We can tend to lose sight of the original thoughts behind recreational fishing. The humble beginnings of playing out that first monumental capture, the smile big enough to be etched in your proud Dad’s memory, seem to fade from your own thoughts as the hunt for trophy fish becomes all-consuming.
Reality slapped me in the face recently while snapper fishing with my Dad, who questioned my whining about the size of the fish we were catching as I searched in vain for that trophy reddie.
The fish we were boating were nothing to be sneezed at, averaging 3kg and the biggest was just over 4kg. These were great fish, and dream captures for the average angler (and the modest anglers for that matter) but during my endeavour for Mr Big...I lost sight of the fun that angling provides.
I realised there and then, that it wasn’t the size of the fish I was missing, it was the sound of a screaming drag.
We all love the sound of a howling reel. When a fish attempts to empty your spool the adrenalin rush becomes unbearable. You nervously wonder, ‘will I get smoked?’, ‘will my knots hold?’ or ‘do I have enough line to hold it?’.
It’s these mid-fight questions that enhance those monumental captures.
But it’s not the size of the prize, it’s what you had to endure to obtain it.
In my case, the line class I was using eliminated the fun factor so it was time to downsize and lighten up to rediscover those happy moments.
At times we’ve all been guilty of cursing undersize kingfish, or been dirty on a salmon plague on the snapper grounds.
It’s not fun bombarding rat kings with 24kg jigging gear while in search of bigger hoodlums, in fact it can be painfully frustrating.
However, if the big boys aren’t out you can have a ball on the rats with a 2kg to 4kg bream stick and handful of plastics. Take the same stick to the salmon fields and fire a small popper if it’s screaming drag you want.
These ‘small’ fish are subdued easily on heavy gear but drop the line class and they become tough opponents.
There are a number of tiny toughies in NSW rivers, creeks and bays.
Small trevally, tailor, bonito, frigate mackerel and salmon, to name a few, can be encountered regularly when casting from the shore, boats and canoes.
Each of these pocket rockets is a ball of muscle and knows how to play hard.
Casting small plastics, chrome slugs and surface lures on light gear can produce great results and sizzling drags.
Last Summer I enjoyed a session on my local estuary casting Squidgy Wrigglers to angry silver trevally. These fish give a wonderful account of themselves at the best of times but they really sting hard on 1kg line.
Add some oyster-encrusted rocks nearby and these power packs can really get the blood pumping.
Sure, I lost heaps but the few I did land gave me a real sense of satisfaction.
Casting lures to a pack of chopper tailor can be hot fun at the best of times but tie on an expensive lure and the stakes rise with the thrills.
The local inshore reefs have hosted a run of pan-sized snapper lately. On my most recent outing I was armed with 4lb braid and 8lb leader. I achieved a lot more hook-ups, I experienced the full potential of a snapper’s gruelling fight and had loads of fun.
Last Summer we had nomadic fish enter the Moruya estuary and the water held at 27° as we tangled with northern species like amberjack, cobia and samson fish in our black bream snags.
It was a blast to see them venture so far up the river and very special to catch them on bream gear.
Once you lighten up your tackle, you’ll be amazed at how much fun you’ll have and the numbers of fish you’ll hook.
Dropping the tackle to the size of the fish also leaves you with the possibility of hooking much larger adversaries.
If you do lock horns with prey too large for your tackle, it does not mean you won’t land them. I know many anglers that have won lightweight battles by showing patience and playing the fish out.
Never think that you won’t beat the fish and remain confident in your angling ability. You won’t be able to muscle a beast of a fish with spider-web line so don’t be tempted to put excessive hurt on the fish during the fight.
Go light on the fish and if possible, follow it wherever it swims. If your knots hold and you manage to keep the fish free of line-shredding structure, you may it enough to get a shot with the landing net.
Remain calm, use your head and you can land that fish of a lifetime on lightweight tackle.
You’ll frequently have to play them to a standstill. If you land fish that you intend to release, whether they’re legal or undersize, bear in mind that they will need time to recover before release.
Spend time cradling the fish in the water to ensure clean, oxygenated water is pumping through its gills before you send it on its way.
Resist the urge to over-fish, too and remember when to stop. Get your fix and then leave them for another day.
The idea behind sticking it to these tiny titans on light gear is to achieve the results that most of us find out of reach.
We all dream of doing battle with behemoth fish but you can get the same sizzling action out of their little brothers if you downsize your tackle.
Travelling hundreds of kilometres in the hopes of battling a big fish can be expensive and sometimes fruitless.
Tiny Titans, power packs, pocket rockets, whatever you call them, they’ll put a smile on your dial.
AUTHOR’S TOOL KIT
• Starlo Stix light spin 2-4kg 7’3”
• 1000 Shimano Stella and Sustain reels
• 2lb Stren Microfuse
• 4lb Sunline FC Rock leader
• 65mm Squidgy Fish (grasshopper) 80mm Squidgy wriggler (bloodworm)
• Bushy’s Stiffy Minnows
• Bassday Sugapen (surface)
• Spanyid, Raiders and Maniac metal slugs (9g)
• Look around river mouths, breakwaters, bays, wharfs, bridges and rocky headlands. Bird activity will indicate pelagic action. Current breaks around structure are good for trevally and tailor.
• Replace chunky trebles and jigs with fine, smaller hooks for maximum hook penetration.
• Start with a softly-softly approach, then increase your drag pressure as you gain confidence. You’ll be surprised how strong 2lb braid is.
• If you hook a bigger fish, remain calm and confident.
• After the capture, spend time helping a fish recover if you intend to release it.
• Retie knots and replace leaders after every capture. Knots in light line are subject to fatigue.
• Be brave and tie on an expensive lure to add to the tension.