Friday, February 20, 2015

Survival Fishing: 1: Line and Tackle

Fishing with a rod and reel can be not only for sport but also for food. Such devices as trot lines, gill nets, basket traps, and weirs are also highly effective, but these are outside the scope of this text. It's true that traps and so on would generally be more productive. The topic of ''rod and reel'' is meant only as a supplement to these, or perhaps as an alternative. It might be a lot quicker, however, to grab a fishing rod than to hunt down the materials for a fish trap -- so a great deal would depend on the situation.

One assumption is that you already have at least a rough idea of how to use a fishing rod -- how to use bait and lures, how to reel in your line, set a hook, and so on. You might or might not have caught many fish.

Also, only the following will be discussed:

-- fishing in northeastern North America (although the information may also apply elsewhere)

-- freshwater fishing (whereas saltwater fishing is different)

-- common fish (which usually means small species – usually easier to catch than large species)

-- fairly ''low tech'' equipment and methods (no electronics, for example)

-- spinning rods and reels (not other types)

With a spinning rod, the reel mounts under the rod. Because the reel is ''open face,'' the line comes off quickly, allowing longer casts. Such a reel is able to cast lighter baits and lures.

Where to find fish: all fish need ''structure,'' such as rocks, stumps, aquatic plants, or piers. These provide cover from predators, or conversely they allow fish to hide as they wait for prey. If the water is flowing, try fishing downstream below one of these structures.

How to handle fish: carry a small fish by placing your hand over its back, covering the dorsal fin. Carry a large fish by its lower lip, but if it's a bass of three pounds or more, support its body with your other hand also.

The present section largely discusses line and ''terminal tackle'' – all the things that go at the far end of your line. The topic of lures, however, will be discussed later, in Section 4.

Tackle needed:

nail clippers (to clip line)
small first-aid kit
hooks (various sizes)
bobbers (floats)
weights (sinkers)
snap swivels
artificial lures
stringer (for keeping fish alive)

small spool of extra monofilament

Terminal tackle should be carried in a box with plenty of small compartments. That way, you can quickly find the appropriate device for most situations.


Monofilament line -- ''mono'' -- is basically a continuous length of thin, solid nylon extruded from a machine. Mono is inexpensive, easy to cast, and nearly invisible in water. The main drawback is that it tends to stretch. Mono comes in strengths ranging from 1- to 130-pound. (The ''pounds'' roughly indicate the maximum weight of a fish at the end.) Most freshwater fishing is done with lines of 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 17, 20, or 25 pounds.

You can select from many types of mono. Live-bait anglers, for example, use thin, flexible mono to make the presentation of the bait look more natural. Don't buy cheap, no-name-brand mono; it weakens quickly, tends to be kinky, and may be uneven in thickness.

To maintain sufficient tension while winding the line on, hold the rod a foot or so up from the handle, and pinch the line between your thumb and forefinger as you crank the line on with your other hand.

Line loses strength as it ages, and exposure to sunlight will shorten its life. Never buy line from stores that have it sitting anywhere near a window. Fresh line will feel soft and supple in your fingers, whereas old line is dry, crisp, and brittle. Old line will also coil terribly.

When you put line on your spool, make sure you have enough. You need to fill the spool so that the line comes to about 1/16 of an inch from the edge.


Most of the time, fishing should be ''minimalist.'' The simpler things are, the better they work. So you might tie a small hook directly to a fishing line.

Nevertheless, there are times when it may not be best to tie a hook directly to your line. The most obvious case would be when fishing for pike, which have mouths filled with sharp teeth that can sever fishing line on contact. If you want to hold on to one of these fish after it bites your lure or bait, you'll need to use something between the hook and line to absorb the punishment from those teeth. That ''thing'' is a wire leader.

A leader is simply a length of wire from 6 to 36 inches in length, with a swivel on one end and a snap on the other. When fishing for pike, there's no alternative: you either use a leader or lose most of the fish you hook. Use a 12-inch leader for casting, or 18- or 24-inch for trolling.

If bites from pike aren't likely to be a problem but you still want the convenience of using a snap to attach the lure, so you don't have to tie a lot of knots all day, use a simple plain wire snap all by itself. You can also use snaps when fishing with certain types of lures, such as spoons, which can be hard to attach directly to the line because of their thickness. The best snaps look like little wire figure-eights. They should be made from stainless-steel wire and have an even, round bend, giving the lure plenty of freedom of movement. Choose the black ones over the chrome-plated ones, and use the smallest you can get away with. Avoid cheap snaps that have sharp bends in the wire, as well as any that use a flat piece of metal to hold the thing closed; big fish can straighten out such things far too easily.

Swivels are also important with some lures, such as in-line spinners or tube jigs, which tend to twist the line. Use a small barrel swivel with these. Simply cut the line a foot or so up from the lure and tie the swivel in place. This method prevents line twist and keeps the rig looking neat and subtle.


Hook size gets smaller as the number gets larger. But big hooks (with a ''0'') get larger (e.g., from 2/0 to 6/0). The range can stretch from a tiny size 16 to a huge 6/0. Hook sizes 16, 14, 12, and 10 are generally used in fishing for small-mouthed species like panfish, using tiny baits such as caterpillars, garden worms, or grasshoppers. Larger hooks – 8, 6, 4, 2, and 1 -- are more often used with bass, and are good for commonly used live baits, such as crayfish or large minnows. The bigger hooks – sizes 1/0, 2/0, 4/0, 5/0, and 6/0 – are most often used when fishing with substantial live baits, or when using big soft-plastic lures for largemouth bass.

Generally, though, for panfish you need a hook somewhere between 16 and 10, although for crappies you may need something larger, perhaps size 4. For largemouth bass you might want from 8 to 1, but probably in the range from 6 to 4.

On the other hand, if you're using live bait you might need a bigger hook. For worms you might want a hook size between 10 and 6. For minnows you might want size 6 to 4. For grasshoppers you might want 10 to 6.

Novice anglers often make the mistake of over-rigging -- using terminal tackle that is too heavy for the type of fishing they're doing. As a rule, use the smallest hook feasible. Small hooks penetrate more quickly than big hooks. Small hooks also allow better presentations of live bait.

While most hooks have a little barb located just above the point, it's possible to buy barbless hooks. With these things, it's easier to unhook your catch. Barbless hooks are worth considering if you want to avoid the danger of hooking yourself. You can convert existing hooks to barbless ones simply by flattening the barbs with a pair of pliers.

The straight part of the hook, called the shank, can vary a lot in length. Extra-long shanks are helpful when fishing for species like sunfish, which have small mouths and tend to gobble bait.

Hooks are sold in little bags of ten, or in boxes of 50 or 100. Buy them in bulk: not only is it less expensive in the long run, but also you'll be surprised at how many you go through. Carry hooks together in little multi-compartment boxes.

Cheap hooks are usually made of soft, low-grade steel and are poorly sharpened. Even a new, high-quality hook dulls quickly, or the tip of the point bends or breaks when dragged over rocks or through debris.

Most anglers don't bother to sharpen their fish hooks. When a point breaks or becomes dull, they simply tie on a new hook. But a new hook is not necessarily a sharp hook.

Examine your hooks frequently to see if they need sharpening. One simple method is to draw the point of a hook across a fingernail. A sharp hook leaves a light scratch and digs into the nail. A dull hook ''skates'' across the nail without digging in. When necessary, touch up the point.

Good anglers carry honing stones or flat files in their tackle boxes for touching up hook points. The usual method is to hone the point to a round, conical shape. Don't make the point too thin, because it may even break when setting a hook into a hard-mouthed fish.

The Luhr Jensen file is a good choice for sharpening most hooks. Spark plug files (which you can find in any auto parts store) also make good hook sharpeners.


A good angler carries a variety of types and sizes of bobbers (floats). A 1-inch round plastic bobber will support a small minnow, although a larger fish might pull the bobber under and swim away with it. (Note: the white half of the bobber should be on top, and the line should be attached under the red half only.)

Balance bobbers and weights carefully. Add enough split-shot weight to the line so that the bobber floats just high enough for you to see it. An insufficiently weighted bobber is harder for the fish to pull under and may cause the fish to drop the bait.


Split-shot sinkers, little balls with slots cut in them, are the usual type for freshwater fishing. Unlike hooks, which are sized by ascending numerical designation, split shot sizing is a little more complicated. The smallest size commonly used, approximately 1/16 of an ounce, is size B, followed by BB, 7, 5, 3, and -- at almost the size of a fingernail -- size 1. These removable split shot have the little ''ears'' attached to the side of the sinker opposite the slit; by pinching the ears together, you open the slit so the sinker can be removed. Split shot are therefore also easy to attach: just pinch them onto your line with your fingertips, a foot or two up from the hook. If you need more weight, use a larger size or simply attach a second weight.


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