When I was about 10 years old, I got my first spinning reel for Christmas, a shiny, bright green, Johnson Century. I already considered myself an accomplished fisherman, having enjoyed years of weekend outings with my father and grandfather in pursuit of catfish and bass throughout the Ozarks’ Mountains of Missouri and Arkansas. While the grownups were traditionally bait fishermen, I was just a kid, bored too quickly for the sit-and-wait approach, I would grab a Jitterbug or River Runt for a solitary walk or wet-wade down the river bank in pursuit of ole “linesides”, and an occasional smallmouth. I had gotten pretty good with the level-wind reels of the day, but they always had their squeeky quirks and frequent overruns. Regardless, a good many fish were caught and released to the frying pan, as was the tradition of the day.
That new Johnson reel opened the world of fishing to me in ways I could never have imagined, just as the new reels of today continue to open the way to new presentations and techniques. In the paragraphs that follow I will reveal a few tricks and techniques that I have harvested through the years that can help the dedicated spinfisherman get the most out of his gear.
In my experience, the most fundamental attention a spinfisherman can give his gear is to make sure the spinning reel is properly spooled with good line, free of kinks and twists. In fishing around, and with, fellow fishermen, I have observed that the greatest frustration occurs from inattention to this basic requirement. All good quality lines typically come with spooling instructions and they should be followed to the letter. In the absence of instructions, the best advice is to never spool your reel by allowing the factory spool to spin on its axis while the line comes off. Instead, allow the line to come off from the side of factory spool, alternating sides as twist is observed during the spooling process. Be sure to flip the spool over frequently as needed. This can be a slow, lengthy process, but will pay great benefits with hours of hassle-free fishing pleasure. Be sure that the line is spooled with adequate applied tension to get a good tight spool of line and also make sure that the spool is properly filled to within about 1/8 inch of the lip of the spool. Failure to do either can result in immediate problems with casting and retrieving.
MONOFILAMENT VS. THERMALFILAMENT
While most fishing applications are still adequately addressed with one of the many, excellent new breeds of monofilament line, there are some specialized applications in which the new thermalfilament lines will give improved performance if they are handled properly. To their credit, they boast not only improved breaking strength for their diameter, but also tend to lay very flat on the spool, giving better release during a cast with fewer troublesome “lost loops”, especially with slack line retrieves. Every spinfisherman has experienced these tangles when a loop of line from deep within the spool comes out when casting. If improperly handled, these loops will frequently result in the loss of so much line as to require respooling. I will later explain how to properly remove these stubborn loops when they do occur.
As with almost any improvements however, there are some down sides to be considered. The new lines are very slick surfaced and require careful knotting. If not attached tightly to the arbor of the spool before spooling, I have seen an entire spool of line spin freely on the reel spool, making them worthless for applying tension while retrieving or landing a fish. And while these new lines may have improved breaking strength when fresh, it has been my experience that they will diminish in strength with a couple of seasons of use, especially if they become slightly frayed, as is their tendency. Due to this tendency, it is best when fishing for big fish with rough mouths to attach a steel or monofilament shock leader of adequate breaking strength. It was on a recent trip to south Louisiana for large redfish that I was disappointed to breakoff on the first couple of large fish due to their rough, sandpaper-like teeth. After attaching a 16 pound monofilament shock leader, I succeeded in landing a number of fish in the 20 to 35 pound range.
KNOW THY REEL LIKE THY HAND
Know where the drag adjustment is located on your reel and how to easily access and adjust it in the fray of battle. This is the next most important aspect of getting the most out of your spinning gear. While getting a fish on can be a day’s work, it is very disheartening to lose a nice fish becuse you were not ready to follow a fast course of events. This alone probably provides most of the sad, “sundowner” stories of the one that unfortunately got away.
In my experience, most big fish are lost at two junctures in the battle. The first comes very shortly after the fish is hooked. On the one hand, if the drag is set to tightly, the obvious result will be a quick long-distance release, or as we call them, “LDR’s”. If the drag is set too loosely, the fish will get a free run, generally to safety by taking out so much line that it minimizes the angler’s opportunity to gain it back. While a large fish must be able to make that first important strong run, remember that with every yard of line that is given, the odds of a successful fight for the angler is rapidly diminishing. Keep the drag set well below the breaking strength of the line, but know how to apply more or less drag as needed. There are two ways to do that.
Of course, the mechanical drag of the modern spinning reel may be the most reliable, but equally effective is the pressure an angler can apply to the spinning spool if he is adept with his rig. While firmly holding the rod with the rod hand, grasp the base of the spool with the reel hand and squeeze the spool gently with the thumb and forefinger. With a little practice, this can offer great control of the fish throughout the fight, allowing the mechanical drag to be set well below the breaking strength of the line.
The second most perilous segment of a fish fight comes when the fish is brought up alongside the boat or net of the angler. A lot of fish are lost in the last few intense surges of a tiring, but still powerful fish. Two important considerations will weigh in the angler’s favor. First is a properly set drag which permits the fish to make that final powerful surge. Second is a rod with adequate length to permit a fish to move away a few feet without having to rely on the drag of the reel. Many times I have been able to handle a large, unruly fish by keeping my rod tip high during the end of the fight. When the fish surges away, I can allow the rod to level out and still have the fish on a tight line without engaging the drag. By then again raising my rod tip I can bring the fish back to hand.
CONTROL THROUGHOUT THE CAST
While casting can seem simplicity itself, and it generally is, a few tricks can improve the odds of getting a fish on in the first place. A properly executed cast is important to the proper presentation of the offering. I couldn’t count the number of times I have seen a strike occur almost as soon as the lure hits the water. The angler must always be prepared. If the rod tip is too high when the lure contacts the water, and the fish strikes, there is little an angler can hope to do to insure a good hook-set. Conversely, if the rod tip is low when the lure strikes the water and the fish is holding a couple of feet down, the lure may be whisked away by the reel before it has the opportunity to sink to the fish’s level. The angler must anticipate these situations and make the proper adjustments to his presentation. Engage the spool bale quickly on a low rod tip as soon as the lure touches the water for instant strikes from shallow fish, especially around entanglements. Finish a cast with a high rod tip on a slow spool bale closure for fish that are suspected to be holding in deeper water. Both of these techniques will permit presenting the lure at the precisely determined spot.
ODDS AND ENDS
At one time or another, we will all have to reel slack line while fishing, one of the least poorly controlled functions of even the most modern spinning reel. Failure to do so will inevitably result in a “lost loop” of line on the following cast. When loose line has to be retrieved, quickly raise the rod tip and simultaneously reel so that each turn of the bale causes the loose line to momentarily tension against an extended forefinger of the rod hand, the line can be placed back on the spool adequately snug to cast again. This will ensure that the next cast will not result in the dreaded lost loop. If a lost loop does occur, it can be efficiently remedied by removing the spool from the reel. Be careful not to drop the spool or loose drag washers into the water! Separate the loose loop from the casting line and hold the loose loop to the front of the spool while pulling the casting line from the back of the spool until it reaches the level of the loose loop. Re-attach the spool and carefully spool all of the loose line under tension. This trick will save a lot of line and money, and may even save your fishing experience for the day if more line is not available.
Another cardinal rule of spin fishing, which I have seen violated on many occasions, is to not continue cranking the reel handle while the drag is allowing line to slip from the reel during a fish fight. If that occurs, a single twist is placed in the line with each turn of the reel handle. It may only take a single fish to render the line hopelessly twisted and unmanageable. Untwisting will then require the moving water of a stream, or a moving boat, downstream of which the twisted line, sans the lure, must be extended until the twists are removed. I have found that even this may not clear the line. Unfortunately for a bank fisherman in still water, none of this is possible.
One final, but equally important consideration in using your spinning reel effectively involves the anti-reverse setting of the reel. On some older model open-face spinning reels with smooth, round bales and not-so-hot drags, I would usually leave the anti-reverse setting open in favor of fighting a fish by using finger pressure against the spinning spool bale with an extended forefinger of my reel hand, allowing the reel to turn backward. This requires an intimate knowledge of a the reel, or a “reel” mess will likely occur. With the improved, instant anti-reverse features of many new reels, spool bales are no longer smooth and round and this is not effective. Keep the anti-reverse locked and do it all with the carefully adjusted, fine drag of the reel.
With time and practice, you will acquire your own arsenal of secrets to handling your spinning rig. Regardless, the basics of good quality line with proper spooling, and a good working knowledge of your equipment in all situations will provide many days of fishing.