Inshore: Fishing A Slack Line - The Fisherman

Inshore: Fishing A Slack Line

slack line
The author at the rail fishing a “slack line” for blackfish, hoping to be the day’s ringer on the head boat. Photo by Jim Hutchinson, Jr.

Presentation tips for becoming a tautog ringer!

I’d be lying if I told you that that blackfish bite the same way every day. The opposite is far truer. Their mood changes like the wind blows! Combined with a little bit of seasonal influence, aspects such as barometric pressure, water temperature, storms, swells, moon phase and current direction all play into if the fish are on a mad dog chew, or maybe you get a peck, and well, that’s it.  When the fish are on the chew, anybody can catch them. But when the bite gets really picky, it requires a tad more than luck to get the fish coming over the rail.

Don’t take this wrong, it’s the captain who has the innate ability to compute all of these factors of which location should have the exact conditions that we hope will make the fish bite at any particular moment.  When it comes to tautog fishing with the professionals, always watch, listen and learn from the captain. When the best blackfish captain that I have ever met says that it’s so, typically it is so.  Just because I can sometimes string words together does not mean I am self-taught; I trust these very few, innately-skilled captains who I proudly call my friends.

When people ask a serious question, well, it deserves a serious answer, right? For years I’ve heard: “you have to set the hook on the second tug,” or my personal favorite “just before he bites, set the hook! They’re really fast!”  The truth is, the bite changes day to day, even hour to hour, so you must figure it out and adjust your timing. Some days a bounce or two will get some attention, but to constantly lift your sinker will hurt your success as a togger. Take that to the bank!

Bouncer” is his name. He’s a very experienced togger, with big fish to prove it!  He fishes “too tight” to his sinker and he struggles on some days. Today is going to be a little bit lumpy with 3- to 4-foot seas. Bouncer fishes tight to his sinker, always ready to swing. His rod tip is pointed roughly at 4 o’clock.  But and as the boat rolls, his sinker gets lifted and dropped, over and over and over again. Bouncer does not catch many on rough days. As a matter of fact, neither do the rest of the guys on Bouncer’s side of the boat! Not all days mind you, but there are days when this is fact. If I am next to Bouncer, I want to flip my bait away from him; or, I may go to the other side of the boat if possible, because that bouncing sinker will make for much better catching on the other side of the boat!

Ringer” is on the other side of the boat. He baits up and drops in and his sinker hits the bottom. He moves his rod top to the 2 or 3 o’clock position. As the boat moves up, his rod tip goes down. As the boat goes down, his rod tip goes up. He adjusts his reel with free spool and takes up line constantly throughout the day. His slightly longer rod makes it easier to adjust this slack line so he is always in touch with his bait.

Ringer is relaxed and comfortable fishing this way. He’s in a rhythm, chatting with his buddies and enjoying his happy place; but Ringer is not bouncing his sinker! And will you look at that, our boy Ringer is getting a bite; he takes up some slack from his reel and lowers his rod tip to the 4 o’clock position and is ready to swing. A few good tugs and he’s in.  So today, Ringer is both HH and PW (High Hook and Pool Winner for those without a decoder ring).

There are so many variations of how we, as fishermen, do what we do. Rods, reels, rigging, all personal choices. But this skill of fishing a slack line can help you more than any other effort that you put forth. Practice and learn it until it is effortless. Relax, have fun; but when I feel that tap, it’s strictly business.

Don’t be a bouncer, when you can become a ringer!


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