Baitfishing, Let's Get Serious!
"The Fine Line Between Fish and Man"
or "...retching in the dunes...." NOTE
by Bob D'Amico
hat sub-title should actually be "The Fine Line Between BIG Fish and Man" but I hope everyone will read and think about this article before they go fishing again. First a caveat, if you are a light tackle aficionado or are simply happy catching shorts and small fish this article may be of little interest. If you are a serious fisherman and want to increase your chances of hooking and catching a trophy fish rather than "retching in the dunes," please read on....
Get Serious Number 1: Hooks This is always number one. Buy Good, Strong, SHARP hooks. With the arrival of Gamakatsu® hooks in the US market in the late 1990's all the hook manufacturers woke up and realized that; one, their hooks were not sharp and two, they could increase their prices. Now we have a wide range of super sharp hooks from various manufacturers but with prices that are simply stunning. Dollar for dollar the best hooks on the market are Gamakatsu® and Owner® but if you want to spend your money on solid titanium, micromagic lazer sharpened hooks plated with wounded bait scent send me $100 and I'll mail you back 5 hooks.
You should buy a selection of various types and sizes of hooks and keep them in your tackle box. You may not need 4X Strong hooks made for bluefin tuna but you are never going to catch a trophy fish with light wire hooks that are best suited for freshwater crappie fishing with minnows.
Now let's get serious about the baitfishing rigs you buy. They're not expensive so you normally buy three or four at a time and throw them in your tackle box. You never really look closely at them, do you? Tell the truth! The majority of these rigs are imported from the Far East. The people that make these rigs are paid based on the number of rigs they can tie in a set period of time. The last time I had a discussion with a rig importer (2003) he told me that he could get me any type of rig at a labor rate of 16 cents each! When I expressed some shock, he also said, "...you can expect 10% to 15% loss because of mistakes." Thanks but no thanks!
When you look closely at your import rigs you will see that instead of 8, 10 or 12 turns on a snelled hook, there are only four. Instead of six turns in a Uni-Knot there are only three, oftentimes just two turns! They even bastardize the tying of the Palomar knot by eliminating the doubling of the line before tying.
How about the hook on your import rig? That was banged out some place in the Far East. I can buy them wholesale for $3.00 per gross (144). While that is very "cost effective" these are dull, cheap, weak hooks that are often brittle, they are no bargain even at $3.00 per thousand. Aside from being dull, weak and cheap that hook on your import rig is too small. Why anyone would fish with a 3/0 or 4/0 siwash hook and think they're going to catch a 30, 40 or 50 pound striped bass or redfish is beyond my comprehension. They might "hook it" but I'll wager they're not going to "catch it." I don't know how many times I've heard a fishermen "cry" about a fish he lost because the hook broke or was bent out of shape by his lost trophy. Do yourself a favor, the next redfish you catch take a good look at the size of that mouth and the size of the fish's lips. Why are you buying rigs with 3/0 circle hooks?
Get Serious Number 2: I think I've lost track of how often I've heard; "My line broke!" or "The knot broke." and "My rig just snapped!" All three of those quotes are example of:
"The Fine Line Between Fish and Man"
I will discuss each of those three points in order but I have to get a little pseudo technical. First, there are, as we know, two popular types of fishing lines used by most fishermen, "hi-tech" or "braided" and monofilament. I'm not anywhere near an expert on fishing lines but over the years of fishing and "debating" with other fishermen I've learned a few things. Plus, living in an area with a big time university and a few very famous research centers I've had the opportunity to get lines and rigs tested in engineering labs "after hours." It's amazing how a quick test in a professional lab debunks so much marketing "hype."
Monofilament line should be at least 20 pound test but 30 pound test is ideal (40 or 50 pound test is not extraordinary). Although you can use 30 pound test braided line it is so thin (.011 inch diameter) that it is actually a bit dangerous to use for baitcasting, you can cut a finger to the bone in an instant. I always recommend at least 65 pound braid (.016 inch diameter).
"Hi-Tech Line" - Braided Line
Braided line manufacturers recommend using a braided line equal in diameter to the monofilament being replaced. Example, if your monofilament has a diameter of .016 inches select a braided line with the same diameter, in this case it would mean 65 pound test braid. Most fishermen on the other hand do the exact opposite because they want to load more line on the reel spool but the downside is the handling problems, cutting your hand, poor line wrapping on the spool and increased “wind knots.”
Braided Line and Rods: One should actually use a rod with a fast taper for braid. — the tip needs to be very flexible while the backbone of the rod needs to be firm with less give. With a fast taper rod, the stretch that is missing in the braided line is made up for in the give of the rod tip on the hook set. Medium-heavy and heavy-action rods normally used for saltwater baitfishing are not the best choice for braided line since there is no give in the rod. Slow taper rods, those that will bend in a big ‘U’ shape are just as bad because they have too much give.
PowerPro® is probably now the most widely used "hi-tech" for saltwater fishing, it is made with Spectra Fiber® which is gel spun rather than "braided." There is no elongation in these lines, that's one of their selling points but this no stretch characteristic also means "no give" which means all the stress of fighting a trophy sized fish is now transferred directly to your rod, your reel and your knots. You can break your rod and your reel with this stuff, you must lighten your reel's drag setting.
You are supposed to put a 5 to 10 yard layer of monofilament on your reel before spooling with a "hi-tech" line and with conventional reels it is also recommended that you "Put a piece of compressible tape on the barrel (spool) before attaching PowerPro.®"
PowerPro lines are so small for their strength that you may be tempted to set your drag higher than normal, but remember, your rod or reel may not be designed to handle the same unbelievable loads as your line. To make full use of PowerPro's amazing sensitivity without risking damage to your equipment, try one of the following tips:
- Set your drag to match the weakest component in your tackle system.
- Set your drag to match the size of mono line you would normally use.
- When using ultralight equipment or line (10- or 20-lb. test) set your drag to no more than 1/3 of the line's rated strength. You can check the drag with a fish scale.
This lack of elongation is the main physical property of "hi-tech" lines and gives the line extraordinary strength for a smaller diameter. BUT did you know that with spinning reels it is recommended that you close your bail manually, before your bait hits the water? Why? Abrupt shock and torsion will break these lines. That's one reason why it is recommended that you use a monofilament shock leader.
"When fishing for species that strike hard and fast, use a monofilament shock tippet. For close-in situations such as bait fishing, try a 3- to 10-foot tippet. For big game applications, you may want to use up to 100 yards or more." 1
Additional usage tips are listed on the Using PowerPro page on PowerPro.com.
Mono is the worldwide "standard" for fishing line, for both recreational and commercial fishermen. It remains the line of choice for offshore big game fishing because it's elongation can handle the tremendous pressures from a huge marlin, bluefin tuna or monster shark.
The manufacturing process is pretty simple, it's a continuous extrusion of nylon polymer and co-polymer plastic resins under pressure. The nylon and co-polymer plastic resins are pre-mixed and then fed into an extruder where a long internal screw continuously turns the mix under pressure which creates heat which in turn melts the polymers together. Manufacturers use slightly different "recipes" of raw materials, different extruding screws in their machines and various after-treatments, such as hard annealing, to give their monofilaments different properties. To improve shelf life, UV resistance, thermal stability and working life they combine different additives to their recipe mix, including inert "fillers." Color is added much like a baker adds food coloring to a recipe to make green bread for St Patrick's Day. It's not rocket science, its just fishing line.
All monofilaments are measured (rated) by two key characteristics which are interlinked:
- Tensile Strength (aka "Test")
Tensile strength or line test breaking strength is based on line diameter. Some manufacturers sell monofilaments that are slightly thinner diameters than others because their "recipes" differ. However you won't find significant differences because the rule remains that strength is directly correlated to diameter.
Elongation: When a fish strikes your bait it is not a straight or "dead pull" against the line. Your fish may sound (head for deep water), take off for Portugal, run for cover at any available structure such as rocks, zig zag like a convoy of Liberty ships on their way to Liverpool, roll and twist or become airborne. This is where elongation or stretch comes into play and helps us, the fisherman.
A quality monofilament suitable for saltwater and BIG fish has to offer the correct "balance" between tensile strength and elongation. The problem is that to increase tensile strength without increasing diameter, elongation must be decreased. Conversely elongation can be increased only by lowering tensile strength. If you look closely, many leader coils that are offered, at a higher price, are simply larger diameter monofilament with reduced elongation. I don't know who or why anyone buys them. You will find many "budget" lines, often imports, compensate for lower quality raw materials or "recipes" with large amounts of inert "fillers" by reducing elongation to achieve tensile strength. During a fight with a big fish the shock causes these lines to break. That break is normally at the weakest point - the Knot.