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The Language of Line
Fishing line never lies. Your line may lay on the surface, but it always tells the truth. To study the angler’s connection to the bait, one must understand the forces that act upon it. Wind, current, underwater obstructions such as grass, wood or rock all make the visible portion of your line do things unique to that particular interaction. With such importance placed on the feel of what’s happening down there, a rod’s sensitivity and unregulated terms like modulus, the visual and sometimes auditory study of what the line is doing tells us much about what we can not see beyond the reflection of the sky.
Bright yellow 15 lb braided line is what I am usually fixated upon. With a fluorocarbon leader and some sort of weightless finesse soft plastic bait at the end, I watch and wait. When casting, I often rip back the rod tip just before the bait touches down, then quickly throw the excess coils downward. They heap onto the waters surface.
The slack does two things. It allows the bait to fall naturally to the bottom, not on an unnatural arc or pendulum swing. Bigger fish know when something did not descend to the bottom of the river naturally. Smallmouth may be an equal opportunity killer, but the biggest, most pressured ones tend to be the world’s toughest skeptics. The second thing this practice does is allow the language of the line to draw a deep breath before telling me something of the water it probes.
I train my eye out as far as I can on the most distant curve in the line. The waters reflections of trees rather than sky tend to allow better contrast with the yellow line. In clear water, a darkly reflected background also lets me be a better sight fisherman. Regardless of the reflection, the coils movement tells me things.
Most importantly, they tell me when a fish has taken the bait. Smaller fish smash the bait hard enough to knock water droplets off the line leading from the tip of my rod to the surface. Panfish trying to rip a chunk out of the bait will make the line hiccup in place. Medium sized fish will straighten the coils fairly obviously. But the big fish take is one you really need to be vigilant to see.
If you aren’t one of two things happen. One unfortunately is a big fish taking the bait on slack line down into it’s gullet. They usually die from this. I’ve become adept at removing hooks from a bass’s throat, but do my utmost to stick them quickly, and hook them on the front half of their mouth, where I can unhook and release them unharmed.
The best method of removing gut hooks is by removing all soft plastic from the hook, usually by tearing it off the hook with needle nose pliers, then cutting the line about 6 inches up from the knot, and passing that tag end of the line down through a gill arch and out the back of the mouth cavity. This turns the “J” part of the hook 180 degrees. Holding the tag end down toward the tail (their swallow reflex will try and rotate it back in the original direction), use the pliers to grab the bottom of the “J” and pull the hook straight out the front of the mouth of the fish. Many times it comes free with very little effort. But others, especially if the fight was hard, the damage has already been done, with either external or internal bleeding as a result. The other option of leaving it in there to rust out is sort of a gamble. The hooks wont rust in fresh water unless they are straight up bronze hooks. Black nickel hooks in particular do very well. I’ve caught bass with barely recognizable faded and swollen soft plastics on pristine black nickel hooks hanging from their rectum. Get them out if you can.
The other unfortunate thing that can happen if you aren’t studying your line well enough is that a big fish can suck it in, decide it’s not for them, and huff it right back out without you knowing. All those coils tell me when a big fish has confidently taken the bait and is very slowly moving away with it. The little one’s run with it like they’ve smashed glass and stolen. The big ones move away cool, like they’ve taken an hors's d’ourve off of a platter as the waiter walked by. The coil closest to the bait, usually the hardest one to see is the fish’s tell in that poker game. The coil may lay like the perfect curve on a cursive “L” one moment, and the next, it’s shaped a hair differently. You may not know, but if you are always looking, eventually you will know.
Current speed is another thing that coiled line can make more obvious to you. Casting cross current of any speed will pull on the buoyant line. Certain stretches of line will sag downstream faster than others. Stretches of line that move fast then abruptly slow denote a slowing of current caused by an increase in depth, a drop off below the chute.
When fishing weighted baits, jigs, tubes and the like, you’ll want to avoid the slack that causes the previously mentioned coils. Instead, keep your rod tip high and study the arc of line leading from the rod down into the water. Again, seeing the line’s abrupt movement will tell you when a fish has sucked in the bait. The line may move left or right. You may see the line go slack, denoting a fish that wants to play fetch and is returning the stick to you. You may just have it take off, trying to rip the rod out of your hands. These are usually small or medium sized fish.
The larger ones will crisply but not always forcefully suck it in. This looks like the line arc completely still, then a slight change in the angle of the line, possibly with a single faint ring emanating from the spot where the line enters the water, followed by a quick return to the line arc remaining completely still. Strangely, the larger vibration comes with the fish violently spitting the lure back out. This is when most people set the hook, and say, “Damn! They’re just not taking it in all the way!”
Line tells us what the bait is doing down there. It tells us the depth, the bottom substrate and how much current is flowing over it. It tells us when to set the hook on a big fish, but it’s telling us might only be a whisper, so quiet down your fishing, shut up and listen carefully.
U fish often,long, and passionately enough, the author.s remarks infiltrate your paradigm, whether it be conscious or not.
I appreciate the effort expended to delineate these crucial elements...the moments described are the act of fishing itself, identifying the strike and reacting
Those that are able to put our unconscious thoughts and acts on paper are gifted. Articles like this one triggers your thinking but generally you instinctively know what to do and how (after gaining experience as Jeff mentioned).
Someone who is,new to fishing is like a baby in a crib...clueless, oblivious. Many folks outside the sport have no idea how mental and physical the work is...and then the third leg of the triangle is spiritual. A succcessful