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Electric reels are here to stay
  |  First Published: December 2012



Using electric reels for normal bottom-bashing fishing situations is becoming more common these days. Battery powered reels are more user-friendly, lighter, less bulky than they used to be, and they are more portable with better rechargeable power packs that run longer with better cabling and connections.

When I was first exposed to electric reels in South East Queensland, I heard them referred to as jigging reels. Fortunately this misunderstanding has dissipated from the vernacular. I think this incorrect term was used because switched on anglers shunned the reels for a while; and jigging was in vogue at the time so was used in an attempt to market the reels to the masses. Also some jigging reels had digital line counters, and so do the electric reels. These ‘leccy reels aren’t worth a dime for jigging; but they are great for bottom bashing!

I started using them a few years ago for indirect applications, such as teaser lines and kite reels. And then one day, after one of my mates brought his along on our boat for a ‘see-what-it’ll-do’, I saw the light! I quickly bolted one of my electric reels onto a standard rod. I still prefer the fight of a sport fish against a human powered reel, however I’ve seen so many situations where it is good to have an electric outfit or two aboard. Especially when fishing for a feed.

As the battery-powered reels become accepted all over the world, electric fishing is becoming easier to accommodate. Some boats even have plug-in power ports adjacent to their rod holders so that you can plug in your reel and fish on without batteries on the floor to trip over.

Many South East Queensland charter boats offer this type of fishing; electric reel bottom bashing for pearl perch, snapper and bar cod as well as other species, and also genuine deep drop Continental Shelf electric reel fishing for bar cod, blue-eyed trevalla, and bass grouper (aka hapuka).

Additionally we have access to higher performing fish finding electronics and a better understanding (and training) on how best to use them. This means that pinpoint targeting of deepwater spots (and prospecting for new locations) has become more viable for anglers targeting bottom dwelling food species.

Typical locations where electric reels come in to play because they make life easier are at spots in depths of 90m or more – think Deep Tempest, Barwon Banks and the Containers.

A 1kW transducer is really good at showing fish down to about 300m maxiumum, which are the depths that we are covering in this article.

Losing the fight?

Fishing for big pearlies to 4.5kg when there is heaps of run on, makes for a ‘special’ electric reel scenario as you have to use heavy leads to get to the bottom in very deep water. Pearl perch don’t fight much at the best of times, so in using electric reels you are not missing much in that respect. And the pearlies still taste awesome no matter which way you winch them in.

Even with lesser fighting fish at the smaller end of the deepwater spectrum, when cranking them up out 100m+ using standard star drag reels, like the Penn Senator 9/0, will see most anglers looking for a mate to tag team with. Early electric reels saw power packs bolted to the end plates of the bigger Penn star drags. Alas these pieces of kit were fairly cumbersome for 100-200m bottom-bashing. These days, though, the reels are much more streamlined.

There are some arguments against electric reels because it is claimed that they remove the sport in fighting a fish. However, on the plus side they also allow elderly, infirm, youngsters and anglers with long-term injuries to participate in an offshore fishing trip.

To make the electric reel option work for you, the boat should be set up to securely carry the rod and reel outfit, because electric reels are expensive. Have a couple of solid stainless steel flush-mounted rod holders on each side and a place to store the battery pack while fishing and travelling.

At basic depths, up to 100-150m, rods are still hand-held when using electric reels. Rods, like Live Fibre’s modern version the M10, are commonly used and you can still feel every kick and lunge of the fish through the sensitive braided line and carbon fibre rod.

In stark contrast, when fishing the super deep stuff, think Continental Shelf. Rods often stay in the rod holder, especially for the bigger class of fish. The outfits used for getting down and up from the bottom on the Continental Shelf are quite heavy and bulky.

Electric option

Over a decade ago I fished a full 100 day commerical charter season, using downrigger balls as weights (sinkers), catching fish to 45kg and winding them up for my clients by hand. I had muscles on top of my muscles, buffed like a female body builder. When I look back at the photos I chuckle – you know when you have to remove the sleeves from your t-shirts in order to reduce chaffing from bicep bulge that you are working too hard.

Nevertheless, not many clients could handle the intensity of the effort required, and even though we used efficiently geared two-speed manual reels, electric reels would have been an answer for many of those anglers.

The electric option certainly offers a convenience factor and I must admit to really enjoy being able to stick the rod in an a suitably angled rod holder and have the electric reel wind in my hooks and heavy sinker at the terminal end for rebaiting.

terminal bits and pieces

Circle hooks are the go in deepwater. Once a fish is hooked and on, the circle hook ensures that the catch is still likely to be there on the end of the line when you finish winding it all the way in.

Focusing on the basic 90-100m stuff where electric reels that look just like normal reels (albeit with a power cable attached) on a typical rod are used with snapper leads up to 16oz/450g.

Regulations

Although you hear rumours from time to time, there are currently no additional Queensland state regulations that will influence your electric reel fishing, other than those that apply to all recreational fishing.

If you’ve been reading my recent articles on paternoster bottom bashing and deep water species, like pearl perch, and you like the idea, but you aren’t sure that you are up to the heavy work, then consider an electric reel with portable rechargeable battery pack on a Live Fibre M10 and get out there and give it a try.

Electric reels are here to stay.

Deepwater fishing with electric reels

When out deepwater fishing, keep an eye on the sonar screens. The main things to look for are:

• Changes in the thickness of the bottom line. A harder sea floor will show on the screen as a thicker bottom line. Hard bottoms rather than silt/mud are the preferred habitat of the target fish.

• Ridges, tabletops and their associated ledges are prime real estate.

• Isolated structure, natural or unnatural.

• Wire weed.

• Sub-sea mountains, like pinnacles, and super steep drop-offs. They don’t seem to hold as many bottom fish but can be pretty productive for pelagics. Semi-pelagic fish hold differently on these steep ledges and they often either suspend or patrol. This makes it hard to keep your bait in the strike zone because the fish are often on the move. Additionally it is difficult to find a reference point to know the depth at which your bait is at. Hence the very-helpful line counter display on many electric reels. When targeting deepwater peaks I like to sound around and find the baitfish schools and then I focus my attention on the bait.

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