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You’re on the prowl for a big bass, catfish, crappie or any other species. The water conditions are great, you’re on a major moon phase and the water your kayak is gliding over is known for trophy fish. A likely spot to cast the bait, you start the retrieve and you are literally holding your breath in anticipation of “the hit”. Sensing the strike, a quick snap of the wrists and then you feel the power of a massive fish and then, then the line goes limp. What happened? Everyone who ever wet a line experiences the “one that got away”. While I’ve boated lot of BIG bass, I’ve lost fish of every type in every conceivable way. Figuring out what happened and taking measures to correct each gets you closer to that flawless set of factors to help you consistently grip instead of gripe. The proper equipment, correct techniques, attention to details and perfect execution all add up to more fish and less frustration.

 LINE – In many instances a particular very specific part of the entire rod, reel set up is the culprit. The fishing line spooled on the reel itself can be suspect. On top of the list of problems with the line, too old. Monofilament should be changed for the active angler minimally every six months. When asked it is not unusual to hear from the infrequent fisherman, that the line is just a couple of years old. Arrrgh! Normal use and heat are the enemies of mono. Sunlight, stretch and heat from being on the deck or during storage all causes the eventual breakdown of monofilament. Add to that, nicks or abrasions from being run in, around and through wood, rocks, concrete or other objects and you have a formula for fishing disaster. Too light a line, mini mono in the two to six pound test range requires also caution, any problem is magnified. Lightweight line when battling heavyweight fish calls for a loose drag set Fluorocarbon is invisible but breakable with braid it is pretty much indestructible.

 BAD KNOT – Knot tying skills are paramount to getting any fish all the way to the kayak. A poorly tied knot on monofilament breaks or is evidenced by the curly end that comes back after the epic fail. Wetting your knot before pulling it snuggly down avoids the destruction of heat on the dry pull. With braid the danger is more likely that knot slips rather than breaks. The cure for braid is a double knot, the first knot for me is a Palomar knot, followed by a clinch knot. This means even if there is slight slip you have a knot against a knot. Problem solved. For a quick snip I keep a Line Cutterz ring handy. One on a lanyard, one on the seat brace and each of my Jackson kayaks are outfitted with a casting bar with a Line Cutterz ring secured to the brace. I recommend learning just a few knots. The Palomar is relatively simple and gives 95% strength when tied properly on monofilament, learn a clinch knot and maybe a blood knot for connecting leaders. Fluorocarbon is problematic because of its poor break strength, while with braid a good knot makes it golden.

 HOOK SET – The statement “I’m not sure if it’s a bite” followed by a halfhearted hook set almost assures you will see a bass waving bye-bye. Sometimes after repeated casting with no action anglers slip into a casting coma where they lose focus. When the hit happens they’re caught napping. Perfect the hook set techniques is highly recommended. Feel the bite, drop a small amount of slack in the line, slam the rod back to firmly push the hook point into the fish. Of course there’s a little more to it. Consider a GoPro video of your hook set where you can video the entire process and break it down for effectiveness. Any doubt, set the hook.

 OBJECT ESCAPE – Most fish that attain trophy size have been hooked or even caught a few times before. Big fish, once stung by the hook, will head to deep water or deep cover. Open water presents very little in terms of the possibility of ultimately getting your prize. Bass or others bolting for cover is a much bigger dilemma. Fighting for survival and attempting escape sends a largemouth launching itself toward boat docks, weed beds, submerged wood or any heavy cover it can bury up in. Again the line strength, the good knot and the correct rod* gives you more control and can reduce the possibility of a heavyweight hanging you up.

 * THE ROD – The action of the rod that matches the lure, its weight, the location and the technique are the fighting factors that come into play. For jigs, plastic worms a medium heavy action rod in the seven to seven a half foot range facilitates the hook set and playing any fish. For crankbait casting and catching a medium action rod has the proper amount of “give” to sink the treble hooks into the jaw of any fish and holds as the fish darts around pulls and pushes trying to dislodge the lure. There are many manufactures that produce specialized “cranking rods”, a good investment for the dedicated “crankensteins”.
 DULL HOOKS – The sharper the hook is the more fragile the point because there is actually less material making them easier to dull, damage or break. Check the point for that “sticky” sharp feel. Ideally the super sharp point drags and catches on a fingernail, a sign that it qualifies as stick sharp. As hooks dull because of normal use or being run across foreign objects take time of the water to replace inferior hooks or minimally sharpen the point. A diamond file is the best tool for the task.
 IT JUST CAME UNBUTTONED – A combination of these fowl up factors or not enough tension when playing the fish or the unexplained phenomenon is generally referred to as it just came unbuttoned. Hey it happens. It’s not always an obvious set of circumstances. Tilt the odds in your favor by controlling the variables. Then you can CPR (catch, photo, release) as evidence of the one that didn’t get away!