Part 2: Tackle Basics

Having decided on the water that you want to fish, what can you do to get the best from it? You must get the basics right, if you hook a fish you want to land it. "One that got away" stories do not count for much compared to photos in the album.

Start at your end, of course most rods will land most fish if you have enough time and space, but an ultra-light wand that enables you to precisely present tiny lures is not going to prevent a double-figure pike from burying itself in a weedbed. Match the kit to the species, if you expect pike then use a sensible rod that will stop a good pike if necessary.

Modern reels should work well enough, but it is reliability in a crisis that counts, check that the clutch works properly and is set correctly. To set the clutch, thread the rod up normally and attach the end of the line to something unmovable, like a gatepost. Now pull on the post and bend the rod, when - and only when - the rod reaches maximum compression the clutch should give line to save it from breaking, the clutch is set to protect the rod, not the line. I know a lot of anglers who simply screw the clutch up tight and rely on backwinding on a fixed spool reel, or the freespool button on a multiplier. I think they are foolish, it is only a matter of time until they lose a fish because their reflexes or judgement let them down. Remember to maintain your reel with regular cleaning and oiling as per the handbook, this simple job vastly improves reliability and longevity.

Line is the next link, it is important to choose line that is strong enough in the first place. I came to lure angling from general "pleasure" angling, so I thought that 8lb b.s. mono was hefty stuff, six months and plenty of lost lures later I was on 11lb b.s. line, and a year later 15lb b.s. Of course we all use braid now, if you don't then you really should change, now. Whatever you may have read about braid having poorer abrasion-resistance than mono may or may not be true, but when real angling is concerned then braid lasts 5 times as long as mono. The lack of stretch means you feel everything the lure is doing, and the fine diameter allows you to use much stronger breaking strains than we ever could with mono. I've heard some anglers say that 50lb test braid is 'unsporting', I'm not sure that I understand them exactly but if their idea of 'sporting' involves giving a pike the chance to break the line and swim away with a lure in its mouth then I hope they take up golf, soon.

You have to match line diameter to the lure weight. I will use 10lb test braid for small lure work, to allow reasonable casting on 3g lures, or to allow small lures to troll at good depth, but I don't expect to catch many big pike with this size lures, an occasional low double maybe, but mostly it is perch, zander, chub and jacks. If you want to fish with thinner lines so that you can present smaller lures with more delicacy you must be prepared to accept the consequences. There are few waters that contain chub and perch that do not contain pike, what are you going to do when a 3ft-long torpedo heads for the lilies? And anyway chub are the best snag-finders you will ever hook. Ultra-light lure angling has a very limited place in this country, where we do not like leaving lures in fish, it's like line-class angling and it is not suited to catch-and-release. When using braided lines, remember that they require special knots. If you try the thinner braids for casting heavier lures you will soon find out how unforgiving they are and after you have had a few lures cracked off on the cast you will see the error of your ways. There are advantages with fine braid in casting some very light lures but you must be very strict in your tackle maintenance, watch out for abrasion on the line and kinks on the fine leaders that you will need.

The lightest breaking strain braid that I would consider for fixed spool use specifically for pike would be 20lb b.s., and for multiplier use with 1oz+ lures 50lb b.s. Whatever line you choose, look after it, examine it for wear and discard any damaged sections as soon as you see them. Braid is expensive but don't skimp on it, it is money well spent.

On to wire leaders. Unless you are certain that the water does not contain pike you MUST always use a wire leader. Even the smallest pike have many sharp teeth that will cut line faster than a blade. Losing a lure is bad enough, leaving one in a fish is unforgivable. There is plenty of choice now for leader material, including fine and flexible wire that is as limp as mono, and perfect for delicate presentations. For pike use a wire at stronger than your line, there is no point in using leaders of a lighter breaking strain, otherwise why use a strong line in the first place? As far as I can tell a thick wire leader makes absolutely no difference to pike, - or perch, chub or zander, for that matter, - they watch the lure, not the line. I have tried fishing for chub without a leader, believing it was spooking them, it made not one jot of difference. Make the leader long enough, 15" is a sensible minimum, with a small lure a pike could get it well back in its mouth, and with a big lure a pike can be hooked outside its mouth, but roll on the line and have it between its jaws by the time you land it.

You will need a clip, called a snap-link, to attach your lure to the leader, and there are lots of very poor quality snap-links and only a few good ones, avoid any that have metal sleeves on them, use types which are made of one piece of wire, such as cross-loks, duo-locks or coastlocks. Check that each one is properly made and closes safely. At the other end of the leader you need something to tie the line to, a swivel is the usual choice, use good quality swivels that are big enough and strong enough to stand up to being knocked about when they get caught up between rocks or on snags, aim for a minimum of 20% higher b.s. than your line. I prefer to twist, rather than crimp, my steel leaders, having passed the wire twice through the swivel eye or snap-link. I also cover the twist with a little piece of shrink-tube that stops the cut end catching on weed.

Finally, check the leader regularly, the clips wear out with use and the wire will eventually fray at either connection, kinks caused by fish or tangled lures will severely weaken thin leaders, and cause repeated tangling. If in doubt change the leader, if it is still new you can re-use the clip and swivel, but they should be dumped if at all worn.

Now the bit at the fish's end: the lure. Is it strong enough? Some cheap lures are so poorly made as to be a liability to an angler. Pike get big and will put severe stain on a lure, will the hook hangers hold? Is the leader attachment sound? Will the lure stay in one piece? Never take a chance with a weakly-made lure, a cheap lure will not seem such a bargain when a possible personal-best pike swims off with half of it in its mouth. Weak split rings and blunt hooks are pretty much standard on many lures. Change them, find a hook type that you like, strong enough, not too thick in the wire, and easy to sharpen, perhaps with a rust-preventing finish. Sharpen the hooks meticulously and flatten the barbs, replace the split rings with a reliable, strong type, you can even use two split rings on each hanger for maximum strength. Maintenance is again important, check the hooks and split rings whenever you use the lure, hooks can get blunted when they hit rocks, gravel, sand, clay or even weed and split rings often come under severe strain in the landing net.

Mentioning the landing net completes the tackle review. Never go fishing without a landing net that is big enough to land the biggest pike, and strong enough to lift it out of the water. A long handle will give a little more reassurance when fishing from a high bank, and a lure-friendly mesh will let you quickly get back to the fishing without wasting ages untangling the lure from the mesh.

You are bound to lose fish, and sometimes big ones, from time to time, that is unavoidable. Never let your decision to neglect any item of tackle be the reason for one of those losses.


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