Hook, line, sinker…and bobber basics
Fishing can be as complex or simple as you want it to be. You can settle on a set of basic tools that will work adequately to the type of fishing you are doing or you can enter into an endless process of refinement and improvement. That’s part of the beauty of fishing! Our Getting Started series starts you out on the “easy” end of the spectrum. Follow Small Waters Fishing, and graduate to higher level tackle and techniques at your own pace.
We should probably start with the basic rod, reel and line set-up…but we won’t!– for the simple reason that most of you probably have a rod and reel in your garage or closet that you have owned for years or just received as a present. Odds are you are going to try this tackle before you go out and buy anything new.
Instead, we will start with a very simple hook, line, sinker and bobber rig that will enable the boy, girl, mom, dad, grandparent or nature lover whose simple goal is to go out and catch a fish do just that!
Why this approach?
Because tons of fishermen continue to make these mistakes for years, decades, and perhaps their entire fishing lives when some very simple adjustments could have multiplied their catches over the years by five to 10 times — and maybe far, far more!
Five end-of-the-line reasons we don’t catch fish!
The most common mistakes I see the average “let’s-just-catch-a-fish” fisherman make are these:
1) The Beach Ball Bobber syndrome
Walk the bank of a lake or stream occupied by casual fishermen almost anywhere in the country, and you will almost certainly see big red-and-white bobbers floating like navigational buoys a short cast from shore. During the course of the day, these “beach balls” will twitch a few times and, perhaps, occasionally go under. But, oh, what better fate awaits the angler who makes a simple substitution!
TRY THIS: Hang that same bait – whatever it is – from a small, tapered bobber – a.k.a. “float” – that is properly sized and weighted to the task, and the number of bites you get and fish you hook and land will climb incredibly!
For starters, go with an adjustable fixed bobber like a tapered stick bobber, antenna bobber or pear-shaped bobber that will offer little resistance when a fish bites.
For my money, those round red-and-white bobbers are only useful in the very smallest sizes. If you must use the round red-and-whites, go with the small ones suited to the bait and task.
Leave the big red-and-whites at home. Use the beach balls at the beach — not when you fish!
2) Big hooks, snell hooks.
In general, casual fishermen and women use hooks much too large for most of the fish they are likely to encounter. Most insist on using snell* hooks, too, putting them on the end of an unnecessary snap swivel. Why? Their reasons usually boil down to something like “my uncle taught me to use them, but I don’t know why.”
TRY THIS: Always match the size of hook to your task. In the course of a season – almost any season – I will use hooks from an almost microscopic size #14 to a thick-wire 7/0 or even larger. Every style and type of hook has its own application(s). If you are fishing an area with many small
panfish,** you may want to start with a very small hook – say size #6, #8 or even #10, if the bait is something very small like a wax worm. A good starting point is a size #6 Aberdeen – a thin-wire hook. If the bait is so large that it doesn’t leave any space in the gap between the hook point and the hook shank, you may not be able to hook fish very well. Go up to the next biggest size hook. Pick your hook size to suit the size and type of bait you will be fishing with and for the size of fish you are likely to encounter. If you are fishing an area with modestly sized panfish, lean toward a smaller hook to start. If you find a lot of fish are swallowing the hook and making hook removal difficult, go up a size and pay attention to your catch rate. (See sidebars below on Hook Sizes and Aberdeen hooks)
*Snell Hooks – You will find many, many fishermen buying a card of hooks with a length of line attached to them and a loop on the other end of the line. These are called “snell hooks.” I am not saying that these are bad, but I will say that they usually are, at the very least, unnecessary. They add “junk” to the end of your line that will look unnatural to fish, impede the movement or attractiveness of your bait, and diminish your hookup ratio.
**“Panfish” is not a single species of fish. The term refers to those species of fish that, when cleaned and ready for cooking, usually fit easily into a small to medium-sized frying pan. For freshwater fishermen, it includes species like perch and most members of the sunfish family including bluegill, crappie, shellcracker (redear sunfish), pumpkinseed, rock bass, warmouth, green sunfish and more.
Examine the “hook, line, sinker” set-up of many struggling shore anglers, and you will see a mess of heavy split-shot (sinkers), snelled hooks, and assorted junk like bell sinkers, snaps and swivels. This collection of terminal tackle must look like a Rube Goldberg creation to most fish. I’m sure the fish’s curiosity level is high, but, trust me, the percentage of fish that fall for this gag is pretty small compared to the numbers of fish you will catch with a leaner, meaner presentation. There’s a time and place for snaps, swivels and split shot the size of a musket ball, but, if you want to catch more fish and bigger fish, don’t add them to your basic hook/sinker/bobber setup until some very special situation calls for them.
TRY THIS: In general, keep the “business end” of your line clean, lean and simple. Use split shot just heavy enough to keep your bobber upright and sensitive to a light strike when you are baited up. If properly balanced, a bobber rig will go under with little resistance, minimizing the fish’s awareness that something is not right. (Note: We will move onto more sophisticated bobber rigs in future Getting Started posts, but we suggest that you try this approach for a simple starting point.)
4) Ho, heave, ho with heavy line.
Yes, a big fish may break the line of a newbie angler, but you have to hook a fish first to catch it. And the heavy line that many fishermen put on their starter tackle is simply too heavy, too stiff and coiled too much to cast effectively and allow a natural presentation of the bait to the fish.
TRY THIS: It is rarely necessary to put line heavier than 10-pound test on a beginner’s rig if the target species are basically panfish and the occasional bass. You will probably find that 6- and 8-pound test will work considerably better. If conditions cause more break-offs than seem necessary – or that you are willing to endure – move up to stronger line in 2-pound increments. And don’t buy cheap, budget-brand line! It will coil and stiffen.
Keep your reels spooled to within about 1/8-inch of the outer lip of the spool with a limp monofilament or copolymer line. (There are many, many applications for other types of lines, but you can learn about them later. Stick with “mono” to start.) Keeping that spool properly filled with line is important. Too little line, and you won’t be able to cast or retrieve effectively. Too much line, and you will spend a lot of time untangling loops and bird nests.
Hint: Spray a line lubricant like Real Magic from TTI- Blakemore on your line before you fish and again during the day to relax your fishing line and make it more manageable. The product has other uses, too.
Another hint: Learn to adjust the drag on your reel, and you’ll give yourself a fighting chance of landing almost any fish.
5) Bad Bait
Those fish you caught on pieces of mushy nightcrawler did you scant favor. If anything, they have misled you to believe that drying chunks of dead worm are satisfying answers to a fish’s hunger. Wrong! A drying, dying nightcrawler is a sad substitute for a cool, fat, juicy conditioned crawler, which most bass and panfish will find hard to pass up! Same goes for redworms, wax worms, minnows, spikes, crickets, leeches, shrimp, crawfish and every other form of bait you tote to the ol’ fishin’ hole! Take care of your bait, and it will reward you!
TRY THIS: No matter what your bait of choice is, keep it fresh and lively throughout the day.. Check with your bait dealer on the best care for that bait while you are on the water. (Check back with Getting Started for future tips on this as well.) Keep the water in your minnow bucket fresh and, preferably, cool. Keep leeches and nightcrawlers and other worms out of the sun and, preferably, in a cooler.
Size matters: A quick look at hooks
No matter what style of hook you employ, it is important to use the right SIZE of hook for the size of bait or lure (such as soft plastic lures) you are using and, to a lesser degree, the species of fish you pursue.
Hook sizes start at 0 and get progressively smaller as you go up in basic numeral sizes – 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, etc. and larger as you go down (see chart below) the “ought” scale – 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, 4/0, 5/0, etc. (Say “one-ought, two-ought,” etc.)
The Hook Size Spectrum
… 7/0 6/0 5/0 4/0 3/0 2/0 1/0 1 2 4 6 8 10 12 14…