Torture Test: Bluefin Tuna Fishing With A Stella Spinning Reel

"You’re an idiot. There's no chance."

This was the response Ben Verner, President of Huk Gear, received when word got out about his plan to go bluefin tuna fishing on a Stella spinning reel.

When Drew Herma, Director of Marketing at Huk, heard Verner's crazy idea, he was supportive but didn't see how it was possible. He told Verner, "Oh yeah, cool man, you're gonna get it,” but in his mind he was thinking, There's no way. There's just no way.

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Fishing

Apex predators, Atlantic bluefin tuna are built like torpedoes. They can reach speeds of 60 miles per hour and can weigh over one thousand pounds. Did we say that they’re built like torpedoes? These monsters are torpedoes. And if you’re lucky or brave enough to hook one of these beasts, you’re in for a real test of strength and endurance. And if you’re body’s aching after the battle, how do you think your reel is feeling?

Bluefin tuna fishing is no joke. A giant bluefin tuna will test the drag strength of any reel, the breaking point of any line, and the mettle of any angler.

How to Fish Bluefin Tuna: Tradition vs The Verner Method

The traditional bluefin tuna fishing method uses the heaviest of offshore tackle—huge, wench-like lever drag reels with up to 130 pounds of drag pressure paired with short, ultra-heavy tuna fishing rods held with a full-body fighting harness. This fishing gear is assumed to be mandatory when fighting a true giant.

Spinning gear, on the other hand, is generally thought of as light-line finesse tackle, best suited for bass, trout, and panfish—hardly suitable for bluefin tuna fishing. Sure, anglers have been known to use spinning gear to catch larger species like redfish, snook, and striped bass, but a half-ton fish? That’s reeling on the edge of the absurd! It just isn't done.

"I just thought this was going to fizzle out and he was just going to be excited to catch a fish," said Herma as he reflected on the moments that took place before the Huk crew headed offshore. "Well, we get up here, and sure enough, Verner shows up with two brand new Stellas."

As casting time drew closer, Verner himself wasn't so sure how things were going to pan out. 

“You know, I came on the boat with the rod un-rigged and fully expecting to hand it to the mate who would rig it up and hand me a tuna-ready setup,” Verner admitted. “At the end of the day, these guys don’t fish with braid,” he said, recalling the moment he realized he was on his own—alone with the Goliath, armed with little more than a slingshot of a reel.

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Verner spooled up his Stella with 150 yards of 100-pound test Seaguar Threadlock Hollow Core Braid and mounted it on a heavy-weight Shimano Terez rod. He was confident in his gear selection but wasn't sure what knot to use for the business end of his line.

"How are you going to tie a one hundred pound braid to a one thousand pound fish?"

Verner scoured the encyclopedia of fishing knots he’d accumulated over the years and ultimately decided on a 35 turn bimini twist for the terminal end of his line. With that last preparation, he was ready—or ready as he’d ever be, anyway—to cast his miniscule line into the lair of the gigantic beast.

Casting for Bluefin: Let the Stella Torture Test Begin

Huk Pro Staff member, Skeet Reese, was on deck with Verner that day. He shared what happened next: "Verner rigs up his little six-six spinning rod, throws a bait out there, and one of these giant bluefin tuna eats it and I'm like, alright, here we go."

This tuna must have been a particularly proud member of his species. Having latched on so quickly, he must have known, must have been waiting for Verner, ready to put the Stella spinning reel to the test. Bluefin tuna fishing with a spinning reel??? As soon as he took the bait, line ripped off the reel at a terrifying speed. The electric whir of the line had everyone’s hair on end. Thirty seconds went by. A lesser reel would have simply melted. Then came the realization: the fish was still on, the reel still intact.

Verner had taken a leap of faith, and he’d landed on his feet. He grounded himself and settled in for the fight. He held his own, reeling and pumping, reeling and pumping, giving his opponent hell.

"After about ten minutes,” Reese reflected, “I was thinking hmmm, maybe he's really got a shot.”

Applause for Verner & the Stella Reel

To everyone's surprise, including Verner's, the Stella held up for all 47 minutes of the grueling battle with one of the hardest fighting fish in the ocean. With the giant bluefin tuna boatside, Verner achieved what he’d set out to do, proving everyone wrong and winning himself not only an incredible trophy but one monster of a fishing tale.

“We’re real happy with how it all worked out,” Verner said, humbly reflecting on his achievement. “It’s not a grander, but man, six hundred-plus on what is basically a giant bass rod? I think it’s pretty special.”