why the dead weight you lifted in my previous exercise felt so much heavier when it was lifted with a rod in comparison to your bare hands.
third order lever.jpg
However, there are ways to greatly reduce the overall load at the effort point (i.e. how much force the angler has to pull against). This is done by moving the effort point closer to the load point. The most basic example of this would be to just move your hands further up the foregrip. Alternatively, if you’re going to use a harness, it can also help to move the position of the reel further up the rod (i.e. have a longer butt section) provided the setup remains comfortable and the reel is still within easy reach. The other option for reducing the overall load on the angler, is to move the load point closer to the effort point. Put simply, get a shorter rod. That’s why your trusty twelve-foot surf rod might not be the best choice for gamefishing.

The other advantage we have up our sleeves with fishing rods (in comparison to the broomstick) is that they deflect or flex. In a situation where a third-order lever is able to flex, it essentially means that the position of the load point changes (i.e. rod tip flexing down towards the water), while the fulcrum and effort point remain in the same positions. The greater the deflection, the shorter the overall ‘effective length’ of the rod will be (i.e. the straight-line distance between fulcrum and load point). You can see in the picture below that ‘blank D’ has a shorter ‘effective length’ than ‘blank A’. And having a shorter ‘effective length’ means that the load point has been brought closer to the effort point, meaning less load on you, the angler.


One of the more striking differences in Kilsong’s vs Winga’s videos (see previous post) was the difference in flex/deflection/action of the rod they were each using. Winga’s T-curve deflected to only the second or third roller down from the rod tip, whereas Kilsong’s rod was able to deflect right down to the reel seat at maximum load. So even though Kilsong’s rod had a greater overall length than Winga’s, the parabolic bend allowed the ‘effective length’ to be shortened significantly, thereby greatly minimizing the effort the angler had to exert.

So, if physics is telling us all this, then why aren’t all standup game rods as short, with longer butts, and heaps of flex? Well, there’s a variety of reasons why this isn’t the case, and I will go through them in my next post.

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Wolly Bugger
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Joined: Sun Mar 06, 2011 5:25 pm

Re: Article; Portland Tuna- What I've Learnt

Post by Wolly Bugger » Fri Jun 30, 2017 5:53 am

ncr1 wrote:Choosing Your Lever

Note: I am a hobbyist rod builder who has sold game rods to various customers in the past. However, to try and alleviate any perceived bias, I think it is important for me to state from the outset that there is absolutely no ulterior motive to the following advice I’m about to give on rod selection. I have absolutely no alignment to any company and I am not using this forum in anyway to promote or sell my own rods. In fact, my workshop is currently packed away and slowly gathering dust while I’m recovering from my transplant. I feel the need to write this because in a situation where someone is about to spend potentially thousands of dollars on game rods, it is very important for them to be incredibly wary and skeptical of marketing spin, conflicts of interests and underhanded tactics. Hopefully, this disclaimer can ease your mind with regards to the following advice.

It is undoubtedly an exciting time when you finally wander into a tackle shop, or scrawl through an online store, with the intention of buying a game rod. But it can also be an incredibly intimidating proposition. Just to begin with, the range of prices for game rods on the market today can be truly enormous. Take for example the variety of 37kg game rods that are available at the time of writing. Today I could order a fully rollered 37kg game rod off Ebay for a measly $89! Then there are the more established (reputable?) brands like Shimano, Penn, etc, who are offering both low-, mid-, and premium-range 37kg game rods ranging in prices from less than $200 to nearly $900. Other buyers might consider a custom build either from a local builder (probably $700-$1000+ for a 37kg build), or even unleash their bank account on the ‘best-of-the-best’ from an established rod builder like Ian Miller or Stuart McKenzie ($1300+ for a 37kg rod). If I’m setting up my boat for the first time and I’m looking to setup an initial arsenal of 4 x 37kg outfits, I have a choice of spending only a few hundred dollars for a rack of ‘Ebay specials’, right up to several thousands of dollars for a row of glistening black and gold customs - and that’s just for four rods!! The budget still needs to make room for reels, line, lures, terminal tackle, harnesses, etc, etc,! It’s hardly surprising that many choose to begin on the lower end of the budget scale and then begin to upgrade their gear as more funds become available.

But as I have mentioned before in this thread, by making the decision to fish with ‘budget gear’ you are effectively increasing the overall risk that you will bust-off on that fish of a lifetime when the opportunity finally presents itself. Portland offers a particularly interesting situation in this regard in comparison to other gamefisheries, such as the east coast marlin fishery, or the Tasmanian/Lakes Entrance broadbill fishery where the average size of the fish will generally be much bigger. Using a budget outfit to come up against an 80kg Bermagui striped marlin will very quickly discover the shortcomings of cheap-n-nasty gear, whereas fishing with an $89 Ebay special out of Portland will probably be quite capable of handling more than 99% of the fish that you are likely to hook onto (i.e. school-sized tuna). For some budget-conscious anglers, this success rate may be enough to justify their investment in the cheap gear (e.g. “Nah mate, I’ve been using these rods for years and they’ve caught heaps of tuna and they’ve never let me down!”). But for those of us who are serious about landing a barrel tuna, that 99% success rate means absolutely nothing if the rod (or any other part of your outfit) cannot perform at the time when it’s most needed – that moment when that big barrel comes knocking.

Consider a hypothetical whereby over the next ten seasons of gamefishing, you will be given only one single opportunity to hookup to a barrel tuna. Consider the huge amount of hours you would have spent on the water (and on the road) during that decade to have finally tempted that big barrel into slamming your lure. Try and estimate how much money has already been spent on fuel (boat and car), accommodation, terminal tackle (line, lures, etc), maintenance (boat and car), food, etc, etc, over that time to finally be given this single opportunity to boat a trophy fish. Are you really willing to compromise this rare opportunity for the sake of a couple of thousand dollars more of investment? You only live once, right?

It may seem that I’m implying that the more money you spend, the better gear you shall receive, and the risk of losing the fish of a lifetime will thereby be kept at a minimum. But of course, as with most things, this isn’t necessarily true - the most expensive rod available will not always be the best one. So then, how does one select the best rod for the job? How does one navigate themselves through all the different specifications, componentry and marketing spin to locate the rod that is genuinely the best choice for the task at hand?

My advice would be to firstly, decide the maximum drag that you hope to use if you were to find yourself hooked up to a barrel. As I mentioned in my previous thread, I strongly encourage you to fish your gear at higher ‘sunset’ drag settings when fighting tuna. Let’s say for example that you have a reel spooled with 37kg line and you wanted to be able to fish with 18kg of drag (~50% of the line class) coming off the rod tip. It will then be your mission to find a rod and harness configuration that will allow you to (semi-) comfortably and confidently handle 18kg of drag for an extended period of time. However, if you are unable to lean back or standup in an upright posture when pulling against this drag setting, then you have to either rearrange your harness system and/or select a more efficient rod design. Otherwise, lower your expectations and choose a lower drag setting for yourself (or hit the gym). There is little point in deciding to fish the 37kg line class if you cannot use the line class to its maximum potential. Afterall, a 10 year-old kid could easily handle a 37kg outfit if the drag is set low enough! You might as well use a 10kg line class.

Using 18kg of drag is serious pulling power and is at the higher end of what is possible for standup gamefishing. Before heading out to the local tackle store, I would first recommend having a go at the weightlifting exercise that I suggested in my previous post. If you already own a gamefishing outfit, grab it out of the shed and securely tie on 18kg of deadweight to the double or windon. Now, see if you can lift that weight directly off the floor with the rod. My guess would be that many of you will struggle to lift it clear off the floor, most likely because you think that the rod might break if you go any further. Though 18kg doesn’t seem that heavy, the actual load that is transferred to you and your gear is huge (third order lever physics in action)! Imagine that same amount of pressure is being applied to you and your gear as a huge bluefin makes a 500 metre dive straight towards the ocean floor - you certainly don’t want to find yourself bent over the gunnel (i.e. Winga style) in a situation like this. You need every aspect of your gear and setup to be absolutely top-notch before considering these kinds of heavy drags!

Of course, being able to apply 18kg of drag is certainly not the only way you are going to catch a barrel. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you will ‘only’ need to apply a consistent drag of 13kg-15kg to have most Portland-sized barrels at the boat within an hour, provided that you have the correct gear for the task and a solid fighting technique. In regards to fighting techniques and harness setups, this video by Dennis Braid offers a nice summary:

Anyway, once you’ve chosen the drag weight you want to fish with and you’ve got your harness setup working well, then you can consider the various aspects of rod design and what they are going to offer you. I’ve listed and prioritised here what I consider to be the most important considerations when comparing various rod designs:

Primary Considerations
1. Leverage Efficiency
2. Line Retrieval Efficiency
3. Reliability

Secondary Considerations
4. Bait/Lure Presentation Capabilities
5. Roller versus Fixed Guides/Tops

Tertiary Considerations
6. Foregrip Design

Wolly Bugger
Posts: 4094
Joined: Sun Mar 06, 2011 5:25 pm

Re: Article; Portland Tuna- What I've Learnt

Post by Wolly Bugger » Fri Jun 30, 2017 5:54 am

ncr1 wrote:Primary Considerations

Here are three examples of different rod actions. The first one is a Shimano Tcurve 37kg game rod pulling against 18kg of drag, the second is one of my builds, a Calstar 6455XXH, deadlifting 18kg of weight, and the third is a ‘new generation’ Black Hole game rod connected to a big tuna. As you can see, the bend of each rod from the rod tip ‘shuts off’ at different points further down the rod. The Tcurve stops bending at around the stripper guide, the Calstar stops at the foregrip, and the Black Hole keeps on bending right through to the reel seat.
Leverage Efficiency
Although I haven’t done any comparative measurements between these rods (nor has anyone), the physics of a third-order lever tells us that the more action and more flex the rod has, the more efficient they become as a lever. In other words, when pulling back against 18kg of drag, the angler will not have to work as hard (i.e. provide as much opposing force) with a softer action rod (e.g. Black Hole) versus a faster action rod (e.g. Tcurve). Taking a coarse example from the videos in my previous post, I’m going to guess that the 12kg of drag that Winga was connected to with his fast-action Tcurve could have meant that the load transferred to the effort point (i.e. the load Winga has to pull back against at the harness lugs or foregrip) may have been around 40kg+ (a rough guess). In contrast, because of the soft action Black Hole rod that Kilsong was using, he may have only needed to exert 30kg of pressure at the effort point (again, a rough guess), even though he was using a much heavier drag of 20kg+. Therefore, the action of the rod can have a significant influence on the overall leverage efficiency. So if you’re in the tackle shop testing rod designs and are having trouble leaning back comfortably on 18kg of drag, then perhaps choose a rod with a softer action.

There are also other aspects of rod design that can significantly increase leverage efficiency in addition to the action of the blank - having a shorter rod, having a longer butt, or having a bent-butt fitted. All modifications relate to the physics of a third-order lever with the aim of reducing the overall load at the effort point. Remember, the ultimate aim is to find the right combination of design aspects that allows you the angler, to lean back against as much drag as possible.

Line Retrieval Efficiency
But if leverage efficiency were the only important aspect of rod design, then we’d all be using very short and very soft game rods. But of course, there are more things to consider. One of the most common complaints you hear about someone using a soft action or ‘soggy’ rod, is that it can seem more difficult or cumbersome to get line back with every pump-and-wind. Think about a scenario where you are hooked up to a feisty marlin or a mentally-unstable mako that is zooming and jumping across the surface of the ocean and you’re at the other end winding like mad, trying to keep the line tight as possible to make sure that the hook stays connected. During an extended fight, there are also those valuable (and often short-lived) moments where the fish eases off a little bit and starts edging in your direction, towards the boat. Alternatively, a fish that has been hanging deep for a while suddenly begins to angle towards the surface and your captain responds by slamming the throttle in reverse to try and use the boat to intercept the surfacing fish. At each of these times, it can be important to ‘make hay why the sun shines’ and get the maximum amount of line back on the reel as possible as quick as possible. A soft Black-Hole style game rod, although fantastic for leverage efficiency, may not be so great in these faster-paced situations since every wind of the reel has to not only has to take up the slack in the line, but it also has to take up the slack in the rod (i.e. the rod’s flex). For situations where maintaining ‘contact’ with the fish is paramount, a more stiff, T-curve style action game rod would be preferred since the minimal flex in the rod allows you to more easily maintain the pressure on the line and make every pump-n-wind as efficient as possible. In addition to the relative stiffness of the game rod, the relative line retrieval efficiency can also be greatly improved by increasing the overall length of the rod. This is because a longer rod provides a larger sweeping arc, meaning that the rod tip moves faster and over a greater distance with every pump-n-wind, allowing more line to be recovered with every down sweep.

But here represents a major dichotomy in game rod selection – a softer, shorter game rod offers the most leverage efficiency, whereas a stiffer, longer game rod offers the greatest line retrieval efficiency. It is therefore up to you to decide what characteristics are the most important for the style of fishing that you will be doing – you will have to compromise somewhere. This is where I believe a major disconnect exists between the range of commercially available game rods on the market in Australia, and the demands of the Portland barrel fishery. It seems as though the vast majority of game rod designs in this country are intended for marlin fishing, where the primary intention is often to back down on a jumping fish as quick as possible, stick a tag in it, and let it go in as best condition as possible. And stiffer rods like the Shimano Tcurve are ideally suited to this style of fishing. But when it comes to fighting a big barrel bluefin that is slugging it out deep during most of the fight, a lack of overall leverage efficiency in these stiffer rods can really come back to bite the angler. I believe this is why many/most anglers out of Portland generally spend around 2-4 hours fighting a 100kg tuna, whereas in contrast, our friends in the United States are consistently bowling over 200-400kg tuna in less than an hour. We can learn a lot from our northern hemisphere neighbours – they’ve been tackling mega bluefin a lot longer than we have. Understanding a bit more about the advantages of rod design is an important part of the learning process.

You’ve finally connected to the fish of a lifetime. You saw the massive splash as it slammed the short rigger and now it is just peeled 500 metres of line in just a few seconds. By the time you’ve picked up the rod and had your harness fitted, the fish has calmed down a bit, but you feel the weight of the beast, a lot of weight. The adrenalin is pumping and your mind is racing – ‘I don’t want to lose this fish, I don’t want to lose this fish!’ Yet you fight against your natural inclination and instead you decide to slide the lever drag on the reel up into the sunset zone. There is now 18kg of drag coming off the rod tip! ‘I’ve only got this one chance and I’m going for broke. Every single part of this outfit needs to hold together!’

Having a quality game outfit that is unwaveringly reliable is more than just for practical reasons and minimizing the risk of catastrophic gear failure, but it’s also crucial from a psychological aspect. If you carry any doubts about the reliability of your gear into battle, then you are probably going to more timid in your approach and not ‘attack’ the fight in the way you should. If the line is in good condition, if your knots and connections are solid, if you’re reel is well serviced, and if you’re rod is suited to the task, then there is no reason why you should lose the fish because of gear failure. You should feel entirely free to ‘go for broke’ at the maximum drag settings. Don’t buy any rod if you can’t rely on it when you need it most.

Secondary Considerations

Bait/Lure Presentation Capabilities
Of course, all other considerations of rod design are pointless if you can’t hook the fish in the first place. Generally, softer rods are more problematic in this regard.

A soft, bendy rod like the Black Hole offers amazing leverage efficiency and as you saw in Kilsong’s video and this parabolic flex can be a very powerful weapon against big tuna. But these rods were originally designed to be worked by hand all day jigging lures. They were not designed to sit in a rod holder and troll lures behind a boat. You will notice at the start of the video that Kilsong is able to simply drop a bait in front of the tuna – that made things a bit easier. The walls of the rod blank in these jigging-style rods are quite thin in comparison to traditional fiberglass trolling blanks and it is generally not recommended to apply any great pressure to these rods while they are sitting in a rod holder. This is the same reason why I would never attach a bent butt to one of these rods (or any other graphite composite rod for that matter) – the connection point just wouldn’t be reliable enough if any decent amount of strain was applied. The ‘bounciness’ or ‘flickiness’ of the rod tip may also be a hassle when trolling lures or drifting with baits, since there is more chance that a loop of line will flick back and accidently get caught up on the rod guides. I believe it is for these reasons that high leverage jigging rods are not yet at a point of replacing old school fiberglass trolling rods.

Roller versus Fixed Guides/Tops
Everyone seems to acknowledge that roller guides are the best choice for minimizing wear on the line during a long fight. However, are the overall benefits of rollers worth the extra cost, the hassle of maintaining and servicing them, and a potential risk of line being caught up in between the roller and the frame?

For me, the answer is yes – as long as they are of premium quality. Avoid poor quality rollers like the plague! I always use Aftco rollers, although I would also be happy to use Alps or Winthrop on my rods if someone were to give me a set for free (the latter being incredibly expensive). However, my choice of brand is based entirely on established reputation and word of mouth rather than having any direct performance comparisons. I would be happy to use other brands if the justification were there.

In regards to the differences in friction and associated line wear between roller and fixed guides, I believe that in most circumstances, the risk of busting off from line wear because of the type of guide is minimal, even negligible. A set of quality Fuji silicon carbine guides that are spaced correctly on the rod are incredibly unlikely to wear the line down to breaking point. However, the reason I prefer rollers to fixed guides is that the former makes it a little easier to retrieve line while fighting a big fish. Think about when you’re pulling in the anchor – it’s always just a bit more efficient to pull that rope over a roller that is moving, rather than a fixed surface. The same thing applies with a fishing rod. And when you’re onto a big barrel with maximum drag, rollers can make an appreciable difference when retrieving line.

Tertiary Considerations
Foregrip Design

Many of the game rods that are marketed as being in the ‘premium’ range (commercial and custom built) are often fitted with a leather grip. This type of foregrip consists of a strip of leather spiraled around an EVA or cork under-base. There is no doubt that they look great, but in terms of functionality, they don’t make a lot of sense in my opinion. First of all, they don’t offer any more grip than the other traditional types of rubber foregrips (e.g. EVA or hypalon) and some people even claim that the leather can become slippery when wet. Secondly, leather grips are more difficult to construct than just putting on a standard rubber grip meaning that they generally add extra cost to the overall rod. And thirdly and perhaps most importantly, foregrips are pretty much useless when fighting a big fish.

When you’re connected to a barrel and pulling back against maximum drag using a correctly-fitted harness, there should be no need to touch the foregrip at all if you are using the correct fighting technique. The left hand should act as the level-wind, guiding the line evenly back onto the spool, whereas the right hand should be dedicated to winding the handle and adjusting the lever drag when required. Using your hands and arms to pull back on the rod is just wasted energy. Therefore, the only time a foregrip should be used is when taking the rod from the rod holder and holding it until the harness is attached. A hard-wearing rubber foregrip is all that’s required.


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