How to

The Weakest Link

How to: Not lose fish

There are many ways to fine-tune your tackle and techniques to maximise success with all types of fishing. SEAN CUMMINGS explains.

BIG, powerful fish will always find a way of exposing any weakness in your tackle. Whether it is battling a rampaging kingfish on a deep reef, putting the brakes on a kilo plus bream around oyster leases or a trying to muscle a solid yellowfin circling deep, attention to the smallest detail is often the difference between landing that once-in-a-lifetime fish or having another story about the one that got away. In this article we’ll examine the links in your fishing chain and outline proven tips and ideas on how to maximise your chances of being successful.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? An encounter with a trophy fish that escapes one of the things that draws us back on to the water time and time again. Challenges such as unforgiving terrain and sharks are mostly out of your control. However, most key areas of tackle failure are preventable.

Rods and Reels

Not many anglers think of their rod as being the possible cause of line failure. Check your rod guides regularly, especially the tip, and replace any that are chipped or damaged. Make sure that your rod matches the line class you are using, particularly with braided lines. Often, anglers use heavier braid than the rod is rated for. This can have disastrous consequences in the hands of a novice or if putting the brakes on a hard running fish. It’s hard to fight a large fish with a broken rod.

The last charter I was on supplied high quality tackle. Unfortunately, they’d failed to maintain their gear. The anti-reverse on an $800 jigging reel failed while connected to a large kingfish, which was lost. Nothing last forever. Even the best equipment requires regular servicing to keep it in top operating condition.

Taking care of your gear while not in use is also important. Try not to leave rods and reels piled up on each other in the front of the boat while you bash through a choppy sea on the way to fishing. They will get damaged. Similarly, bail arms and rollers can wear, get grooved or damaged and this is bad news as far as your line is concerned. Check the reels at regular intervals, and have dodgy parts replaced if necessary.

Modern reels generally have excellent drag systems that require minimal maintenance. There are good quality drag upgrades available for many reels in the form of Carbontex washers and drag plates. These are a good idea if you plan on pushing the reel to its limit. Always loosen off the drag after fishing to stop the washers compacting. If drag performance starts to deteriorate, have the reel serviced and replace the worn washers. Using a line too heavy for the reel’s rating is another good way of losing a big fish. Reels suffer tremendous forces when over loaded and when they fail, they can fail in a big way. Broken handles, bent rotors and obliterated bail arms are all on the cards in these sort of circumstances.

Lines, Leader & Knots

Is your line in good condition, free from nicks and abrasion damage? Are you using the most appropriate knots?  Do you want a line with some stretch or none at all? These are all questions that need to be considered.

These days the choice is between monofilament, braid and fused lines. They have their own particular characteristics and pros and cons. Braids have high strength coupled to low stretch and low diameter and are great for deep water, casting and keeping in direct contact with your rigs or lures. The downside is that braids have lower resistance to abrasion than mono mainly due to their smaller diameter. Mono has some stretch which makes it a better choice for bluewater trolling, acting almost like a shock absorber when large, fast fish go nuts.

How often do you check the business end of your line and discard any length that looks even the slightest bit worn? It pays to do this not only before and after every trip but also while you’re fishing, especially if you’ve already tangled with some good fish or are in rough country.

There aren’t many sportfishing applications where the use of a leader is not required. Leaders, however, are one of the most neglected areas of terminal tackle and the single most common area of tackle failure. Use proven knots such as the Albright, Yucatan and PR when connecting the mainline (double) to the leader. Practice these knots and get them right. Learning how to tie consistent leader knots that can be relied upon is not optional …it’s essential.

Use quality leader material! This is the business end where the action is happening, so don’t skimp on your leader. I mostly use fluorocarbon, except for bluewater trolling and heavy popper fishing where I use mono. Good quality fluorocarbon is highly resistant to abrasion and sinks faster than mono. The breaking strain of the leader is relative to the tackle, terrain and target species. For finesse fishing where subtle presentations are vital, go as light as you dare. For heavy tackle jigging, I’ve seen leader as heavy as 400lb used with success.

For attaching the leader to a hook or solid ring, I use either the Uni Knot, or crimps. Both work well and have their own benefits. The Uni Knot is fast, easy to tie and has good knot strength. Crimping is more suited to heavier line classes and is more time consuming.

Swivels, Snaps & Rings

Cheap, inferior swivels will cause you to lose good fish, so to prevent them being your weakest link make sure that their rating matches the requirements of your particular styles of fishing.

The same goes for snaps and split rings. Always use high-tensile stainless steel snap locks and split rings. As far as snaps are concerned, I have tended to move away from using them wherever I can, preferring to use quality Owner split and solid rings. Snaps have a nasty habit of opening up and will also fatigue after time and lose strength.


It pays to look at the structural integrity of lures, preferably before you buy them. It’s sad to say, but there are some lures out there that are potential weak links! Some have got very weak screw-in hook hangers and others are not properly wired-through. One major lure manufacturer released a series of flashy poppers designed for targeting big GTs. The lures looked great, with 300lb swivels at the tow and hook points as well as solid hooks. The problem was each swivel was held in place by a small self tapping screw into the lure’s resin body, and that’s it!  A small design oversight has basically rendered that lure useless.

But even the best lures can sometimes have a potentially weak link and so it makes sense to check them all before fishing with them. For example, some lures are superb in every respect except perhaps for their hooks and split rings.

Gun anglers into jigging have rigged their lures in such a way as to effectively take the lure completely out of the equation. The leader is connected to a solid ring, to which an assist hook and split ring is also attached. The jig is attached via the split ring. This provides a very strong and reliable system that can cope with the high stress levels of extreme jigging.


You never know when that screaming hook up will happen, so it’s false economy to use inferior hooks. Replace if necessary the original split rings and hooks on your lures. Many lures come rigged with thin gauge or blunt treble hooks. Often they have overly large barbs too. Replace any unsuitable hooks with top quality items that are designed to handle the line class to the absolute limit. Do not buy cheap, unfamiliar brand hooks; they are cheap for a reason. Think about changing trebles on your lures to singles. This often results in a more secure hook up as well as doing less damage to the fish. Single hooks of comparable size are much stronger than trebles.

Not all hooks are created equal, and you need to identify which is the best option for your angling needs. A good example is fishing for kingfish. When livebaiting, I will use an 8/0 Gamakatsu Big Bait Circle or similar. It’s a great hook and they costs about $1.60 each. When jigging, however, I will use the fantastic Gamakatsu Tuned Assist. These hooks are so strong and I’ve not seen one fail, and at about $12 each, you wouldn’t want them to either!

Human Error

Everybody makes mistakes; it’s a fact of life. But when it come to fooling these big predatory fish, it’s just a matter of loading the dice as much in your favour as possible. Big fish are not stupid, that’s why they’ve been so successful and have survived. Maybe your tackle is in show room condition, your knots and rigs are 100 per cent, and that XOS snapper is ready and waiting for you in a deep coastal wash … but if you then clatter your way around the tinnie, drop the anchor a couple of times and make more noise than carnival at Rio, then guess what, likely as not, you will be your own weakest link and worst enemy.

Often, depending on the conditions, fish will easily be able to notice your presence, particularly if you’re in a boat because sound travels more effectively underwater than in the air. Adapt a stealthy approach and move quietly, you’ll most likely catch more fish.

Upgrading trebles when targeting big fish makes sense. Big singles or doubles are often much stronger than even the best treble and hook up better anyway.

Doggies, even pups like this soft plastic muncher, are well known as being tough on tackle.

What's your reaction?

Related Posts

Load More Posts Loading...No More Posts.