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January 26, 2010

The Benefits of Using a Top Shot

Using top shots extends line life and cuts down on time-consuming refilling of reels

Even if the backing never came off the reel, and would have made no difference to the capture, if the backing tests over the maximum line-class strength, the claim is denied.   However, it doesn't matter how the backing tests if it is not connected to the top shot. Some crews use backing as a filler, covering it up with duct tape so they can use a large reel with a rapid line retrieval and a smooth drag at light settings when fishing with light-line classes.

Pitch-Bait Backing
A lot of crews like to pitch bait these days - pulling teasers and pitching a bait to fish that come up on them - because the angler gets to see a good bite and is more involved in hooking the fish. I first saw this method put into action back in 1968 while working as a mate for Capt. George Bransford. We called it bait-and-switch after the common, but illegal, retail marketing practice. Whenever a black marlin smaller than 500 pounds entered the spread, we'd pull in the bait on the 80-pound line and put out a bait on 20-pound.

However, trying to pitch a bait and free-spool a fish with an 80- or 130-pound-class reel becomes extremely difficult due to the weight of the rod and reel and the inertia of the reel's spool when loaded with a 1,000 yards of line. As a result, anglers often try to pitch with smaller, lighter-weight reels loaded with heavier line classes.

Small reels with customized drag mechanisms provide adequate drag and are great for hooking fish, but they can't hold enough 130-pound-class Dacron or monofilament line.

Several years ago I called up my favorite reel magician, Cal Sheets, to customize a Penn International 30. Sheets managed to get 60 pounds of drag out of the reel and still have free-spool. It wouldn't replace a Penn or Shimano 130 for my serious, heavy-tackle customers, but it could produce more drag than most crews ever use when blue marlin fishing on 130.

We were chasing, and still are, an 80-pound line-class record. Sixty pounds of drag is heaps for 80-pound line, and our hookup-to-strike ratio improved dramatically when pitching with the smaller reel. We used three kinds of line to pack enough on the souped-up 30.

Two Backings and One Top Shot
In an extreme case of using top shots, we first tested the reel by using 130 (see illustration, left). We packed 350 yards of Spectra line (labeled as 80-pound-test that really tested out at 115 pounds) onto the spool. I knotted six feet of Dacron to both the spool and the bottom end of the Spectra because it was easy to tie the Dacron securely to the spool and make sure the entire line mass did not slip and rotate on the spool.

The Spectra only took up one-third as much of the spool's capacity as 130 Dacron would have needed and one-quarter of the room for an equal length of mono.

Then we made double lines in both the Spectra and Dacron and connected them with a twice-through loop-to-loop connection after putting a small sleeve of Dacron on the loop of Spectra to make sure the skinny Spectra did not cut the Dacron.

We continued to fill the reel by adding 250 yards of 130 Dacron. We finished by splicing 50 yards of 130-pound mono to the Dacron by slipping the bottom end of the mono up into the hollow-core Dacron.

Since we were fishing with heavy leaders, we didn't use wind-ons, which would take up too much room on the small spool. We tested the reel on several large and medium-sized bluefin tuna, and it worked perfectly.

Nowadays, I keep several 130-pound top shots handy at all times, each wound on a Cuban Yo-Yo hand-line spool. I store the entire mono top shot of 130, with all the outrigger rigger ties and a complete wind-on leader already in place. Whenever we notice a damaged piece of line, it takes less than five minutes to throw the old front into a trash basket, make a Dacron-to-Dacron splice, and dump the new front overboard at trolling speed and wind it back on nice and tightly.

Every morning we check all the line used the day before and will never be caught with line that is less than perfect when a big fish shows up in the spread.