Fishing the system
  |  First Published: November 2007

As a keen lure angler, terminal tackle problems always interest me. I’m not a great one for upgrading the hooks and rings on most of my Aussie made lures and yet for some reason, I don’t seem to suffer many problems in that particular department. After all, most Australian made lures come with pretty solid hardware in the first case, so why everybody feels the urgent need to upgrade is a bit of a mystery to me. Of course, every now and then I will have a treble open up a bit or a split ring will get stretched out of shape, but I just can’t seem to recall losing too many big fish due to terminal tackle failure.

I guess that puts me at odds with a lot of the stuff being written at the moment, as nearly every article you read seems to stress the importance of swapping split rings and trebles over to the strongest ones you can find. I think this is a bit of a reaction to the emerging impoundment barra scene, where anglers are pushing heavy braid to the limit as they try to stop monster barra in the timber. If that’s where you’re headed than go for it! But for most other types of fishing is it really necessary?

What people forget is that it is not a cheap exercise, with top quality hooks and rings costing anything up to a couple of bucks a set. That adds up to another four or five bucks per lure, for your typical barra type minnow. When you put that on top of the purchase price of a decent quality hard-bodied lure, it makes for a very expensive bit of hardware to be throwing around in the snags doesn’t it? This is on tope of the expense required to retro fit all the lures in my tackle box every time a stronger and sharper treble hook hits the market.

A more economical option is to purchase a couple of sets of top quality trebles and rings and fit them to the lures that you are going to use at the time and swap them around if you need to. It is a bit fiddly but for visiting anglers who are only going to be chasing barra on their annual holidays it’s probably worth thinking about.

Cost factors aside, I have tried to analyse why I don’t have a lot of problems with the hardware on my lures and apart from the fact that I don’t catch nearly as many big fish as I’d like to, the only other thing I can put it down to is my habit of fishing non-stretch braid or GSP over older style rods and reels. This more than anything else is probably responsible for keeping the pressure off my terminal bits and pieces.

Despite all the recent advances in rod and reel technology, I still fish with composite rods, mid-priced thread line reels and standard bait casters. While each of these items might seem to be a bit dated by today’s technology, they are all part of a well-proven fishing system which evolved over the years for the express purpose of keeping hooks in fish.

So what makes it work? Composite rods tend to be a bit softer and more forgiving than the latest high modulus graphite sticks are. The actions also tend to be a tad more forgiving. What that translates to is that you are less likely to pull the hooks out of the fish’s mouth and sudden lunges or changes of direction are more likely to be absorbed by rod flex. To be honest, these types of rods are also a lot more tolerant of mistakes on the part of the angler, not that I ever need that of course…

I guess this is being addressed to some degree by the recent trend towards longer rod lengths and changes in rod design. For example, older style bait caster rods were typically around the 5’6” mark, where as today, it’s not unusual to find bait caster rods of 6 ft or longer. This has led to the emergence of spiral wrap rods, as a way of minimizing the amount of guides necessary on these longer rods. Additionally, some of the more innovative manufacturers often produce rods which have more parabolic actions and these are often sought out by anglers who fish hard-bodied minnow lures, particularly the smaller types, carrying tiny treble hooks which are so prone to bending or coming unstuck.

As for the choice of reels from the mid-price bracket, I simply can’t justify spending several hundred dollars each time I buy a new reel. However, even that situation doesn’t necessarily have to be a major handicap. You see, there are some surprisingly good value-for-money reels out there and as long as you stick to reputable brands, you can still get a lot of crank for your cash!

You may not be able to simply lock the drag up and winch the fish in but that is not what reels were designed for in the first place. Instead, you actually have to play the fish, letting the drag do the work. I know, I know, everybody else seems hell bent on buying bream-sized spinning reels that can fish 12kg of drag but do you really need that sort of power? I figure if it’s available, you will probably get used to fishing that way. Unfortunately, in my experience all that sort of power does is place unnecessary stress on your terminal tackle. So what happens is the hooks get pulled or straightened or the rings let go. Either way, you lose the fish.

There will always be times when you need all the power you can get to try and stop some serious fish from diving straight back into the snags, but how often does that really happen? As I said, if there is nothing else in the system to provide a bit of give, then the hooks won’t bend but they will usually pull anyway.

To my way of thinking, half the fun of fishing is playing the fish against the drag, hence my passion for chasing fast fish like tuna and mackerel on light tackle, although you have to be careful not to take things too far. There is absolutely no point in playing a fish for hours and hours on ultra light tackle and boring it to death.

This was one of the problems that sports fishing groups like ANSA encountered in the early days, as under ANSA rules, the lighter the line and the bigger the fish, the more points it scored. Hence some huge fish were literally worn down on one and two kilo mono. I even had a bit of a go at it myself during the 80’s and managed to sneak into the charts at a couple of southern conventions by chasing massive European carp on 1kg spinning and fly gear.

Carp don’t often dive for the snags, and as long as you have a smooth drag and enough patience you could really rack up the points. It was hardly the ideal situation for catch and release fishing but there were no live weigh-ins back in those days and all carp have to be disposed of anyway.

One of the reel spin-offs of the ANSA movement was that it helped anglers became very skilled at subduing large fish on light tackle. They also knew how to tune a reel drag so that it was silky smooth. This all makes me wonder how some of today’s top rods would go if they didn’t have today’s state-of-the-art tackle to work the fish over with.

Nevertheless, I’m not suggesting for one minute that we should ditch all the latest and greatest gear and crawl back into the Stone Age. What I am suggesting is that when you look at your fishing gear, you need to remember that each component should be seen as part of a system and upgrading one single item is rarely the answer to any specific problem. While swapping hooks and rings over might appear to be the solution, does it really solve the problem or simply shift it to somewhere else?

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