by Peter Pakula
Reprinted from articles published in Bluewater Magazine (Nov 98)
There is no doubt that basic how-to and technical stuff are as hard to read as a computer manual. However to get a full understanding of how a system works then there is no other way than to group all the components and see how they interact to form a chain and try to eliminate any weak links.
All items of fishing tackle are tools. It's no wonder that most tackle freaks are also hardware shop junkies and home engineers dabbling in boat and car maintenance and odd jobs cutting, gluing, screwing and hitting things. Fishermen like putting things together almost as much as they like pulling them apart. Over the last couple of years, hardware has gone through a major revolution, where everything is rechargeable, interchangeable and the one tool can now do lots of things really well, really quickly. Fish'n stuff hasn't done that.
Tackle is still really specific stuff, none of it does much other than what it was specifically designed for, i.e. we don't have 8kg line that will also break at 37kg by adjusting a knob. This is just as well 'cause there isn’t a rod that adjusts from 8 to 37 or a reel with the drag to cope either.
If you want to hit a nail through a bit of hardwood, what do you need? Sounds dumb, but let's go through the motions anyway. The thicker the nail the harder it is to get it to penetrate the wood if it' also blunt it's even harder and if you're trying to penetrate hardwood it’s harder still. The lighter and smaller the hammer the harder you have to work to get that nail in. The right hammer hitting the right nail makes life pretty easy, pretty simple isn't it!
"THE PRINCIPALS OF SETTING A HOOK IN A FISH IS THE SAME AND AS EASY AS HITTING THE NAIL ON THE HEAD".
The complication is that there are so many tools between the angler and the fishes jaw, all of which can either act like a sponge absorbing and cushioning the impact or act like the head of a heavy hammer and aid in setting the hook. Just as a good carpenter can sink a nail to the hilt in one motion, a good angler can sink a hook just as easily.
Good hook up rates of 90 to 95% especially using lures is not only possible, it can become the standard. What you must do however is go through each of the tools to maximise the blow and eliminate the "sponge". Each of them is an integral part; each one can either enhance or detract from the rest of the system. The balancing of the system, however, is quite complex.
To accomplish this though you do have to forget any preconceived ideas as to the purpose of each of the elements involved. The largest drawback to getting it right is the current perception of the purpose of the tools and their use. For example, you've just tried to hit the nail into the bit of wood and the nail didn't penetrate, do you hit it harder next time or do you hit it half as hard as before. In the angling world why if you've just missed hooking a fish do you back the drag off! What points do you consider when you buy a rod?
Though there are lots of variables here we will concentrate on the right tools for the job. Simply ‘cause the right tools are easier to use, and just as a tradesman will use the same hammer and saw for many years, the right fishing tools will also last a lifetime, or at least until there is a major techno’ breakthrough. It’s important to note that each of the tools controls the next link in the chain specifically and all the tools in general.
The type of reel is not that important, though the right tool has a lever drag. Luckily reels such as Shimano and Penn have made life easy by calling their models after the line class they were designed for, almost anyway. A good reel has three things in common. A large spool to hold lots of line, around 1,000 meters so that you have less chance of being spooled by that one in a thousand fish that run forever. (That's also the fish you've been waiting all those years for!). A large spool also retrieves line and terminal tackle quickly. The reel should have good drag systems, preferably with a lever drag, that remain at their settings so you can trust it enough put on lots of drag and keep it there. The gearing should be powerful, giving you lots of power so you can pull the stretch out of the line if a fish goes deep and retrieve large lures without stopping the boat, this is where Shimano Tiagra reels really perform! A really good reel is camed so that when strike is at 33% full sunset or full is 66%, that’s cause that's where you put the drag when the fish has settled down. The only reason you ever back the drag off is when a fish is flipping backwards when it jumps or when someone has hold of the leader. The type of reel is not that important, though the right tool has a lever drag. Luckily reels such as Shimano and Penn have made life easy by calling their models after the line class they were designed for, almost anyway. A good reel has three things in common. A large spool to hold lots of line, around 1,000 meters so that you have less chance of being spooled by that one in a thousand fish that run forever. (That's also the fish you've been waiting all those years for!). A large spool also retrieves line and terminal tackle quickly. The reel should have good drag systems, preferably with a lever drag, that remain at their settings so you can trust it enough put on lots of drag and keep it there. The gearing should be powerful, giving you lots of power so you can pull the stretch out of the line if a fish goes deep and retrieve large lures without stopping the boat, this is where Shimano Tiagra reels really perform! A really good reel is camed so that when strike is at 33% full sunset or full is 66%, that’s cause that's where you put the drag when the fish has settled down. The only reason you ever back the drag off is when a fish is flipping backwards when it jumps or when someone has hold of the leader.
The points to consider regarding reels are the larger and heavier the spool the harder it is for the line to turn, this is known as inertia. Basically, it takes more energy to move things than it does to keep things moving. That's why you can't use 4kg on a 130class reel, as the line would break just trying to turn the spool regardless of how smooth the drag is. The less line on the spool the greater the inertia. Using a reel that hasn’t got a full load of line makes setting drags and setting hooks more difficult than it has to be, plus the more line on the spool the faster the retrieve. Each turn of the handle with a full spool retrieves more than twice as much line than the same reel with half a spool. The next link in the chain is the line. In this scenario, the reels job is not only to store the line but also to control the amount of pressure on the line via the drag system and its setting. As most line used for trolling is mono nylon it important to consider it’s nature. Nylon stretches, in fact, it stretches lots, somewhat over 20% mostly between 0 to 30% of it’s breaking strain. Drag settings of anywhere under 30% will simply result in a stretchy rubber band. It’s not until you get over 30% that you even start to get a bit of punch in the system.by by calling their models after the line class they were designed for, almost anyway. A good reel has three things in common. A large spool to hold lots of line, around 1,000 meters so that you have less chance of being spooled by that one in a thousand fish that run forever. (That's also the fish you've been waiting all those years for!). A large spool also retrieves line and terminal tackle quickly. The reel should have good drag systems, preferably with a lever drag, that remain at their settings so you can trust it enough put on lots of drag and keep it there. The gearing should be powerful, giving you lots of power so you can pull the stretch out of the line if a fish goes deep and retrieve large lures without stopping the boat, this is where Shimano Tiagra reels really perform! A really good reel is camed so that when strike is at 33% full sunset or full is 66%, that’s cause that's where you put the drag when the fish has settled down. The only reason you ever back the drag off is when a fish is flipping backwards when it jumps or when someone has hold of the leader.
When you are connected to a fish on a rod it's called "fighting a fish". When you get into a fight, any kind of fight, the harder you punch, the faster you react, the more chance you have of winning. The same attitude should be adopted when you are fighting a fish. Just remember it’s the fish you’re fighting, not the gear or crew!
The next link in the system is the line, generally rated to I.G.F.A. Here we need a little clarification: I.G.F.A. does not rate, approve or sanction any fishing tackle brand. A line that is rated as I.G.F.A. simply means that the manufacturer believes the line will break under its rated breaking strain, theoretically so that any record will not be rejected because the line breaks over the line class indicated. Nowhere does it say that you have to use I.G.F.A. line for game fishing, though it is certainly traditional to do so. Unfortunately, some line manufacturers rate their I.G.F.A. lines with a great degree of safety, some break 30% under.
As an angler, you want to know what your line is going to break it, not what it is going to break under. It is not fair to expect a line manufacturer to check and label each spool of line. This is something you have to organise yourself, there are some line suppliers and some fishing clubs that have line-testing machines, for example, I use either Weiss line from Sydney or Erskines Suffix bought from Cairns. That’s not to say other brands are not as good, I just may not have used them Each. spool I buy is tested and bought in bulk. That's a lot of line but it's also a lot of security.
The considerations for the line you choose are the diameter, elasticity, stretch and knot strength. Normal diameter lines are more abrasive resistant than super thin line, and you can get enough of it on a game reel. With some of the new super thin lines, you can get massive amounts of line on a spool, but I don't know anyone who would wind back several thousand meters of the line under pressure. Every brand and to some extent even every batch varies in its stretch and elasticity. All nylons stretch somewhere between 10 and 35 percent under varying loads. The best lines are the ones that are elastic enough to try and recover as much of the stretch as possible. An easy way to check this is break the line under load. If the line is very wrinkly after it breaks, it has little recovery or elasticity. If the line is relatively straight then it has a high recovery. In the act of fighting a fish, the stretch is a disadvantage as the fish can pull away without the line trying to pull it back. The greater the elasticity of the line, the more the line tries to regain its original length and therefore the greater the pressure to keep the hook in the fish.
As a rule, normal diameter line has a better knot strength than a thin line, as the thicker line can better absorb the heat generated by the friction when tying the knot. The larger surface area of the thicker line also aids in holding the knot together.
Line colour is often discussed whether or not it helps in catching fish or spooks them. In most trolling situations the colour does not matter to the fish, as the line is out of the water, with only the leader visible to the fish. If running baits or lures deeper so that the main line is under the water then there would be an argument that bright fluoro and a black line would have some disadvantage as it may spook some fish. The actual colour does not affect the line's performance as the colour is generally a surface dye. A surface dyed line has the benefit that is a good indicator of when the line has suffered from wear or age, as the line will seem paler or faded. Of course, this section of the line should be discarded.
The double is simply a length of main line at the end that has two strands rather than one. The maximum length of the double is governed by IGFA rules. If there are any weak links in a system one of them is more than likely the double knot. Many anglers have given up and actually don’t use one at all.
The purpose and use of the double have been largely forgotten. The double offers the angler a length of line that is double the breaking strain of that used to fight the fish. It can, therefore, take double the drag, either applied by the drag on the reel, hand or finger pressure on the spool or by the angler grabbing the double and hanging on as much as they can. It’s an easy experiment to see how much pressure you can put on a double through a bent rod. Attach you snap to a fixed item such as a fence, stand back with a couple of turns of the double on the reel spool and try and break it through the rod, you’ll find 8kg near impossible and 24kg totally impossible to bust.
If the above experiment failed then you probably have found a weak link in the system, probably your knots. For a consistently strong system learn how to tie a Plait and the Uni Knot as described in the Knot Articles on this site. Then try the test again and I’m sure you’ll be amazed at the results.
The most misunderstood tool used in trolling is the rod type (action and length) and its build (guides and placement). Ask an angler what a fishing rod is for, ask yourself? The answer, at least amongst Australian anglers mostly begins: " To cushion the angler …….", and indeed most rods on the market today are made according to this perceived purpose, spongy short cushions. They indeed don’t tire anglers, nor do they tire fish, or set hooks of the size used in trolling lures.
There are significant differences between rods used for fishing from anchored or drifting boats with bait in a berley trail and rods used for trolling lures.
Though this article is primarily about understanding the set up for trolling lures it is worth digressing for a moment and go through a couple of accepted outfits to better illustrate the needs of a trolling rod.
There is a set relationship between fishing outfits and hook sizes:
6wt fly rod: hooks from size 18 to 8, 8wt fly rod: hooks from size 10 to 1/0, 3 wrap Whiting rod; 10 to 6 max, Bream rod: 6 to 1/0, Luderick and coarse fishing rod size 8 max, Tailor surf rod 5/0 max,
and Jewfish rod, fine wire 10/0 max. The classical Californian short stroker was designed for using live 6’ long Sardines on size 4 hooks.
In all of the above outfits, there is an established maximum size hook that can be effectively set by the rod length and action. In a trolling situation, the hooks used range from 6/0 to 12/0. You cannot reasonably expect to set this size hook in most targeted species such as marlin that have very tough jaws mostly of bone with a rod designed for live baiting with size 4 hooks. These rods simply fold away and cushion the impact of the hook point.
The correct action of a trolling rod should be very stiff. Ideally, it should only bend a maximum of a third at a third the line class used and two thirds at two thirds the line class used. The rod is the tool used to set the hook, lift and put pressure on the fish. The pressures used are 1/3 to 2/3 the line class during the fight and equal to or over the line class when using the double as mentioned earlier in the article.
There is a basic law of physics: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. To sink a relatively large hook in bone you have to hit it in with a heavy hammer, regardless of how sharp the hook is you still have to get the mass of the hook into the fish.
A relatively long stiff rod can put a great deal of strain on an angler with incorrect technique and boat handling. Regardless of line class, the angler should have a well-fitting gimbal and hip harness set-up. The boat should be maneuvered to keep the angle of the line towards the surface. Fighting fish directly under the boat puts a great deal of strain on the angler and little on the fish (necessitating shorter spongier rods). Avoiding this stand-off involves driving away from the fish as soon as the fish begins to dive to plane it up to the surface.
Though the guides on a rod do not directly increase or decrease hook up rates it is important to consider the type and number of guides on a rod.
Today a range of trolling rods from 6kg to 60kg would be as follows. The lighter the line class the less likely the rod would have roller guides, the heavier the line class the more chance the rod would have roller guides. How many of you have roller guides on a 6kg rod? Almost none! How many have a 60kg rod with stainless steel or ceramic guides? Shudder at the thought! When you consider that you are far more likely to have an extended fight on light tackle than heavy tackle this seems to be the wrong way round. Add to this that lighter, thinner the line is more easily damaged by friction and abrasion from guides than heavier, thicker line. There are indeed lots of great innovations in fixed guides using silicon and ceramics, however, none offer the almost frictionless benefits of free running roller guides. The preference for roller guides is highlighted particularly when using fighting drags of 2/3's drag pressures and locked up doubles, normal procedure if your using rollers, quite hard to do using any other type of runner.
If using rods without roller guides then the more runners on the rod the less friction at each guide, therefore the longer you line will last in a protracted battle. It is important to remember that game fishing to a great extent is all about catching the biggest fish on the lightest line. Do this better than anyone else has, and you’ve got a record! Part of doing all this better than anyone else is having the best tools you can.
OUTRIGGERS, TAGLINES and CONNECTIONS
Outriggers are a standard tool used by most boats that troll either lures or baits to increase the width of their trolling spread and place them on the outside of the turbulent prop wash into clear water. In bait fishing, they are also used to spread the drop back so that it has less chance of twisting and or tangling.
Outriggers are unfortunately another probable weak link. There are three factors that can contribute to the success or failure of outriggers in hooking game fish on lures. The outriggers themselves, the method of connection of the line to the outriggers and the amount of slack in the system between the time the Outriggers release and the line comes tight on the rod and reel.
Outriggers are only classified according to length and diameter. To my knowledge, there is no classification that indicates their overall stiffness or softness. Stranger still, the smaller the boat the smaller and thinner the outriggers offered, even though all boats, regardless of size, fish with the same line classes with the same drag settings, lures and hooks for the same fish.
The softer the outrigger and the more it flexes during a strike the more it is cushioning the impact of setting the hook. Ideally the stiffer the outrigger the better it functions in trolling lures. The crisper the release the better. To overcome the flex, stays can be run from near the tip of the outrigger to the superstructure of the boat. On my personal boat I run a pair of custom built 18-foot riggers by ATS that are very stiff, however, I still run 4 wire stays off each to eliminate as much flex as possible. To further increase rigidity you can pre-stress the rigger with the halyards, though if you do this make sure the tip and base guides are well secured to the outrigger blank. Running stays and prestressing the blank adds a great deal of pressure on the outrigger base system which should at least be strengthened by using backing plates of stainless steel or hardwood. Basically, the outriggers set up should be as rigid as possible.
Part of the outrigger set-up is the release mechanism. This may entail the use of pegs, roller trollers and other assorted types of clips and/or rubber bands. If the outriggers are not rigid and indeed the efforts to make the system as rigid as we would desire may not be practical then the release should be as light as possible so that the rod and not the outrigger can affect the hook setting. If the set-up is rigid and strong then the release should be as close to the drag setting as possible for example on 15 kilos the release would be set at 5 kilos. This involves checking the release mechanism with a set of scales. Rubber bands, in particular, are quite variable in the strain it takes to break them and should always be checked.
The other weakness in the outrigger link is the amount of drop-back or slack generated when the line is released from the outrigger to when it takes up on the rod tip. This can be lessened by the use of taglines. The longer the taglines the less the slack in the system, however, the longer the taglines the more chance there is of them twisting in the line and the more trouble you have when turning the boat as the slack line often tangles in rod tips. A reasonable length is from the outrigger tip to the base of the rod used. Once again, if the system is rigid, the release on the tagline, usually a rubber band, should equal strike drag. If the system is not rigid, the release should be as light as possible.
In many cases due to the complex and often annoying set-up necessary for effective outriggers, particularly in small boats, an alternative is running rods from the bimini rocket launcher. This can be further enhanced by setting the rod holders on the ends at an angle of 45 degrees.
AMOUNTS OF LINE BETWEEN THE ROD AND HOOK
When setting a pattern of lures it should be noted that the further back the lure is set the more line there is, therefore, the more belly from the weight of the line, the double, leader and wind. Also the longer the length of line the more stretch there is in the system the less the chance of hooking up successfully. As we are discussing the use of ideal outfits and set-ups then the line class is not relevant as to whether the heavier or lighter line classes should be set out further. Though the reasons are another subject, it is preferable to set the largest and most aggressive lures closer to the boat with the lures getting smaller and less aggressive towards the end of the pattern with the smallest the one furthest from the boat.
Though the thickness and weight of a leader can restrict the desired action in both lures and baits, the leader itself is rarely a weak link in the system. In fact the leader weight, thickness and length is generally a massive case of overkill, particularly if adding a heavy wind on leader into the system. This case of overkill is shown by the percentage of fish lost due to actual leaders breaking or wearing through is very small, somewhat less than 2%. Out of this 2% corrosion of crimps, incorrect crimp size and bad swaging or bad knots would account for most of the problems.
TYPE OF HOOK POINTS BARBS
The hook itself is a major factor in the success or failure of a lure the trolling system. The correct hooks and rigging of lures have been discussed in depth previously. Other factors include the thickness of the hook, a thicker hook has more mass to punch through a fish’s bony jaw even if the hook point is sharp and has a cut-down barb. A sharp thin gauge hook is much easier to set.
The are many super sharp fine gauge hooks on today’s market including the Gamagatsu SL12S Big Game which is the closest design I’ve seen to an ideal shape for trolling. This hook is ideal for rigging lures using line classes from 4 to 10kg. Their downfall is that because they are chemically sharpened they deteriorate quickly when used for trolling applications. This corrosion can be reduced to a large extent by coating the hooks in a variety of waterproof greases, silicones and oils that prevent the water touching the hook. The entire hook should be coated both before and after use. Luckily they are cheap enough to replace often and good enough to warrant the extra maintenance to keep them in good condition.
One often-overlooked factor is the speed at which you’re trying to set a hook. Basically the faster a projectile travels the further it will penetrate. As a fish grabs the lure a quick strike with the rod will certainly increase your hook up rate especially on soft rods. Anglers should be in the cockpit as close to the rods as possible. Increasing the speed of the boat may achieve this hook setting to some extent, but even the fastest boats do not accelerate as fast as an angler striking the fish with the rod. If they did most of the crew would end up ramming the transom or even shot over the back of the boat!
THE FINAL LINK IS YOU!
Regardless of which set of tools you use the angler and crew can compensate for many weak links in a system, they can also stuff up a really good system. Once again it is knowing which details need attention. Possibly the most important is the way you approach fishing is keeping positive, trust your gear, fish to catch fish, and don’t be concerned about losing them and accept it when you do. There is a considerably different approach when you begin to fight fish and not just "play them".