Give Your Reel a Helping Hand

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Other than cranking the handle, most anglers only touch their spinning reel to open the bail before a cast.  Well, there is a lot more that can be done to give your spinning reel a helping hand!

Your fingers can be used to adjust the distance of your cast by applying pressure to top edge of the spool as line uncoils.  The amount and length of pressure will let you place the lure right where you want.  This technique should be used in place of two common angling errors.   The mistakes are quickly cranking the handle to close the bail and/ or jerking the rod.  The use of your fingers to “feather” the line is far more accurate, effective and better for your reel.

Closing the bail by hand after making a cast is a great habit to learn.  For starters, it will extend the life of your reel.  Turning the handle to initiate the bail trip mechanism causes unnecessary torque on the reel that will lead to worn and broken parts overtime.  Using your hand eliminates this torque, plus it is just as fast and efficient as turning the handle to close the bail.

Another bonus of closing the bail by hand is the elimination of most loose loops that can develop on the spool.  These loops are caused by slack line at the end of the cast and often lead to a bird nesting tangle on the subsequent cast (especially with the small diameter GSP lines like  Power Pro).  When you use the handle to close the bail, the bail arm makes a partial revolution before closing which allows the loose loop to develop.  The better alternative is to put your hand on the bail wire to close the bail manually.

A cause of the dreaded bird’s nest is cranking the handle when the drag is feeding out line during a battle with a large fish.  This causes twists to form in the line which leads to tangles; therefore, it is important to remember not to reel when you hear the drag clicker.

It is often necessary to quickly put the brakes on a hard charging fish headed to break you off on barnacle encrusted pilings.  In this situation, you want to apply pressure with your fingers on the spool to slow or stop its rotation.  It is common for anglers to apply spool pressure with baitcasting or fly reels but for some reason people forget to use the same technique for spin fishing.

Give your reel a helping hand with these techniques.  You’ll be fishing with less frustration and bring more fish to the boat!

The Beat Goes On

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The beat goes on… the drum beat that is!

Redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus) and speckled trout (Cynoscion nebulosus) are both members of the family Sciaenidae, informally known as the drum family.  Of the 270 Sciaenidae species, 17 are found in the Chesapeake; some of the most recognized are croaker, spot, grey trout and black drum.  Many members of this family have special swim bladders and muscles that can produce noise – hence the name “drum.”

Anglers are often surprised to learn that specks, despite their appearance, are not actually trout but drum.  Only male speckled trout make noise which resembles a grunt.  When you are fishing next time, take notice that plump, roe-laden females are silent but slender males produce grunts when you land them.  It is believed that males make grunting noises to attract females during spawning.  Here is a fantastic article by Jerald Horst of the Louisiana State University about speckled trout grunting behavior – http://www.seagrantfish.lsu.edu/resources/factsheets/grunters.htm.  I learned a lot of new facts from the article.  There are four specific types of grunting sounds and the majority of grunting occurs from sunset to three hours after sunset.  Most important from an angling perspective, speckled trout do not feed when they are grunting.

Grunting and body shape can be advantageous for conservation minded anglers looking to take home a tasty meal of trout.  In any fishery, it is important to protect breading females to ensure sustainability of the population.  So try to release the potbellied females full of roe and keep those grunting males.

Impress your fishing buddies with this lesson in speckled trout “gruntology”!

Tossing Rocks: An Aid in Fly Casting

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“Tossing rocks” is a game I designed to aid in fly casting instruction.  This game helps replicate the cast and teaches some of the cast’s fundamental principles before a student even picks up a fly rod.

First, collect some pieces of gravel and attach a target (paper plate) to a tree at shoulder level.  Stand facing the target at a distance of about 6 feet with the target in line with the dominant hand’s shoulder.  With the dominant hand, make a fist with the thumbnail facing upward.  Hold a piece of gravel between the thumb and pointer (index) finger knuckle.  Try tossing the rock at the target and stop the forward motion at the moment the rock is released.  Have a second target set up about a foot higher than shoulder level.  Try turning around backwards about 3 feetaway from the target.  Toss a piece of gravel behind you at this target remembering to stop as soon as the rock is released.  When playing this game inside, try replacing the rocks with pennies and attach the paper plate targets to a wall.

After playing the game for a while, you can demonstrate how it applies to fly casting.

First, it teaches a good grip of the fly rod with the thumb behind the cork toward the target.  Show the student how the grip of the fly rod is the same as holding the rock during the game.

“Tossing rocks” also teaches acceleration through the casting stroke with an abrupt stop.  Make a short overhead cast with the fly rod and show the student that the speed up and stop of fly rod is similar to the speed up and stop used to toss the rock.

Finally, the game teaches proper tracking during the casting stroke.  Show how the motion of tossing the rock when applied to casting encourages a straight-line path of the rod tip and tight loops.  Demonstrate how an inaccurate toss of the rock is the same as stopping the rod tip in a direction not toward the target (i.e. the fly line & fly travels in the direction the rod tip speeds up & stops).

Play this game for yourself or as a competition with friends.  You’ll find that it enforces good mechanics the next time you pick up a fly rod.

Get Down with Tides & Current

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Understanding the influence of tides is vital to fishing success.  Tide is generally referred to as the vertical rise and fall of water due to the gravity of the moon and sun.  Under a full or new moon, the gravity from the moon and sun are additive.  During these times, the greatest tidal changes occur.  The tides of the full or new moon are called spring tides.

Tides in the Chesapeake Bay are semi-diurnal, meaning there are two highs and to lows per day.  It takes a little over six hours for the tide to change from one extreme to the other.  While vertical tidal changes on the Chesapeake are small (~2ft.), they impact the location of fish in shallow water.  As a general rule, gamefish like striped bass move closer to shore on high tides to feed around structure that they cannot safely reach on low tides.

When fishing the shallows, it is important to notice the tidal height when you find fish at specific locations.  During extreme highs or lows, you will find fish in areas that typically do not hold them.  Generally extreme tides are the combination of the general gravitational forces plus the influence of wind.

Strong wind can push large amounts of water causing a raise or fall in water level.  Here on the western shore of the Chesapeake, strong northeast wind will stack up the water causing abnormally high tides, while strong southwest wind will cause abnormally low tides.  I also find that during fall and winter, the tides tend to run lower on average – possibly due to the tilt of the earth’s axis.

Horizontal current is created from vertical tidal movement.  Fish are opportunist feeders and rely on current to catch smaller prey in the fast moving water.  As a general rule, fish feed most actively during times of strong current.  For example, it is critical to fish a fast moving current at night when targeting stripers under the bridge lights of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.

Current direction will influence where fish will congregate.  I will only fish certain spots on an outgoing current and others on an incoming current based on the way water moves around particular points, channels or structure.  Understanding local variations in current flow for your given area is important.

I find that the time of slack current can vary greatly in a short distance.  There are spots that I fish 1 mile offshore where the time of slack current occurs 1.5 hours later than directly inshore.  Using this knowledge can help you plan your day to take advantage of moving current.

Wind can play a role in current, as well.  If a strong wind is blowing in the same direction as the tidal driven current, the current speed will increase and vice versa.  On the Chesapeake’s western shore, it is a good idea to plan to fish an incoming current during a strong NE wind, because the wind and tide will be working together causing faster moving current.  During a strong SW wind, you will want to do the exact opposite and fish the outgoing current.

I hope you have found this tutorial to be useful, because understanding tides and current can help decode the mystery of fishing!

Trebles Are Trouble

The barbs of a treble hook buried into your hand will quickly teach the lesson that trebles are trouble!  Other less painful lessons of barbed trebles are the dreaded hook in that new jacket or hook caught in the net while the bite is on fire.  No matter your reasoning, there are many virtues of replacing the barbed treble hooks found on lures with more fish-friendly and user-safe options.

Today there are more choices than ever when it comes to replacing stock treble hooks.  The ultimate option is the use of barbless single hooks in place of barbed trebles.  Another possibility includes micro-barbed single hooks.  For times when treble hooks are still the best bet, barbless trebles are a great replacement.  In my experience their is little if any decrease in fish landed when using single or barbless hooks so long as the principle of “Maintaining Constant Tension” is applied.  Below you will find some of my favorite hook options for replacing those nasty barbed treble hooks.  Unfortunately, these hooks aren’t readily available at your local tackle shop, but they can be purchased online with an internet search.

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Partridge ILS/Y Barbless Inline Lure Single (also available w/ micro-barb)

This is the ultimate hook when it comes to catch & release fishing and angler safety.   These ultra-short shank black nickel hooks are saltwater resistant.  When using single hooks as replacements, a hook designed with a large eye is a must to allow for rigging.   These hooks have an extra-large hook eye that is rotated inline and are designed to be used with split rings for attachment to the lure.  Pictured above are Zara Super Spook Jr. and Sebile Stick Shadd 90 with 1/0 Partridge Inline Lure hooks.

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Gamakatsu 53 Salt Single w/ micro barb

This hook design is a good option for rigging without the use of split rings.  One thing to watch for when rigging your lures is to make sure your hooks are not so long that they tangle with each other.  Split rings will add to the set back of your hooks meaning you will have to use a small hook for rigging with split rings.  With these hooks you can negate split rings and go up on your hook size.  The inline eyes of these hooks are designed to be twisted open and shut with pliers when installing on a lure.  Pictured above are Yozuri 3DS Minnow with sz 1 and Xcalibur X25 Rattle Bait with sz 2 Gamakatsu 53 Saltwater Plugging hooks.

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Gamakatsu 510 Single Open-Eye

These hooks come with a unique outer micro-barb and are extremely short shank.  When it comes to rigging suspending twitch bait lures, using light single hooks in place of heavy treble hooks will slow the sink rate of the lure.  This hook design uses very heavy wire which makes them a good choice for maintaining the intended sink rate of a lure.  The hook eye of these hooks are open making for easy installation by pinching the hook eye closed with pliers.  Pictured above are Rapala XRSH6 X-Rap Shallow Shad and Mirrolure 18MR Heavy-Dine with sz 1 Gamakatsu 510 Single Open-Eye hooks.

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Eagle Claw BBLS 954 Barbless Treble

Sometimes single hooks aren’t the best option, so these short shank treble hooks designed without barbs provide a smooth hook point for easy penetration and hook removal.  At times fish smack topwater baits versus inhaling them; barbless trebles give you a better hook up ratio compared to singles in this senerio.  You may also choose to stick with trebles for suspending baits in order keep the exact sink rate that was designed for the lure.  Pictured above are Mirrolure C36MR Poppa Mullet with sz 2 and Paul Brown SD Soft-Dine with sz 4 Eagle Claw BBLS 954 barbless treble hooks.

Maintaining Constant Tension

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As a guide, I see many fishing bad habits that ultimately lead to anglers landing fewer fish.   One of the most common fishing flaws is forgetting to maintain constant tension when fighting a fish.  This holds especially true for soft-mouthed fish like speckled trout.  Many a trophy trout has been lost when the principle of maintaining constant tension is not used.

Failure to maintain constant tension usually happens when an angler introduces slack in the line.

Fly anglers are some of the worst offenders when they attempt to put a fish “on the reel” after hooking up.  While an angler winds up extra fly line on the deck of the boat, the fish will often swim at them and tension is lost resulting in the hook falling out of the fish’s mouth.  I’m of the opinion that fly anglers should never attempt to wind up excess line while a fish is on the hook.  I tell my anglers that if a fish wants to get on the reel, it will get there on its own.  Fighting a fish with the fly reel’s drag is ideal if a large fish “puts itself on the reel” by making a long run; otherwise, use hand stripping to land a fish that hasn’t put itself on the reel to ensure you are maintaining constant tension.  Remember that when hand stripping to retrieve line, you must use your fingers as a drag.  If a fish makes a hard run, you need to let some line slip through your fingers.

Among light tackle anglers, the most common way of introducing slack is pumping the rod up and down too quickly while fighting a fish.  An angler will raise their rod and lower it faster than they are winding up line.  This period of slack in the line almost guarantees a premature release of the fish on the other end.  If an angler raises their rod and then lowers it, they must maintain constant tension during the process.

Maintaining constant tension also equates to maintaining the same amount of pressure on a fish at all times.  Pulling hard against a fish that makes a sudden run will result in a quick increase in line tension.  This often leads to broken line; or in the case of speckled trout, a pulled hook from their soft mouth.  I like to think of my arms as shock absorbers.  When a fish quickly runs at me, I raise to rod to maintain constant tension.  When a fish runs from me, I lower the rod to lessen the shock of increased line tension.

Remember that the maintaining a bent rod provides great shock absorption.  Keeping your rod constantly pointed directly at the fish you are fighting will not take advantage of the shock absorbing properties of the rod and can lead to uneven tension and lost fish.  Conversely, keeping a deep bend in the butt section of your rod and pulling in a direction opposite the fish is the quickest way to land that fish.

Have the principles of maintaining constant tension in mind the next time you’re hooked up with that gator speck.  You’ll be able to bring that trophy safely in the net instead of the fish becoming another story of the one that go away!

Knots to Know

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Knots are one of the most critical links in the battle between yourself and a fish.  Just about all of us have come up on the loosing end at one time or another when a knot fails.  Our only reminder of the big one that got away is a curlicue pig-tail at the end of the line.

There are several reasons for knot failure.  Maybe you chose the wrong knot for the particular line that you are using.  Some knots that work in monofilament will fail when tied in braided GSP lines like Power Pro due to the low stretch and slick surface of the “super braids”.  Another common problem in knot tying is not moistening the knot before tightening.  Wetting your knot will allow lubrication to clinch the knot down without damaging the line.  Fully tightening the knot is critical in forming a fail proof knot since under-tightened knots can loosen when casting or fighting a fish.

Like many things in the sport, there are countless knots out there and many are very effective; however, it is not vital to learn them all to be a successful fisherman.  Below is a list of knots that I find to be useful.  Learn a few of these and you will be covered in almost any situation.

Surgeons Knot & Loop: While this isn’t the sexiest knot, it is one of the easiest to learn and serves two purposes.  First, the surgeons can be used to connect two pieces of monofilament or fluorocarbon when building a leader.  Second, the surgeons can be used to form a loop when a loop-to-loop connection is needed such as looping a leader onto a fly line.  This is one of the quickest knots to tie so you can get back in the action when the bite is hot.

Uni to Uni Splice (Double Uni):  I use this knot to join braided line to mono or fluoro leader.  I prefer it to the Albright knot in this situation because the Uni casts smoothly through the guides.  With the Albright knot, a heavy leader can hang in the guides and ruin a cast.  Another line joining knot is the surgeon’s knot.  The Surgeon’s should be avoided for this situation because it can slip when used with braided line.  I also use the Double Uni to splice braided line back together.  If a bird’s nest of tangled line forms in the braid, I simply cut out the tangle and join the line back using the Uni to Uni Splice.  This saves time on the water and eliminates the unnecessary loss of expensive braid.

Non-Slip Loop:  A loop connection to the fly, lure or hook can be advantageous.  When using heavy tippet, a fly’s action can be ruined if it is tied tightly to the hook using a clinch type knot.  A loop allows the fly to swing freely which increases action and promotes proper tracking. The Non-Slip Loop is a great choice for your terminal connection since it is easy to learn and can be tied quickly on the water.

Perfection Loop:  This a compact knot to use when creating a loop in the butt section of your fly leader to form a loop to loop connection with the fly line.  The small size of the Perfection Loop will go through the rod guides smoothly compared to the Surgeons loop which is more bulky.  With a bunch of practice, you can even use the perfection loop to tie on your fly or lure.

Blood Knot:  The Blood Knot is a great knot for joining sections of leader.  I often use it when constructing fly leaders.  When joining two lines of different diameters (i.e. 60# to 20#), I recommend doubling over the thinner line when tying the knot.  Beware that joining fluorocarbon to monofilament with a blood knot can lead to knot failure due to the different properties and stiffness between the two materials.

With a countless number of You Tube videos out there, learning these knots is pretty easy these days.  Give them a try and you’ll be a better angler for it!