June 01, 2013

Do you properly match the bait and hook size to the pound test of line, to the size of reel, to the length and action of rod, to the species of fish you are targeting? If not, you are likely going to have issues with hooking and landing fish.

To lend a little credibility to me stepping outside the bowhunting arena and into the fishing arena, I have; fished for over 55 years, caught every Michigan fish species other than sturgeon, caught and had certified a 4 pound line-class world record steelhead, built and sold custom 9′ to 13′ steelhead rods, worked in the fishing department of Jay’s Sporting Goods for four years, and at differing times between 1992 and 2013 been the Michigan manufacturer’s sales representative for Berkley, Garcia rods and reels, Trilene monofilament, Fireline braid, Power Bait, Fenwick rods, Carrot Stix rods, Pflueger rods and reels, Shakespeare rods and reels, All Star rods, Bottom Line graphs, Cannon downriggers, Little Cleo’s, K-O Wobblers, Lindy Little Joe, Thill floats, and Bill Norman lures.

Many fishermen purchase fishing tackle without consideration of how it all matches up, usually because they are simply unaware of the process. On many occasions I have witnessed people fishing with heavy action rods and light line and then wonder why their line broke when they hooked and fought a good fish.

Or they use a light action rod with heavy line and wonder why they can’t control and large fish from going into weeds or obstructions and end up getting off. That scenario would be like putting large tractor tires on a car and expecting the cars light drive train not to break down under the torque of the heavy tires.

Another practice seen frequently is the use of large crank baits or spinner baits with large heavy shanked hooks with big barbs used in conjunction with too light a line or with too light a rod. With either too light of line or a rod that doesn’t have the power to set a large hook beyond the hooks barb, a large fish will likely get off when there is either slack line, the fish jumps, or the fish gets into any weeds. Whenever you have an end goal for any activity, before pursuing it you should always make every effort to set-up or equip yourself properly, otherwise the odds of achieving the goal will be diminished.

For many, fishing is a leisure activity that is not taken very seriously, but I would bet that even the casual fisherman would like to land nice fish when they hook them and having the right equipment would definitely aid in that becoming a more consistent end result.

Whenever pursuing a specific size class of fish the; weight of the bait, hooks on the bait, pound test of line, reels body size and line capacity, and the action and even length of rod should all somewhat match-up in order to have the best odds at hooking and landing fish. The main objective is not to have a weak link between the fish’s mouth and the fisherman’s hands.

For the total novice, you may be better off purchasing a pre-assembled combo where the rod, reel, and sometimes line on the reel, all match-up. Over the past 15 or so years there has been a huge spike in the number of quality pre-assembled combos that manufacturers offer. It is easy to go into a store, seek a knowledgeable salesman, tell them what type or size class of fish you want to pursue, and have them suggest a few options. Combos are generally great bargains as well and in many instances you can buy a rod/reel combo for the same price as just the rod by itself. Then all you have to do is make sure the pound test of line and the baits and hooks you use somewhat match-up with the size and power of the combo you purchase.

However, if you want to pick everything out yourself, or you already have some equipment and don’t know how to go about matching it up, please read on.

When fishing, the goal is to hook and land fish, so you need to work your way from type of fish, to bait, to hook, to line, to reel, to rod, to hand.

Matching Fish

Species To Hook

The use of improper sized baits and hooks for the targeted species of fish allows many fish to get off a fisherman’s line. Whether a bait with a single or treble hook, its hooks size, shank strength, and barb depth should all be chosen according to the targeted fish and equipment being used.

Author, John Eberhart is well known for his bowhunting skills and writings, however he’s fished for over 55 years and been in the business of fishing for many years. Here he holds a monster smallmouth.

When fishing for small fish such as stream trout, bluegills, crappies, perch, etc., the hooks on your baits should be small in size, thin shanked, and have shallow barbs for easy hook-sets with light tackle. Small spinners with size 8 to 12 treble hooks, 1/64th to 1/8th oz. jigs, flies and spiders with hook sizes from 8 to 16, and size 6 to 12 single hooks used with live bait are the most commonly used.

Larger inland lake species of fish can vary greatly in size depending on their species and age, but as a rule of thumb for big fish such as bass, walleye, and pike you need baits with large heavier shanked hooks so that they will not bend during a fight. To consistently hook and land big fish also requires hooks with deep enough barbs to keep fish on once hooked. Barbs are designed so that the hook will not back out while fighting a fish. Treble and single hook sizes on baits for big fish will usually run from size 6 on the small side to as large as size 3/0.

Matching Bait Weight To Pound Test Of Line

A baits weight can be an issue if the line used to cast it is to light or heavy. When using heavy line you can’t cast a light bait very far. It would be like tying a nail on the end of a rope and attempting to throw it over a branch as opposed to tying a hammer on the end and doing the same thing.

The opposite is also true and likely more costly. When throwing a heavy lure with light line, there is always the chance that the line may break during the cast. On many occasions I have witnessed fishermen cast lures and have their line break only to watch as the expensive lure did a Greg Louganis into the water.

Matching hooks to pound test of line

A hooks size, shank strength, and depth of barb must be coordinated with the weight of fishing line needed to bury the hooks barb into the targeted fish’s mouth. Example: It would be nearly impossible to bury the barb on a size 2 hook into the mouth of a large bass or pike with 4 pound test line. You would either break the line with a hook-set adequate enough to bury the barb, or if the barb were not buried with the hook-set the odds of the fish coming off would be high. The barb on a hook (when buried) is what keeps the fish on.

When fishing for small fish you will be using light-weight lures or floats and bobbers with small single hooks. A 4 to 8 pound test line is advised and either will be sufficient for casting an adequate distance with light tackle.

A large heavy shanked hook for catching big fish requires heavier line to achieve an adequate hook-set beyond the barb. Line between 8 and 20 pound test is advised, and to get a little more specific for big fish and big baits I would suggest at least 10 pound line. There is nothing worse than hooking a big fish and have it break the line or get tangled up in weeds and get off. Heavy line will give you more control of keeping a big fish from getting into the weeds or brush and landing it more quickly.

When fishing for large fish you will likely be using large or heavy weighted baits so using heavy line will not impede your casting distance.

Matching Line To Reel

A reel should be chosen according to the pound test line you plan on using. Spincast (pushbutton), spinning (open face with bale), and bait casting (levelwind) reels all come in a variety of body sizes and spool capacities for differing pound tests of line. Most modern reels will have suggested line weights and spool capacities of those weights printed either on the spool or side of the reels carriage.

All reels will perform best concerning casting ability and drag function when filled to the recommended capacity with one of the reels recommended line weights. You don’t want to buy a reel designed for 12 to 17 pound test line and then pay to fill it up with 4# test line. It would probably take about a quarter mile of line to fill it and you would never use the bottom ¾ of line on the spool. Basically you would be paying for a lot of line you would never use.

The opposite holds true for using heavy line on a reel designed for light line. If you bought an ultra-light spinning reel designed to hold 100 yards of 4 pound and 80 yards of 6 pound line you would only get about 50 yards of 10 pound line on that reel. After changing lures a few times, you would need to re-spool or even worse, if you hooked a large fish you may not have enough line on the reel and he may break off when he runs all the line off the spool.

Before looking for a reel know what pound test of line you plan on using and purchase a reel that will have the line capacity to hold at least 80 to 125 yards of it when filled to the recommended capacity.

Spinning and casting reels will also have their retrieve rates per crank printed on the side and that is important to avid fishermen, but not so much for a casual fisherman.

Matching Hook, Line And Reel To Rod

While it is somewhat important to have the body size and weight of a reel somewhat match-up or balance with the length and physical weight of a rod, it is not as much a crucial aspect of catching fish as much as it is for overall comfort when casting for long periods of time. However, a rod should be used that matches up with both the average hook sizes on your baits and the pound tests of line you will be using on the reel.

Fishing rods come in many actions, lengths, and with specific pound-test line recommendations and each is clearly spelled out just above the rods handle.

A fishing rod should be purchased to fulfill three main functions.

First, the rod must have enough backbone or hook-set power to bury the barb of whatever sized hooks you use without breaking the line or rod on the hook-set. The larger the hook, the heavier the line, the heavier action the rod needs to be.

Second, once a fish is hooked the rod must have enough power so that you have some control over the fish. The larger the fish, the more power you need in the rod to fight or control him from making long runs and diving into weeds or obstructions.

Third, the rod must have sufficient tip-section action to adsorb shock from the quick jerks of a hooked fish, especially once that fish is close to the boat or bank. When a fish is on, your fishing rod acts as a shock absorber by bending every time the fish makes a quick move. That is why rods are supposed to be held somewhat upright when a fish is on and not pointed at the fish.

Monofilament line has memory and will stretch or adsorb some of the quick jerks of fish during a fight, but as you gain line and the fish gets closer to you, there is less line between the rod and fish and any sudden jerks must be absorbed by the rods tip section. The other option is to know precisely how and when to adjust your drag. For novices, having the right rod is the safest bet.

Back in the 1970’s when I worked at Jay’s Sporting Goods I used to test monofilament lines for stretch and memory. Fifty feet of 8 pound line (most commonly used weight of line) could be stretched to nearly 55 feet before breaking. With a quality brand of line, when released prior to the break point, its memory would bring it back to the original 50 feet. That is a lot of fish fighting adsorption that a premium monofilament line will give you, but as the fish nears the boat or bank, that stretch becomes less and having the proper rod will make up for the loss in line stretch.

Ultra-light and light action rods are generally used for small fish such as pan fish and stream trout with 4 to 8 pound line, medium-light and medium action rods are used for both small and bigger fish with 6 to 12 pound line, and medium-heavy to heavy action rods are for big fish with 12 to 20 pound line. These pound test recommendations are again located above the handle on most rods.

As long as the action of the rod matches up with the weight of line you are using, the length of rod is a personal preference. For instance, I like to use 7 foot ultra-light action rods with 4 pound test line for pan fishing, but a whippy 7 foot rod is a bit more difficult to cast than a 5 ½ or 6 foot medium-light action rod which is what I would recommend to a casual user for pan fish.

For big inland fish a 6 ½ foot medium to medium-heavy rod and 7 to 7 ½ foot heavy action rods are suggested, yet would never suggest any rod over 6 ½ feet in length to a casual user.

If you are going to purchase a one size fits most, combination rod, reel, and line for fishing Michigan’s inland lakes for bass, walleye, and pike, I would suggest a 6 1/2 foot medium action rod and a reel with a line capacity of 100 to 120 yards of 8 or 10 pound test. This combination (while a bit heavy) could also be used for panfish.

By design, some big fish (primarily steelhead during their spring spawning run) are hooked and landed with light tackle. However, the circumstances for doing so with any consistency must be nearly perfect and the fishermen that do this with regularity usually know the scoop concerning their tackle, fish’s habitat, and potential fish landing obstructions in the areas they fish.

Example: In 1983 I landed an 18 pound 2 ounce steelhead using a size 10 single hook, Ande tournament 4 pound test line (4 pound tournament line tests out at about the same strength as 2 pound Trilene XL), and an 11 ½ foot G-Loomis noodle rod I had built. When I caught it, I knew it would surpass the current 4 pound test line class world record and after jumping through all the proverbial notarization hoops, it became the new world record. The record has since been broken, but the fish and the plaque are hanging in the Jay’s Clare store in the fishing department.

Even though a steelhead is a big fish, the area of river I was fishing was rather open and devoid of obstructions for the fish to swim into and break off. Well in excess of 80% of the steelhead I have hooked over the years with light tackle were never landed, but I chose to use light tackle knowing my odds were slim.

For entry level or novice fishermen, consider these simple parameters when choosing fishing tackle because they will make your fishing experience a little more gratifying by increasing both the number of fish you hook and land. Let some other fisherman stretch the truth about

the fish that got away while you

show them pictures of yours that didn’t.

Good fishing!