How to Buy a Popping and Jigging Reel for Tropical Waters

If you are fairly new to fishing and want to buy the right gear on your first try, here’s a list of things that you have to keep in mind when purchasing a new reel for your next popping and jigging expedition.

Spinning Reels for Beginners – Popping and Jigging

This article is best for those new to the big game jigging and popping world and are looking to invest in new fishing equipment that is fit for the job. We’ve met a lot of anglers who’ve invested in the wrong type of reel due to inexperience or hesitation to ask a much more experienced angler. With all the gear ratios, spool sizes, line capacity, drag capacity and other specifications, one would surely be confused especially if you are buying multiple reels at once.

Talking to educated and experienced tackle shop staff will help a lot, but not all has access to well stocked and well-staffed shops. The alternative is to purchase online, which can lead to better deals and cheaper prices but having to rely on poor written descriptions on websites and online reviews can only add to the confusion.

Size / Spool size

Anglers new to fishing may get confused by all the numbers associated with different reel models. The numbers beside the reel model is their size or spool size. When topwater fishing for GT and other pelagic speedsters offshore, a size 8000 reel will be the bare minimum to buy. Anything smaller won’t help in the confidence department as you’ll be seeing lots of line fly off your reel when hooked up to a substantial fish. Size 8000 reels have sufficient line capacity, allowing you to battle the fish you’ve hooked with confidence. Talk to the charter operator you’ve booked with and ask how big the fish you’ll be faced with. They’ll give you a good idea on what reels to buy and would most likely give you great advice. If you know that you’ll be tackling fish on the 30kg to 40kg range, you’ll want to purchase a 14000 size reel so you can load up heavier line to suit. 50kg – 70kg fish you say? Get on the 18000 sized reels for insurance and more powerful line.

For your jigging outfits, line capacity will be the determining factor for your purchase. A size 10000 reel would be your bare minimum as you can load it up with at least 300m of PE4 line. Again, make sure to check with your guide or charter operator to find out how deep you will be jigging and what size monsters you plan to tackle. Upgrade to a size 20000 reel for jigging and load up on PE8 line if you are planning to hook up to 80kg class dogtooth tuna or kingfish. You’ll want the line capacity for depth and power.

Have some downtime planned during your trip? Maybe some light tackle fishing sessions? Grab a size 5000 reel for your light casting purposes and a size 6000 reel for light jigging, and you’re all set to go.

There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a serenity of the mind. Washington Irving

Reel Weight

The weight of your reel will be price dependent. Like all performance equipment, the lighter the gear, the heavier the price. Weight comes into play during the middle of the trip when all the adrenaline runs out. You’ll feel your setup’s weight on every cast, jig and battle. When you are on your 400th cast of the trip and you’ve yet to hook up to something substantial, you’ll definitely feel the burden of your full metal standard reel.

High end reels have been researched and developed for decades, trying to get the balance of durability and weight as perfect as possible. There will be some mid-range options that don’t weigh as much as a cinder block but can perform well in big game fishing scenarios, but you can’t beat the high-end reels when both durability and weight are on your sights. If you’re built like Thor maybe you won’t mind much but if you’re like me, with pasta noodles for arms, you’ll want to get a good lightweight reel.


Spinning reels have ball bearings placed strategically in the body for smoothness, support and stability. Usually, the more bearings a reel contains, the smoother the reel will perform. But gone are the old days of “more bearings = better”. Your new reel doesn’t need 50 bearings to perform well. Check your reel specifications sheet and find out where the bearings are located. “Enough” bearings in the right places beats having more in useless places.

The line roller should have a high-quality corrosion resistant bearing for performance and durability. The line roller is fully exposed to the elements and will almost always be the first one to need replacement, thus the need for a good quality bearing.

The drive shaft or handle shaft should have a bearing for smoothness and support. A good bearing in the “transmission” area of the reel pays dividends when you crank and put a lot of torque on your reel.

Anti-reverse bearings are the norm in todays modern reels as the older but very reliable “ratchet and dog” style anti-reverse systems are getting harder to find and are not as smooth as their bearing counterparts. Even the biggest and most powerful reels will have anti-reverse bearings. Make sure your reel has a good quality bearing here as it is essential when battling your fish of a lifetime.

Lastly, corrosion resistant bearings are a must. You’ll be using your reels exclusively in the salt and you don’t want any rust or corrosion happening under the hood. Ensure you get what you pay for in the bearing department.

Gear Ratio

I’ve met anglers who use low gear reels for popping and high gear reels for jigging, and I’ve met a lot! The gear ratio refers to the number of times the bail rotates around the spool on every crank or single turn of the reel’s handle. A low gear ratio like 4:1 means that your bail rotates 4 times around the spool per handle rotation.

Reels will have the HG, PG or XG labeled on them, or H, L. Different brands have different labeling, but they’ll most likely have similar or identical definitions. H or HG means high gear. L or PG means Low or Power gear. XG or HH will mean Extra high or a very high gear ratio.

The lower gear ratioed reels like PG or L reels are designed for more torque. Like your trusty 4×4, you’d want a low gear ratio when cranking in something big and heavy like 400g hunks of lead. Jigging reels will be of the low gear species of reels to allow a more “easy” jigging cadence and less stress on the reel handle and other components.

High gear models are suited for topwater or plug casting as you are required to retrieve your plugs, stickbaits and poppers at a high speed to tempt the speedsters of the deep. An example of the need for a high gear is when you are “sweeping” a topwater lure. When you sweep your rod from the 12 o’clock position to the 9 o’clock position, you’ll be left with a belly of line on the water that you’d need to retrieve in time for the next sweep. A high gear ratio will allow you to crank only once to retrieve at least a rod’s length of slack line, while a low gear ratio will require you to crank multiple times to retrieve the same amount of line. Less cranking and more lure working are ideal for topwater fishing scenarios.


The drag applies pressure to a hooked fish, and lets out line during a fight. A smooth, high-quality drag will reduce the risk of bust-offs and lost fish. You get what you pay for in this department as some entry level reels cannot stand up to the use and abuse a proper saltwater reel takes on the daily basis.

What you should look for is a smooth and firm release of line, without any hesitations, slips or rubbing. Smooth and even pressure from the start of the run up to the end of the battle can only be attained from years of research and development from top reel brands.

There will be the top stacked drag systems and bottom stacked drag systems, which refers to where the drag washers and plates are located in relation the spool assembly. Higher end reels will have the drag systems bottom stacked but don’t take my word for it, as they differ per manufacturer.

More drag doesn’t usually mean it is better. Super strong drag but uneven pressure and consistency will be your downfall. but a powerful and smooth drag is of utmost importance. Don’t let the numbers fool you. Go for smoothness and consistency over power when looking at the specifications.

Handle Knobs

Handle knobs on reels will come in different shapes and sizes and it’s almost impossible to find the perfect handle knob that will fit your hand just the right way. You may not find the perfect match to your hand but getting a solid handle knob is a must for this type of fishing.

Stock handles usually come in the rubber variant that is egg-shaped. These knobs give you plenty of grip even when wet but do get some blemishes when used regularly. They also get sticky when under the sun for an extended period of time and can get irritating at times, but these won’t matter as long as they do their job. Other high end reels will have aluminum ball type handles that weight less than the rubber variants but take some getting used to. Aluminum knobs are usually smoother on the crank and offer a nice grip as they are bored out with holes but still get slippery when wet, requiring the user to use gloves to attain the best results.

So, here you go. Some important things to consider when purchasing your new spinning reel for your next big Vanuatu fishing trip. If you are keen to learn more about what lures, rods and gear to bring on your next trip with us, check out our previous article here.

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How to Buy a Popping and Jigging Reel for Tropical Waters

John is originally from the Philippines. John has extensive guiding experience throughout Asia and...Learn more

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