As a full time sportfishing guide, I fish with a lot of people from all over the country. Occasionally I’ll receive comments about the setups and gear we are using when fishing for steelhead and salmon. I’ll hear statements like “This barrel swivel seems really small.” or “I never would have thought we could catch such big fish with gear like this.” It’s not the gear we use is always ultra-light, but instead is balanced in a manner they are not accustomed to.
Gear anglers can take some important notes from the fly anglers. Fly anglers ensure they have a rod and reel that match, matching the fly-line to the rod. Further, matching the leaders and tippets to the rod and the size fly they use. As a gear angler, balancing your rod, reel, line, and tackle is just as important to being more successful when fishing.
The purpose of this article is to balance the system you use for fishing regardless of the type of fishing you do. We will not get into the choices made for rods and reels, but rather the importance of balancing your entire system. This applies to both spinning and baitcasting rods and reels.
One of the most common mistakes I see on the water is mismatched rods and reels. I am not talking about brand, but rather the size and weight. Buying a rod and reel package is easy to do. However, many anglers prefer to choose a rod and then select a reel for the rod. First you need to purchase the correct size rod for the fishing you plan on. I have seen anglers using surf rods when drift fishing for Coho Salmon. While the rod will certainly bring the fish into the boat or the bank, the rod is just too heavy to enjoy the fight of the fish or allow for the sensitivity needed for light biting fish.
Rods - A balanced system begins with the fishing rod. Fishing rods are labeled with information such as what line weight is recommended, the action of the rod and what the weight allowances are for the rod to perform as designed. Since the rod is the foundation for your system, select the rod first. This choice is based on the type of fishing you are doing, the action of the rod, and sensitivity. As an example, if I am drift fishing for steelhead or salmon using eggs, or cheaters and yarn, I use an ultra-light rod such as G-Loomis GL3 - 1141S (spinning rod). I have even used this same rod for casting small plugs and spinner baits. This rod is 9'6" long and rated for 4 – 8 lb. line. It is designed to handle lure weights of 1/16 - 3/8 ounces. It has a slow action and is an ultra-light rod.
Understanding the action of the rod is important when choosing a rod. Fast action rods flex in mostly in the tip section, while slow action rods flex toward the butt of the rod. There are also combinations of actions such as moderate-fast. Slow action rods are forgiving and are great for varied distances. Fast action rods put more force in your cast, allowing you more distance, but you can throw the bait from the hook.
Many of you might think a G-Loomis 1141S ultra-light rod is too light to fish for 10 – 30 lb. salmon and steelhead. But I assure you this rod will handle these fish with no problem. I fish out of a boat the majority of time, which allows me to move the boat with the fish. When you fish an area you can move around to fight the fish, using lighter rods will offer more sensitivity for feeling those light bites. If you are a bank angler the majority of the time you can probably use the same rod, but you may need to adjust the weight of your mainline. If you use a 10lb. mainline in a boat, use a 12lb. mainline for the bank. The rod will handle the fish. You just need a line weight that will help keep the fish in the hole or area you are fishing.
Reels - Next, select the reel to fit the rod. Again, there are many things that effect this decision, but a couple of the most important aspects to consider will be the drag system and the amount of line the reel will hold.
Quality reels also have labels describing the line weight and how many yards or meters of line can fit on the spool. IE. lb.(mm)–yds.(m) 6(0.25)-210(190) 8(0.28)-170(155)
With the example above you can get 170 yards of 8lb test line on this reel. When choosing a reel to match a fishing rod, it needs to balance with the rod and it needs to have the capacity to hold enough line.
Consider this: Many anglers will never have a fish pay out 140 yards of line. But we may get hung up on a rock, a tree, or a bush and break off 30 yards of line. You do this a couple of times in a single outing and you only had 140 yards of line to begin with, your now down to 80 yards of line. So don’t choose a reel which is too small for the rod. Likewise if the reel is too large it will not feel balanced, causing angler fatigue after hours of fishing.
Using the rod example above, I use a matched spinning reels with instant anti reverse in a 2500 series size. Reels which are the same size as a 2500 series reel may not all be labeled as 2500 series. Reels are labeled differently with every manufacturer, so make sure you do your research before buying.
When I use baitcasting rods for pulling plugs, I use lighter rods than most anglers. Make sure the rod will allow the lure to perform in the manner it was designed, as well as handle the size of fish you are targeting. As an example, I’ll use an 8’6” fast action medium power rod matched with a 5500 series baitcasting reel with instant anti reverse.
Again, not all reel manufacturers use the same method of labeling baitcasting reels.
Here are some tips for selecting a reel:
• Find several reels that fit your criteria.
• Does the reel fit in your hand comfortably? Is it too large? If the reel feels too big, choose the next size down
• Remember, you will fish more comfortably if the reel fits your hand.
• Gear ratios - To explain it simply, the higher the ratio, the faster the retrieve of the bait without racing the handle on the reel and wrenching your wrist.
• The most often used gear ratios are 5.3 and 6.0 to 1. This means the spool turns 5.3 times every time you turn the handle of the reel 360 degrees (one time).
• Put the reel on the rod you plan on using. The rod and reel should feel balanced in the hand. The weight of the reel should not overcome the length of the rod.
Literally, the balance point should be just in front of the reel seat, near the front cork.
Mainline - Matching your mainline to your rod and reel is the next step in the balanced system. There is a wide variety fishing lines on the market. Brand, quality, features, and reputation will have a bearing on your choice. Regardless of your choice, match the line to your rod and reel. Often anglers choose a line that is too heavy for the rod, reel, or terminal tackle. Line weight is important to how much line you will spool and how the line works with the rod and the terminal tackle.
Even though a rod may be labeled with a line weight of 6 – 10lbs., you can usually adjust this a little. As an example: If you use a rod that is labeled: 9'6" 4–8 1/16 - 3/8 Slow Action Ultra-Light, your heaviest line used does not have to be 8lb, even though the line weight listed on this rod states 4-8 lb.. You can use 10lb mono or maybe even 12lb mono without hindering the performance of the rod. However it can affect how much line you can spool on your reel.
Choosing a mainline can be a daunting task. Should you use fluorocarbon, braided line, or just plain monofilament? There are many things to consider with mainline. Find something you are confident in and compliments your balanced rod and reel. I use Izorline “XXX Super Co-Polymer" for both my ultra-light spinning reels and my baitcasting plug rods. As far as color of the line, I use the Hi-Vis Yellow my spinning reels and Smoke for my baitcasting rods. For the baitcasting rods I use for King Salmon and sturgeon fishing, I use 65lb. Power Pro braided line in green.
Now that you have balanced your rod, reel and mainline, continue the balanced system with the leaders, lures, and terminal tackle used. When I use a mainline that is less than 17lbs., I use leaders at least 2 lbs. lighter than the mainline. This allows for break-offs below the terminal tackle. It also prevents hinging and wrapping commonly associated with using mismatched leaders and mainlines.
However, depending on the area and species of fish targeted, you may use a heavier leader than the mainline. This is usually for trolling plugs and other gear where casting is not an option.
Terminal Tackle - I am usually surprised to see what I pull from the river. I see terminal tackle, such as hooks, snap swivels, barrel swivels and lures of all different sizes. Usually it is oversized. Breaking off and losing tackle is a fact of fishing. However, using the right size terminal tackle with a properly matched rod, reel, and mainline will reduce lost gear and you will enjoy your time on the water more, and actually increase your odds in catching more fish.
Given the minor weight difference of your mainline and leader, using a barrel swivel that is too big, will cause hinging and wrapping. Hinging is where your leader hinges back over the mainline as you cast. Wrapping occurs when leader now wraps itself around the mainline, keeping the bait or lure from working properly.
As with fly-fishing, the leader should be an extension of the mainline. The barrel swivel should not cause a disruption from the mainline to the leader. It should allow a flow, just as if the mainline reduce itself from one weight to the next without the barrel swivel. This is how leaders are made for fly anglers. The leaders are heavier in the butt, like the mainline and reduce to a lighter weight line at the tip for the fly.
Barrel swivels, snap swivels and other terminal tackle have a much higher breaking strength than you think. The size of the mainline does have some bearing on the size of swivels used, but for the most part, you can use much smaller swivels than you think. I use Vision Hooks and Tackle and when drift fishing and even pulling plugs, I use a #10 roller barrel swivel has a 48lb. static breaking strength. While the #10 snap swivels have a 20lb. static breaking strength.
Breaking strength is based on a constant strain until it breaks. This does not mean a #10 roller barrel swivel will break with a 48lb. fish on the line. Your rod, reel and terminal tackle function as a dynamic system, not static. Because the rod flexes and the drag is set to allow the fish to take line if necessary as the fish moves through the water, you can handle those big fish with this size tackle.
The amount of weight and the size of hooks or lures also play a factor in balancing your gear. Do not use too much weight! Regardless of the fishing method, most anglers use too much weight to get the job done. The water speed and depth in addition to the type of lure or bait fished is a good indication of how much weight should use. When I am drift fishing I like to use just enough weight to keep it on the bottom. I like to feel a light ticking of the weight across the bottom. If I change locations I change my weight to match the conditions of the body of water.
Lures come with the correct size hook. However, you may have to switch out a treble hook for a single hook to meet the regulations in your state or a particular body of water. Make sure you use the right size hook when doing this. The new hook should not hinder the action of the lure.
Hook size for fishing bait such as eggs and shrimp are equally important. Using an oversized hook can be a mistake anglers want to avoid. To help with hook size choice, consider these things; where are you fishing? What species are you fishing for? Does the hook match the leader and mainline?
Do a test yourself. Tie up several leaders with hooks of different sizes, including corkies, cheaters, or whatever you use for leaders. Three foot leaders will be long enough for this test. Tie a weight to the other end of the leader and put it in a hot tub, bathtub, or something you can drop the leader into and see what kind of buoyancy you get with various size hooks and various size cheaters. After finding the right combination, put on a cluster of eggs or sand-shrimp or whatever you might use for bait where you fish. What does it do now?
The key is to allow the bait to float freely and naturally, or in the case of a lure, to action the way it is intended to. If you change out a hook on a lure and you use something too big, it may not work the way it was designed.
Balance your system and you will definitely see the reward!