The temperatures are creeping up and the promising blue hues of the offshore currents are looking as alluring as the colours of the spring skies. Around much of Australia and New Zealand, boaties and fishos are dusting off their tackle boxes and gear as we prepare for what we hope will be another bumper season. So it is an opportune time to check what’s new out there in tackle land to ensure we’re equipped with the right tools to get the job done. Tackle and tactics change with the seasons, as new developments and ideas are put through their paces, so if you’re serious about making the most of your fishing time, you need to keep up with the latest and greatest gear available.
Come in spinner
Spinning reels have made a big comeback in recent times, especially for larger rigs, and it’s worth keeping in mind that you can’t beat the humble ‘egg beater’ for ease of use. Until recently, the performance of the drag on spinning reels was seen as a limitation when used for heavy duty fishing, especially in comparison to bait casters and the larger overhead reels. But hassle-free operation and simplicity have always been the spinning reel’s main claims to fame, and with the quality of reels now available, they are certainly a worthy contender for serious sports fishing scenarios, including deep-water jigging.
Doing the deepwater jig
Fishing in deep water with heavy jigs or sinkers and when targeting thugs such as kingfish and amberjack, you need to think ‘heavy duty everything’ when looking at big spinning reels. Extra-strong gears and a handle axle supported with ball bearings each side of the gear case will alleviate a lot of wear and tear. Check out the retrieve rate of line and pick a reel that will suit the recovery rate you need for your style of fishing. A high-speed retrieve cuts down on wasted time and energy when pulling jigs and bottom rigs through dead water above a strike zone, and also helps to maintain contact and feel with the jig as you work it through the strike zone.
Bring on the bait runners
For estuary fishing, it is hard to go past some of the bait-runner-style reels. They free-spool line against an adjustable tension when the lever is actuated and once the handle is turned, the reel immediately reverts back to its pre-set strike and fishing drag. As an example of their merits, I have found bait runners to be a pre-requisite for snapper fishing in Moreton Bay, due to the fish being sensitive to any resistance when taking bait. Even using an overhead in free spool with the ratchet on, I have found there is still too much resistance for these finicky fish.
But if overhead reels are your cup of tea, there are many to choose from. When vertical jigging, a retrieve ratio of 6:1 will make the job easier. For heavy-duty jigging, it’s worth considering going with a ‘level wind’ model, which automatically distributes line over the spool as you’re winding. If opting for a reel with no level wind, I’d suggest at least choosing one with a narrow spool so that line can be ‘thumbed’ across the spool more easily when retrieved.
The right rod
Choosing the ideal rod is even more critical as far as suitability goes. While a reel must have the ability to function correctly, a rod needs to match the user in terms of their strength and stamina. The last thing you need when battling the fish of a lifetime is to be struggling with the rod you’re trying to catch it with.
Fast-taper rods are usually gentler on the back. The tips are soft, while the mid to bottom end of the blank has all the strength. A rod is a lever so when choosing a new one you need to make sure it suits your stature and build. If a rod is too long, it will work against you instead of against the fish. If the majority of your fishing is bottom bouncing or jig fishing, where the line is mostly vertical and no long distance casting is involved, shorter rods are the way to go. The further you have to cast, the more suitable a longer rod becomes.
When looking at different rods, you need to consider the ergonomics. For instance, long fore-grips can help ease the strain on the rod hand biceps and you should make sure the length of the butt and the reel seat position are right for you.
While on the subject of reel seats, it’s worthwhile paying more to get the best. Sloppy reel seats result in reel wobble and create all sorts of pandemonium when reel parts with rod and you still have to get the fish into the boat. Heavy-duty fishing requires reel seats to suit. I have just done a pre-summer tackle check and two of my favourite rods have cracked hoods on the reel seats – a tackle tragedy waiting to happen …
Tips on tips
If jig fishing, stay away from roller tips as line can tangle and jam in the roller due to the erratic jigging action. Much better to go with silicon ring guides for hassle-free jigging. If doing a lot of lure casting, stay away from hypalon or foam grips. They are fine for other forms of fishing or when working with slimy baits, but cork grips are more suited to constant casting and are less tiresome on the wrists.
Braided lines have been a boon to jigging and when matched with a good high-speed reel and a fast-taper stick, are a formidable weapon against thugs such as kingfish, trevally and other brutes that hang around structure. Low stretch qualities inherent in braided lines allow for exceptional contact and feel with the lure as it descends in the water column, as well as maximum ‘grunt’ when pulling a fish out of structure.
The tough and taut characteristics of braid actually cost many anglers fish when it first hit the market. Hooks were torn out of lips and baits were ripped from the grasp of fishes simply because anglers had much better sensitivity due to the more direct feedback from braided lines. Fortunately, most of us have now learned the difference between braid and monofilament.
Generally, braided lines are of a much narrower diameter than monofilament of similar breaking strain, so the water currents create less of a bow in a vertical drop, which keeps the angler in closer contact with lure or bait. Also, more line can be stored on spools and consequently, smaller reels can be used for bigger jobs. The key here though is to make sure you don’t end up with too small a reel for your target fish.
Another property of braid is its slick finish, which can be a danger to digits when hooks are snagged and bare hands are used to pull line free. The thin line can act like a garrotte, resulting in nasty cuts or severed fingers. The line can also find its way into small gaps on the spool and reel, so generally you need to be more careful when releasing or retrieving line.
Knot tying is another issue here. If you’re using braid, you need to alter your knot tying accordingly. Generally, everything in relation to tying knots in braid has to be doubled. Hence, a half locked blood knot that has four wraps of the tag end around the main line after going through the eye of the wrap, now requires eight wraps.
If unsure of the non-slip capabilities of your knots, a drop of super glue will work wonders. It will also stop the short tag end from fraying during use.
Monofilament remains the line of choice for most big game fishers due to its forgiving nature when under the sort of immense strain generated when fighting large and energetic pelagics such as billfish.
While we often think of those long, slender metal knife lures when we talk jigs, there are a plethora of shapes and styles that will catch fish.
For instance, the Lucanus jigs from Shimano are deadly and ideal for fishing deep when currents are an issue. They have relatively small hooks, but catch lots of fish. Large Spanyid lures also get a swim when I am offshore and drift jigging and soft plastics with appropriately weighted heads produce lots of fish as well. And don’t forget the huge array of soft plastics that line tackle shop displays. If they have a lead head, they can also be used for jigging. As many of my target species live in reefy areas, I don’t like to spend a lot of dollars on jigs that will likely end up getting left behind. I rely more on technique and action rather than spending big dollars for flashy jigs that are more likely to catch fishers rather than fish! Sure Catch jigs from Wilson’s Tackle are one of my favourite choices.
It’s worthwhile keeping in mind that you can often get more hits on the drop, so stay alert when sending your jig to the bottom. Also, avoid having too much slack line in the water as you’re likely to miss the bite when it happens. Controlled descents are vital as you need to stay in touch with the jig.
In deep water with strong currents, cast up-current so that the jig is at the right depth when it passes under the boat and then jig it vertically to the surface. Many jigs have heavy and light ends. In deeper water when you need to get down fast, rig the jig with the weight at the bottom; it will be less likely to tangle on descent. In shallow water, rig it the opposite way around so that the jig has action and falls to one side when the rod tip is lowered.
This style of terminal tackle usually relates to soft plastic jigs, which can be handy around timber in places with no current, such as when chasing barra in impoundments. They sink slowly due to the lack of a lead weight, but if need be, a ball running sinker can be attached on the trace depending on conditions. The aim of the game is to stay in the strike zone as long as possible for optimum results.
Hooks are many and varied. If using light tackle, use light-gauge hooks to ensure a positive hook-set on strike. Also while on light tackle, keep in mind that long hook points take more effort to bury in a fish past the barb and especially so in species with bony mouths. Hooks snelled on monofilament line will keep bait flexible and chewable compared with bait pinned with a set of ganged hooks. Also, a small sharpening stone costs little, but is handy to have around in the tackle box. Hook points should be sharp enough to stick in your finger nail when dragged across.
More the better
Often a single hook won’t be enough to ensure a hook-up. By slightly crimping the barb on a hook, a treble can be slid over it, adding considerably to your chances. To prevent it sliding off, get a small hole punch and punch out a heap of discs from a plastic milk or similar container and use a nail to open a hole in their centres. These can sit in your tackle box and when pushed over the single hook will stop the other hook or treble sliding off. If fishing around pikey bream country, use a split ring to install the treble onto the towing eye of the soft plastic lure, as these fish attack the heads of their prey first.
A hefty hook free-swinging on Dacron is often effective on species such as kingfish, where cut-offs from sharp dentures are not an issue.
Hooks rigged and ready to use take the hassle and time out of rigging at sea. Store snelled hooks on a piece of core-flute signage cut to suit your tackle box, with slots at each end to hold the line and hook point.
Tied and tight
Often the soft plastic body on a lure gets stretched and torn and fails to retain its position on the ‘skeleton’ of the lure. Very small cable ties can be used to fix it in place.
Where do I start? There are millions of them out there, but you need to ensure you have enough of the right types for your style of fishing. I try to keep a small range of each style of lure on board when ocean fishing. I always have a range of metals for casting and jigging and a spread of soft plastics, including larger minnows such as Squidgys. If live or dead baits aren’t available, they can be a good alternative.
Surface pusher lures are also handy. I don’t run heavy tackle when fishing from my 5.5m AMM centre console, even though sometimes I have ended up 60km offshore. As such, 24kg is the biggest gear I use and therefore I make sure that lures have light-gauge wire hooks attached, which makes hook-set much easier. Mustad and Gamakatsu have good hooks for this style of rig.
I tend to favour soft heads in my pusher range and have a brace of Pakulas in pusher and Dojo Peche models and Zakatak trolling lures.
Hard-bodied minnows need to get a guernsey here as well. If there is not a lot of surface activity from bait and birds, high-speed bibbed and bibless minnows will often stir up attention. I use 9/0 single hooks on rings and put one on each hook ring, with the points on opposite sides of the lure body. This balances the lure and gives me optimum fish retention. Should a fish be released, there is minimal damage from a single point, compared with treble hooks.
Traces and leaders
Where possible, I avoid using wire unless necessary for species such as mackerel and wahoo. And then it is as thin a gauge as possible and only long enough to get the job done. If using chemically sharpened hooks on wire trace, you need to be aware that within a few hours (depending on the salinity of the water) electrolysis between the dissimilar metals will blunt the hook point. There are small sacrificial anodes that may be wrapped around either to absorb this decay. My preference is for single-strand wire over multi-strand, the latter often being bulky and requiring proper crimps and tools rather than simple hay wire twists to fasten to hook or lure.
In monofilament leader, 60lb is a good all-rounder for small sailfish and marlin, as well as snapper and barramundi. Change the length to suit the species.
Sink or swim
In every form of fishing, use the lightest possible lead sinker to get the job done. A weight-less bait looks more appealing drifting in the current than one being dragged to the bottom to be lost amongst the rocks and weeds.
Birds are the dead giveaway for the presence of pelagics. A couple of points to consider here include staying wide of flocks of diving birds, making sure you troll long lines and circle bait schools, rather than carving straight through them. Your boat is less likely to spook the fish and birds and the lures will cut the corners and go closer to or through the school of fish. Mark the presence of the surface school on the chart plotter every time you pass a particular side. That way, if the fish dive you will have some idea of where they are and can go looking for them with the depth sounder when the birds leave the scene.
Choose your weapons
If you were to pack a lure for every conceivable possibility when estuary, coastal or offshore fishing, you would need a tender towed behind to carry the load! Provided I have the crew to handle the tackle, I like to run teasers when off the coast and if light-handed, something that has a hook in it will also get a swim. My troll pattern usually starts with a surface pusher lure on the starboard side, attached to a Wilson Tackle outrigger pole mounted on a Reelax T-Topper pole mount. Then a diving minnow in 190 Halco or Blue Fox Mackerel Mauler 18 Deep on the short corner same side, while a little further out on the opposite corner another surface pusher. With plenty of hands to clear the deck when all hell breaks loose, a Scotty electric downrigger runs a shallow swimming minnow from the port side. I use shallow-running lures to reduce water drag; large bib deep divers will always pop out of the downrigger clip prematurely.
When jigging, typically I make sure to ascertain the drift direction over a good patch of reef or structure and only start the drift after marking the beginning on the chart plotter. An RJAYZ Adjust-a-Bite berley cage on the downrigger not far from the bottom lays the trail of scent on each drift. A strike or hooked fish is marked on the plotter and I re-drift the same trail for most of the session if I have had some interest. Usually you will see a pattern of fish strikes up and down the drift trail as fish follow the scent. It pays to lengthen the drift at the tail end as the scent floats away, attracting more fish from down current.
As you will come to realise, the use of berley when fishing with lures on the drift greatly enhances your chances; it plays a big part in my jig fishing as well as when bottom bouncing with bait.
Tools of the trade
There are some fantastic tackle storage systems available to suit all the nooks and crannies in your boat. Soft bags with plastic tackle trays are ideal to stow out of the way and are reasonably waterproof. Buy one shoulder tackle bag and as many boxes as needed to keep your species-specific tackle separate. Heading out for the day, pack just the boxes that you need for that outing. That way you’ve got more fighting room when you need it. Knives are a must, but they are also the most abused item on board. Get a robust ‘hacking’ knife for bait work and keep your good filleting knife and sharpening stick packed away till you need them. There are many pliers on the market, but you will need a set with long jaws so that your hands are kept as far away as possible from the fangs when de-hooking fish.
Finally, a couple of points to ponder. When considering which end of the tide to fish, keep in mind that: “No run – no fun!”. Slack tides usually mean slack fishing. Also, as far as where to fish goes, always keep in mind that the best place to catch a fish is where you caught your last one! Get your line back in ASAP and don’t leave until you are convinced the fish have.
If you were conscientious about gear maintenance at the end of last season, the transition into the next should be fairly easy. But if you were a little on the slack side, it might be time to put in an effort to bring your gear up to scratch. Here are some of the main pointers to consider when it’s time to give your reel a thorough once-over.
Bail arm This part on a spinning reel will get more knocks and subsequent damage than any other. It has two pivot points; one being an idler, while the other is loaded with the bail arm return spring. They both require cleaning and lubricating, especially if they have been in a salty and sandy environment.
Crank and gears
Another thing to check is the existing line. It’s worthwhile winding it all off the spool onto another reel so you can check the inside of the spool flanges for line-destroying corrosion where wet line might have been lying.
And finally, remember – if nothing else works, why not read the manufacturer’s servicing advice, which you should have saved when you purchased the reel in the first place …
All the best for a hassle-free summer of fishing fun.