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Idiot fishing mistakes to avoid (from an occasional idiot)

December 19, 2019
Idiot fishing mistakes to avoid (from an occasional idiot)

How many times have you kicked yourself for doing something hair-brained or idiotic while fishing? I’m just as guilty as anyone for doing it. Here’s a few of the ‘simple’ yet almost deadly mistakes I’ve made along my fishing journeys; I hope that you can learn the same lessons as I did.

In preparation of this article I asked around a few of my fishing mate to see if they had any good yarns of mistakes they had made in the past. Well the answers came avalanching in!

Broken rods, forgotten gear, dulled hook tips, lost fish, drowned phones... and my own classic, the badly-tied knot. The wonderful thing about mistakes, however, is that unless they’re fatal, you get a second chance, and can learn from them.

A near-death experience

A couple of years ago a friend offered me the opportunity to own my first ever boat. It was beautiful wee tinny at a ridiculously generous price, so I snapped it up, naming it “The Greasy Weasel”.

The author with the Weasel herself

It wasn’t long before the mistakes began. The most fundamental one happened the first three times I launched: I forgot to put the bung in. Then I ran the propeller through sand, destroying something internal so that the prop suddenly slowed to the speed and power of a pinwheel toy. The oars made no progress against the current, and we had to scrounge a tow from a grumpy old coot in a gin-palace. “What a bunch of idiots” he must have thought.

Things got really serious on a trip to the Coromandel last year, however. The sea was completely glassed-out, and after dropping my mates on a likely-looking rock to target kings, I blasted off alone to fly fish for snapper.

Passionate rock fisho Michael Jenkins with one of many tag and release kings from the rocks. This stickbait, with barbless trebles, has accounted for nearly ten keeper kings from the rocks this summer.

After having no luck I decided to return to the rocks where I felt more confident of success. Putting the 15hp Mercury to full speed, I was fanging it back across the calm water when the stern-heavy Weasel hit a ripple, and the front of the boat was flung violently to the side. Things happened very fast, but I remember seeing the hull of the boat and all its contents flying up towards me, and then I was in the water, watching my boat, suddenly a lot lighter, zooming off at full tilt.

On the Weasel before the accident. Note, no lifejacket

In deep water

No, I wasn’t wearing my lifejacket, and no, I wasn’t using a crucial safety line to the outboard’s kill-switch. Idiot! However, a more immediate concern was that my little boat had made a wide circle, and was bearing straight down on me!

Fortunately, it just missed me, and I was able to tread water and think. The tiller had clearly been wrenched to the side when I went over, and the boat was stuck doing wide circles. Perhaps there was a chance I could grab it as it went past? On the next pass, I managed to grip the rail on the bow, but the speed of the boat meant that my hand slid down the end of the rail and was smashed at the join between rail and hull. The same thing happened on the next pass, and the next, by which time my hand was thoroughly munted up (it took a good six weeks before I could shake hands without yelping), and I realised I was going to have to abandon the boat and swim for shore.

I stripped off my expensive icebreaker top and sent it to the bottom of the sea, where it joined my $1200 dollar fly rod and reel that had come over with me when I was flung out. Then I swam for a nearby headland, and was almost there when a heroic chap and his kids came out of nowhere and rescued me in their boat. My mates on the distant rocks had seen the Weasel doing donuts, and freaked out. Their phones didn’t have reception for 111, and they were considering setting off their EPIRB device, when they managed to signal my rescuers, who were fishing in a bay around the corner.

To cut a long story short, we tried everything we could to stop the Weasel, and finally managed to jam the outboard with a trailing anchor rope.

You may wonder why we didn’t wait for the fuel to run out- the bloody tank seemed to have an infinite supply! When we finally choked the prop with a dragging rope, we’d been trying for an hour and a half, and there were still 2L or so left! All this time, I was thinking of the poor chaps who’d had to give up their fish for me- but they were super nice about it. I was sure to head to their bach that night with repayment for all their gear I’d destroyed.

Finally, we towed the Weasel to a nearby beach, and I was able to put on my lifejacket, clean up a bit, and head to my relieved friends on the rocks.

Looking back, I think it was exceedingly lucky that I wasn’t able to hold onto the rail, as I would have been swept under the outboard and minced like an onion. I was also lucky to be close to shore, and that my fellow fishos were on hand to get me out of the soup. In the final wash up, there was no permanent damage to man or boat, and my insurance company sorted me out for the gear that was lost. For about the next week, I even walked around on a bit of a high to be still alive.

The moral of the story

So, what can be learned from this? The first thing I did was to buy a coily doohickey that attaches to my belt loop at one end, and the kill switch on the side of the outboard at the other.

The safety line to the kill-switch on the motor. Would have saved a lot of angst!

I vowed to always wear my lifejacket, and to keep the speed down when alone, as I don’t have the skills or knowledge to manage the craft at speed. I also took a self-enforced month off fishing to review all my safety procedures and take up knitting as a less risky hobby. And I’m enrolling in a Day Skipper course run by the Coast Guard.

Less hair-raising mistakes:

1. Forgetting stuff.

“DAMN! I know what I forgot!” is the most annoying thing any fishing mate can say, except for “Oh yeah, the missus wants us home about mid-morning”, or “Was I supposed to bring the bait?”.

I’m as guilty of forgetting crucial gear as anyone; not so long ago I left my bundle of fly rods in the umbrella stand by the door and only realised when I was sitting on a beautiful kingfish flat ready to rumble.

Writing a list before you start gathering gear saves a lot of anguish once at sea.

Years ago, John Moran wrote in this mag that he writes a checklist before he gets ready for fishing, and I’ve adopted this, and found it invaluable. I even went to the nerdy extent of getting a clipboard for the purpose. Most of my missions involve an early morning start, and it’s a comfort to be able to come down in the morning, see the list with everything crossed off, and a few underlined items still to collect.

2. The dreaded badly-tied knot

A couple of months ago, fly fishing from a favourite rock ledge, I hooked a beautiful 15kg king on a popper. I can still see the shiny flash of green as he absolutely smashed the little fly from the side, leaving a huge white explosion of foam and spray. Off he plowed, straight out and away from the rocks and kelp, onto a lovely clear seabed of featureless sand.

Suddenly, the line went limp. Only a fisherman knows the hollow agony of a lost fish. Winding in my line, I was mortified to find that my entire leader was gone. Putting the pieces together, I realised that a hastily-tied bimini twist knot, done in a rush a few hours previously when chasing kahawai workups, had pulled free under the pressure of the king’s initial run.

What can be done? I think that preparation is probably the key here. Instead of tying (relatively) complicated knots out in the field, I’m now tying my leaders up at home, where I can do it without adrenaline stuffing things up.

I’m also going back to the basics- sitting in front of YouTube tutorials with a lot of old line, tying and tying and tying.

3. Rust

The horror! The horror! An entire flybox ruined by rust.

Last week I headed out for the first time in a couple of months, and found that virtually every single one of my flies was rusted beyond hope. A small amount of salt water must have intruded into the box (I never return used flies to the box, instead keeping them out and soaking them overnight), and I was only able to salvage about five workable flies out of fifty.

Whatever you do, never allow hooks to sit around in salt, and especially don’t return a used hook to the packet you bought it in! Soak hooks in fresh water, then lay them on newspaper to dry, and store them with a little cooking oil.

4. Barbed hooks

I haven’t used a barbed hook for years, but when I’m fishing with people who do, I’m always reminded of how much simpler going barbless is. For one thing, getting the fish off the hook is a breeze- especially important when releasing fish. For another, if you hook your bag, the carpet on the bottom of the boat, your clothes, etc, it doesn’t take five minutes and a lot of swearing to get the hook out.

Crushing hook barbs with pliers makes life easier and safer, and is much kinder on the fish.

Finally, if you hook yourself, you don’t need to go to Accident and Emergency to remove it. In Australia years ago, I got a Rapala treble hook deeply under the tendon of my right index knuckle, well past the barb. I tried all the usual tricks to yank the hook out, but the tendon was so stringy and flexible that it just moved with the yanking. A painful car drive and a long wait at the hospital followed- but it all could have been avoided if I’d simply crushed the barb of the hook down in the first place.

Final thoughts

“If you can’t learn from your mistakes, you might as well not make them,” is a useful idiom to keep in mind. All of these stupid muck-ups we make can only make us better fishermen- as long as they don’t kill us!

Tips for avoiding dumb mistakes

  • I’ve drowned four phones, and now have bought a “Lifeproof case” for my iPhone- an expensive but worthwhile investment.
  • I once left a bag of pillies under my carseat for a week. No amount of cleaning or chemicals could deal to the smell, so the car ended up crushed into a cube.
  • Bulky tackle boxes are fine for boats or at home, but are a bloody pain on the rocks- use small, compact trays instead.
  • Corks on the end of gaffs are pretty hopeless, as even the tiniest bump will knock them off. A length of garden hose, fed right around the bend, is better.
  • Releasing big cartilaginous fish like sharks and rays becomes a lot easier if you flip them upside down.


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