Why You'll Lose Your Next Big Bass

Now that you know you might screw it up the next time a big fish bites, let's fix it.

Why You'll Lose Your Next Big Bass

Any angler worth his salt knows that only the right tackle will help him walk away from the water with the results he wants.(Photo by Scott Bernarde)

Most anglers will lose a big fish occasionally. The best anglers minimize the fails by eliminating most of the potential problems prior to the strike.

They prepare for battle by carefully selecting the appropriate gear for their quarry.

Many anglers set themselves up for failure with gear-related mistakes that can be addressed before the fish hits.

Wise anglers realize that catching different fish in different habitats require employing different tackle, including hooks, lines, rods and reels and lures.

But how often do you just grab your favorite outfit that’s handy and take off without thinking about possible problems that might arise?

Even when fishing for the same species, professional anglers usually have a boat full of varying rod and reel outfits and appropriate line and lures suitable for specific environmental changes, fish activity or varying habitat. Let’s check out the tackle considerations and preparation for success.

Just Any Hook Won’t Do

The importance of hooks to fishing cannot be overlooked because they alone make the direct contact with the fish. They come in a multitude of sizes, finishes and designs that address specific angler needs. The eye of the hook can be straight, flat (turned 90 degrees), down or up, in relation to the shank. The shank, which can be straight, kinked or curved, leads to the bend of the hook and sweeps around to the point. The most important part of the hook generally is the point from the barb forward, but failure can occur anywhere along the hook.

Using the correct hook for a given situation depends on many factors, such as species and size of fish, type of bait, water conditions and tackle to be used. For example, a small hook might be fine for panfish, but not for flippin’ a big soft plastic bait or weedless jig into dense cover with heavy baitcasting tackle. A heavy, stout hook fits the bill.

When selecting hooks, consider the species you are pursuing. Fish with small mouths generally require small hooks, and those with big mouths take the larger sizes. Fish with small mouths that feed on tiny forage most often opt for artificial and natural baits that are also small, and the hook should be sized accordingly. Hooks with special points may be needed for fish with bony mouths while small to mid-sized hooks may be adequate for others having fleshy mouths. Know the fish you want to catch, and thenknow your tackle.

Hook finishes and colors are limitless and using a highly visible color such as stainless steel in clear waters may be a big mistake. For a few species of fish, a shiny gold hook might be an additional attraction element in the rig. When using bait, such as shiners, a dark hook is more appropriate. Although, “Bleeding Bait” red hooks are often found to be a strike-triggering color for many predator species. Trout fishermen may opt for brown, salmon anglers for black and bass fishermen for bronze; the color possibilities are many. Select a color/finish and hook size appropriate for the species and water you are fishing.

The sizes of hooks vary from the tiniest, such as a number 32 (normally used for trout flies), to upwards of 8/0 (typically employed for giant freshwater fish). The numbering system can be tricky. It begins at a mid point, the largest hooks have “/0” following the number and as the number/0 gets higher, so does the hook size. However, the opposite is true for the smaller hooks; size diminishes as the hook number gets larger. For example, a size 10 hook is smaller than a size 2. Using a number 2 worm hook while fishing for 4- to 8-pound bass would be a mistake; it’s too small. Likewise, an equally bad choice would be using a 5/0 hook for half-pound crappie; it’s too large.

Check your hook points prior to the fishing trip. Hooks may be sharp right out of the package or box, or not. Many are, but some aren’t, and others dull during use. During use, even the sharpest hooks will need to be replaced or repaired (sharpened) for optimal performance. In fact, some hooks may need resharpening after very little usage. Catching four or five fish (or limbs) may dull the hook point.

To check the sharpness (without a microscope), place the eye of the hook between your thumb and index finger. Touch the point of the hook at about a 45 degree angle to the thumbnail and pull lightly. The sharpest hook should dig in immediately at the point of contact. Hone the hook with a stone or electromechanical sharpener.

Also check the appearance. The hook should have smooth, even finish/plating. Hooks with a spotty finish may allow the areas of raw steel to oxidize. It should not have rust. Check the eye of the hook and make sure that it is closed tightly without a gap that might allow the knot to slip off or abrade. It should be free of burrs.

Don’t re-bend a straightened hook after pulling it free from a snag (or having a monster fish straighten it). The shank is weakened each time it is re-bent and any trophy fish that comes along afterwards will have an easier time straightening it and getting off.

Many detail-conscious anglers sometimes replace factory-installed treble hooks for improved sharpness or strength, but care should be taken to make sure the new ones won’t cost the angler a trophy fish. Some plugs come with premium hooks appropriately sized for optimal lure action and performance. Others do not. Swapping out dull, broken, rusted or marginal hooks for top quality ones is usually wise if you don’t impair the lure action, buoyancy, or cast-ability. Finally, remember to match the hooks to the tackle, specifically the rod and line.

It’s important to match your fishing line to the style of fishing and targeted species. (Shutterstock image)

What’s My Line?

The weakest link in terminal tackle is often the line, and not all lines are alike. Remember when we were kids and went to the local tackle store and bought the biggest spool of the cheapest line we could afford? We thought we could catch all kinds of fish on it under all conditions. Times have changed, and innovation has brought us a myriad of much better lines designed for various uses, particular species and specific habitat and environmental conditions. Using the wrong line can easily be the angler’s biggest mistake.

“The various lines are all tools in the tool box,” notes Dave Burkhardt, President of TrikFish Line. “There are advantages for each that may make one more suitable than the others for certain techniques and conditions.”

Fluorocarbon line, for example, is the least visible of all lines and therefore more strikes should be generated in relatively clear waters, he said. On bright sunny days in the clearest of water, such as spring runs, clear ponds, and highly vegetated areas, it can’t be beat.

“Using a high-pound test, hi-vis braid in clear waters during cooler, dry months when lake or river visibilities are generally increased and water levels lower would be a mistake,” said Burkhardt.

Fluorocarbon is a heavy (weight-wise) line, ideal for anglers wanting to get their baits deep or on the bottom quickly and keeping it there. The line’s sink factor is more aligned with heavy plastics that are meant for fishing along the bottom. Senko-type baits fished without weights are perfect when tied on fluorocarbon lines.

“Suspended jerkbaits and deep-running crankbaits also demand a stealth-like fluorocarbon line that sinks quickly,” said the expert. “Skittish fish in clearer waters won’t be as aggressive as more-active fish in stained waters. Bottom fishing a heavy bait in extremely deep water is another ideal use.”

The low stretch of fluorocarbon and braid lines (compared to mono) is important for more solid hook sets and to feel subtle bites that may occur from tentative strikes. You can fish them in rugged habitat around wood cover and heavy plant growth. Flipping or pitching a plastic bait or jig to heavy cover with either is an ideal use. The size-to-strength factor is generally a key advantage for braided line. Trolling and vertical jigging, especially in deeper water, are applicable techniques for braided line use.

Braids and the new co-polymer lines are ideal for the “line watcher” who slowly crawls a worm across the bottom in stained waters. For the live-bait fisherman who is trying to determine where the near-surface shiner has moved by watching the line and then reel the line taut before setting the hook into a trophy bass, a heavy hi-vis mono or braid might be optimal.

Topwater lures often are more easily fished with a buoyant monofilament that will lie on or near the surface rather than the sinking fluorocarbon. For fishing a Carolina-rig through short grass on the bottom of a lake, monofilaments may also be preferred since the line will help the soft plastic bait float higher above the vegetation. Such a bait presentation would be more visible to the fish and draw more strikes from bass.

Baitcasters are great for heavier baits. But have you ever used one to cast a light lure into the wind? Maybe you have...once. The right gear matters. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

Rods, Reels

Many rods on the market are designed to be method-specific. These specialty rods for a particular technique or a species may have unique lengths, handle styles, actions and material. Selecting a quality rod without considering line, lure and technique can be very problematic. For example, when fishing a line with no stretch, like braid, the angler might go to a slightly lighter action rod so that he has a little more cushion when setting the hook.

Selection of the optimal rod should generally be based on the height and weight of the angler, along with his/her strength, the habitat being fished, and the lure being tossed. Various riggings dictate different rods for the optimum choice. For example, casting a swimming worm in a creek with overhanging limbs for bass would require a shorter, lighter-weight rod than would fishing offshore deep cover with a Texas-rigged worm. A long rod for the latter scenario would offer a better chance of setting the hook due to having more rod-tip travel.

Rod sensitivity allows the transmittal of vibrations from the rod tip to the butt. It comes into play for certain species that exhibit soft strikes. Throwing light finesse-type baits on lines as light as 6-pound test on a heavy-action, fiberglass rod would be a major mistake. Many anglers using a stiff rod may break 6-pound test on the hook set. One of my rules of thumb for most cranking and worming situations is never use a casting rod shorter than you are. If you are taller than 6-foot, use a 6 1/2- or 7-foot rod. A second rule is to use a medium-heavy or heavy-action rod when throwing medium-weight to heavy lures or rigs.

Quality rods beg for well-matched quality reels. Putting a cheap reel on a quality rod is asking for trouble.

One of the major mistakes that anglers make with their reel set up is not paying attention to its drag setting. Habitat, size and strength of the fish should dictate the need for a heavy drag or not. You don’t need to tighten it all the way down if you are fishing deep, open water with no snags.

Set your equipment up for the fish you are going after and be willing to make adjustments on the water as conditions change. Your chances should then be better to land that trophy.

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