Fishing isn’t rocket science. Make plans now to follow these basic rules for bigger fish and more smiles in the year ahead. It’s windy and cold outside, football season is over and most of your favorite fish targets have departed for warmer waters. There’s a reason they call this “the dead of winter.”
Still, as far away as spring seems right now, it won’t be long until you’re headed back out armed to the gills with new rods, reels and assorted gear garnered over the holiday season. In the meantime, now is the when you should be thinking about how to make next season even more productive than last. While it’s okay to dream big it’s often the little things that make the most difference. With this point in mind, here’s a few basic points to act on now for better and more enjoyable catches come spring.
CHANGE THAT LINE
If you do nothing else before the season starts, make this a priority. Monofilament lines have a relatively short shelf life. Exposure to sunlight and salt, repetitive casting and stretching from heavy weights and battling fish diminishes their strength. Factor in some abrasion from rubbing across assorted underwater structure and you might be hard-pressed to deck a 10-pound school bass with last year’s 20-pound test.
Even if you fish with the new “super” braids, it is vital to start the season with fresh line. Although braid doesn’t seem to weaken as much as mono, small nicks and general wear and tear still take a toll. The trick here, however, is to cut away the first 25 feet or so of line, spool it onto another reel, and then re-spool it onto the original reels so the unused portion is now at the front.
Whichever line you choose, inspect it during every trip. Examine theterminalendforwearandfraying after decking each fish by running the last several feet above the rig or lure between your fingers. Do this until it becomes second-nature. Once the season gets underway, resolve to change your line at the mid-point even it appears to be in good shape. Remember, all it takes is a single weak point to put your name tag on “a one that got away” story.
While we are on the topic of lines, if you haven’t done so already, it is time to consider the virtues of super braids. In many respects they are superior to monofilament. They offer low stretch and great strength making them an excellent choice when deep-water prospecting for blackfish, cod, sea bass and the like. Their thin diameter means you can get more line on the spool which may be the difference between getting striped or not with big game fish. On the inshore scene, the super sensitivity of these high- tech lines make them a great choice for presenting bucktails to stripers, fluke and weakfish.
Which kind of line will be best for you? It all depends on how you fish but you’ve got to give them both a try to find which has the edge. Consider Power Pro (all around dependability), Spiderwire (strong), Berkley Fireline (great for spinning) and Suffix Performance (both strong and slick) as solid choices. Each has their fans to talk to your friends or ask your local tackle which is best for the way you fish.
GET THE POINT
Are your hooks sharp enough? They aren’t if you can drag the tip lightly across your thumbnail without leaving a scratch mark. Buy a hook hone or stone and learn how to use it. Every hook you tie to the end of a line should be sharpened before being used. This includes new hooks right out of the bag and hooks that claim to be chemically sharpened as well. Now, before the fish start biting, is a great time to sharpen every hook on every lure in your arsenal.
To ensure your hooks really stick the fish,sharpen the point on its three outside edges to create a smooth, thin, triangular edge that will slice cleanly through the fish’s jaw or mouth tissue. Discard any hook with a rust spot, imperfection or that has been bent from its original shape. Small fish with soft mouths are rarely lost to dull or weakened hooks. It’s the biggest, calloused jawed heart- stoppers that fail to stick when you try to drive home an inferior point.
COMING FULL CIRCLE
With declining stocks, increasing fishing pressure and strict regulation of size and numbers for many of the more popular species, letting go more fish than you keep is now routine. That makes circle hooks a clear choice for those who dunk bait.
Because of their shape, circle hooks tend to set in the corner of a fish’s jaw rather than dig into the meat of the cheeks or lodge further back in the throat and gullet. This makes them easy to remove, resulting in less stress and injury to your quarry. In comparison to J-hooks, circle hooks are easily removed with a pair of pliers so the fish can be returned swiftly.
DRAG’S THE THING
Most anglers know to set the drag at about one-third line strength to prevent break offs, but that is just a starting point. It is also important to consider the species of fish you will battle and the habitat over which offerings will be presented and then make subtle adjustments.
Weakfish, for example, have very soft mouth tissue and require less drag than normal to prevent the hook from tearing out of their fleshy cheeks. Blackfish, on the other hand, have extremely tough mouths and require a tighter than normal drag to help ensure the hook point fully penetrates their vulcanized lips. It is also important with blackfish that the drag be tight so you can wrestle them out of heavy structure.
Most expert anglers develop “a feel” for proper drag settings but novice fishermen should use a hand- held scale. Run the line through the rod guides and attach it to the scale via an end loop. Place the rod in a holder and pull the scale so that the rod takes on a bend. The drag should begin to release line before flexing past the 45-degree mark or at approximately one-third the rated breaking strength of the line.
If you aren’t sure how tight the drag should be for any particular species, or don’t know what kind of fish might smack your offerings, err slightly to the lighter side. Remember, you can always apply a little extra drag during the battle by feathering a spinning spool with your fingers or slowing a conventional spool with your thumb.