Catch Fish with
For anyone unfamiliar with the site always check the FRESHWATER, SALTWATER and TACK-TICS pages. The Saltwater page now extends back as a record of over several years of (mostly) sea fishing and may be a useful guide as to when to fish. The Freshwater stuff is also up to date now. I keep adding to both. These pages are effectively my diary and the latest will usually be about fishing in the previous day or two. As you see I also add the odd piece from my friends and correspondents if I've not been doing much. The Tactics pages which are chiefly 'how I do it' plus a bit of science are also updated regularly and (I think) worth a read (the earlier ones are mostly tackle and 'how to do it' stuff).
Lure fishing in the 2020s - Part IV
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Weights and lengths
Since I started writing this, I have had some discussions with my good friend Paul Froom about whether I should use imperial measures (pounds and feet) or metric (kilogrammes and metres). Sadly, there is no simple answer, some people like one some prefer the other. I know that there will be lots of older anglers (like me) who remember all the record fish weights in pounds and ounces so, for them, just remember that 1kg is 2.2lb (so double it and add a bit) and one metre is 3ft 3 inches (so call them yards and add a bit). I know that a lot of anglers still think fish weights in pounds so when Paul sent me the following list I thought it sounded about right so I’ll try and stick to it: -
Rod length imperial
Fish weight imperial
Line breaking strain imperial
Rod casting weight metric
Line diameter metric (mm)
Fish length metric (cm)There are a few other ‘measures’ such as depth of water and weights of lures which I’ll use my discretion for.
Oh! And I’ll dig out one or two conversion graphs (bass, pike, etc.) in for anyone interested and pop them in later.
Although some spinning tackle has changed dramatically since this was first written, the basics are still the same. This chapter may be the best place to update the major ‘improvements’ but I’ll follow the same plan as the original book. I should also admit that I tend to use more or less the same rods and reels for most of my spinning. The rods are mostly about 11ft, through actioned and the reels a couple of, fairly-old, Shimano Stradics, loaded with 20 to 30lb ‘Whiplash’ braid. I also have two cheaper, smaller (but now well used) reels (a Mitchell Mag Pro 2000 (just over £100) and a Piscifun HRT (suggested after being tried by my son in the Brazil and just over £50) which both seem to be OK. I would never recommend any particular make of rod or reel because personal preferences are so marked, and it is always possible to get a rogue reel even with well-known brands.
How should you go about buying spinning tackle? It is possible to offer advice but the final decision, it will depend on -
1. What is available.
2. How much you propose to spend.
3. How much effort you are prepared to put into making your own gear.
Probably above all – what you enjoy using! Mail-order has made the choice of standard items much wider than it was a few years ago. However, if you consider buying lure-fishing tackle by mail-order you must give the matter plenty of thought, for it may not be possible to examine the equipment before ordering it. To some extent you ‘get what you pay for’ but, when starting from scratch, I believe that most of the investment should go into the reel.
No matter what sort of reel you buy, be it fixed spool or multiplier (does anyone spin with a multiplier these days?), quality counts. There are some good, reasonably priced reels available, but it takes experience to pick them and experience can be expensive. Perhaps the best guide is to scan photographs in magazine features and books and see what the ‘experts’ are using. This can sometimes be a little misleading because writers often get their gear as ‘freebies’ or at a discount from manufacturers, but it is still heartening to see that skilful anglers, whether they are bait or lure fisherman, often use equipment that is very similar.
My older two-handled Stradic loaded with 30lb Whiplash braid.
The newer (but still several years of use) Stradic also with 30lb braid.
In the U.K., the largest fish that you are likely to encounter, while lure fishing (with your feet still on dry land) are in the 20 to 40lb range (pike, salmon, etc.). It is debatable whether multiplying reels give any advantage in handling big fish (I’d say they don’t), so with their inferior ability to cast light-weight lures they have never been a sensible proposition. The introduction of fine, strong, braided lines means that there is even less reason to use them. The casting technique with multipliers is also slightly more demanding, and in strong headwinds they can cause any angler problems.
One of my smaller reels - still loaded with braid.
There are perhaps more fallacies and misunderstandings about reels than any other aspect of fishing tackle. An example from a trip made by Harry and me, many years ago, says it all: -
On the first (and only) time that we were invited to go for a day’s salmon fishing on the River Avon, we took our normal spinning tackle, which included the trusty ABU Cardinal 77, fixed spool reels loaded with 18lb nylon. On seeing our gear, one of the regular salmon anglers asked us, rather patronisingly, if we would like to borrow a multiplier. Harry immediately produced one from his tackle bag and replied that we did not normally use them for salmon spinning. “Why ever not?” the gentleman asked and expressed surprise when we said that we thought our fixed spool reels were “just as effective”. Also, if required, “we were able to cast lighter lures with them more accurately”. He clearly thought that we would not be able to control or land big fish.
On this Avon fishery it was a custom for the anglers to ‘change banks’ at midday, so after a biteless morning we had to fish the stretch which the other salmon fishermen had been flogging for several hours. We saw him shake his head as he watched us testing our tackle before setting off for the afternoon session. A quarter-of-an-hour later he was shaking his head again (this time in disbelief) as Harry carried a 20lb, fresh-run salmon up to the fishing hut to be weighed.
What I am trying to emphasise is that, handled correctly, the type of reel makes little or no difference to playing a fish. The line strength and length which is suitable for a particular type of fishing is the same for any type of reel. If 5lb line can be used to cast the tackle, cope with snags, set the hook and stand the strain and stress in controlling the fish, then it is equally suitable on a centre pin, fixed spool, multiplier or side cast. The presence of a slipping clutch on geared reels (fixed spools or multipliers) is no substitute for skill, judgement and the use of appropriate finger or thumb pressure when playing a fish. Slipping clutches (including star drags) must be used correctly at all times. The first thing I do after tackling up is to take the lure, hook it onto a strong fence wire, pretend that it is a fish and pull so as to flex the rod over or near to its test curve, the clutch being set (by trial and error) so that it will just give line. The most critical instant is when a fish takes and must be struck. If the tension is too light it will not set the hooks and, at worst, the spool could overrun, causing a tangle; if the tension is too great it will fail to give line on the strike, and a breakage may occur.
A powerful bluefish landed on the old Stradic.
It is much easier to keep the spool moving against the drag than to get it started, so the clutch should always be set with this in mind. The elasticity of the rod will cushion the major jerks and pulls, but it is up to you to judge when the line is in danger of breaking and, if necessary, to ease off the tension. Nylon monofilament lines stretch a lot, and provide an additional buffer, but this stretchability has more cons than pros. So, for spinning, mono is rarely used as a main line these days. Old habits die hard and this is one of the reasons why I like to use a metre or two of nylon monofilament as a trace, on the end of my low-stretch, braided line. Also, braid is so fine, that under tension, it can cut into the hands, so the mono trace gives me something to hold if I grab the line to slide a beaten fish ashore (I rarely use (carry) a net when spinning in the sea).
Same rod and the other Stradic with a jack.
Personally, I am a fan of the slipping clutch, and always set it to deal with powerful, running fish. However, I have seen anglers screw the tension right down and try to haul fish in by brute strength. This may work with small fish or very heavy lines but if you get something big (and you should always expect to) it must inevitably result in breakage. On one occasion I even saw a rod broken in this way.
Stradic and the same rod (in the background - by the bag) landed this striped bass.
One or two of my pals - excellent anglers - do not use the clutch on a geared reel (most of them do). They prefer to back-wind, leaving the anti-reverse mechanism disengaged and allowing the bale-arm and handle to rotate backwards. This works well in the hands of an experienced angler, but a set of gears has considerable frictional resistance and, if a fish runs hard, it may be necessary to actually wind the handle backwards. I see no obvious advantage to this method over proper clutch control, and the knack of ‘backwinding’ has to be learned. Presumably, there is always some risk of over-run when using this technique but, in the rare event of a clutch seizure or mechanical damage, it can be a handy emergency tactic.
Fly tackle is the only practical way of casting virtually weightless lures.
Reels and matching rods are usually designed with a particular style of fishing in mind. For casting extremely light lures such as tiny flies, fly-tackle is the only practical possibility. However, when it comes to slightly heavier lures, weighing just a few g, the fixed spool reel comes into its own, and it serves for the vast majority of spinning situations. Here are a few points to look for when purchasing a fixed spool reel, or any reel for that matter.
1. The action must be smooth with no tendency for jerkiness when the handle is turned.
2. The bale-arm should have a good-sized roller bearing for the line, and the bale-arm springs and trip mechanism must be positive and reliable. When fishing with braided lines it is usually best to flick the bale closed with your hand to avoid subsequent tangles. After closing the bale arm and before starting to reel in it is also worth giving the line a tug to remove any loops on the spool. This is easy, and quickly becomes a habit.
Loops like this over the edge of the spool are the precursors to a tangle on the next cast.
3. In the event of a small tangle or knot in the braid it can usually be picked out provided it is not pulled tight. Otherwise, cut away the tangle and start again. NEVER fish on with a knot in braid – it WILL break.
A small tangle, like this, can usually be picked out with finger nails.
4. The slipping clutch should be smooth and easily adjusted over a range of tensions. Turn the spool by hand at different settings on the range to check this.
5. The reel must have a minimum of knobs, lugs and projections, to snag or tangle the line.
6. A spare spool (loaded with a different line strength if you want) can be a useful standby and increases the versatility of the tackle.
7. If sea fishing is to be the main use, avoid reels with lots of aluminium or mild steel on display.
Reels for use in the sea should be, as far as possible, ‘salt-water proof’ although in practice none (at least none that I have used) is totally impervious to salt corrosion – particularly in hot, tropical situations. Most good quality reels can be used for spinning in the sea provided they are well washed and oiled afterwards (I’m the World’s worst at doing this, but my reels are never kept in bags, boxes or drawers and they last pretty well – don’t copy me!). My old Shimano Stradic reels are sold for use in ‘fresh-water’, but they have given years of good service in salt-water both at home and abroad.
It is pointless having a good rod and reel if the line you are using is not suitable. A sharp strike from a stiff-actioned rod may snap a fine line, even if the clutch setting is correct. Conversely, even with a soft actioned rod, a reel with the clutch screwed up tight will result in breakage if a powerful fish lunges unexpectedly after it is hooked. These problems have now been almost eliminated by the widespread use of fine, strong, braided lines.
It is probably worth a comment that the spools, of fixed-spool reels, should not be underfilled with nylon monofilament lines (does anyone still use them for spinning?) – or it may inhibit casting distance and accuracy. At the other extreme, overfilling the spool will surely result in knots and tangles with any sort of line – particularly with braid which should, when full, always be a couple of millimetres below the lip of the spool. These lines are so soft and flexible that this does not significantly affect casting.
What's wrong with this picture? The publisher chose a badly filled reel and a plug with three hooks - without our say so.
My spinning rods are called upon to fish with a wide range of lure weights and line strengths (I also use some of them for fishing with large, free-lined baits). The rods will generally cast weights of 5g to 30g without complaint (and a good-deal more weight for a gentle lob). In the old days, the line strengths (using nylon-monofilament) varied from 6lb up to 18lb breaking strain. Using modern braids, the line can be much stronger (20lb to 30lb) with no loss of casting distance and much greater sensitivity (feel). Specialist rods may be obtained for use with extra-light or extra-heavy tackle, but it should be remembered that fishing with heavier rods can be tiring and this is might be critical in long spinning sessions (it rarely bothers me). The current fashion is for lure anglers to use shorter and finer-tipped rods than mine.
Modern, (carbon-fibre or composite), rods of the type that I prefer are effective with most lures from small balsa plugs to heavy, 15cm, metal spoons and small pirks. They cast well and (most important) have hooked, played and landed every type of fish from titchy 25cm trout and mackerel to ponderous pike, salmon, tarpon and jacks.
Every rod is a compromise in its design characteristics, and it is possible to make rods which either cast, strike, or play the fish better than average, but overall, the compromise may be the most useful. Personal choice of equipment can result in one angler using a two-metre, crank-handled rod and a small multiplier while his (or her) pal fishes equally effectively with a twelve foot “carp” rod and fixed spool reel. There is literally no accounting for taste. How long should a spinning rod be? It does not matter much from the point of view of most fishing conditions, but remember that while it is possible to fish close-in with a long rod, either by standing a little further back or shifting up or downstream, it is not easily possible to manoeuvre fish or lures around snags with a rod which is too short.
As far as I am concerned, the longer the rod the more satisfactory it will prove to be. Only rarely is a rod less than about ten feet in length any advantage: possibly under trees or in confined spaces. Having said this, it is interesting to note that most accuracy-competition-casting is done with short rods (go to any game fair and see this); so presumably very precise aim is one advantage of a short rod. In actual fishing conditions this is probably of marginal value and I have generally managed (perhaps that is the critical word?) to fish easily even in small overgrown streams, with a near twelve-foot rod. My current favourite spinning rods are just over eleven feet in length and would be longer - if they were more readily available, and if I was less tight fisted and bought some new kit.
Playing a good bass in heavy surf.
Another good bass and you can see the all-through action of my long rod.
Same rod and reel playing a big jack at dusk.
On the subject of casting-accuracy, there is no substitute for continued practice when it comes to developing good technique. One of the handiest skills to acquire, particularly on rivers or rocky shores, is that of judging the range to avoid the disastrous overcast into the far bank, or distant kelp bed. There are few things more frustrating than hooking ‘the opposite bank’ when this is inaccessible. The outcome of this type of miscast can be a lost lure (expensive) and/or a frightened fish; the latter is often the most annoying aspect. So -
1. Watch the lure as it travels through the air.
2. Slow down the latter stages of the cast by allowing the index finger to brush the line as it leaves the reel (fixed spool).
3. In desperation, if you see the lure going too far or in the wrong direction, stop the cast suddenly, and by following through with the rod tip, try to lessen the splash of the lure as it hits the water.
One of the minor problems with long rods is that of housing them in car boots or interiors. However, since few sections are more than 6’ long, they generally fit inside saloons of modest size; but Harry and I did know one fisherwoman who, when changing cars, would reject any with the boot too small to accommodate her favourite rods.
Line varies enormously in quality. Poor lines are useless for spinning, so if you use monofilament, try to avoid any that is glossy and springy - however attractive the price may be. Remember that bulk buying of line can greatly reduce the cost, so if you have a few pals who use similar strength lines, a 1000m spool may be shared to good effect. Braided line may seem relatively expensive but, in the long term, since it is much more durable and longer lasting than nylon mono, it is quite good value. These days, monofilament line is only used for traces on my braided lines. If you do buy nylon line, keep it out of direct sunlight when not in use. As I’ve said, modern braided lines do not deteriorate as quickly as monofilament and have many advantages in the ratio of strength to diameter, softness and lack of stretch. It is best to buy any lines from a tackle shop with a large turnover. We knew of a general store where lines in the fishing tackle area have been on the shelf for at least six years. As Harry said to me - "Unlike the contents of your hip flask, lines do not improve with age!"
Since much lure fishing is in open water, so fish are likely to have the chance for a good look at the line, it is worth using neutrally coloured or clear lines. Braided lines are opaque but, because they are so thin, this is now of less importance. It is worth a comment that it has been conclusively shown that jigs fished on thick or coloured nylon monofilament catch less squid than those on finer, colourless line. The same must surely be true of many predatory fish. Years ago, when I used to fish for coalfish with a handline, the addition of a 2m clear, nylon leader (instead of attaching hook links directly to the thick, opaque, flax line) greatly increased catches. This is another reason why I still have a liking for a clear nylon trace between the lure and the braided line. It is also possible that there is an adverse effect due to the vibrations given off by thick or stiff lines – another advantage of fine braids (and a possible disadvantage of stiffer fluorocarbon).
The last piece of equipment is the hook or hooks on your lure. After having tested various shapes, sizes and strikes, using a variety of tackle, it appears that that the most important factors are the sharpness of the hook, and the size of the barb. Even with a 4lb breaking strain line on a very soft-actioned rod, we found that medium sized (2 to 4) hooks could be set providing they were ultra-sharp, if the barb was not too large. Of course, treble hooks, because they have more points, may sometimes be harder to set than singles. It goes without saying that good quality hooks are vital; One of our friends lost a 30lb+ salmon when the hook snapped as he was preparing to land it.
As with other tackle, I am reluctant to suggest particular brands of hook, as even expensive trebles from well-known manufacturers have sometimes let us down. I’m afraid that it is a matter of trial and error, so always buy branded, quality replacements and, if you are fishing for really big or powerful fish (tarpon, jacks, barracuda, etc.) on your holidays, be sure to use 3x or 4x quality. Few fish in UK waters are ever likely to need such ultra-strong hooks. It is at this stage that most books on spinning would launch into an extensive catalogue of lures. However, lure fishing is just not that complex. In view of the fact that all lures fall into only a few main types (spoons, spinners, plugs, softbaits), the range of named lures produced by manufacturers is exhaustive not to say exhausting. The key thing is to choose the lure, which is best suited to the conditions, and most likely to interest the fish that you are trying to catch. This will be considered in the appropriate pages.
Replacement hooks for those mangled playing a powerful fish. Should have replaced them before I went fishing!
You may now be wondering why I have not given details of various spinning rigs. How long are the traces? How many swivels are used? Which Lures need an anti-kink device? The answer to these questions is that, usually, I only have a single link (or link-swivel for fast-revolving lures) at the end of the mainline or, in many cases, simply tie the lure direct to the trace or main line with a loop knot. Of course, because knots are a weak link in your tackle and, in tying a new knot, you can always make a mistake(however carefully you test it); the fewer knots you have the better. My son Richard – a keen lure angler – points out that, because my addition of a nylon trace inevitably requires an extra knot, it is unnecessary. He normally dispenses with a trace and catches just as many (sometimes more) fish than I do. Wire traces are, however, sometimes essential if toothy fish such as pike or barracuda (even small ones) are a possibility.
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