Gearing up for a personal best winter blackfish.
There is nothing easy or glamorous about being a togger. It’s both mentally and physically challenging. But by identifying a few of the most common “failure points” will help you commit to avoiding them, which can ultimately help bring your new personal best blackfish to the net.
If your tackle and rigging are perfect, then your rig should hold together when this fish is hooked. If your fish fighting technique is excellent, you have an excellent chance of landing it when you do hook a big fish. If you make this commitment and faithfully train yourself to fish this way, your chances go way up! The “Big Fish Game” is a commitment to focus efforts on preparing to catch larger fish, even if you catch fewer fish in the process.
Rig ‘Em Right
There are zero shortcuts for proper rigging; the goal should be to develop and learn these needed skills until you can do it blindly. There are reasons for every aspect of this rigging that might seem odd. Before you change anything, try it. Most every togger I know ties their own rigs. The gold standard of hooks is the 5/0 Owner Cutting Point. To tie a Slider Rig, snell this hook on a piece of 60-pound test fluorocarbon leader material. Slide a hook down the leader so that it nests on the first hook. Tie a perfection loop on the end so that the total length overall is about 10 inches.
To tie the Sweetheart Rig, do precisely the same, except put the sliding hook in the opposite direction. Use the Slider Rig when using two crab halves, one bait on each hook; when the white crabs are shedding and smaller, use the Sweetheart Rig. Cut the legs off of the crab. By carefully putting one hook in each side of the crab, you have the crab laying perfectly straight on the leader, with the crab hanging directly on the leader. This should minimize your leader from tangling as they fall to the bottom. Be prepared to fish either rig, depending on the bait size that day.
Your rod should be able to move a big fish on the hookset. I prefer a spiral-wrapped conventional rod almost 8-foot in length. Super sensitive, trigger grip reel seat, and a short butt all have a purpose in this rod. Add a Daiwa Saltiga 15 Star drag reel, and you’re in business. Maxell, Avet, and Shimano all make reels that perform this task admirably also. Just remember that when completely rigged, this outfit should balance in your hand to fish comfortably. The balance point should be at the front of the rods foregrip.
When fishing a slackline, this balanced and lightweight outfit is the functional evolution from many years of fishing heavy gear. My current blackfish rod weighs just over 9 ounces; add the reel, and it’s at about a pound and a half of total weight. That’s 3 pounds lighter than the outfit I used years ago. Is it necessary? Perhaps not, but it’s like driving a brand new Corvette vs. an old sedan.
Line It Up & Strike!
Take your reel and add some backing to fill the bottom of the spool. Add 150 yards of 50- or 65-pound test braided line. My preference is Multi-Color Daiwa J8. The multi-color line will alert you when your bait is on the bottom. Add a 20-foot top shot of 60-pound Ande monofilament. Attach the mono to braid via a Yucatan knot. This knot is fast and simple to tie, and it’s brutally strong. The downfall of this knot is the tag end is awkward. When reeling your braid up, keep the knot to one side of the spool. As you flip your bait out, the tag end will split your thumb if not careful. Even though the dependability of this simple knot outweighs all other more complex knots, hands down, bar none.
Take the bottom 2 feet or so of your top shot and make a double line via a two-turn spider hitch. Hang your sinker from the bottom of the loop, ensuring that both lines are perfectly even in length. Four fingers wide above your sinker, fold the double lines over themselves. Put the double lines through the perfection loop on your slider rig. Pass the hooks back through the double line loop. In your double lines, Take your sinker and tie two overhand knots in the double lines around your leader tie-in. Pull the rig tight, and pull the double lines tight, locking your rig in place. This double-line tie-in is called The Belmar Rig.
Now that we’re rigged right, it’s time to think hook set and the fight. Once you’ve dropped your bait to the bottom (again, Slider Rig hooks with a nice-sized white crab cut in half, the Sweetheart Rig for those smaller cherry-sized soft crabs), remember that you do not want to bounce that sinker. Fish a slackline until you feel little scratch bites. When you do, quickly move the rod tip downward and get ready for a better hit. When you feel the few good thump, thump, thumps, it’s time to set the hook! In one swift motion, push the butt of the rod down and move it into your gut while pulling the foregrip toward your body. Immediately get on the reel and crank until the fish stops you.
Hang on and keep your tip up, gaining line as you can. Lower the rod tip to a more horizontal position when the fish is safely off of the bottom. As the boat rises and falls on the swell, reel on the fall and go easy on the rise. Do not pump the rod, as doing so can cause you to lose the fish. As the fish nears the surface, the top shot knot will be approaching the tip-top; lower your rod tip to help the knot pass smoothly through the tip-top. The next step is to slow down. The mate is next to you with the net, right? Move your rod tip away from the mate; as the fish nears the surface, move the tip in front of the mate to direct the fish’s swimming toward the net. Take a step back to give the mate room to do his job, and as he nets the fish, disengage your reel and point your rod tip up to get it out of the way.
Things go wrong very quickly when you lose a good fish. Practice excellent rigging and technique on every fish to avoid the heartbreak of losing the big ones. Don’t set the hook and say ‘it’s a nice one” only to lower your rod, allowing that nice fish to swim back into the structure. Practice your knots, hedge your bets in your favor, and remember that bulletproof rigging and technique will improve your fish stories at the rail or gunnel this winter.
I hope to see you hang a jumbo!