10 Stupid Things to NOT To Catch Fish - by Larry Brown

JoshInSD

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This is one of the best resources I’ve come across for offshore fishing tips. Required reading for anyone on my boat!

http://www.redrooster3.com/LarryBrownFishingErrors.htm

The Ten Most Stupid Things (We) Anglers Do To Not Catch Fish

By Larry Brown

I used to love Letterman’s lists of the 10 most stupid things people do. When it comes to fishing there are many stupid things we do which reduce our effectiveness in locating fish, getting them to bite, hooking them and finally landing them. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” is an expression that certainly applies to fishing, and a strong fish will exploit any weakness in your tackle or game plan. Fortunately, nearly all our mistakes are avoidable and correctable.

We have all done these things but it is critical to recognize them as mistakes and take corrective action. Although many of these principles apply to fresh and salt water fishing, this article is geared to reflect salt water techniques.

The following is a review of the 10 stupidest things we anglers routinely do which cause us lose fish, or possibly not even hook them in the first place. We all do them or have done them. They are not listed in descending order of stupidity, but in sequence of how I think an angler should think about or plan his fishing trip.

1. Using old, bad line or the wrong line

Old line on your reel is bad even if it has never been used. Monofilament line has memory, and the tight coils it develops in just a week or so on your reel, create significantly more drag in the water. Coiled line is more difficult to cast, it reduces the perfection of the bait presentation and it makes a solid hook set more difficult. Long casts are frequently necessary to get your bait to boiling fish, into the current or away from the boat. Have you ever seen fish boiling on the chum but ignoring hooked bait? The increased drag of coiled line on your live bait will weigh it down, slow it down and make it appear very unnatural. Finally, with hundreds of coils in your line in the water solid hook sets will be more difficult as the line needs to be straight and tight to penetrate the bony jaws of many game fish.

Say you’ve started the day with beautiful fresh line and have caught several fish. Bad things can begin to happen. You may have been in a few tangles where another line has caused some abrasion in yours. Your line may have scraped the bottom of the boat, the rudder or props. I have even experienced live baits swim in a circle and create a knot in the line. Some of these flaws can be seen and felt when retrieving your line. Many game fish have teeth and can abrade the line if not hooked perfectly in the corner of the jaw. Checking your line should become part of your constant routine; stripping off the top 20 – 30 feet should be common practice; and changing your line completely if flaws are detected deep in the spool or at the end of the day of wide open fishing is an important habit. The cost of using good quality line in perfect condition is cheap compared to all the other costs invested in your tackle and trip.

Finally match the right line to the conditions. Use heavier line when the crew tells you to, when you first get to a kelp paddy loaded with fish or right after a jig strike when the fish are charging at anything. You will still get bit, you’ll be able to pull the fish away from the kelp and you may be able to land 3 fish while the guy using light string is still battling (and may lose) his. Also, use heavier line when the captain says there are bigger fish so you don’t lose a trophy or keep the whole boat waiting for you to land your fish when the captain wants to chase down a finicky school that hasn’t stayed in the chum line. Heavier line is also warranted with jigs to assure a solid hook set, as there is too much stretch in lighter line.

Line strategies to protect against the sharp abrasive teeth of certain game fish like yellowfin or bluefin tuna include using a heavier leader material or a double line employing a bimini loop or surgeon’s loop at the end of your mono.

Flourocarbon leaders work!!!!! Flouro is invisible underwater and increases your pick up percentages. It is also more abrasion resistant to protect against toothy predators without having to resort to a heavier leader or double line at the end of your mono. It has a time and a place. Don’t waste your money on fluorocarbon line when the fish are thick and hungry.

2. Tying bad knots

Curly Q’s and half circles are evidence of bad knots. A curly Q means the knot unraveled and a tiny half circle means the knot cut itself on the eye of the hook. Bad knots lose fish and they are very easy to avoid. If you have ever experienced a knot failure, I hope you are open to learning a new knot. Just learn a good knot and practice it for 5 minutes once a month through the non fishing season. For larger fish learn one of the double knots which have 100% strength. I like the Joe Miller knot, but the Trilene, double uni and double San Diego jam knots are also 100%. It is critical that the lines of a double knot don’t cross on the eye of the hook, as the sharp mono will cut itself. Make sure the lines are perfectly parallel on the eye of the hook. The single uni and single San Diego knots are OK for smaller fish, but why risk losing a trophy fish which may bite when you are not expecting it. These are the knots used by and recommended by the professional skippers and crews on the long range boats, and I guarantee they have seen thousands of fish lost due to bad knots.

If you are using spectra or fluorocarbon lines with mono, learn and practice the best knots appropriate for these connections. There have been many articles and schematics about these knots. Suffice it to say, learn the best knots for hooks and lures and for mono/fluoro and mono/spectra connections. Practice them, and don’t rely on your fellow anglers or crew to show you during a frenzied bite. Bottom line, don’t tie bad knots!

Illustration of a knot that slipped


3. Using dull hooks

Sharpen hooks and check them frequently. This is a critically important strategy done by scant few anglers. Expensive designer hooks usually have razor sharp points out of the package, but may have other design flaws like smaller barbs which don’t have the holding efficiency as regular old bulk hooks. A razor sharp hook is more likely to grab and hold a fish than a dull hook that can actually slide over fleshy and bony material right out of the fish’s mouth.

Hook points can become dull or flawed for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: catching fish, picking up debris, snagging or dragging on the bottom or against other structure, scraping on the bottom of the boat, damage incurred while being stored in a box or even on a guide or hook hold of your rod and even being dragged through the dense salt laden water. How many advanced anglers realize that trolling hooks lose their laser sharp point just from being dragged through miles and miles of salt water – salt is a hard mineral deposit. The best tournament winning marlin anglers know this and maintain sharp hooks like a religion. Jig hooks, treble and Siwash are particularly vulnerable to losing their perfect point. Points can become dull or curled and dramatically lose their effectiveness. Boney jawed fish like marlin and wahoo really require a strong, perfectly sharp hook for maximum effectiveness, but hook set percentages on all other fish will significantly improve with sharp hooks.

Invest in a good hand held sharpener, learn how to use it and regularly check for point flaws and re sharpen your hooks throughout the day. I was taught by a sharpening fanatic to study the current slope of the hook towards the point and push the sharpener down that surface angle towards the point. Create a diamond shape point making 45 degree strokes from the top left and right side and then the bottom side of the point.

The point of the hook is not the only potential problem with this essential tackle item. Be sure to check to make sure the eye of the hook is smooth to avoid line abrasion and that it is closed so the mono can’t slip out. Do the same for swivels.

Illustration on proper way to sharpen a hook

4. Forgetting to set and reset drags

Be sure to set your drags correctly before your first cast and to reset them every morning of a fishing trip. Changes in moisture during the night can affect your drag washers and drag. Don’t test your drag after your bait is in the water. If a big fish eats your bait or lure and your drag is too tight you may lose the fish. If this happens on a party boat everybody knows it, and you look really stupid. If you try to test your drag after casting and a big fish eats your bait or lure, you may lose your finger, as screaming monofilament cuts through flesh like its butter. Just make testing your drag part of your everyday, early morning routine.

Before the spectra type lines the rule was to set your drag at 25 – 30 % of the line test, to compensate for line drag if a strong fish runs off several hundred yards of line. Line drag is created by the friction of line against the water through which it is traveling. Mono has a large drag coefficient and you can experience or demonstrate this when you occasionally straighten line out behind a moving boat. Notice how the water grabs the line and puts a big bend in your rod. The more line in the water the more drag on your line, fish and equipment. For some it is counter intuitive but when a large fish is taking you down to the end of the spool the appropriate response is to slack off, not tighten the drag. The fish feels the same weight of the line you do and will be slowed down by this weight. You may risk breaking the line if you don’t ease off a little on the drag. Also, when your spool has less and less line (diameter) the drag equivalent of your reel is much greater and you risk breaking the line unless you back off on the drag.

Braided line has a much lower drag coefficient in water compared to mono, and drag settings can be higher than the traditional 25 – 30% of line test of the mono top shot you are using.

Don’t rely on the crew or scales to set your drag. This may be helpful as you start learning, but try to develop a good feel on what 5 pounds, 10 pounds or 25 pounds feels like.

Have confidence in your reel and your drag and don’t fiddle with it, especially early in your fight. When your fish is tiring you can apply more pressure by pressing the line with your thumb against the hypolon rod handle. If you know your equipment, (and you should) you can also tighten your drag in the last stages of the fight to close the deal. Many fish are lost at the end of the battle that could have been saved with a tighter drag and 1 minute shorter fight. But remember to reset your drag before getting back in the water and your next battle.

Finally, remember to wash your reels with the drags set tightly and to store your reels with the drags backed all the way off.

5. Not maintaining reels in perfect condition

You get annual medical check ups and have your cars serviced regularly to assure a long and healthy life for your body and car, and you need to maintain your reels and rods to get maximum service. Salt water, dirt, old grease and normal wear and tear of drags and moving parts are all problematic for reels. Learn how to do it yourself or take it to a pro, but be sure your reels and rods are in perfect working order. Even rods should be well maintained to assure functioning guides and reel seats. Dirty or worn washers and drags will result in lost fish, and repairs, replacement or a ruined fishing trip cost much more than regular maintenance. All problems with reels always show up on a fishing trip when it’s probably too late to solve. A perfectly maintained reel will extend your casts, help your baits get into the strike zone and increase your pick up percentage.

6. Improper Bait Presentation and Casting

OK, you have high quality fresh line, a good knot, a properly set drag on a good quality, well maintained reel and you’re ready to catch fish, right? Wrong! The next stupid thing people do is bad bait selection and presentation. Professional party and charter boat captains agree, “the single biggest problem keeping anglers from catching more fish is not casting well, not getting their bait or iron out to where the fish are.”

Before you make your cast, however, you better select the best possible bait. This column deals with just salt water angling but we all know sometimes trout are taking dry vs wet flies, or worms vs power bait, or that a particular lure is hot on a specific day or at a particular depth. The same is true in the ocean. You definitely have to be using the right bait, and this applies to the right lure, feather or jig as well as the right live or dead bait. Live bait fishing is the mainstay of Southern California sportfishing so this column will focus on selecting the right live bait and presenting it so you get bit.

First of all predator fish expect to encounter strong, healthy anchovies, sardines or mackerels in their environment without hooks and line dangling from their bodies. The top anglers select only the strongest, healthiest baits in the bait tank, carefully and gently scoop them and caress them in their hand while they carefully hook them through the nose or just under the anal fins in the most noninvasive way possible. Look for the lightest colored sardine, with boldly defined round black spots on its back. It is usually swimming beneath the others and most erratically when it notices your hand or net. Get your bait in the water as quickly as possible with a gentle, lofty cast.

The key is to make them look as natural as possible and allow them to swim freely. This requires a very smooth free spool reel. It is also critical to stay in “contact” with your bait, i.e., to feel the bait pulling off line. Don’t just feed line off into the current as your bait may have swum under the boat and all you would be doing is inviting a major tangle calamity. And don’t hold your thumb on the spool and constrain your bait.

Nose hook the bait if you are using a weight, fishing in a strong current or expect a longer soak. Belly hooking the baits encourages them to swim down and away from the boat and is especially good in low current or low wind conditions or if the fish are a bit deeper. Never belly hook a bait if you are using a weight. Also, belly hooked baits don’t maintain their vigor as well as nose hooked baits, and should not be used for long soaks (sometimes called plunker bites) when the fish are cruising and boiling a long distance from your boat.

Sometimes your captain will tell you he’s metering fish deeper, e.g., at 20 fathoms. Try belly hooking the bait or nose hooking one with a weight to get it down closer to where the fish are holding. Also ask, observe and experiment. If someone is catching fish ask if he or she is using a weight or if they are belly or nose hooking their baits. If the captain is metering fish and no body is getting bit change your tactic – try a weight or belly hooking your bait to see if that stimulates a bite. If the fish are deeper try dropping a heavy jig and cranking like heck – called yo-yoing. This may require multiple set ups but being prepared for different scenarios and trying different tactics will result in more fish being hooked and caught.

Lastly, don’t soak bait too long or too short. There is generally an “optimum” amount of time to soak a bait, and this will depend on the conditions. If fish are boiling in the chum line and biting relatively close to the boat, change your bait every 2 – 3 minutes, maximum, if you are not bit! There is probably something wrong with the bait or the presentation so just fire the bait and try again. Sometimes I’ll give a bait only 30 seconds if it doesn’t have the right feeling. Sometimes the tuna are boiling a long distance from the boat and an agonizingly long soak is required. This is more common with bluefin tuna and requires patience, but your patience can be well rewarded. Just make sure you use the right presentation and soak time for the right conditions.

Match the hatch even has merit in the ocean. Open water tuna are often feeding on tiny baits. It’s sure easier to cast and fish with a big sardine, but if the captain says the fish are feeding on small stuff try using the smallest sardine or anchovy on a smaller hook to increase your shot at getting bit. Also try tiny megabaits or other lures to entice a bite, when the tuna are feeding on small baits.

Remember my earlier comment that fluorocarbon leaders increase the pick up percentages and should be added to your strategy to present the perfect bait.

Practice casting for distance and accuracy. You can do this at the local park with a small stick or torpedo sinker to simulate a live bait or jig, respectively. Learn the physical dynamics of a long, pendulous, lob cast to achieve distance and accuracy.

Using the perfect bait with a perfect presentation dramatically increases your hook and catch ratio, but using bad or the wrong baits with bad presentation remains one of the most common stupid mistakes anglers make.

Other Baits: Fresh dead bait and cut baits also have a critical place in game fishing and these include using a slab bait for big yellowtail on a dropper loop or using a dead squid on a balloon or kite for yellowfin and bluefin tuna or deep for bluefin tuna and swordfish at night. Artificial baits also play a critical role to increasing your success rate so have a good stock and know how and when to use them. Make sure the hooks are razor sharp and make sure you try to match the best artificial bait to the situation and conditions. Also, learn about and experiment with different scents. Know when to use larger or smaller artificial baits. Make sure the swimming action is perfect on your surface iron and swim baits, and if you can’t “tune them” to swim perfectly throw them away. An entire article could be devoted to using jigs, feathers, poppers and swim baits, but in the interest of space I merely mention their importance here and urge you to increase your knowledge, skills and use of these tools.

7. Improper hook set

The fish picks up your bait and starts to peel off line, your adrenaline screams, and you set the hook too soon and just jerk against loose line and signal to your prey to drop the bait. Or you could wait too long and risk the prey sensing the hook or line and dropping the bait or letting him swallow the hook which may let him bite through the line if it’s a big fish and long battle. The proper hook set will depend on the species and size of prey, the size of the bait and the type of hook you are using.

The first issue is timing. For example, for school size tuna using sardines a short 1 or 3 count is plenty. Larger tuna, anything over 50 pounds, put it in gear as soon as you feel the thud, which is the tuna inhaling the bait. Yellowtail tend to pick up a big mackerel and run with it like a dog holding a bone. If you are fishing a larger mackerel for yellowtail a long 6 – 8 count may be needed for the yellow to turn the bait in its mouth and swallow it. Smaller baits require less time.

Do you use J-hooks or circle hooks, and if you switch back and forth will you remember which is on at any specific time? I think fishing all the time like you are using circle hooks will increase your hook up ratio anyway. Here’s my logic. The most common screw up is “premature hook set,” specifically, not letting your line come tight before setting the hook. Your bait does not swim in an exactly straight line. Due to line friction your mono will track through the water in the same curvy path taken by your bait. Even when a game fish picks up your bait, the line will track through the same curvy path. When you swing too soon all you are doing is swinging against loose line.

Illustration on “premature hook set” – Show line tracking lazy waves and circles through thewater and angler trying to set the hook

Circle hooks have taught us to engage the brake, point the rod tip directly at the fish, quickly wind down on the fish until you feel the weight of the fish load up on the rod, and then (and only then!) slowing raise the rod tip and you are on. Do the same thing with J-hooks and you will increase your hook set ratio significantly. Let the fish hook himself. He’s running away at 30 mph and when he reaches the end of the loose line any good quality sharp hook will bury itself in its jaw at the proper drag setting.

Just a quick word on setting the hook when fishing jigs. Don’t! Whether you are yoyo fishing heavy iron or casting surface jigs it is critical to wind through the strike. Just keep winding and pointing your rod at the fish. Keep winding!!! Wind, wind, wind. Only when the fish starts peeling off line is it OK to do the Hollywood hook set, but by this time the hook is already driven home.

Always use sharp hooks!!!!!!!!!. This is a separate, stand-by-itself “stupid” section, but it is critical to the strategy of proper hook sets so I state it here, again. Use sharp hooks!!!!!!!.

8. Losing Fish in Tangles

Getting into tangles is actually avoidable most of the time. You can avoid tangles by being aware of where your bait is and where your fish is and by keeping them in front of you all the time. You teach your kids to drive defensively to avoid accidents. You must also be keenly aware of who is on your right and left and where their fish is and where it is going, whether or not you are battling a fish. It really helps if everybody else on board is practicing this rail etiquette, but just your increased awareness, fast action and courtesy can help avoid and even extricate yourself from potential tangles, even when others are oblivious. On all good sport fishing boats, this is reviewed in the fishing seminar. Listen carefully and learn and practice these skills.

But some tangles are inevitable. Don’t panic. Your crew members are geniuses at saving fish from tangles. Listen to the crew during the seminar, and listen to the crew when they are helping you out of a tangle. If you are just in a 2 fish tangle you can easily get out just by putting your rod tips together and passing one rod over the other until the lines separate. If you do lose a fish to a tangle or get cut off by another fish, just get back in the water as fast as possible. Don't blame the other angler as you may share the guilt and have certainly cut off your fair number of fish in the past. Don’t sulk. There are plenty of fish in the ocean.

9. Taking too long to fight and land a fish

The longer you fight your fish the more things can happen to produce a negative result. Having the drag set properly is critical, and was the subject for stupid thing #3. Trust your drag and when the fish is straight up and down it’s time to add pressure by tightening the star drag or aiding the drag by pushing the line against the hypolon on the rod. If you have a lever drag, now is the time to push it to full. Ninety percent of anglers with 2-speed reels have never used full drag and don’t even know the coefficient of drag at strike Vs full for their reels. Excess time in the water can result in losing your fish to; a shark, a sea lion, a tangle, kelp, rocks, the bottom of the boat including the rudder or props, a weak point in the line or being cut off by a freshly hooked fish. I remember a captain telling us, “after the fish swallows your bait, nothing good can happen in the water.”

10. Not paying attention

The best anglers are always studying the environment, looking for and listening for signs and signals. Even on a party boat this can be critical and will separate the really good anglers from the average anglers. They’ll see a dipping bird and quickly toss a jig in its direction. If the captain says he’s metering fish at 15 fathoms, they’ll drop a weighted bait or a heavy yoyo jig. If he sees fish boiling 100 yards up swell, he’ll patiently soak a bait until it is in the bite zone. But if fish are boiling in the chum line or close around the boat he won’t tolerate a bait not getting bit for more than a minute. He’ll notice if others are getting bit by nose hooking or butt hooking their baits or if they are fly lining or using a weight. They use peripheral vision and hearing to get bit and avoid problems. For example, he’ll hear a deckhand tell another angler, “you’ve been hoo’d” and will immediately start tossing a wahoo jig or bomb. Pay attention to the environment; look for and listen for any sign or signal and be ready to adjust your tactics in an instant.

Bonus Tip – Listen to the Crew

The crew is out on the water every day, and they want you to catch fish. They know what works best and what does not. But, believe it or not, a lot of anglers just don’t listen to or follow crew’s advice. This is one of the stupidest things anglers consistently do. It is also very frustrating for the crew after telling passengers multiple times what works to see them doing it their way.

Bonus Section

I tried to list and review the top 10 stupid things which impede us hooking and landing fish, but there are many other things we do or don’t do which also are significant handicaps.

1. Match your gear to your strategy (e.g. yoyo jigging is optimally done with a shorter stout rod, high speed reel and 50# test line.

2. Be prepared – have the right gear ready to go at the right time.

3. Have redundant gear – to get back in the water quickly after landing a fish or a suffering a mishap.

4. Don’t postpone trips. Life is short and you can’t catch fish on your couch!

5. Rail rage – don’t get frustrated or angry about missing a fish, not getting bit, getting cut off, etc. Have a positive psyche and you will catch more fish and make fewer mistakes.

6. Learn and use new technology; e.g., fluorocarbon line, scented baits, butterfly jigs, surface poppers.

7. Artificial baits – learn how and when to use surface and yoyo jigs, feathers, poppers, plastic swim baits. Make sure they swim perfectly.

Practice!!!!! Most of us go fishing just a few times a year. We spend a lot of money for equipment, the license and trip, but we miss opportunities for all the reasons this article has reviewed. Most of these stupid things we do to lose fish could be eliminated by practicing. How many of us practice tying knots during the non-fishing season? Or practice casting a light stick at the park to simulate a live bait? Or practice casting and retrieving surface jigs to dial in the perfect retrieve speed to get the perfect swimming action for that jig. Or mentally visualize techniques and procedures like setting the hook or avoiding tangles? Professional sports psychologists teach athletes to improve their success by visualization and I am convinced mentally practicing and rehearsing techniques like properly setting the hook, will improve success.
 

SaltH20Angler

I'm not superstitious... cuz it's bad luck.
  • Aug 6, 2016
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    I know a couple guys...
    7f20b824f42c8a62ec49150184033aa4.jpg
     
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    woodfish330

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  • Aug 14, 2012
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    Although those of us who fish regularly believe we already do ALL those things....it sure is nice to see it all in one article. Well written. Well explained. This would be an excellent handout to all who enter any serious salt water store.... thinking of buying gear and going fishing. It would give them a great base to start their fishing career. Thanks for the post.
    In a world of 128 character posts and short attention spans.... I believe most "forum followers" will say it's too long to read....Their loss.
     
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    Let em eat 74

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    Although those of us who fish regularly believe we already do ALL those things....it sure is nice to see it all in one article. Well written. Well explained. This would be an excellent handout to all who enter any serious salt water store.... thinking of buying gear and going fishing. It would give them a great base to start their fishing career. Thanks for the post.
    In a world of 128 character posts and short attention spans.... I believe most "forum followers" will say it's too long to read....Their loss.

    Well said, I couldn’t agree more.
     
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    yakmandan

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    What a great read and reminder I try to do all these things but forget some especially over the off season
    I've seen and made everyone of those mistakes over the years. The best advice you gave is to pay attention and listen to the crew. They are out there everyday. The other thing is to pay attention to what other people are doing right or wrong and adjust accordingly.
     
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    fyermn

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    I have read this before, but since it has been a while since a lot of us have been out fishing, it is always good to read again. Thanks Larry !!!
     
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    fishkilr

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    Aug 27, 2012
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    Agree with most but hook setting I believe is situational...with tuna not so much but you cant tell me that that the way we have been fishin j hooks all these years for most species is wrong especially for bass,yellows,halibut etc..
    When you spend enough time at the rail knowing when to swing is a skill that must be learned by feel....
    If you watch a group of guys fish those few guys that are catching most of the fish rarely swing and miss,kind of like watching a bunch of really good street skaters who very rarely fall to the ground..
    I fish half spools of mono and I understand the problem if your fishing spectra with short top shots with setting as hard as u can but to me it is the funnest part of fishing and I have never had a problem with my hook set ratio...
    When I fish circle hooks I have to consciously not swing and just put it in gear it feels kinda like fuckin pussy with a condom on...
    JMO!
     
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    caballo del mar

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    May 4, 2004
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    Brian Kiyohara said the only reason you need a sharp hook for tuna is to get it through the bait. Tuna hook up pretty easily. Definitely need sharp hooks for Wahoo and Marlin.
     
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    afraser

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    Apr 20, 2008
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    Forgot to squeeze the last crimp, done that.
    Didn’t do enough wraps on windon leader, done that.
    Fish light wire to it’s breaking strength for wahoo, cause they can’t bite thru wire, right?
    Use sunscreen that isn’t scent free or don’t wash it off your hands well. Seen that happen.
    Use a really short rod on a big fish. Line will rub against boat.
    Didnt test your knots, especially on heavy gear. Always check to at least 20lb. I’ve surprisingly broken several 100lb leaders.
    Leave loose line on spool. Big fish buries line and pow. Seen that several times.
     
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    MathProf

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    This is one of the best resources I’ve come across for offshore fishing tips. Required reading for anyone on my boat!

    http://www.redrooster3.com/LarryBrownFishingErrors.htm

    The Ten Most Stupid Things (We) Anglers Do To Not Catch Fish

    By Larry Brown


    I used to love Letterman’s lists of the 10 most stupid things people do. When it comes to fishing there are many stupid things we do which reduce our effectiveness in locating fish, getting them to bite, hooking them and finally landing them. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” is an expression that certainly applies to fishing, and a strong fish will exploit any weakness in your tackle or game plan. Fortunately, nearly all our mistakes are avoidable and correctable.

    We have all done these things but it is critical to recognize them as mistakes and take corrective action. Although many of these principles apply to fresh and salt water fishing, this article is geared to reflect salt water techniques.

    The following is a review of the 10 stupidest things we anglers routinely do which cause us lose fish, or possibly not even hook them in the first place. We all do them or have done them. They are not listed in descending order of stupidity, but in sequence of how I think an angler should think about or plan his fishing trip.

    1. Using old, bad line or the wrong line

    Old line on your reel is bad even if it has never been used. Monofilament line has memory, and the tight coils it develops in just a week or so on your reel, create significantly more drag in the water. Coiled line is more difficult to cast, it reduces the perfection of the bait presentation and it makes a solid hook set more difficult. Long casts are frequently necessary to get your bait to boiling fish, into the current or away from the boat. Have you ever seen fish boiling on the chum but ignoring hooked bait? The increased drag of coiled line on your live bait will weigh it down, slow it down and make it appear very unnatural. Finally, with hundreds of coils in your line in the water solid hook sets will be more difficult as the line needs to be straight and tight to penetrate the bony jaws of many game fish.

    Say you’ve started the day with beautiful fresh line and have caught several fish. Bad things can begin to happen. You may have been in a few tangles where another line has caused some abrasion in yours. Your line may have scraped the bottom of the boat, the rudder or props. I have even experienced live baits swim in a circle and create a knot in the line. Some of these flaws can be seen and felt when retrieving your line. Many game fish have teeth and can abrade the line if not hooked perfectly in the corner of the jaw. Checking your line should become part of your constant routine; stripping off the top 20 – 30 feet should be common practice; and changing your line completely if flaws are detected deep in the spool or at the end of the day of wide open fishing is an important habit. The cost of using good quality line in perfect condition is cheap compared to all the other costs invested in your tackle and trip.

    Finally match the right line to the conditions. Use heavier line when the crew tells you to, when you first get to a kelp paddy loaded with fish or right after a jig strike when the fish are charging at anything. You will still get bit, you’ll be able to pull the fish away from the kelp and you may be able to land 3 fish while the guy using light string is still battling (and may lose) his. Also, use heavier line when the captain says there are bigger fish so you don’t lose a trophy or keep the whole boat waiting for you to land your fish when the captain wants to chase down a finicky school that hasn’t stayed in the chum line. Heavier line is also warranted with jigs to assure a solid hook set, as there is too much stretch in lighter line.

    Line strategies to protect against the sharp abrasive teeth of certain game fish like yellowfin or bluefin tuna include using a heavier leader material or a double line employing a bimini loop or surgeon’s loop at the end of your mono.

    Flourocarbon leaders work!!!!! Flouro is invisible underwater and increases your pick up percentages. It is also more abrasion resistant to protect against toothy predators without having to resort to a heavier leader or double line at the end of your mono. It has a time and a place. Don’t waste your money on fluorocarbon line when the fish are thick and hungry.

    2. Tying bad knots

    Curly Q’s and half circles are evidence of bad knots. A curly Q means the knot unraveled and a tiny half circle means the knot cut itself on the eye of the hook. Bad knots lose fish and they are very easy to avoid. If you have ever experienced a knot failure, I hope you are open to learning a new knot. Just learn a good knot and practice it for 5 minutes once a month through the non fishing season. For larger fish learn one of the double knots which have 100% strength. I like the Joe Miller knot, but the Trilene, double uni and double San Diego jam knots are also 100%. It is critical that the lines of a double knot don’t cross on the eye of the hook, as the sharp mono will cut itself. Make sure the lines are perfectly parallel on the eye of the hook. The single uni and single San Diego knots are OK for smaller fish, but why risk losing a trophy fish which may bite when you are not expecting it. These are the knots used by and recommended by the professional skippers and crews on the long range boats, and I guarantee they have seen thousands of fish lost due to bad knots.

    If you are using spectra or fluorocarbon lines with mono, learn and practice the best knots appropriate for these connections. There have been many articles and schematics about these knots. Suffice it to say, learn the best knots for hooks and lures and for mono/fluoro and mono/spectra connections. Practice them, and don’t rely on your fellow anglers or crew to show you during a frenzied bite. Bottom line, don’t tie bad knots!

    Illustration of a knot that slipped


    3. Using dull hooks


    Sharpen hooks and check them frequently. This is a critically important strategy done by scant few anglers. Expensive designer hooks usually have razor sharp points out of the package, but may have other design flaws like smaller barbs which don’t have the holding efficiency as regular old bulk hooks. A razor sharp hook is more likely to grab and hold a fish than a dull hook that can actually slide over fleshy and bony material right out of the fish’s mouth.

    Hook points can become dull or flawed for a number of reasons, including but not limited to: catching fish, picking up debris, snagging or dragging on the bottom or against other structure, scraping on the bottom of the boat, damage incurred while being stored in a box or even on a guide or hook hold of your rod and even being dragged through the dense salt laden water. How many advanced anglers realize that trolling hooks lose their laser sharp point just from being dragged through miles and miles of salt water – salt is a hard mineral deposit. The best tournament winning marlin anglers know this and maintain sharp hooks like a religion. Jig hooks, treble and Siwash are particularly vulnerable to losing their perfect point. Points can become dull or curled and dramatically lose their effectiveness. Boney jawed fish like marlin and wahoo really require a strong, perfectly sharp hook for maximum effectiveness, but hook set percentages on all other fish will significantly improve with sharp hooks.

    Invest in a good hand held sharpener, learn how to use it and regularly check for point flaws and re sharpen your hooks throughout the day. I was taught by a sharpening fanatic to study the current slope of the hook towards the point and push the sharpener down that surface angle towards the point. Create a diamond shape point making 45 degree strokes from the top left and right side and then the bottom side of the point.

    The point of the hook is not the only potential problem with this essential tackle item. Be sure to check to make sure the eye of the hook is smooth to avoid line abrasion and that it is closed so the mono can’t slip out. Do the same for swivels.

    Illustration on proper way to sharpen a hook

    4. Forgetting to set and reset drags


    Be sure to set your drags correctly before your first cast and to reset them every morning of a fishing trip. Changes in moisture during the night can affect your drag washers and drag. Don’t test your drag after your bait is in the water. If a big fish eats your bait or lure and your drag is too tight you may lose the fish. If this happens on a party boat everybody knows it, and you look really stupid. If you try to test your drag after casting and a big fish eats your bait or lure, you may lose your finger, as screaming monofilament cuts through flesh like its butter. Just make testing your drag part of your everyday, early morning routine.

    Before the spectra type lines the rule was to set your drag at 25 – 30 % of the line test, to compensate for line drag if a strong fish runs off several hundred yards of line. Line drag is created by the friction of line against the water through which it is traveling. Mono has a large drag coefficient and you can experience or demonstrate this when you occasionally straighten line out behind a moving boat. Notice how the water grabs the line and puts a big bend in your rod. The more line in the water the more drag on your line, fish and equipment. For some it is counter intuitive but when a large fish is taking you down to the end of the spool the appropriate response is to slack off, not tighten the drag. The fish feels the same weight of the line you do and will be slowed down by this weight. You may risk breaking the line if you don’t ease off a little on the drag. Also, when your spool has less and less line (diameter) the drag equivalent of your reel is much greater and you risk breaking the line unless you back off on the drag.

    Braided line has a much lower drag coefficient in water compared to mono, and drag settings can be higher than the traditional 25 – 30% of line test of the mono top shot you are using.

    Don’t rely on the crew or scales to set your drag. This may be helpful as you start learning, but try to develop a good feel on what 5 pounds, 10 pounds or 25 pounds feels like.

    Have confidence in your reel and your drag and don’t fiddle with it, especially early in your fight. When your fish is tiring you can apply more pressure by pressing the line with your thumb against the hypolon rod handle. If you know your equipment, (and you should) you can also tighten your drag in the last stages of the fight to close the deal. Many fish are lost at the end of the battle that could have been saved with a tighter drag and 1 minute shorter fight. But remember to reset your drag before getting back in the water and your next battle.

    Finally, remember to wash your reels with the drags set tightly and to store your reels with the drags backed all the way off.

    5. Not maintaining reels in perfect condition

    You get annual medical check ups and have your cars serviced regularly to assure a long and healthy life for your body and car, and you need to maintain your reels and rods to get maximum service. Salt water, dirt, old grease and normal wear and tear of drags and moving parts are all problematic for reels. Learn how to do it yourself or take it to a pro, but be sure your reels and rods are in perfect working order. Even rods should be well maintained to assure functioning guides and reel seats. Dirty or worn washers and drags will result in lost fish, and repairs, replacement or a ruined fishing trip cost much more than regular maintenance. All problems with reels always show up on a fishing trip when it’s probably too late to solve. A perfectly maintained reel will extend your casts, help your baits get into the strike zone and increase your pick up percentage.

    6. Improper Bait Presentation and Casting

    OK, you have high quality fresh line, a good knot, a properly set drag on a good quality, well maintained reel and you’re ready to catch fish, right? Wrong! The next stupid thing people do is bad bait selection and presentation. Professional party and charter boat captains agree, “the single biggest problem keeping anglers from catching more fish is not casting well, not getting their bait or iron out to where the fish are.”

    Before you make your cast, however, you better select the best possible bait. This column deals with just salt water angling but we all know sometimes trout are taking dry vs wet flies, or worms vs power bait, or that a particular lure is hot on a specific day or at a particular depth. The same is true in the ocean. You definitely have to be using the right bait, and this applies to the right lure, feather or jig as well as the right live or dead bait. Live bait fishing is the mainstay of Southern California sportfishing so this column will focus on selecting the right live bait and presenting it so you get bit.

    First of all predator fish expect to encounter strong, healthy anchovies, sardines or mackerels in their environment without hooks and line dangling from their bodies. The top anglers select only the strongest, healthiest baits in the bait tank, carefully and gently scoop them and caress them in their hand while they carefully hook them through the nose or just under the anal fins in the most noninvasive way possible. Look for the lightest colored sardine, with boldly defined round black spots on its back. It is usually swimming beneath the others and most erratically when it notices your hand or net. Get your bait in the water as quickly as possible with a gentle, lofty cast.

    The key is to make them look as natural as possible and allow them to swim freely. This requires a very smooth free spool reel. It is also critical to stay in “contact” with your bait, i.e., to feel the bait pulling off line. Don’t just feed line off into the current as your bait may have swum under the boat and all you would be doing is inviting a major tangle calamity. And don’t hold your thumb on the spool and constrain your bait.

    Nose hook the bait if you are using a weight, fishing in a strong current or expect a longer soak. Belly hooking the baits encourages them to swim down and away from the boat and is especially good in low current or low wind conditions or if the fish are a bit deeper. Never belly hook a bait if you are using a weight. Also, belly hooked baits don’t maintain their vigor as well as nose hooked baits, and should not be used for long soaks (sometimes called plunker bites) when the fish are cruising and boiling a long distance from your boat.

    Sometimes your captain will tell you he’s metering fish deeper, e.g., at 20 fathoms. Try belly hooking the bait or nose hooking one with a weight to get it down closer to where the fish are holding. Also ask, observe and experiment. If someone is catching fish ask if he or she is using a weight or if they are belly or nose hooking their baits. If the captain is metering fish and no body is getting bit change your tactic – try a weight or belly hooking your bait to see if that stimulates a bite. If the fish are deeper try dropping a heavy jig and cranking like heck – called yo-yoing. This may require multiple set ups but being prepared for different scenarios and trying different tactics will result in more fish being hooked and caught.

    Lastly, don’t soak bait too long or too short. There is generally an “optimum” amount of time to soak a bait, and this will depend on the conditions. If fish are boiling in the chum line and biting relatively close to the boat, change your bait every 2 – 3 minutes, maximum, if you are not bit! There is probably something wrong with the bait or the presentation so just fire the bait and try again. Sometimes I’ll give a bait only 30 seconds if it doesn’t have the right feeling. Sometimes the tuna are boiling a long distance from the boat and an agonizingly long soak is required. This is more common with bluefin tuna and requires patience, but your patience can be well rewarded. Just make sure you use the right presentation and soak time for the right conditions.

    Match the hatch even has merit in the ocean. Open water tuna are often feeding on tiny baits. It’s sure easier to cast and fish with a big sardine, but if the captain says the fish are feeding on small stuff try using the smallest sardine or anchovy on a smaller hook to increase your shot at getting bit. Also try tiny megabaits or other lures to entice a bite, when the tuna are feeding on small baits.

    Remember my earlier comment that fluorocarbon leaders increase the pick up percentages and should be added to your strategy to present the perfect bait.

    Practice casting for distance and accuracy. You can do this at the local park with a small stick or torpedo sinker to simulate a live bait or jig, respectively. Learn the physical dynamics of a long, pendulous, lob cast to achieve distance and accuracy.

    Using the perfect bait with a perfect presentation dramatically increases your hook and catch ratio, but using bad or the wrong baits with bad presentation remains one of the most common stupid mistakes anglers make.

    Other Baits: Fresh dead bait and cut baits also have a critical place in game fishing and these include using a slab bait for big yellowtail on a dropper loop or using a dead squid on a balloon or kite for yellowfin and bluefin tuna or deep for bluefin tuna and swordfish at night. Artificial baits also play a critical role to increasing your success rate so have a good stock and know how and when to use them. Make sure the hooks are razor sharp and make sure you try to match the best artificial bait to the situation and conditions. Also, learn about and experiment with different scents. Know when to use larger or smaller artificial baits. Make sure the swimming action is perfect on your surface iron and swim baits, and if you can’t “tune them” to swim perfectly throw them away. An entire article could be devoted to using jigs, feathers, poppers and swim baits, but in the interest of space I merely mention their importance here and urge you to increase your knowledge, skills and use of these tools.

    7. Improper hook set

    The fish picks up your bait and starts to peel off line, your adrenaline screams, and you set the hook too soon and just jerk against loose line and signal to your prey to drop the bait. Or you could wait too long and risk the prey sensing the hook or line and dropping the bait or letting him swallow the hook which may let him bite through the line if it’s a big fish and long battle. The proper hook set will depend on the species and size of prey, the size of the bait and the type of hook you are using.

    The first issue is timing. For example, for school size tuna using sardines a short 1 or 3 count is plenty. Larger tuna, anything over 50 pounds, put it in gear as soon as you feel the thud, which is the tuna inhaling the bait. Yellowtail tend to pick up a big mackerel and run with it like a dog holding a bone. If you are fishing a larger mackerel for yellowtail a long 6 – 8 count may be needed for the yellow to turn the bait in its mouth and swallow it. Smaller baits require less time.

    Do you use J-hooks or circle hooks, and if you switch back and forth will you remember which is on at any specific time? I think fishing all the time like you are using circle hooks will increase your hook up ratio anyway. Here’s my logic. The most common screw up is “premature hook set,” specifically, not letting your line come tight before setting the hook. Your bait does not swim in an exactly straight line. Due to line friction your mono will track through the water in the same curvy path taken by your bait. Even when a game fish picks up your bait, the line will track through the same curvy path. When you swing too soon all you are doing is swinging against loose line.

    Illustration on “premature hook set” – Show line tracking lazy waves and circles through thewater and angler trying to set the hook

    Circle hooks have taught us to engage the brake, point the rod tip directly at the fish, quickly wind down on the fish until you feel the weight of the fish load up on the rod, and then (and only then!) slowing raise the rod tip and you are on. Do the same thing with J-hooks and you will increase your hook set ratio significantly. Let the fish hook himself. He’s running away at 30 mph and when he reaches the end of the loose line any good quality sharp hook will bury itself in its jaw at the proper drag setting.

    Just a quick word on setting the hook when fishing jigs. Don’t! Whether you are yoyo fishing heavy iron or casting surface jigs it is critical to wind through the strike. Just keep winding and pointing your rod at the fish. Keep winding!!! Wind, wind, wind. Only when the fish starts peeling off line is it OK to do the Hollywood hook set, but by this time the hook is already driven home.

    Always use sharp hooks!!!!!!!!!. This is a separate, stand-by-itself “stupid” section, but it is critical to the strategy of proper hook sets so I state it here, again. Use sharp hooks!!!!!!!.

    8. Losing Fish in Tangles

    Getting into tangles is actually avoidable most of the time. You can avoid tangles by being aware of where your bait is and where your fish is and by keeping them in front of you all the time. You teach your kids to drive defensively to avoid accidents. You must also be keenly aware of who is on your right and left and where their fish is and where it is going, whether or not you are battling a fish. It really helps if everybody else on board is practicing this rail etiquette, but just your increased awareness, fast action and courtesy can help avoid and even extricate yourself from potential tangles, even when others are oblivious. On all good sport fishing boats, this is reviewed in the fishing seminar. Listen carefully and learn and practice these skills.

    But some tangles are inevitable. Don’t panic. Your crew members are geniuses at saving fish from tangles. Listen to the crew during the seminar, and listen to the crew when they are helping you out of a tangle. If you are just in a 2 fish tangle you can easily get out just by putting your rod tips together and passing one rod over the other until the lines separate. If you do lose a fish to a tangle or get cut off by another fish, just get back in the water as fast as possible. Don't blame the other angler as you may share the guilt and have certainly cut off your fair number of fish in the past. Don’t sulk. There are plenty of fish in the ocean.

    9. Taking too long to fight and land a fish

    The longer you fight your fish the more things can happen to produce a negative result. Having the drag set properly is critical, and was the subject for stupid thing #3. Trust your drag and when the fish is straight up and down it’s time to add pressure by tightening the star drag or aiding the drag by pushing the line against the hypolon on the rod. If you have a lever drag, now is the time to push it to full. Ninety percent of anglers with 2-speed reels have never used full drag and don’t even know the coefficient of drag at strike Vs full for their reels. Excess time in the water can result in losing your fish to; a shark, a sea lion, a tangle, kelp, rocks, the bottom of the boat including the rudder or props, a weak point in the line or being cut off by a freshly hooked fish. I remember a captain telling us, “after the fish swallows your bait, nothing good can happen in the water.”

    10. Not paying attention

    The best anglers are always studying the environment, looking for and listening for signs and signals. Even on a party boat this can be critical and will separate the really good anglers from the average anglers. They’ll see a dipping bird and quickly toss a jig in its direction. If the captain says he’s metering fish at 15 fathoms, they’ll drop a weighted bait or a heavy yoyo jig. If he sees fish boiling 100 yards up swell, he’ll patiently soak a bait until it is in the bite zone. But if fish are boiling in the chum line or close around the boat he won’t tolerate a bait not getting bit for more than a minute. He’ll notice if others are getting bit by nose hooking or butt hooking their baits or if they are fly lining or using a weight. They use peripheral vision and hearing to get bit and avoid problems. For example, he’ll hear a deckhand tell another angler, “you’ve been hoo’d” and will immediately start tossing a wahoo jig or bomb. Pay attention to the environment; look for and listen for any sign or signal and be ready to adjust your tactics in an instant.

    Bonus Tip – Listen to the Crew

    The crew is out on the water every day, and they want you to catch fish. They know what works best and what does not. But, believe it or not, a lot of anglers just don’t listen to or follow crew’s advice. This is one of the stupidest things anglers consistently do. It is also very frustrating for the crew after telling passengers multiple times what works to see them doing it their way.

    Bonus Section

    I tried to list and review the top 10 stupid things which impede us hooking and landing fish, but there are many other things we do or don’t do which also are significant handicaps.

    1. Match your gear to your strategy (e.g. yoyo jigging is optimally done with a shorter stout rod, high speed reel and 50# test line.

    2. Be prepared – have the right gear ready to go at the right time.

    3. Have redundant gear – to get back in the water quickly after landing a fish or a suffering a mishap.

    4. Don’t postpone trips. Life is short and you can’t catch fish on your couch!

    5. Rail rage – don’t get frustrated or angry about missing a fish, not getting bit, getting cut off, etc. Have a positive psyche and you will catch more fish and make fewer mistakes.

    6. Learn and use new technology; e.g., fluorocarbon line, scented baits, butterfly jigs, surface poppers.

    7. Artificial baits – learn how and when to use surface and yoyo jigs, feathers, poppers, plastic swim baits. Make sure they swim perfectly.

    Practice!!!!! Most of us go fishing just a few times a year. We spend a lot of money for equipment, the license and trip, but we miss opportunities for all the reasons this article has reviewed. Most of these stupid things we do to lose fish could be eliminated by practicing. How many of us practice tying knots during the non-fishing season? Or practice casting a light stick at the park to simulate a live bait? Or practice casting and retrieving surface jigs to dial in the perfect retrieve speed to get the perfect swimming action for that jig. Or mentally visualize techniques and procedures like setting the hook or avoiding tangles? Professional sports psychologists teach athletes to improve their success by visualization and I am convinced mentally practicing and rehearsing techniques like properly setting the hook, will improve success.
     
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    2Rotten

    Live in Oregon/Love to Fish San Diego!
    Jan 10, 2010
    540
    1,212
    Junction City OR
    Name
    Rod Lathrop
    Boat
    24' North River Seahawk Hardtop "Sun Dog"
    One of my all-time favorite BD posts... I have referenced it several times. Love the skipper's observation "after the fish swallows your bait, nothing good can happen in the water.”
     

    tunachris

    Member
    Oct 16, 2005
    563
    239
    Azusa, CA
    Name
    Chris Lomax
    Boat
    none
    #9. Taking too long to fight and land a fish: one aspect of a long drawn out fight that may not be considered is this, as you start to wear out physically your thinking will slow down. You need to be mentally alert for the entire fight, and as you start to wear down during a long fight your reaction time will also be slower.

    Also dehydration can set in. If you can take a drink of water, do so. If you hand off to a crew member to avoid a tangle, take a moment to shake your hands hard to avoid cramps.
     
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