Pushing your gear to the limit

By Scott CushmanNZ Fishing World
Pushing your gear to the limit

The live mackerel was getting nervous and the float darting under the surface indicated he was trying to hide in the kelp from imminent danger.

I picked up the rod and thought the predator had grabbed the bait but a strike didn’t result in a hookup. The fish was now lying on its side gulping in air but I left it there a bit longer to see if there was anything interested in it.

A huge boil erupted around the mackerel and I was into a solid kingfish three seconds later. The kingfish hit top gear and my desperate rotating of the drag didn’t seem to make any difference to the fish’s velocity. I wasn’t sure how much the 15kg line could handle as the fish was going about as fast and hard as an All Black on the burst for a French try line. Two thumbs on the reel didn’t make a difference either so I just held on hoping the hook would dig into an artery or a gill ligament and slow him down.

Slowing it down

One hundred metres down the coast a rock sticking out in the current grazed the line and the kingfish was gone. It left me wondering, how much more pressure could I have tried to apply to slow down the fish?

This is a question I have pondered numerous times in my fishing career, usually whilst holding a limp piece of monofilament between my fingers after having been smoked by some monster of the deep.

It wasn’t until a little later on in my fishing journey that I learnt a good rule of thumb for drag pressure was 30 per cent of the line’s breaking strain.

This took into account weaknesses of the knot tied, sudden surges made by the fish and in the case of game fishing outfits, water pressure on the line when several hundred metres was between the angler and fish. It didn’t seem like a lot of the allocated line strength but having lost a number of fish through the line parting, the principles behind the theory started to become more obvious.    

Then one day on the rocks having just tied a new hook and leader on to my 15kg line only to have it snag, I found myself walking back up the rocks trying to break it free. I huffed and I puffed and it took a lot of weight before I had to try again with the line, this time wrapped around a towel on my arm.

The line finally gave way but it was very apparent that the amount of pressure that could be applied with care was closer to 80 per cent of the line’s breaking strain.

The writer with a fine land-based snapper.

Targeting the big ones

This got me thinking some more about how I approached my fishing, especially when targeting large, feisty snapper that knew the rocks like the back of their fins and were particularly brutal on my gear when hooked.

A good snapper hasn’t smoked me for some time even though I’ve fished some very edgy and rough terrain off the rocks.

I would put it down to learning how far to push the limits of my tackle but also how to gently play fish at higher drag settings. It may sound like an oxymoron but even when you have a high (hard) drag setting the playing movements of pumping and winding need to be incredibly smooth (gentle) and responsive to how the fish is fighting.

There are several elements that you need to consider when pushing gear past the 30 per cent rule of thumb drag setting.

Watch for damage

The first consideration is maintaining near perfect fishing line. Choosing a good brand is important but you have to be very vigilant when using the line and make sure you are aware of any potential line damage.

When you fish your mono to the red line you must be using undamaged line – this means ensuring any time the line has touched the rocks with any force you need to inspect and or remove.
Heavy leader material is fine of course and having a longer leader gives you a bit more insurance and peace of mind.
Transporting fishing reels in the fishing bag and having hard objects jammed up against the line can crush and weaken the line if you aren’t aware of how it is being stored. The neoprene covers are great for spinning reels to prevent this kind of damage. Small soft reel bags are also a good investment.

What knot to do

The next consideration is perfect knot tying. There are a number of knots that will retain close to 100 per cent of the line’s original strength.
The bimini, plait and cat’s paw are such knots when properly tied. If you tie a bimini twist knot in your main line then attach a heavier leader with an albright knot or yucatan knot then use a clinch knot to attach the hook, you can achieve close to 100 per cent of If it’s an overhead setup you don’t want the line touching any part of the rod (e.g. blank or grip) apart from the guides.

Drag on

The next consideration is the reel. This is where expensive quality reels pay off because (theoretically) they have superb drag systems that release line in a super smooth fashion.

This is crucial, as the reel must release line at the desired setting. It can’t hesitate before releasing because the line could well snap when fished hard. This is especially true when the fish shakes its head or changes direction. These sharp changes in pressure can snap an overworked line that is already being pushed. This is also where carbontex drags can be bought to replace the stock drags.

They are relatively inexpensive and can improve the drag performance in excellent ways to ensure the reel gives up line when it should, eliminating any obvious hesitation. However, it’s important to remember that retrofitting after-market parts to reels could invalidate warranties.

One way to tell if your reel’s drag washers need replacing is to set the drag your main line’s original breaking strain strength. The clinch or improved clinch knot will break somewhere between 80-95 per cent of the line’s original strength depending on how well you tie the knot and other variables.

If you are going to try this style of playing fish I would strongly advise you to set up your rig and tie it off to a set of scales and carefully pull until it fails.
This will help you refine your knots and give you greater confidence on knowing where the limits in your tackle are.

Tackling the monster

You may find yourself pushing your rod past its recommended line rating. This brings us to the next element, fishing tackle.

Both rod and reel are important when investigating the limits of your tackle. I used to own a Kilwell Jellytip 10-15kg overhead on which I landed my biggest snapper (11kg) and a medium-sized kingfish.

Some rods have a rating range that is, shall we say, a bit optimistic. This is why you need to try attaching it to the scales to see how much you can load the rod. I would advise trying to fish 50 per cent of a line’s breaking strain so if you have a rod rated for 10kg line, see how it performs with 5kg of drag loaded.

If it’s an overhead setup you don’t want the line touching any part of the rod (e.g. blank or grip) apart from the guides.  

Game time

When game fishing and you have a lot of line out (200 metres-plus) then the drag will need to be backed off the 50 per cent mark to account for the extra pressure on the line. However for a lot of inshore fishing for prime species such as snapper and kingfish the principles mentioned here work well.

The next time that monster tries to take you to the cleaners it may be in for a surprise with your new fish fighting technique to combat its merciless dashes for freedom.

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