II. Fishing Tackle
Although you can spend thousands of dollars on fishing tackle (and some of our Forum members do!), this section of the Beginner's Corner is designed to help you pick out inexpensive basic equipment that will "do the job" but not "break the bank."
II.A. Rods & Reels & Line
Of the four basic types of fishing outfits - baitcasting, spinning, spincast, and fly rods and reels - most new anglers find spincasting outfits easiest to use. Spincast outfits are the rods and reels provided by Nebraska Game & Parks in their free tackle loaner program, and these also are the types of rods and reels used by NGPC's Youth Fishing Program to introduce youngsters to fishing.
"Spin-cast reels, also called closed-faced reels, are simple to operate. The fishing line is wound on a spool inside the reel; when you press and release a large button, the reel lets out the line. Casting is a matter of releasing the button at the right time. Most youngsters learn to cast in less than 5 minutes. The spin-cast rod has an easy-to-hold pistol grip." --Reprinted with permission from NEBRASKAland Magazine, Vol.79, No.1.
(Fishing tackle photos courtesy Slimdog and Canfield's CanoeGuru.)
A Zebco 33 on the left and an example of an open-faced spinning reel on the right. Note that the spincast reel, the "33," is operated on top of the rod while the open-faced reel is operated beneath the rod.
Two Words: ZEBCO 33 (a spincast reel) - This is definitely the cheapest, easiest to use, hardest to break, combo for beginning anglers. Can be bought at most retailers for twenty bucks or less. Usually don't stay in stock long enough to need new line before using.
Most beginners will find a "medium" weight outfit - 6-pound test line up to 10- or 12-pound test line -- adequate for many types of fishing in Nebraska. The Zebco 33 is the "classic" medium-weight reel. It has been around for more than 50 years and is the preferred reel in the Youth Fishing Program because of its durability.
While often sold in combination with a matching Zebco rod, an inexpensive and almost indestructible alternative is the two-piece, spincast model of the Shakespeare "Ugly Stick." Most beginners find six- to seven-foot rods easiest to cast. Shorter rods provide less leverage when landing large fish, while longer rods are more cumbersome to transport.
Almost all the major retailers sell inexpensive spincast combinations that include reels pre-spooled with either six-pound or 8-lb. test monofilament (nylon) line. This will handle a wide variety of Nebraska fishing situations, from panfish (bluegills, crappie, white bass, and perch) to most bass, walleye, channel catfish, and carp. Monofilament line deteriorates with age, however, and develops "memory," meaning old line comes off the reel looking like a loosely coiled Slinky. It's a good idea to replace any line more than a year or two old. Old line also is more likely to become tangled inside a spincast reel. (Please, please dispose of your old line properly, either in an NEFGA recycling bin if one is handy, or wadded up and put in the trash.)
One final note on line and reels: you can catch fish that weigh much more than the listed breaking strength of the line if you have the reel's adjustable "drag" set correctly. The "drag" provides mechanical resistance while allowing a fish to pull line from your reel, but it only works correctly if you stop cranking in line while the fish makes its run. While a fish runs and is pulling out line, keep the rod tip pointed up so that the fish is also pulling against the flexibility of the rod. As soon as the fish stops, lift the rod tip higher, then crank in line each time as you lower the rod.
While "closed-face" spincast reels generally are considered the easiest for beginners, the second-most-popular style is the versatile "open-faced" spinning reel.
Here's a spinning reel tip (and warning of impending doom) from Catfishsteve:
When fishing with a spinning reel, it helps to refine your cast and retrieve technique to avoid line twist, loops, and bird nests, especially when using monofilament line. Here's the best way I've found for a beginner or even an old boot to avoid these problems:
When you make your cast, as the bait is about to hit the water, point your rod right where your bait is going and lower your rod tip a bit toward the water. DO NOT TURN THE REEL HANDLE YET! Instead, as your bait is sinking and without raising your rod at all, use your "reel" hand (the one not holding the rod) to "flip" (close) the bail on the front for reel to the retrieving postion. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER flip the bail over by turning the crank handle of a spinning reel. This is a sin. Simply allowing your bait to land and then starting to turn the reel handle all willy-nilly is the root of all evil that a fishing reel can possess. (Editor's note: these references to "sin" and "evil," while theologically questionable, indicate how seriously Catfishsteve takes fishing.) So, flip the bail over by hand -- DO NOT TURN THE REEL HANDLE YET -- and slowly raise the rod tip up to about 11 o'clock position. See how this now pulls all of the slack out of your line from the bait, clear to your reel?
This simple step on every cast allows you to fish all day without having the reel throw loose loops of line on the reel which will blow up into a bird's nest the size of your head just when you find the very choicest looking patch of water cabbage you've seen all day and go to make the cast that might get you the fish of a lifetime.
Allowing slack in your line when starting to crank a spinning reel is a disaster waiting to happen and you will pay for it with your weight in bird's nest eventually if you don't heed my words. You have been warned!!
Now, with the bail flipped by hand and your rod pulling up all the slack in your line, YOU MAY NOW START TO BY TAKING A FEW SLOW CRANKS OF YOUR REEL BEFORE LOWERING YOUR ROD TIP DOWN to a normal fishing position and retrieving normally, laying nice even turns of line down on the reel spool as you go, and avoiding all the line loops and twisting that will no doubt blow up and ruin your fishing day eventually.
II.B. Hooks & Weights & Bobbers & Swivels
Hooks: Everyone knows the classic fish hook is shaped like the letter "J," but when you get to the store to buy hooks, you'll find a bewildering variety of sizes and styles. Three of the most common types are the classic "J," the "treble" with three hook points on one shaft, and the circle hook. While each has its purpose, the classic "J" hook will meet most of your needs as a new angler. (Many Forum members prefer circle hooks for catfish and bullheads, and treble hooks are standard on a variety of artificial lures.)
This assortment of hooks shows a #6 conventional "J" hook, a 4/0 circle hook, a #6 treble hook, and a pack of #2 snelled hooks, with a quarter for size comparision. You will find wide variations in size labeling among circle hook manufacturers.
One common beginner mistake is to use hooks that are too big. Hook sizes range from tiny fly-fishing sizes (#20, #22, and even #24 or smaller) up through #10, #8, #6, etc. (the lower the number, the bigger the hook), then at zero the numbering system reverses to become 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, etc., with larger numbers for larger hooks. You can get a good idea of what size hook to use by looking at how the fish's mouth is built. Some fish, like bluegills and trout, have relatively small mouths and can be caught on the tiniest of hooks, smaller than #8. Crappie have bigger mouths - a #6 or #8 hook works fine - and bass have mouths shaped like buckets; they easily can swallow #4 or #2 hooks. Many Forum members use 1/0 or 2/0 or 3/0 circle hooks for channel catfish; smaller circle hooks work well for bullheads. The thing to remember is that, everything else being equal, you don't want the fish to know that he's biting down on a hook, so it's better to error on the side of too small rather than too big. You can catch a big fish on a small hook, but you can't catch a small fish on a big hook.
You've heard the expression "set the hook," meaning a quick jerk or tug when the fish takes the bait? Don't overdo it. All you need to do is impale the last quarter inch of the hook point in the fish's jaw, you don't have to yank him out of his socks! (South of 41's beginner tip is to be sure to take in all the slack in your line so that you can feel the fish before you set the hook.)
Don't try to set the hook if you're using a circle hook because the yanking motion often pulls the circle hook out of the fish's mouth. With a circle hook, let the fish take the bait and run away from you for a few seconds, then begin cranking him in. If the circle hook is sharp, he will hook himself, usually in the front corner of his mouth where the hook will be easy for you to remove.
Speaking of sharp hooks, not all of them are, even brand new ones. A properly sharpened hook will leave a white line on your fingernail when you lightly drag the point across the surface of the nail. Many of the best anglers sharpen all their hooks before using them, and resharpen any hooks that have drug or bounced against rocks beneath the water.
Weights come in a bewildering variety of shapes and sizes. As a new angler, you'll want to become familiar with at least three styles: "bell" weights that usually have a wire loop to attach them to the line, "egg" weights where the line passes through a hole in the center, and "split shot" commonly made of soft lead (new varieties use non-lead alloys) that can be pinched onto the line. Each has advantages for different types of fishing. The two basic reasons to use weights are to lower the bait to a specific depth or to keep the bait on the bottom. Sometimes no weight is best, while at other times (fishing swift river currents) heavy weights are essential.
Which style and which size depends on the kind of fish you are after, so we'll offer more specific advice in the sections on each species. In general, however, avoid using more weight than you need to cast out the line and to keep your bait at the desired depth. Too much weight can create unnatural resistance when the fish grabs the bait, causing some to spit it back out.
The lead-head jig, a combination hook and weight, is Catfishsteve's favorite rig for newbies:
My favorite rig when I take someone who is very new to fishing is a simple small, plain lead jig, about 1/16 or 1/32 oz (They come in all sizes and colors at Walmart) fished under a small bobber on about 6 lb test line.
Tie the jig to the end of your line and above it rig up a simple, small bobber 3 or 4 feet up the line. If you can get a bit of help with this at first, a small "slip" bobber is really the ticket with this rig, I like the Wing-It brand bobbers, also found at Walmart. A slip bobber is nice because it slides down to the end of your line with the jig for casting and then it slips up your line to where you want it when you are fishing it. But even any old standard plastic red and white bobber will work just fine as well.
I like this rig because your weight and the hook with the bait are all together at the end of your line when you are casting. This makes casting a bit easier for someone as they start out. Plus it's very easy to adjust your bait so it rides as deep or as shallow in the water as you need it to with this rig.
You can bait your hook with just about anything. My favorite bait is a small minnow, hooked lightly right in front of the tail. This is much easier and not as gory as hooking minnows in the head, plus I think it's very effective as your minnow is always trying to swim and they stay alive better without hooks in their heads. Get fancy and hook the minnow so he rides upside down for even more effectiveness as he's always trying to get right-side up. Big fish can't resist a struggling minnow!!
Bits of earthworms, corn, small leeches (I know, yuck!!) pieces of shrimp, hot dogs, plus many other things make great bait. There is even "natural" plastic bait available (yes, at Walmart!) that comes in many shapes, colors and flavors. These baits are great as there is very little mess and they stay nice and fresh for weeks in your tackle box without you having to worry about keeping it alive. Some days these "fake" live baits will catch more fish than real live bait.
Throw this rig out and let it sit so the bait is about halfway to the bottom or so, to start out. You can work your bait in close to stumps or weeds with this rig very easily. That's where the fish are!! This is a great rig on a slightly breezy day as it bounces along on the little waves, or your can throw it out and slowly "jig" it back to you, little by little, if the fish need a bit more teasing to bite.
You should get bitten very often fishing like this. The other advantage of this set up is that the little jighead on your hook makes it hard for a fish to swallow the hook, and the little jighead on the hook will usually be sticking out of the fish's mouth when you get him reeled in, and this gives you a handle almost, to work with to carefully remove the hook from the fish's lip.
Bobbers also come in many varieties, yet they all serve two common purposes: (1) they let you know when a fish is taking your bait, and (2) they control the depth your bait hangs beneath the surface. As with hooks, many beginners make the mistake of using bobbers that are too big. While a big bobber is sometimes necessary (imagine you're using a small, live bluegill as bait for a catfish; you wouldn't want the bluegill constantly pulling your bobber under water), the larger the bobber the greater resistance a fish will feel when it tries to swim off with your bait. Small bobbers create less resistance.
Examples of three typical bobber styles, each of which comes in a variety of sizes.
The problem with conventional "snap-on" bobbers is that they make casting very difficult, if not impossible, when the bobber must be set more than five or six feet above the hook. Experienced anglers get around this problem by using a "slip bobber," which slides down the line toward the hook when they cast, but then the hook and weight slip back through the bobber, once it floats, to a pre-set depth.
Many slip-bobbers come with small piece of string that is tied snugly around the line at whatever depth the angler chooses, or a tiny plastic "stop" that serves the same purpose; a small plastic bead rides between the "stop" and the bobber to allow the bobber to slide freely. ("Slip-bobbering" is a common technique among walleye fishermen because walleye often stay near the bottom in deeper water.)
Swivels can be used to perform several functions, but their single biggest benefit is to prevent line twist. Imagine twisting a rope or garden hose until it kinks and forms a series of overlapping loops. The same thing can happen when you fish with monofilament line without using a swivel, and those kinks and loops cause big problems when they tangle inside a closed-face spinning reel.
Swivels come in many sizes, shapes and prices (the least expensive are brass-colored - the most expensive have a ball bearing inside). The basic version has a loop of wire at each end for tying on the line and leader. (A leader is simply a short length of line between the hook/lure and swivel.) Some swivels have a snap connection on one end, similar to a small safety pin. Beginners often mistakenly attach their hook directly to this snap, which rarely works as well as attaching it to the loop end of a snelled hook leader or, even better, separating the swivel from the hook with a length of leader. This also is true for many artificial lures; snapping the lure directly to the snap-swivel - while fast and easy -- can impede the action of the lure, making it less effective.
II.C. Useful "Accessories"
Nail clippers - Cheap nail clippers are the best tool available for clipping off the tag ends of knots in fishing line.
Needlenose pliers - There are many tools designed specifically for removing fish hooks from fish, but none is as versatile as an ordinary pair of needlenose pliers. You'll also find them handy for pinching down the barbs of hooks (a requirement at some "catch & release" lakes), for pinching down split-shot weights and re-openning split shot for removal), and for skinning fish while cleaning them. Do not use pliers, however, to grip a fish by the lip unless you plan to keep the fish and eat it.
Hook sharpener - Although many excellent anglers never sharpen their hooks, others believe sharpened hooks substantially increase their success rate. The least-expensive tool for sharpening hooks is a common emory board for filing fingernails. Pick up one when you buy your spare nail clipper at the drug store.
Stringer - If you're going to keep your fish and eat them, you'll need a way to keep them in the water until you're done fishing. A basic stringer of plastic line costs less than a dollar; the chain-style stringer or plastic line with large "safety pin" style nylon snaps cost less than $10. Be aware that fish rarely survive if they're released after being on a stringer because the stringer usually damages their gills. If you're not going to keep, clean, and eat a fish, it's best to release it immediately.
"Tackle box" - A clear plastic box with compartments will help you keep your tackle organized and separated so that you'll be able to find what you need. Do not rush out and buy a big fancy tackle box until you've learned what kind of fishing you enjoy most because tackle boxes and storage systems have become very specialized. The style of tackle box that is perfect for a catfish angler would be almost useless for a bass angler, and vice versa.
Plastic grocery bag - While useful for transporting freshly caught fish home from the lake or stream, the primary reason for taking one to your fishing spot is to use it as a litter bag to carry out some of the trash left by people less considerate than you. For years, we've heard "leave your campsite cleaner than you found it." Let's all work to make that true for our fishing sites, too.
If you're fishing hook into a bluegill or a trout and the little fella decides that a number 6 hook is a lot more tasty than the bait you've hung on it, and swallows it down. The first thing you do is pick the fish up out of the water with your hand, do not pick him up by the line, could result in killing the fish. And if you don't play to keep and eat him or he's under the legal size limit that's not a very good thing. First off, before you even hit the lake I suggest you find a pair of needlenose pliers and/or curved hemostats. They only cost a few dollars at your local tackle store.
Some ways to prevent this also is to use a is a hook disgorger These can also be found in a tackle shop for $2 or so. They are made for this very problem. It's a plastic device with like a bulb shape on both ends (two different sizes).
You slide your line into a slot and slide it down into the fish's mouth and over the hook. Then you push down removing the hook and the hook is protected by the device as you slide it out of the fish's mouth. They work really slick.
Or you could try some extra long shank hooks.
II.D. You Don't Need a Boat, Even to Fish Big Lakes
The following article by Daryl Bauer, NGPC fisheries biologist, appeared in the January, 2001, NEBRASKAland Magazine and is reprinted with permission.
Shore-bound anglers should not be intimidated by Nebraska's large reservoirs. Although these reservoirs and their open-water species might make fishing without a boat seem like a waste of time, shore anglers can do very well. To successfully fish from the bank on these large waters, consider these tips:
* Concentrate your bank-fishing time to when fish are likely to be near shore. In these reservoirs, fish are often near shore in spring and fall and during daily feeding periods at dawn and dusk or after dark.
* Flowing water, including inlets, outlets, and feeder streams, attract feeding fish and bring them close to shore anglers. Points, jetties, dams and flats are other areas where shore anglers can intercept feeding fish. Steep drop-offs near shore also can be good areas to fish.
* Pay attention to wind direction. Fish often feed where the wind blows on shore. If the wind blows hard enough and long enough, mud lines and shore currents form key fishing areas.
* Get a good pair of chest waders. Wading a few yards from shore means getting closer to feeding fish.
* A medium-action, 6-1/2 foot or longer spinning rod works well for long-distance casting. With this rig anglers can use many baits and lures and, if equipped with 8-pound-test line, it will land most fish in Nebraska reservoirs.
* Keep lure choice simple. A few jigs, KastMasters, shallow-running crankbaits, rattlebaits, and a topwater lure or two will catch fish almost year-round. Add a few hooks, slip sinkers, and bobbers for still-fishing baits.
* Be patient when fishing.
* * * * *
Float tubes: If you decide to pursue fishing as a hobby, you may want to consider a float tube. This NEFGA article provides some information for beginners:
Float Tubes for Beginners.