Inside Okuma’s New Big Water Fishing Machines

The great fish raced skyward, its blue streaks piercing the cold, Atlantic water with every thrust. Far above, a lone boat floated at anchor. It was the crew’s eighth day at sea. A baitfish struggled below them, and the giant bluefin was honing in.

Suddenly, a drag whirred and a once tidy spool of braided line erupted into the sea. This was the moment they’d been waiting on. A thousand pounds of streamlined muscle and 64 ounces of machined aluminum were now locked in a battle to the death.

Somewhere off the coast of Nova Scotia, a fight ensues.

These are the proving grounds for some of the first, ground-up redesigned conventional reels in decades: the Okuma Makaira, Metaloid and Andros. Together, the trifecta of intricately designed fishing machines are raising monsters from the depths … and Okuma’s global reputation in the tackle industry rises, too. This is their story.

A Modern Reel for the Ages

3,000 miles southwest of Nova Scotia, in San Diego, a fleet of long range fishing boats sets out on the swirling Pacific. And while the fight for 1,000 pound bluefin continues in Canada, these American boats are after cow and supercow yellowfin that can reach 300 pounds off the west coast.

The California boats carry legendary names like Excel, Red Rooster III, Royal Star, Shogun, and Tribute. They also carry Okuma’s latest weaponry.

“These aren’t day fishermen,” says Okuma’s Director of Product Development, John Bretza. “These guys are out there for 8 to 18 days. The weather is extreme. The rods and reels, they’re in the elements for that amount of time taking salt spray and hitting raw water from wash downs. Corrosion resistance is a major factor.”

Bretza has been with Makaira from the start. Five years ago, he witnessed the series’ launch, and in the following months, he’s witnessed scores of San Diego’s top charter boats dropping other legacy brands in favor of Okuma’s all-aluminum fish fighter.

Some of that is due to the reel’s corrosion resistance. Each Makaira, Metaloid and Andros are given a bath in Corrosion X HD, giving them an electrically-fused saltwater shield before shipping out. “The complete inside and outside of each reel gets a bath. It bonds and penetrates the metal components,” Bretza explains. “It lasts several years more than anything else you can ever do to this reel.”

But longevity alone does not make a great fishing reel. To be great, you need to innovate—and innovation starts with design.

To find the roots of Makaira’s design, you need to travel two hours north of San Diego, up the Pacific Coast Highway towards Los Angeles, where Okuma’s offices rest just over the valley from the headquarters of legendary, long-range fishing pioneer Tiburon Engineering. There, Bretza says the Okuma team worked hand-in-hand with the Southern California customization studio to create the bones of their new lineup.

Tiburon were among the first builders to offer all-aluminum reel frames, a trait that Okuma’s products have inherited. And Okuma’s dual-force drag system? That was inspired by Tiburon. “We wanted to build completely from the ground up,” says Bretza. “So we consulted with Tiburon, and we consulted with all of the top fisherman we could find to see what they were looking for in a modern reel.”

“It’s not something you’re going to achieve with an existing product, because you’re not going to build it from scratch.”

What anglers wanted, Okuma realized, was a series of reels built to take advantage of the rise in popularity of braided line. Anglers wanted a reel that could hold up to the pressures of fishing high drag settings with a line that has no stretch and breaks at extreme ratings. The reels had to have high torque output—high enough to turn a tuna in a death circle from a stationary boat—and high drag settings to raise monster grouper from the bottom. And, critically, the reels had to have those qualities in an all-aluminum frame with a luxury car level of smoothness.

“It might sound simple,” Bretza says, “but it’s not something you’re going to achieve with an existing product, because you’re not going to build it from scratch.”

To give anglers the first truly modern conventional reels in decades, Okuma partnered their pull-bar drag system with the kind of helical gear system commonly found in big machinery like earth movers and cranes. “A fishing reel is very mechanical. It’s a machine,” Bretza adds. “So we adopted a principal used in big machines, and because our helical gears run smoother and with more power, our lever drags are some of the few on the market that are completely silent when you turn the handle.”

Unlike pull-bar drag systems of the past, the setup on Okuma’s new reels doesn’t rely on the frame for structural integrity. In fact, company engineers say you can take the frame completely off and the reel will still have the same functionality. That’s due to some creative engineering work that places stress loads on enormous thrust bearings on the side of the reel’s spool.

The result of Okuma’s engineering became Makaira—a reel that Bretza says anglers are now catching 800- to 1,100-pound tuna on all season long.

And the popularity of this big fish hunter filtered down into the smaller Andros (made for fish in the 100-150 pound class) and Metaloid ($229-299 MSRP) models. Each is a part of the same family, and each has its eyes on the competition.

“We wanted to introduce the best built reel that you can find in the industry, regardless of price,” says Bretza. “Now, we are having success. We are taking market share from a lot of companies. Guys are switching over.”

Consumers from coast to coast are snatching up reels in droves, while more and more dealers sign on to carry the fiercely engineered reels. (Call 1-800-OKUMA to find out how.) And they’re each finding success along the way.