drop-shot criticalI was going to blog that I had never lost a fish during my career–but I didn’t think I could get away with that. Instead, I thought I’d reassure everyone that a lot of stuff happens before you get to hold one up for the camera.

See if you don’t agree. I look at the process as (1) having the fish strike, (2) setting the hook in some form, and then (3) fighting the fish (and getting it aboard in the end).

Obviously, a critical part is step one. You can’t really control how the fish strikes a bait. You can adjust (change lure color, retrieve speed , or your angle to the cover) but the actual activity level of the fish is pretty much an unknown until they give you some clues. Whether they explode on a chugger, nip the tail feather, or suck the whole thing down, is how you get some idea of how well they want the bait. But that only helps on the next bite.

With other lure types where you can’t see the fish respond when it hits, you have to have to “sense” what’s going on. Are the fish are short-biting, possibly pecking before they take it, or do they have the bait deep inside the mouth, or just in the lips, or are they even hooked on the outside of the mouth–and back in. An experienced angler tries to assess how to compensate for the fish’s behavior.

With a jig or soft plastic, that angler may “tease” the fish by pausing, then pulling the bait away, or he may “lead” the fish along on light tension as it carries the bait along. If the fish doesn’t respond to the tease, then he may have to reel in quickly and make yet another cast or two or three at slightly different angles to the same spot with the intention to stimulate the fish into biting.

With hard baits, any changes you make in the lure itself (as in its color, size, trailer or rattle) or the retrieve are done so in hopes the fish takes the bait more deeply (and sometimes we wish, less deeply). Whatever else happens the rest of the way, that has to happen first.

As for the hook-setting step 2, of course, you want a sharp hook. But I’m not convinced it has to be a $2 version any more than a 25-cent item. But you want minimal flex of the wire, barbs that don’t stick out too far (to slow penetration) and each should be armed with a nail-scratching sharp point.

Here’s a take on Super hooks. They are sort of like cell phones. Great idea, but they tend to spawn bad habits. With a super hook, the tendency is to slack off proper technique, assuming the hook will do more of the work. With cell phones, instead of getting directions ahead of time, you tend to call after you’re lost. Either way, it’s bad form.

The best hook-set is the one that comes on tight line at the point of impact. How you interpret that is up to you. The idea is to generate the maximum force for the tackle in play. The set doesn’t have to bend steel or break glass, it only has to drive the point. If the hook properties allow further penetration past the barb, that’s good as well. Just remember, as long as the line to the fish stays tight, the fish should stay connected. And if the point is not fully driven on the set (as often happens with a splitshot or Carolina rig) it will be driven the rest of the way while fighting the fish.

Slack line is responsible for most lost fish because it allows a head-shaking, frantically escaping fish to change or reverse the direction of the forces on the lure and hook. If a fishhook is buried down to its throat (bottom of the bend of the hook) there is no way it comes out on a tight line. But if poor rod position or insufficient cranking speed, plus erratic fish motion combine, the hook will be allowed to reverse position and may be shaken right out the same way it came.

What is poor rod position? Generally, poor position is anything that creates a “straight” rod. Rods were built to bend, but with the distinct design to straighten back out. It is in that tendency for the fibers to regain their original shape, that continues to apply force on the line, even if you pause when reeling. But, once they stop bending, they stop working.

Why does the rule of fighting bass say don’t let them jump (keep the tip low and the fish in the water)? It’s primarily because once the fish leaves the water, it avoids the friction of its body being being moved through the water, and the fish-fighting techniques of most bass anglers do not compensate for this. The result, the rod straightens out, slack line ensues, and the fish may jump off. but it doesn’t have to be that way.

To prove this, I tell people to watch Bill Dance on TV when he fights a fish. We chide him for his high rod position and bad technique (even though he needs you to see the jumping fish for an exciting, action video). But he almost never loses a fish–and he shows us lots and lots of jumpers. It’s all because his rod is always bent; the line is always tight.

If you’ve got any thoughts or experiences on this matter, please let us hear them. It’s all good.


One Response to “Lost fish? May the Forces be with you…”

I don’t think this is off-subject because I know my brother George is a believer … one word … backreeling.

All that moving of the rod by pro t.v. anglers is unnecessary when backreeling. Anyone who says backreeling doesn’t work hasn’t caught very many big fish on spinning tackle or little ones for that matter. Or, worse yet, they don’t want to learn something new.

“New”? Sorry I misspoke. Backreeling is becoming as ancient as yours truly. If you don’t backreel, you simply don’t get it.