Tackle choice and preparation is a key area for critical for angling success, but can be an area which is both overwhelming and generally misunderstood by many anglers. This month, we will look at what you may be doing wrong in your tackle preparation, and how you can change that to catch more fish.
One particular area where less experienced anglers have difficulty is hook choice. I’ve seen hooks that would almost catch a shark being used to try and catch whiting off the beach. I have also seen tailor with small long shank hooks and severed line still inside their mouth when I’ve caught them on gang hooks. Even regular anglers can make mistakes such as using hooks that don’t match the size of the bait or lure or the strength of the tackle they are using.
The key here is that the size of your hook should match the size of the bait or lure you are using, so the hook point is exposed and not hidden in a glob of bait or lure, which makes hook ups much more difficult. Likewise, very big hooks in small baits will not only look, but also feel unnatural due to the heavier weight. For this reason, I like to use the thinnest gauge hooks possible when fishing light line. However, if fishing heavy tackle and line, small or thin gauge hooks can be straightened or torn from the fish’s mouth, so it is a case of horses for courses.
Another area many anglers don’t pay enough attention to is the condition of the hook. Some anglers will use the same hook on their line until they get broken off or the hook breaks in a fish’s mouth due to its rusty condition. Either that, or saltwater anglers might remove their hook or jighead at the end of the session and put it straight in the tackle box along with their newly purchased hooks and jigheads. Without washing the hooks in freshwater and letting them dry first, the saltwater will soon spread to their other hooks and next time they go to get a hook or jighead out of the tackle box, they will find a brown, rusted mess.
Further, anglers can also wonder just why they just can’t hook a fish at times. The fish keeps biting or striking but they just can’t hook up. In this case, the hook is either too big (as noted above) or their hook is too blunt. Anglers should always check the condition of their hooks for any signs of rust or bluntness. If the hook has any signs of rust, it should be thrown away. A few cents thrown away is better than spreading rust to a whole tackle box of hooks, or missing that fish of a lifetime. I prefer to buy chemically sharpened hooks, which are extremely sharp straight out of the packet. In terms of jigheads, I will always check their sharpness by running the point of the hook down my thumbnail. If the point slides down your thumbnail under a gentle pressure, rather than digs in and catches, it means the point of the hook is blunt and needs a sharpen. I carry a very small portable stone for such purposes, otherwise I replace the hook for a new, sharp one.
Finally, an area of frustration for some anglers can be using gang hooks to rig up pilchards or garfish. Using hooks that are simply ganged together without swivels can make them stiff and hard to maneuver in the bait. I much prefer using gangs that I have pre-made with swivels in between them, or bought off the shelf. This makes rigging up pilchards a breeze. Tru-Turn hooks come pre-packaged this way and have the added advantage that the bend in the shank of the hook rotates towards the pressure point to give it a better hold. They also come in smaller hook sizes and varieties, including long shank hooks, and I use these successfully on a range of species.
Fishing line is the vital link between the angler and the fish. Break the link and you lose the fish – simple as that. So it is important you have a good quality line and keep it in good condition. But before you even hook up to a fish, you first need to make sure you are using the right line for your target species and the structure you are fishing. This is where your main line and also your trace are important, too.
As a regular or experienced angler, it is sometimes easy to forget that we have a vocabulary all of our own, and this can make it difficult for newcomers to the sport. One such area of confusion is types of fishing lines. The choice of monofilament, fluorocarbon, copolymers and braid or fused fishing lines, plus a range of styles and brands of each can make things a bit confusing.
One such area is the difference between fluorocarbon leader (often shortened to fluoro leader) and fluorescent coloured line (often referred to as fluoro line). I have heard stories of people being told they need to go out and buy some fluoro leader for shallow water species such as trout and whiting, only to go and buy bright orange fluorescent coloured braid and then tie it straight to the hook. They are not on their own either, less experienced fishing friends of mine have also bought braid and tied it straight to the hook or lure, as they did not know any different. Yet another common misconception is that braided or fused line is the be-all and end-all and should be used in all fishing situations.
So what then are the basic differences and uses of the main types of line and what line is best for what species?
Monofilament line is made from nylon, meaning that it will stretch, which is an advantage when you want to fish for species like whiting or bream, where you want them to run and not feel too much resistance from the rod. It can also be a better option for new anglers than braid, as the stretch can help prevent a hook tearing a hole in the fish’s mouth if the drag is too tight. Other advantages are that it is cheaper and easier to manage, especially if surf or estuary fishing with Alvey reels. It’s also easier to tie knots with than braid.
Copolymer lines have the advantage of a hard outer coating, and are more abrasion-resistant. They also have increased knot strength and thinner diameter. This makes them an excellent choice for fishing around structure such as rocks.
Fluorocarbon lines on the other hand are made from high-grade engineering polymer and come close to the light refractive index of water, making it virtually invisible when submerged. This is a big advantage in fishing clear water. Likewise, its clear qualities are why this line should be used as a leader when fishing with braided lines that are easily seen in clear water. In fact, I use fluorocarbon leader for most of my fishing, including bait or lure fishing. The exception is when I’m throwing topwater poppers for fish like whiting, as fluorocarbon tends to sink and thus a heavier nylon leader is better to help these topwater lures track straight.
Braided or fused line is often referred to as gel-spun line. Basically, it is a type of plastic polymer braided or fused together to produce line that is of a very thin diameter for its strength. It also has very little stretch. Some of the best applications for this line is bait fishing in deep water, casting lures and trolling lures in estuaries for some species such as flathead. Its lack of stretch means that a bite or hit is triggered straight through the line to the rod and you can react quickly. Fluorescent coloured braid has the added advantage that you can see a subtle hit registered on the line or know when the line has hit the bottom, as it goes slack. This is a huge advantage. As noted above, you then want to add a trace of fluorocarbon leader before you connect the hook or lure (about a rod length is suitable).
Right up there in the biggest and most common fishing mistakes is anglers using fishing lines and traces that are too heavy. In fact, I’ve seen anglers try to catch whiting on line so thick it could almost double as whipper snipper cord!
The basic rule is anglers should use the thinnest diameter line and the lightest breaking strain you can for the style of fishing and type of fish you are targeting. Lighter, thinner lines are less obvious to the fish, and will cast further and create less drag in the surf.
Once you have gone to all the trouble and expense of choosing the right line for your style of fishing, you want to look after it. Unfortunately, line maintenance is one area where many anglers don’t pay much attention and don’t realize the consequences until it’s too late. So to avoid these mistakes, you need to make sure of a few things.
Before a trip, cut the last metre or so off your line, as it is becomes weakened from casting strain. Never store your spooled reels in the open. Sun damage will considerably reduce the life of your line and make it susceptible to breakage. Replace the line on your reels regularly, the more you fish, the more regularly you should replace the line.
Fishing rigs are essentially your hook(s), trace, swivel(s), sinker and any other accessories like red tubing, surf poppers or flies that go on the business end of your line. They are critical pieces of equipment to not only hook the fish, but keep you attached to it.
The trace is a length of line that you tie on to your main line and serves two purposes. It either helps to avoid you being bitten or broken off, or it serves to make your rig harder for the fish to see, or both, which is why fluorocarbon line is popular for trace materials.
All too often I see traces that are either too short, too heavy, too thin, too worn, the wrong colour, or as noted earlier, sometimes non-existent (e.g. braid tied directly to the hook). These mistakes will all cost you fish. I’ve changed the traces on friends and their kids’ rigs when they are struggling to catch a fish and then sat back and watched them have immediate success. I always fish with the longest trace I can cast with (for most purposes), with the thinnest diameter line and strength I can get away with.
One of the many things I love about fishing is going with family or friends, which can result in a few good-natured jibes over who caught the most fish. Many of my mates are very good anglers and use top gear and techniques, but time after time the difference in catch rates will come down to time in the water. At Fraser Island each year, a couple of my mates, when they lose a rig, lure or need to replace their leader on their braided line, will trudge slowly back up the beach to the 4WD, or wade through the water back onto the sand of Fraser’s flats and retie their rig or leader. By doing this, they lose valuable fishing time and it can mean they are not catching fish during a hot bite.
With a bit of preparation and a couple of tackle accessories, many anglers, could improve their catch rates. This is as simple as being mobile and carrying a number of pre-made rigs and some small tackle boxes. These rigs can be either wrapped around a pool noodle, or coiled in small snap lock bags with aluminum foil wrapped around gang hooks to avoid tangling the rigs. I use the later for my tailor rigs, with each bag marked with the size of the sinker and the strength of the trace in the snap lock bags. The rigs/noodle then goes inside my Alvey dry pack on my bait belt, or if the noodle is too big, inside a large snap lock bag to help keep saltwater out. I also carry line snippers for tying on a new rig while out in the water. Likewise, when lure fishing the surf, I carry a small waterproof Plano tackle box in one of the front pockets of my Alvey shoulder bag and carry a range of stickbaits/metal lures or poppers, depending on what I am targeting.
Another word of caution with your rigs is don’t make the mistake of leaving the same rig on your rod session after session. They will become stretched and damaged over time and eventually break. Throw away any old rigs, only keeping the swivels and hooks if they are rust-free and washed free of saltwater.
For lure fishing the flats, I carry an adjustable over the shoulder Lox shoulder bag that can swing around to your front for easy access. It has a number of compartments to carry spare spools of fluorocarbon trace, braid scissors, a bottle of scent, packets of lures and spare jigheads. I also rig up a few jigheads ready to go so if I lose a lure, or want to change lure. It’s simply a case of tying on the pre-rigged lure, adding some scent and getting straight back in the action!
Finally, for all fishing rigs and lures, don’t make the mistake of rushing your knots on the water. I, like many others, have fallen victim to this. Take your time and tie every knot as if the next fish you hook is going to be a fish of a lifetime. Always take the time to test the knot as well.
When choosing a rod, one of the biggest mistakes anglers can make is purchasing what is misleadingly called a ‘general purpose rod’. Such rods are generally around 8-9ft in length and generally too short for the beach, too rigid for light line fishing in the boat or estuary and generally unsuitable for lure casting.
Before you choose a rod, talk to your local tackle shop and explain the type of area you are going to use it from (e.g beach, boat etc) and species you are targeting and techniques you wish to use (lure casting, trolling, bait fishing, etc).
In very simple terms, if fishing from the surf or the shore of a large lake, longer rods are a huge advantage for longer casts. You then need to consider the type of fish you are chasing, as bigger species require heavier tackle, while smaller species require lighter tackle. Basically, without going into detail on rod materials, weight, tapers or action, a good choice is 13ft+ composite material rods for species such as tailor, salmon and mulloway, 10-11ft for whiting, bream and dart (or shore-based freshwater species in big lakes) and a shorter 9-10ft model for rivers and estuaries. However, if you are keen to throw soft plastics, metals or bibbed lures in such locations, somewhat shorter graphite rods are perfect for this task.
Boat rods should be a little bit shorter, at around 6-7ft for manageability, although I will use 9-10ft long whippy rods for whiting, but these rods are cast and set in holders, not continually cast in a boat, which would soon get in your friends’ way.
One final tip is look after your rod, especially the guides. Don’t make the mistake of storing your hooks or lure trebles inside the rings of the guides when transporting or storing your rods. This can damage the rings and result in abrasion to the line. Always connect your hooks below the rings and onto the metal connection of the guide.
An old saying in the fishing industry is that anglers should purchase the best reels they can afford. This is pretty true, although a $2000 spinning reel might not necessarily catch you more fish than a $120 reel if you are just using it for catching light line species such as whiting, bream, flathead or freshwater trout. Sure, it might last longer and feel better to use, but provided your less expensive reel is well maintained, it won’t necessarily catch you more fish. It is when your reel is subject to continuous casting, say with lures, or the drag is battling big fish, that the better quality reel is going to win out.
Either way, if you drop one or the other of these reels in the sand or saltwater, they won’t last very long unless striped down and serviced ASAP. At Fraser Island each year, I see anglers have their spinning reels splashed by waves or dunked in the surf while they lower their rod to get their fish off. This is the advantage of the Alvey reel, which is virtually indestructible in the sand and saltwater environment. If you use spinning reels in the surf (such as for casting lures), make sure you choose a deep gutter close to shore so you don’t have to wade out to deeper water and risk your reel getting soaked. Do the same with overhead reels.
Apart from reels getting dunked, three big mistakes anglers can make with their reels includes incorrect drag settings, jerky drags or not having their reels spooled up correctly.
It is important that anglers have a correct drag setting on their reel (about 1/3rd of the line strength). If the drag is too tight, the line can break during the fight; or if the drag is too loose, anglers can end up with a tangle or not enough pressure to hook the fish.
Fishing reels with jerky drags should be serviced ASAP (or replaced) as otherwise they can and cost you fish with the line snapping under pressure.
Spools should be filled to within a couple of mm from the lip of the spool to ensure maximum distance from casts. Spools that are only half-filled will give you much shorter casts due to the friction of the line against the lip of the spool when you cast. It also means you are more at risk of being ‘spooled’ by a big fish that takes all your line. On the other hand, spools that are overfilled (right to the lip or beyond) will cause the line to peel off in loops and tangle.
That’s a wrap for this month, but stay tuned for the final instalment of this series next month. For now, make sure your gear is maintined, looked after, and most importantly, right for the job!Reads: 1999