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February 18, 2010

Targeting Trophies on Light Tackle

Four light-tackle experts share their secrets for going for bear with BB guns.

Get Mean Fast
Pam Basco is no stranger to long battles with mean fish. Her most memorable catch came in Kona, Hawaii, when she broke the yellowfin tuna record by besting a 157-pound fish on 20-pound line. For Basco that was not enough. Two days later, she shattered her own record with a 203½-pound yellowfin on 20-pound line. She is definitive when it comes to the most important element of fishing for big fish on light line: "You have to have a good captain and crew because it's 100 percent a team effort," she says. She highly recommends sticking with the same captain and crew each season so the essential ability to work as team develops. Otherwise, you have to learn the plays each time you get on a boat.

Basco also believes that knowing your tackle is key. "Test as many different rods, reels, harnesses, lines and hooks as you can, and assemble the setup that best fits you," she says.

As to her fight strategy, Basco uses an aggressive approach in the early stages of the fight. When you are fishing light tackle, you are going to lose a lot of fish, plain and simple. Basco thinks it is better to put the heat on them in the beginning, when the drag has not been stressed and the line is fresh.

She says the most critical time is when a fish is close to the boat. That's when you have the most acute angle on the fish and a short amount of line, which is far less forgiving than a longer line. At this point a lot can go wrong. Something she says many anglers don't consider are the sea swells. When the fish is nearly straight up and down, a sudden swell can easily result in a breakoff if you don't anticipate it.

Try, Try Again
Whether you seek IGFA records or would simply like to catch a big bonefish on extra-light tackle, Islamorada, Florida, is without a doubt one of the best places to do it. And Mark Cockerham, known in the upper Keys as the bonefish guru, is the expert to advise you. Cockerham typically finds big fish during falling tides on flats that slowly drop off into deep water. Ideally, he will spot the fish and have time to study them and determine their "mood." The mood of the fish dictates how he develops his strategy. Once you've located the big fish and have enticed one to eat, the light-tackle game really begins. "Fishing IGFA 2-pound is insane - before I landed my first bonefish on 2-pound, I was probably one or two breakoffs away from giving up completely," says Cockerham. "Your line can touch something as nonthreatening as a blade of turtle grass on the surface, and that will be enough to end the game."

If you are up for the challenge, Cockerham strongly recommends building a tapered leader with short sections of mono. Start by making a Bimini loop with your 2-pound running line, then build a reverse-taper leader using bloods knots to add short sections of 6-, 8-, 10- and, finally, 12-pound mono. "The most important thing to remember when constructing your leader this way is to never completely cinch the blood knot that's connecting the 2-pound and 6-pound - let the fish cinch that one for you," he says. "Most of the time if you try to cinch that knot, it's going to break - if you are lucky and manage to cinch it successfully, the knot has been stressed enough that it will break every time when a fish makes its initial run." When fishing extremely light line, Cockerham prefers rods that are overly soft - something that allows for smooth lob casts. "Any jolt whatsoever in the cast will easily break 2-pound," he says.

Another of Cockerham's secrets is to use an extremely light wire, chemically sharpened Kahle hook, much like a bass hook. We already learned from Gary Carter that light wire penetrates with minimal force, but the real secret is the wider gap of the Kahle-style hook. This gap increases the odds of the hook finding a place to stick. "When the fish eats, there is absolutely no setting the hook - let it run, hope the hook sticks and make sure your guide is poling like hell," says Cockerham. "Also, keep your rod tip as high as possible because big bones (especially those in Islamorada) will bury their noses into the bottom to try and break the leader or free the hook."