LAST week's Fisho Writers' trip up to Melville Island was an excellent opportunity to put some new gear to the test. One item I was particularly looking forward to trying out was Shimano's new mega-sized low-profile baitcaster called the TranX.
From the specs on the media release recently issued it appears the boffins have been hard at it; seemingly taking a Curado 200E of modest David Banner (aka Bill Bixby) proportions, and then morphing it into the TranX 500 - an incredible hulk of a reel, albeit one without the green exterior of make-up wearing '80s muscle man Lou Ferrigno. If anyone could pull that look off and still be considered "the man"... then big bad Lou certainly could.
According to the fact sheet the new TranX can dish out 12kg of drag which is pretty impressive for a drum-style reel and comes in both a power version (PG) with a lower gear ratio of 4:6 to 1 and a higher geared version (HG) with a ratio of 6.6 to 1, which gives a retrieve rate of 107cm per crank handle - way quick enough for high speed spinning and vertical jigging. With a holding capacity of 380 metres of 50lb braid, and weighing in at 566 grams, the TranX is a sizable piece of angling weaponry when compared to the usual low-profile overheads currently in the market place.
The new Shimano 500 TranX is a brute of a baitcasting reel and this is very evident when compared to your standard low-profile casting reel like a Curado 200E7. Image: Peter Zeroni
Now some regular readers may recall my fondness for press-ganging smaller bluewater jigging reels into service as heavy-duty barra troll outfits. For the past five years my Trinidad TN16 has been playing this role admirably and is even used to cast the odd Reidy's Big Ass B52 and large 17A Bomber around as well. More recently I purchased a Canyon HS 15 jig reel as a second heavy troll barra reel and it too has been working well in this capacity.
While using jig/surf casting reels to chuck bigger barra lures at structure is do-able, it is not what they were designed for and thus makes for pretty hard work. Unless you have significant experience casting overheads it's likely that your lures will end up spending more time hung-up in the overhanging trees rather than shimmying enticingly through the water.
The real reason why you persist with casting these big reels is to increase the chances of being able to stop big barra from blowing you away through tight timber or around oyster encrusted bommies. Trying to halt a horse from bricking you - one hooked on a small low-profile bait-caster which only exerts a max drag of around 5kg (plus the added pressure of a locked thumb on the small spool) - often doesn't work and seconds later you're staring at limp braid hanging from your rod tip after being totally smoked.
Low profile baitcasters, due to their small size and drag surfaces, can only run max drag pressures of somewhere between 4-7kg. For most situations this is ample, but there are those times when you know you'll be under-gunned, which is when the bigger reels come out to play. Enter the new TranX.
When I first laid hands on the test version sent up in advance of the Melville trip (the slower geared PG model), I immediately made the decision to use it as my primary casting reel while over on the island. In this way I could really test the reel's capability to throw medium-sized barra lures like Halco Scorpion 125s, the standard 2-hook Reidy's B52s, F18 Manta-Rays etc. - lures that I would normally be casting on my much smaller Curado 200E7 or an Okuma Komodo. Now I know that this isn't really what the TranX was designed for, but if it could do this job as well then its overall versatility would be greatly enhanced in my eyes, as its obvious capability as a heavy duty troll, cast, jig and bait fishing reel is a no brainer.
Well I am pleased to report that the reel - used in the role of light lure chucker - performed very well to the point that my accuracy was pretty much the same as if I was using my usual low profile baitcaster. Of course the beast is twice the weight of these smaller reels and thus not many are going to persist with casting it all day due to wrist fatigue. However, I am now pretty used to mounting larger overheads on barra sticks so I didn't really notice it. One thing though that I would change is to mount the reel on a longer rod with a bit more flex in the tip than offered by my crow bar 5'6'' G Loomis CR665. I love this little rod for casting and trolling snags but it was a bit short and stiff to get the best out of the TranX and therefore cost me casting distance when using the lighter lures.
For the record the species caught casting with the TranX over on Melville included barra, threadies, blue salmon, mangrove jacks, golden snapper, tarpon, small GTs and a queenie ... none of which were a real match for those big gears and silky drag. I do recall the first poor barra I hooked up - one just under 70cm in length - being aquaplaned out of the snags and back to the boat before it knew what had happened!
On the last day of our trip I passed the TranX over to Fisho's South Australian Correspondent Jamie Crawford to see if he could find a decent black jewfish to test it out on. Note: all Jamie ever wants to do when he's up north is to catch bloody black jewies! Anyway, being the highly skilled angler that he is, it wasn't long before a big jewie picked up his bait and the fight was on. Now to make it more interesting (read challenging), Jamie had to fight the big jewie not only around his own boat at anchor, but ours as well as only five metres separated the two.
Fisho's SA correspondent Jamie Crawford doing the gunwale dance while fighting a solid Jessie River black Jewie on the test reel. Images Peter Zeroni.
Well in all my years I have never seen such a nimble-footed performance with rod in hand as Jamie's feet scurried along the gunwales as he and the spirited jewie did laps around the boat. At one stage the braid wrapped itself around our prop yet the 40lb Depth Hunter braid did not yield which also impressed us greatly. Anyway, after a torrid struggle, gun Melville guide Warren "Wazza" Smith slipped the Boga grip on the jewie's jaw and a beaut 14kg specimen was hauled aboard to the sounds of hoots and high-fives. Jamie was stoked and his smile would have lit up a dark night. Predicably, Fisho Editor Jim Harnwell was quick to point out that while it was a nice fish, it was just a commoner, unlike that rare golden jew that Jimbo had landed on last year's Melville trip. I'm told a large framed photo of Jim and this fish proudly hangs in the hall way leading to the Harnwell boudoir ... much to the disgust of his missus. But you really can't buy class can you?
Jamie is all smiles as he holds up 14kg of hard pulling Melville Island jewie. Image: Peter Zeroni
As one swallow doesn't make a summer, one six-day trip doesn't qualify as a rigorous assessment of any new reel's full capabilities, durability and longevity. However first impressions of the new TranX are indeed very favourable. I am now looking forward to trying out the higher-geared TRX500HG model when next targeting hard-pulling Spaniards, GTs, Queenies and goldies in the waters around Darwin, using both spinning and jigging techniques. With a bit of luck and some favourable weather, that trip might even be taking place later this week.
Lastly, I would like to thank Mike Baxter, Mick and Lyn Chick and the Tiwi Island Adventures guides - Scotty, John, Simmsy and Wazza - for their wonderful hospitality during our recent trip to fish the rivers on the north-side of Melville. Further, I wish to also thank the Tiwi Traditional owners for letting us fish on their amazing island. It is indeed a very special place and one where the memories, both on and off the water, will endure a lifetime.