The onslaught of tackle catalogs arriving in the mail has peaked. Even though I have no need for a new reel I like to look at the latest offerings to see what the latest rage is.
It appears spinning reels, the most popular of all reels, have gone through a cycle of gadgetry and are returning to simple designs. Objects like trigger finger line pick ups and line counters are disappearing, as they should. Focus is on quality, smooth operation and perhaps the most important element -- good drag systems.
A faulty drag can be a killer, a downright bummer. Consider the walleye of a lifetime I hooked once. I felt strong, steady throbs as the fish jerked its head from side to side. It was the kind of fight unique to big walleyes.
Until that big fish hit we had caught walleyes weighing from 1 pound to 3 pounds. We figured nothing big would come our way. So when I felt the weight of that big one I was caught totally off guard and my adrenaline spiked.
There's no rushing a big walleye. You just let it pound away until it's beat. Then you slowly bring it up. Hurry the process and the fish will break the line or the hook will pull loose.
A well-known fishing pro once advised that you should tighten the drag all the way down so there is no give at all. When a fish makes a run feed it line by reeling backwards. He said this method of fighting a fish allows him to keep a tight line easier.
It sounded good in theory until I tried it on my big walleye. It made a run that took out about 10 feet of line. I backreeled quickly as the line got dangerously tight, but I couldn't keep up with the fish. The line snapped, the fish was gone and I lost all faith in advice from fishing pros.
Never again have I been so foolish as to tighten my drag to the point where a fish can't pull out some line during a run. That theory of fighting a fish is bogus, like a lot of other advice you hear from TV fishermen. Don't jump on that bandwagon!
A couple years later I sat in on a book planning session with many of the top smallmouth bass fishermen in the country. The project director, a nationally-known fisherman/writer, proposed a section on fighting fish. He said the best way was to tighten down the drag with a pliers and backreel. My thoughts raced back to the big walleye I lost and my mouth went into gear. He was shocked that I disagreed with his preferred method of fighting a fish, so I told him my story. He said he'd never had a walleye make a run he couldn't keep up with by backreeling. I was about to ask how many big walleyes he'd caught, but held my tongue.
Six months later the book came out. It promoted the tight drag and backreel method, so the myth goes on.
Drags are on reels for a reason. Use the drag on your reel. Fish make runs nobody can keep up with by backreeling. On a very fast run the reel handle spins uncontrollably while the line spins into a bird's nest. I've seen it happen many times.
The best way to fight a fish is to set your drag so it slips before the line reaches the breaking point. If you like to backreel, do it. If the fish makes a sudden, fast run, or the reel handle strikes your hand, the drag will take over.
Wise fishermen learn from others mistakes. Learn from mine. I've made enough for all of us.
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