Loosely defined, evolution is the process of gradual change. From an angling standpoint, evolution begins with the very first tug on your line. That first fish is awesome, but after a few small catches, you gradually begin to change. The excitement of catching small fish dissipates, and the urge to do battle with larger fish begins to emerge. So what happens when you have caught your fill of big fish with standard tackle and you still want more? You, my friend, have evolved into a light-tackle angler. As the saying goes, big fish don't get that way by being stupid, so you need to have a few tricks up your sleeve in this arena.
The masters of light tackle approach this specialized game with strategies and tactics honed through experience. Here's a handful of tips from four of the best, three accomplished anglers and one renowned captain, that are guaranteed to supercharge your evolutionary process.
Lots of Shots
Capt. Skip Smith has fished around the globe and is universally recognized as a pioneer in light-tackle fishing. Smith, considered the forefather of many techniques that have become standard practice, developed his approach through trial and error, and he believes the same process is an essential part of light-tackle skill development for any angler or captain.
On a typical light-tackle day, he'll rig numerous outfits with everything from 2-pound to 12-pound line. With a full array of tackle at the ready when a fish storms the spread, the angler can choose the outfit best suited to the species, conditions and particular fish.
Smith says that getting the hook to set is not as tricky as you might think - especially when using circle hooks with baits that are properly rigged. With circle hooks, Smith uses a bridle that is twice as long as a standard bridle. This puts the hook about an inch above the bait instead of sitting snug against the bait (like a traditional bridle). Then the hook is free and can find a place to stick, without the bait getting in the way. "IGFA rules allow you to fish a 15-foot leader, and once the fish feels the leader going down its lateral line, it frantically kicks, and more often than not, the fish kicking the leader will set the hook for you," says Smith. From that point on, as long as you keep the line halfway tight, you have a decent chance at catching the fish.
"The best advice that I can give is to go places that are notorious for big numbers of fish," says Smith. "When you have days that provide numerous shots, you can try a fish on 12-pound line and then work your way down. When opportunity presents itself over and over, even a novice angler will be surprised at how quickly and consistently big pelagics can be taken on 8-pound line."
Like Smith, Gary Carter has fished around the world and has the light-tackle accomplishments to show for his efforts and expertise.
Critical to success and often overlooked are hook and bait selection, Carter feels. When choosing a bait to fish on light line, you cannot choose a bait so big that it will break your line when it's deployed. For example, a big bait like a bonito will snap 2-pound-test. The bait must be matched to the tackle. When you choose hooks, look for those that are constructed of the thinnest possible wire. A thinner-gauge hook penetrates much easier and with less pressure than heavier-wire hooks. The trick is to find a balance, a hook that is thin enough to penetrate with minimal pressure but strong enough not to straighten when the fish is boat-side.
When it comes to the fight, Carter believes that your drag plays the most important role of all. Light line doesn't give you the luxury of putting the screws to a fish - ever. It's really about finesse. With light line, you constantly have to make adjustments. For example, on the bite, you have to be somewhat aggressive with the drag to get the hook to penetrate and then be ready to quickly drop back into free-spool, or close to it, when the fish runs. When the fish comes near the boat, it's time to carefully crank the drag back up and be more aggressive again. Carter says the quickest way to adjust your drag is simply to use your fingers on the spool: "You'd be surprised at how much drag you can apply by lightly touching the spool, and when the fish takes off, all you have to do is keep the reel from backlashing and let it run."