Tag lines and tag line returns
  |  First Published: July 2014

In the final instalment of our in-depth outrigger series, I will look at tag lines; the lines that are run from outriggers when trolling lures.

Mention the term ‘tag’ to an angler and most will probably think of tagging fish for research. In the context of outriggers and lure trolling, tag lines are lengths of venetian blind type cord that connect to the outriggers and reduce the angle of the main fishing line up through the outrigger and therefore the drop back to the lure is also reduced.

Those that advocate tag lines believe in reducing the amount of slack line just after the strike in order to get a better hook up ratio, this is especially so when trolling large hard-headed lures.

The tag line set up allows the fish to come tight to the reel’s drag at almost the same instant that the fish eats the trolled lure. The caveat here is that there are a small number of anglers who use soft headed trolling lures who like a bit of slack line just after the strike so the fish can turn its head and be facing away from the boat when the line comes tight and the hooks are pulled into the corner of the big fish’s jaw.

In the three previous parts of QFM’s in-depth look into outriggers we discussed clips as the most common connection to the fishing line. However instead of a clip, tag lines normally use a rubber band attachment. At one end a tag line is connected to the outrigger halyard, and the lure end of the tag line is attached to the main line via a rubber band (or sometimes a clip).

Tag line set ups (one each side of the boat) normally incorporate a self-retrieve tag line return system. A tag line return is a stainless-steel weight (it looks like a big shiny sinker with a big hole through the centre). Both the tag line and the outrigger halyard run inside the return weight. When there is no pressure on the tag line the weight slides down over both the tag line and the halyard and the return weight rests at the bottom of the rigger halyard at a point where the rubber band end of the tag line is within easy reach of the crew.

Once the tag line’s rubber band is tied to the main line and the lure deployed into the water behind a moving boat. Then the pressure of the large skirted trolled lure pulling through the water is enough to pull the tag line tight so that the weight is lifted and it rides up to a position up high on the outrigger. When a big fish eats the lure, the rubber band either snaps to releases the main line and the tagline then loses tension, which allows the return weight to fall down towards the cockpit where the base of the rigger halyard is.

From this base position the tag line can then be reset when you are ready to start fishing again.

It is common to add a foam or cork float (or rubber buffer) under the weight on the halyard. This cushions the return weight during the fall. Also a cork above the weight reduces the damage that the weight may do if it bounces up into the rigger hardware.

Incidentally the tag line should be much heavier in breaking strain to that of the main fishing line so that the tag line doesn’t break during use; cord has been mentioned earlier, an alternative is heavy mono leader of 300-400lb breaking strain. Although I prefer tag lines to have minimal stretch and for my way of thinking many mono lines offer too much elasticity. The sacrificial link is the rubber band – therefore it is obvious that the rubber band should break well before the main line does. It is a good idea to confirm the breaking strain of the rubber bands that you are using with a spring scale at the same time that you are setting the drags on your reels. Most boats have a cross section of sizes of rubber bands to allow the right one to be used for whatever line class that you are choosing to deploy.

The tag line’s minimum length should generally be long enough to reach from the outrigger to the rod tip in the closest rod holder. A maximum length is normally considered to be the distance from the outrigger to the furthest rod holders on the boat’s transom. This allows the tag line to be used on any rod from any rod holder on that side of the boat.


Tag lines spread trolled lures in your pattern in the same way as your outriggers, however:

• Tag lines are normally used with skirted troll lures rather than flesh and\or live baits.

• Tag lines can allow you to use much heavier lures than you can use from lightweight clips.

• The drop-back from outriggers is minimised by using tag lines.

• Tag lines do not allow you to freespool your offering back to the fish.

• Tag lines generally use a heavy rubber band instead of a release clip.

• Tag lines are seldom run from centre riggers.

• Tag line return weights save you a lot of hassle when setting your lures.

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