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Beginners guide to Game Fishing Tackle

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

If game fishing is something you have wanted to get into, and let’s face, who doesn’t get excited thinking about going toe to toe with a #Marlin or Barrel of a #Tuna, upgrading your arsonary of salt water tackle is going to be high on your list of priorities.

In this edition we take a look at some of the basic requirement’s to take on that fish of a life time, concentrating on Rods and Reels.

Your standard bottom bashing gear won’t cut it out here, whilst it may have served you well on your PB #snapper or #Jewfish, not many fish have the prolonged fighting ability of larger pelagics. Game Fish species are well reputed for testing even the best tackle and equipment. This is an area where shortcuts, or the “she’ll be right” attitude will cost you! General rule of thumb, if you can’t afford it today, wait until you can. This is something you want to get right the first time. Let me warn you right now, if your partner is already giving you the evil eye each time they walk past your collection of fishing gear, you better put a lock on the door! Things are about to escalate!

Unlike the finesse found in lighter estuary or lake tackle, game fishing tackle is big and bold. Whilst the basic principles all remain the same, everything is super-sized. It is nothing for a raging Marlin to take 400 meter’s of 24kg line on its first run. This is the reason reels are so big and rods so heavy, they need the line capacity to handle long deep runs and the grunt to lift the most stubborn fish. Game fishing reels include large efficient drag systems that can dissipate heat created by friction, whilst maintaining smooth consistent drag pressures and settings. A seized or grabby drag mid fight is not only very un-cool, but depending on the line class can also be very dangerous.

Buying quality gear from the outset can be the difference between beers or tears..

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to game fishing outfits. With the prevalence of braided lines these days, it’s not uncommon to see people out there chasing game fish on heavy spin outfits, however if you plan on fishing tournaments or competitions you need to stick with mono lines, and given mono lines have larger diameters than braid, reels require much larger capacity spools than you can find on the majority of spin reels. A common, traditional game fishing outfit will comprise of an overhead rod and reel combo. Reels are of the ‘lever drag’ variety. We will touch on why we use lever drag reels later in the article. When it comes to rod’s, these generally include rolled guides rather than fixed.

For a person new to game fishing, it can all seem a little overwhelming when you pick up a traditional game fishing outfit for the first time. They feel big and heavy. They are generally stiff and awkward to hold in your hand. Don’t let this phase you, at the end of the day they are just V8 versions of your common bottom bashing gear. With a little time and use, you will become very familiar and comfortable handling them. Let me assure you, the first time you hear the ratchet howl, you will be hooked on game fishing. There’s no other sounds like it!

To help narrow things down for you there are a few main players in the game fishing scene however for this article we will focus on the two more commonly used. These are #Penn and #Shimano. Each brand has stood the test of time and largely pioneered the technology we see in modern game fishing reels today. Each brand has a Mid Range and Premium Range in both Rods and Reels.


Unless you just cashed in all the share’s you had in Google, chances are you are like me and needing to set-up on a budget.. you might even need to start out with some second hand equipment. Don’t stress, the range from both companies in their mid-rage gear is nothing to be sneezed at and a great way to get into the action.

For a beginner setting out, the easiest way to identify the premium range from the economy, for both brands is by the colour and the material the reel bodies are manufactured from. The mid-range lever action reel’s from both companies are made from a hard wearing durable graphite and are ‘black’ in colour, both include CNC machines aluminium anodized spools.

Shimano’s range are known as the “TLD”, short for ‘Triton Lever Drag’ range. For Penn, they are made from the same type of materials and are the same colour and are known as “Squall” series. Both are terrific value for money, they all feature robust designs and mechanical components. They may have smaller spool capacities, and not us much “bling” than their high end cousins, however these mid-range reels are some of the more commonly used by people chasing game fish. If you can get past the apparent lack of “sex appeal” from shinny gold reel’s you won’t go wrong with either of the two prior mentioned mid range reels.


For Penn and Shimano, both premium brands reel bodies are manufactured from CNC machined billet aluminium and anodized Gold. Penn does offer some customisation of their reels, offering a range of different colours and engraving designs, however this does come at an additional cost. Penn’s range is known as the “International” series. These have been around for many years and accounted for more than their fair share of world records. Shimano’s range go under the brand of “#Tiagra”. I’ll be the first to admit the howl of a Tiagra drag when a fish hooks up is un-mistakable and the sound every game fisherman out there longs to hear.

The drive train in both reels is rock solid and made to handle the toughed fish and conditions. Either are well worth the extra money if the budget will stretch. Like the range of mid-level reels most reel sized include 2-speed gearing systems. This a terrific feature for when a fish dives deep and stubbornly holds straight up and down. Having the ability to go into low gear and do short pump and winds can make all the difference. The attraction of owning “goldies” usually see’s people eventually upgrade from the mid-range reels they started out with to

We mentioned earlier that game fishing reels are of the ‘lever drag’ variety. Lever drag reels are used so pre-set drag settings and quick adjustments can be used. Three commonly used terms for drag settings are “Free Spool”, “Strike” and “Sunset”. The general rule of thumb for drag settings is to set them to one third of the lines breaking strain. This is where most people set their drags with their lever in the “strike” position. Strike drag is where people leave their drag when trolling lures and in most cases the same place when they hook and fight a fish. Free Spool is used when setting out a lure or fishing a live bait. Sunset is where you apply full drag pressure, and is used less frequently as it puts large amounts of pressure on the terminal tackle and the angler, but can be necessary for stubborn fish that won’t give up!


It would be great to say your choice in rods was as simple as selecting a reel..that’s not the case.

There are so many different types of rods, different designs and configurations. Hopefully we can help narrow down a few to make it easier for you to decide.

Some of the basics when it comes to game fishing rods are their components. There are a couple of noticeable differences between your standard bottom bashing rod and a game rod. The most noticeable are the line guides. Unlike your bottom bashing rod that has fixed round guides, game rods most commonly have rollered guides. Rollered guides have the benefit of transferring much less friction on the line than a fixed guide. The rollers are mounted to the rod via a small bearing than enables the roller to spin as the line passes over it. The benefit of rollered guides was demonstrated to me once by well-known lure maker, he ran a length of mono filament line back and forward over a fixed guide a half dozen times in quick succession. The line failed quickly due to the heat created by the friction. When he carried out the same test over a rollered guide, regardless of how long it was moved back and forward over the guide the line never failed. Whilst the example he used is an extreme it opened my eyes to the possible issues using fixed guides over rollered. Now like most things, there are those that would disagree and plenty of people that use fixed guides on their game fishing rods, without problem. As with most things, there are downsides. Rollered guides need maintenance. You need to check them after each trip, make sure they all roll freely and none of them are sized. A poorly maintained set of roller guides will be far worse to your line than a set of fixed guides ever will be.

So if you go rollered rods, don’t forget to service them, do that and you will have years of trouble free service and reliability from your rods.

Game fishing rods also vary at their base ‘butt section’, this is known as the ‘gimbal’ area. Most often anglers will use a back harness and gimbal bucket to help support the heavy game fishing rod and reel. The gimbal piece has a slot formed in its base. This slot is used to locate the rod butt in both your rod holders and in the pin of the gimbal bucket. Doing this stops the rod from spinning whilst fighting the fish.

The butt section of the rod is usually fixed, (one piece). Some of the more expensive rods have what’s known as a detachable but. This enables anglers to choose between a ‘straight’ but or a ‘bent’ but. There are some specific advantages between using straight or bent buts. We won’t go into too much detail around this however some people find one more comfortable over the other. Bent butts tend to offer more leverage over fish that like to play dirty with straight up and down fights such as tuna are known to do. There is an entire science around this area of a rod as well as many other factors related to a rods construction. Do your homework, speak to your mates, and see what seems to be best suited to the style of fishing you plan on doing.

For a beginner getting into the sport both the earlier mentioned tackle companies make robust rods off the shelf that will perform well. My advice with these rods is to once again buy the best you can afford. Whilst many of the entry level rods can be bought with either roller guides the length of the rod, some can also be bought with fixed guides and a roller on the tip. I’ve used both and they all work well, however the cheaper entry level rods can tend to be more fragile and not have as much grunt in them as their comparable mid-range cousins.

From the two main players, Penn offer an entry level rod as well as a mid/high end rod. The entry level being their 'Bluewater Carnage' rod and the mid/high end being known as the ‘Power Curve, International’ rod. Shimano also offer a couple options. Their entry level rod is known as the ‘Backbone’ Series, the mid/high end is their ‘Tiagra T-Curve’. The mid/high end in either brand would be my preference, however if you can’t quite stretch it that far the entry level rods will do the job fine.

Most rods these days are made of a combination of fibreglass and graphite. A large majority of rods available off the shelf would comprise of these materials. They are strong and reliable however when compared to rods built on live fibre blanks can be heavy and have less action in them. If your budget can stretch a touch further than the mid/high end off the shelf rods, custom made rods built on either custom or live fibre blanks are well worth the hard earns they cost to buy. Being able to hand pick colorations, rod wraps and components adds a nice touch to custom rods too.


Something you will hear when talking to people in the game fishing scene is a term “line class”. These range from very light line such as 6kg right through too 60kg line classes. Line class refers to the advertised breaking strength of the line. Mono-filament lines are most commonly used in the game fishing arena. There are two main reasons for this. The first is a large majority of people game fishing are associated with game fishing clubs and part of the rules of competitive game fishing is to use line tested under International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) guidelines which assures angler’s the line they are using will break at or very near to the advertised breaking strain. This ensures fairness across the competition side of the sport and should that fish of a life time show itself enables anglers and teams to submit record claims. The second being the amount of stretch in mono-filament compared to the modern multifilament lines, (braid). This stretch acts as huge shock absorber making the fight a little less brutal than might be experienced fishing with braded lines.

When setting up for game fishing you want to have a think about what species you will be chasing. If you live in the more northern regions of eastern Australia your most accessible game fishing might be considerably closer to shore meaning species like smaller Black Marlin ranging in sizes from 20kg though to 80kg these fish can be managed with lines classes in the 10 – 15kg range. Whilst further off shore and down around the southern parts of Australia larger Marlin like Striped, Blue and bigger Black Marlin will take some stopping as will Blue and Yellowfin tuna. 24kg & 37kg line classes may be a consideration for these.

When first starting out I would recommend 24kg (50lb) line class outfits. Going out on a limb here I’d say that 70% of the game fish encountered in Australian waters can be stopped with 24kg outfits, all be it some better than others. It’s a good all-rounder and a great line class to learn with. You will have a better chance of getting your first few fish to the boat and your fight times will be shorter. Once you find your preferred game fish species and line class you can start to expand on your collection!


· Buy the best you can afford, don’t compromise on cheap unknown brands

· Do your research before making a purchase

· If buying second hand have a good look over the equipment. Ask if the reel has been serviced and closely inspect the rods for cracks, delamination’s or damaged guides

· Buy any new rods or reels from local retailers, support your local tackle companies

· Never, ever admit to your partner what those fancy new rods and reels cost!

Cheers, Barji!

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