This $650 rod-and-reel combination is a testament that big fish don't always require big, heavy gear - here's why we recommend it

shimloommainOwen Burke/Business InsiderYou don't need big, heavy gear to pull in big, heavy fish.

  • When it comes to fishing for larger fish, big, heavy, clunky gear isn't always necessary, and it's a relief to forego for smaller, lighter-weight tackle.
  • Shimano's Tranx 400 AHG baitcasting reel is deceptively small: It looks like something you'd use to fish a pond or a lake, but a sealed drag, high gear ratio will get the job done on everything up to and including mahi-mahi and small tuna.
  • Paired with G. Loomis' new, also lightweight IMX-Pro Blue casting rod, the Shimano Tranx is a delightfully lightweight setup to fish all day and night without destroying your shoulders.

Having grown up fishing and working on fishing boats on and off throughout my life, I've been pretty stubborn with my fishing gear over the years. I buy the same rods and reels over and over again, and I don't fuss too much about trying new gear.

When it was insisted that I try this particular reel, I was baffled. I'm a saltwater fisherman through and through, save for the occasional fly-fishing trip up a mountain stream. This reel looks like it's designed for catching green fish on ponds and lakes, and it'll do that, but that's not what I do. Even when it arrived at my door, I remained a deep shade of skeptical. It was just too small, I surmised. Sure, it has an oversized handle to boost its revolutions per full crank, but I still didn't think it'd be fast enough of a retrieve to handle large, fast-swimming fish headed right toward me: The line would slacken, and the hook would fall out.

I tested the drag and was left with no concerns there, deciding that it packs enough torque to handle fish like the ones above - and much larger. But I was still worried about its retrieve speed.

Out I went, and three months later I can say that I've been using the 7'6" G. Loomis IMX-Pro Blue casting rod and the Shimano Tranx all summer as my inshore bait fishing combination.

On specs

shimanoloomistopOwen Burke/Business InsiderA few chips and dings on the reel, but it's still going strong. (I've dropped it more than once, and maybe thrown it in anger over a missed fish or two, if I'm being honest.)

The Shimano Tranx reels come in eight different models, each equipped with 5+1 (five ball bearings and one roller bearing), which are all you really need if they're assembled well. Lots of reels are made with seven, or even nine, bearings because they make a reel run more smoothly, but in effect, they're just more parts that can get dirty or fail altogether.

Shimano's Hagane cold-forged body and CoreProtect are what waterproof the Tranx, which is especially important in saltwater, because we all know how good salt is at destroying ... everything. The CoreProtect system protects the reel's vulnerable vitals, starting with 12 seals on the body, a water-resistant coating on the drag, and the line roller.

The drags on these reels range from 18 to 22 pounds of pressure depending on the model, which isn't record-breaking, but certainly all you need until you start getting into larger pelagic fish.

All that is to say that you're getting a ton of power and a great gear ratio and retrieve per crank in an 11.6- to 12-ounce reel.

The G. Loomis IMX-Pro Blue 7'6" casting rod that the brand paired this with is much the same: It has a sturdy backbone with a meticulously designed action - thanks to G. Loomis' microscopic multi-tapering technology, which also strengthens the rod blank. (G. Loomis offers seven models, including casting and spinning rods.)

What you get is a rod that's twice as light and thin as many rods of its power, and Fuji's new Fazlite K-frame guides, which are tough as nails and braid-proof (braid eventually lacerates regular alconite or ceramic guides).

In practice, it's light at the tip, so it's sensitive enough to detect faint bites when bait fishing, but firm enough in its midsection and backbone so that you can cast lures with accuracy and speed, and also pull fish away from structure with authority. It offers the best in both, where other, cheaper rods aren't so meticulously modulated and tapered. Think of it like the flex of a ski or snowboard: Too much flex in one place and you lose control; too little and you have almost no response or give, which can result in undetected strikes and/or pulled hooks. Worse still, all rods have their breaking points, but cheaper, less astutely designed ones have exceptionally weak ones. This rod? Not so.

Praise from the online fishing community

TackleDirect pro staff member Dan Schafer (who doesn't appear to be directly affiliated with any particular brand) has also picked up the IMX-Pro Blue series as his go-to inshore rod for all the same reasons that I have, and On the Water commended it as an all-season, multipurpose rod capable of "steering big stripers away from structure," which was just the test I sought to put it through.

Bassmaster lauded the Tranx for its casting (I can attest that it'll cast a country mile), and they loved it for throwing large lures.

Notes from the field

shimloom1Julien JarryThis tiny little setup pulled this 20-pound class fish out of the rocks effortlessly.

In the end, I set this rod and reel up exactly as the brand recommended. I took both live baits (menhaden of about 12 to 14 inches) and cut baits (also menhaden) and set up in some shallow rocks with weights. I went to a local tidal rip (a place where the current breaks around structure and striped bass lie in wait to ambush) and set a few different lines.

Casting precision in these areas is kind of key because there's a small space between the rip and land, and landing your bait in a pile of rocks doesn't bode well for getting it, or your tackle, back. The very tip of the rod has a little give, but throughout it's fairly stiff, and the 11 guides (nine guides and one tip, to be exact) will put your bait or lure exactly where you put it. The success I've had, and continue to have, with this combination would be thanks in no small part to its accuracy.

It was a 1-in-3 chance that the Shimano Tranx and G. Loomis IMX-Pro Blue setup got hit, and did it ever: Three times that night, and each time I navigated a 15- to 25-pound striped bass through a shallow, treacherous field of jagged rocks. The 7'6" length rod I had was perfect when I stood up on a cooler to pull the fish out of the rocks, and its backbone didn't hurt. The rest of the summer seemed to go that way, leaving my other setups largely passed over. This does its job effortlessly.

shimanoloomisOwen Burke/Business InsiderThe G. Loomis and Shimano combo landed fish after fish after fish for me this summer.

Engaging the reel, or turning it over from "free spool" and into gear, is a firm, decisive process that gives you the feeling that this reel is not going to slip up on you like some cheaper reels start to do over time. And once engaged, the 18-pound drag had very little startup inertia, or a smooth transition into spooling, or paying out line, making fighting and retrieving fish as smooth as can be. Cheaper reels often have little hiccups, which give fish a big opportunity to either spit the hook or break off, and I'm of the mind that avoiding that tragedy at almost all costs is worth every penny.

My only gripe is with the Tranx: If only it had a clicker on it so that you could hear bites. The other side of not using a clicker is that you get very little resistance, though, which keeps fish unaware when they pick up your bait and go to swim off. Especially with striped bass, even the slightest detection of resistance and they'll spit a bait and take off.

The bottom line

Fishing gear isn't cheap, and I'm not a snob, but after burning through $100 rod-and-reel combinations every year or two, I'm looking forward to seeing this setup last. Beyond its endurance, it comes with a degree of performance you just don't get south of the $300 mark, and where I'd probably have two or three rods to get most of my purposes covered (stripers in the spring; fluke, stripers, and sea bass in the summer; and blackfish in the fall), this rod has the right action for serious versatility, and the lightweight reel makes casting all day a breeze, no matter the size of your finned foes.

Pros: The rod and reel are both lightweight, sturdy, smooth as silk

Cons: Pricey, no drag clicker on the reel

Shop Shimano Tranx baitcasting reels, starting at $274.90

Shop G. Loomis IMX-Pro Blue rods, starting at $350

Read our full guide to fishing rods and reels.

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