Even veteran fishermen forget the basics—and it costs them a fish. Sometimes a nice fish. Like the one I lost the other day. I was fishing a rocky stretch of coastline at dawn, and decided to toss out an unweighted Slug-Go to test the waters. It seemed like the right call, because the lure was immediately slammed by a big fish. A really big fish. Only problem was that I was using a rod, reel and line designed for schoolies.
It turned out to be a major mistake, because the fish could not be stopped. It ripped off the 8-pound mono at will and shortly cut me off on a rock. I had brought a knife to a gunfight, and I had paid the price.
Mistakes such as mine happen all the time, and the worst part is that they are completely avoidable. So, with midseason upon us and some good fishing ahead, let’s review some simple things one can do to prevent major fish lossage.
Check That Line
Always check your line for damage after it comes in contact with rocks, pilings, moorings, lower units or any object. The safest bet it to simply cut off the suspect section and re-rig. The same applies to your leader. Feel for nicks or scrapes after every fish fight, and replace the entire leader if you detect even a hint of damage.
After fighting a big fish, such as a tuna or trophy striper, for a long time on relatively light line, it’s a good idea to respool with fresh line. That’s because mono can be stretched, twisted and generally weakened by prolonged stress or by repeatedly sawing over the rod guides. You’re best off playing it dafe.
Speaking of line changes, consider replacing the monofilament on your reels at least once during the season, regardless of how much action it has seen. Prolonged exposure to salt, heat and sunlight can weaken mono and make it brittle. Braided line can withstand more abuse than mono, but it too should be inspected and replaced occasionally.
Guide to Failure
Inspect your rod guides periodically, especially if the line is breaking for no apparent reason. This happened to a friend recently. His braided line kept breaking when he put pressure on it, and he wound up loosing some nice fish. At first he blamed the line for being faulty, but closer inspection revealed a chipped tiptop guide with a sharp outer edge that was slicing the line neater than a knife.
Ceramic guides can be checked for damage with a piece of cotton or pantyhose. Either material will snag on any cracks in the guide or rough spots. If you use heavy rods equipped with roller guides, make sure they are operating smoothly. If the rollers don’t turn easily when a piece of line is passed over them, they probably need to be cleaned or replaced.
The line roller on the bail arm of a spinning reel can be another source of problems. As with roller guides, make sure the line roller is turning freely and that there are no gaps between the roller and its mount where the line might get wedged. Sometimes all it takes to fix the problem is tightening the little screw that holds the roller in place.
What a Drag
There’s no telling how many fish have been lost to a sticky or improperly set drag, but I’ll bet the number is pretty big. Always make it a point to test the drag by pulling line off your reel before making that first cast. If the drag feels jerky or sticky, have the system serviced. Lastly, always remember to back off the drag after you’ve finished cleaning your reels. This will remove pressure from the washers and prolong the drag’s life.
Nothing points a finger at an angler’s incompetence more concisely than a pigtail in the end of the line. The curlycue of monofilament is the unmistakable calling card of a hastily or poorly tied knot.
Take your time when tying each and every knot, and only use the ones you have confidence in. Further, test every knot by securing the hook to a stationary object and pulling on the line. Make sure the knot is fully seated and looks right. If you have any doubts, cut it off and retie.
Here’s an old chestnut that still holds true: keep your hooks sharp. Fish hooks get dull all on their own, but it’s not hard to bring back the point with a few swipes of a file. The key is reminding yourself to check the hooks before you make that first cast.
To test the hook, lightly pull the point over your fingernail. If it digs into the nail with little pressure, you’re good to go. If it slides over the surface without catching, it’s time for a tune-up.
Rust Never Sleeps
Rust is another concern. If the hooks on your lures show any sign of rust or corrosion, exchange them for new hooks. No sense risking the fish of a lifetime over a 30-cent piece of terminal tackle. Keep a supply of hooks in various sizes and a good pair of split-ring pliers on your boat or in your tackle bag, and you’ll be always be ready to make an upgrade.
We all relish those special days when the fish can’t wait to pounce on the first lure we show them, but most days prove more challenging. It’s easy to get caught in a “lure rut,” especially when fish are busting all around you. At such times it’s easy to convince yourself that one of the “stupid” fish will eventually hit your offering.
When confronted by finicky fish, the best anglers force themselves to switch lures every few casts until they crack the code. Sometimes it’s a subtle change in color, size or shape that elicits a strike; other times it’s a slightly different retrieve or switching to a lighter leader. Work methodically through your arsenal until you find the winning combination.
It’s a Wash
Sunblock and bug spray are essential on the water, but you might as well be putting fish repellent on your lure if you fail to wash your hands thoroughly after applying either product. Keep some biodegradable soap onboard and scrub your hands thoroughly to remove all traces of chemicals. A masking agent, sold in many sporting-goods stores or online outdoor retailers, will also hide foreign odors that could raise a warning flag to fish as they home in on a lure.