The yellowtail bite was fast and furious, as expected along this Bimini, Bahamas reef. Almost as quick as we'd drift a bait back, we'd pluck a plump yellowtail from the sea. Balls of the golden fish materialized within the water, the more aggressive 'tails moving to within a few feet of our chum bag. Then, suddenly, they disappeared, as if sucked back into their lairs by some huge vacuum. Predator fish had moved in.
A few large reefs sharks convened deep behind our boat, looking for a snapper struggling on a hook, an easy meal, and the yellowtails wanted no part of that game. Our small silverside-tipped jigs and pieces of bait drifting with the chum had just become obsolete. To continue catching 'tails, we'd have to bait them on the bottom, and on tackle just heavy enough to crank them up through the water column ahead of the sharks. It was time to change up.
I grabbed two of the larger spinning outfits, both of which were spooled with 30-pound-test braid. I rerigged them with 15 feet of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader and a 5/0 in-line circle hook. Before securing the hook to the leader, I added a 2-ounce egg sinker, which rested on the eye of the hook. This is what is known as a knocker rig.
We baited the hooks with pieces of bonito and ballyhoo and dropped the knocker rigs to the bottom. Nearly instantly the snappers consumed the baits, and we rapidly wound them up to the boat, with sharks in hot pursuit. When the score was tallied, we'd won far more of these drag races than the sharks had. But the bottom line was that, once again, the knocker rig paid dividends for us!
Defying Bad Structure for Decades
BottomFishing 101 tells us that using the lightest weight possible to hold a bait on or near bottom while keeping that weight away from the hook is paramount in catching a variety of benthic species. This could range from a hook and sinker separated by just 2 or 3 feet of leader and a swivel for striped bass and snook in inlets or around bridges to a sinker above a 15- to 30-foot-long leader intended to fool mutton snapper. The objective here is to lessen the resistance a fish feels when it picks up, mouths or nibbles at a bait and encourage it to devour that bait and not drop it. This is accomplished through the extra latitude and even slack provided by a long leader coming off of a sinker. The fish takes the bait and feels nothing unnatural until the hook is set and it's too late.
However, logic does have its limits. And in this case, high-profile and rugged structure - such as ragged reefs, rock piles, wrecks and even kelp gardens - becomes the game-changer. When you're looking to drop a bait into such dangerous terrain, the knocker rig becomes a worthy ally.
Bouncer and the Knocker
Capt. Bouncer Smith has long been regarded as the premier inlet, reef and offshore skipper in Florida's Miami-Dade County. Many believe he has no peer when it comes to catching a wide variety of game fish the likes of snook, tarpon, grouper, snapper, sailfish, kingfish, cobia, dolphin, swordfish and numerous other fish swimming in the local waters. And when it comes to bottomfishing along the reefs and wrecks off southern Florida and Bimini, he gives the knocker rig its share of play.
"The concept of the knocker rig is sort of like dropping into a forest of snagging trees," says Smith. "The sinker and bait stay together as the rig enters into a heavy-growth reef, so it won't start off tangled. The sinker stays in place, and the fish can't tell the difference between the sinker and a rock. With a long leader rig - let's say 4 feet long - the sinker will land on bottom, while the leader may snag two or three rocks in the process."
Smith uses the knocker rig to catch just about all snappers and contends it can be used for all sorts of bottom- and near-bottom-dwelling fish that thrive in and around ragged structure. Furthermore, the rig works in conjunction with live or dead baits.