Light Tackle tips

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I had been hooked up on the tuna for over an hour. The boat had chased it at first, but now we were getting to the drifting and lifting stage. I was concerned as the boat slowly closed on the steep rock face that was the northern side of a small island – not for the safety of the boat, but rather for my tuna, as I knew that some big kingfish lived in that area.

This fish was certainly a New Zealand record and I wanted it. I had stayed attached through the violent runs after the hook-up and was now focusing on the slow lifting process after the tuna sounded. It was just a matter of time. I didn’t voice my concerns to the crew, but they may have not wanted to mention it to me either. I wished that the tuna would head for open water away from the rocks. It didn’t though and slowly we worked closer and closer to the rocks.

If we had been after kingfish, this may well have been the place we would have tried, and now I had a suicidal New Zealand record tuna heading straight for the lions’ den. I stepped up the pressure a fraction by putting my finger on the side of the spool. It was subtle but I knew the tuna would notice. The result was instantaneous, encouraging it to run harder for the rocks. Damn!

As the tuna entered the strike zone the line angle suddenly changed, becoming rapidly shallower as the tuna headed for the surface. This was not good, probably indicating that a kingfish was indeed on its tail. The rod was alive in my hands; I could feel the tail beats of the frightened tuna as it headed for the surface. The writing was on the wall; my New Zealand Record tuna was about to get eaten! The tuna and several kingfish came to the surface together. The rod thumped once as a kingfish hit the 1kg line and broke it. The surface exploded and my 2kg tuna was gone in a flurry of kingfish tails.

Game fishing has many faces, one of which is light tackle fishing. The above introduction is an example of the highs and lows that make this sport the all-consuming passion for some, and yet be disregarded as ‘trick fishing’ by others.

This article deals with the use of line class weights of 1kg up to 4kg line – and don’t think that the tackle mentioned is only for little fish as some of the catches will be many times the breaking strain of the line. There have been some outstanding catches on light tackle, a good number of which were a lot more meritorious than much bigger catches made on heavier gear. Light tackle fishing is available for everyone. There are plenty of species that offer exciting and challenging fishing, and which anglers can try for at any time.

For example, North Island anglers are never far from kahawai. Most anglers have caught kahawai while trying for other species and, in fact, may even perceive them as a nuisance if they are not the target species. In addition to this, surfcasters tend to catch them on their heavy surf rods and boat fishers on their snapper gear, so they are liable to be less than satisfying from a sporting point of view.

Try for the same fish on one or two kilo line though, on a light spinning outfit, and you will be amazed at their fighting ability. A two kilo fish that you would be able to muscle in on heavier gear becomes a tenacious, spectacular and hard fighting adversary. Sounds a bit dramatic you think? Well that probably tells you that you have not experienced the thrill of light tackle fishing. 2kg breaking-strain line is a good starting point if the kahawai sought are averaging around two kilos. Line weight captures are not as easy as they may seem.

Success requires focus, patience, attention, a soft touch and an understanding of the fish you seek. A kahawai, for instance, will probably jump after it is hooked. You will find that they jump more when hooked on light tackle than they do on heavier gear. A trevally will fight increasingly harder as greater pressure is exerted, while a snapper will stay deep for the early part of the fight. A kingfish is likely to head for any nearby structure, and a tuna will take your lure and head away at a great rate of knots when it feels the hook. Knowing these things before you start will help with the outcome of your light tackle encounter.

Equally important is quality gear. Drags must operate smoothly when unloading line – and I mean as smooth as a raindrop running down a window pane. With one and two kilo line, a single stutter of the drag may mean a bust-off.

Line loads don’t need to be huge as there is little future for your quest once a fish has two hundred metres of line in the water. Hooks need to be needle sharp so that they penetrate easily; you won’t be doing any great rod wrenching strikes to set the hook with this gear.

Rods must be soft tipped but still possess enough lifting power to raise the fish at the end of the fight. All rings must be checked regularly for any imperfections that will damage line. The line itself needs to be a reliable, consistent IGFA rated line so that you know exactly what you are fishing with. IGFA line is pre-tested and the rating marked on the spool. Who knows, your next fish on light tackle could be a World Record and then the line rating is all-important.

Shock leaders are mandatory and knots need to be well tied and well tested. The best approach is wind-on leaders of 8 to 10kg as they can be useful during the landing of the fish; once you have overlapping turns on the reel, you can add the extra pressure required to hold a fish nearby until boated by the landing net or gaff. Keep the wind-on leader simple by tying directly to the main line with a Albright or doubled Uni-knot.

There is some merit in using tapered leaders for light tackle fishing, but keep in mind that every knot is another potential weak spot in your rig. If you are fishing in a current, a swivel will need to be incorporated into your rig. Do this by tying up short leaders with a swivel at one end and a hook at the other. Make sure that these are not too long or you may not be able to cast them when you need to.

There will be times when shy fish (trevally in particular) will demand the absence of swivels and heavy leaders. At such times, it may be necessary to tie the hook straight onto the mainline if it is over three kilos, or simply keep the wind-on leader short and light on the one and two kilo gear.

Hooks

Hooks are always a good topic for discussion when light tackle anglers get together. Most think along the same lines and demand the same properties from their hooks. There are basically two ways to go with your hooks. My favoured style of hook is the Gamakatsu Octopus because these are made on a thin gauge wire and easily set, the penetrative qualities helped further by phenomenal sharpness. They are strong hooks and even the smaller sizes, which suit the light tackle fishing, can be relied upon. They are also available in a variety of colours – if you think that is an important feature.

The second line of thought for light tackle fishing is to use circle hooks that are self-setting. In the past I have used the Tainawa and Mustad longline hooks with success, but now use Gamakatsu circle hooks as they are made on much thinner wire and are chemically sharpened for easy setting. They are available only in black.

I well remember an afternoon fishing with Mark Feldman in Mangonui Harbour using circle hooks. We caught an embarrassing number of snapper, trevally and kahawai without striking a single fish. Baits were set and rods dropped in rod holders. The tip bent over, and when line started running from the spool under a reasonable drag your fish was hooked. Neat! (If you cannot resist striking these fish, then you will be sure to pull the hooks away when using circle hooks). Hook sizes are important, as it is all but impossible to set big hooks with the light line.

For 1 and 2 kilo fishing I like to use 1/0 or 2/0 hooks as a maximum. If the bait size or shape allows it, I will go smaller. Hooks of this size are easily set. If I am fishing 3 or 4kg line I will happily use up to 5/0 hooks. (Keep in mind that I am referring to Gamakatsu hooks that are made on thin wire. Some types of hooks may have very thick shanks in the 5/0 size and not be suitable for this style of fishing).

Baits

Baits are really determined by the fish that you are after. For instance, if you want to catch a parore on 1kg line, then you need to use shellfish or weed for bait. Throwing pilchards at them is generally a waste of time. Therefore, think about the species that you are targeting and prepare the best baits you can, in a manner that you believe will be attractive to that fish.

Here are a few thoughts on baits and species; they have all worked well for me.

Kahawai: use half and whole pilchards, strip baits of skipjack tuna or mullet.
Snapper: half and whole pilchards, strips of skipjack tuna or kahawai.
Kingfish: small livebaits and dead pilchards or piper.
Trevally: shellfish, skipjack tuna and pilchards.
Parore: tuatuas, mussels, bread and green weed.
Skipjack tuna: small lures to 60g or anchovies/pilchards in meatball situations.

Knot tying can be tedious with the light line. A good trick is to wet the line before tying. It also pays to get out of the wind if possible. If you are unlucky enough to get a tangle in 1 or 2kg line, don’t bother untangling it. Cut it away and start again, as the line will be damaged and the breaking strain may even be halved. Taking no chances with your line can be the critical difference with light tackle fishing.

Approach this fishing with an open mind. You are going to bust off a few fish while getting the hang of it, and will probably frustrate other anglers if you are fishing from a boat. Make sure that they are aware that you are fishing light line and that they are prepared to keep out of your way when you hook up.

If they are out to fill the fish box, the light line might be better used on another day as they will not want to be chasing your fish around during the bite time. Be prepared for a major learning curve in your fishing skills. If you master the light stuff, anything else is easy.

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