When I go fun fishing with friends on their boats, I rarely use the same knots and connections that I insist my deckhands use when we’re fishing light tackle for big fish. When using conventional tackle — spooled with 20- or 30-pound line — and trying to catch dolphin, cobia, sailfish, white or striped marlin, king mackerel, wahoo and modest-size tuna (up to maybe 50 pounds), we don’t need perfect line and perfect knots. The drag settings we use rarely approach even half the breaking strain of the line.
So while it’s always a good idea to practice in order to be perfect, there are times when making the effort to tie a Bimini twist or make the perfect-looking crimp can actually result in a missed opportunity.
Big Fish on Light Line
Part of my reasoning concerning perfect connections comes from what I consider big fish and light tackle. When fishing for my favorite species, including the world’s largest marlin and tuna, the heaviest line class allowed under the International Game Fish Association’s rules is what we used to call 130-pound-test. Now that all line classes have gone metric, the strongest class recognized by the IGFA is 60 kilogram, or 132-pound-test, line.
A 1,000-pound marlin or tuna weighs a bit over 7½ times the breaking strain of 60 kg line. When using this tackle, and seeking these monstrous fish, the heaviest tackle any sporting angler ever uses becomes light tackle, since the fish are so huge.
When we use really light tackle for the fish we’re seeking, my crew has to make sure that all our connections, splices, knots and crimped sleeves test at, or very near, 100 percent of the line strength.
Anytime I might intentionally hook a fish weighing over five times the breaking strain of the line, I use at least a short length of double line, and I personally always use a Bimini roll knot to form the double line.
The only other knot for making double lines that does not make the line weaker where the knot begins is the Aussie braid, and most good deckhands can tie a Bimini quicker than they can do a braid. If my mates are able to make braids, and if we test them to my satisfaction, I’m happy using braids, provided that they are done well ahead of time.
With a top-notch professional crew, we also stay prepared by making extra front ends and multiple leaders and having spare rods and reels loaded and ready to go. When using spinning tackle, we have multiple spare spools full of line, with connections already done and the wind-on leaders in place. Every time you fight a decent-size fish on spinning tackle, the fish puts twist into the line, and you should either untwist your line or put on a new, untwisted spool.
I preach the gospel of 100 percent connections whenever you’re fishing for marlin or tuna. I teach new mates how to make perfect crimps, splices and knots in nylon monofilament, braided Dacron and Spectra.
I do the same in seminars and Marlin University sessions, partly because we are sport fishing, and a fish is supposed to have a sporting chance to escape, which it would not have if the line used was too strong.
However, most recreational anglers do not need perfect connections all the time. They tend to use relatively heavy lines. When I go out alone for a few casts, especially at night, or when I’m wading a flat with a spinning rod and may be as much as a couple hundred yards away from my skiff, I still need to be able to rerig if I break a line or have a lure bitten off.
In these situations I frequently am looking for a fresh fish for dinner, and use a bit heavier line. I can get away with an easy-to-tie knot that might not be quite as strong.
I carry a small spool of leader material, half a dozen lures and a pair of nail clippers. I am rarely expecting a 40-pound fish on my 8-pound spinning gear or a 60-pound anything (tarpon, maybe) on my 12-pound bait caster.
I now use different knots that are easy to tie quickly, even in the dark. A spider hitch forms a quick and easy double, so I can hang on and pull well over the breaking strain of single line when the doubled line is on my reel or held by my hand. This lets me apply sufficient pressure to finish the deal and release my fish.
Uni knots and double uni knots can also be easily tied in low-light conditions, so I make connections that go from my light, doubled line to a heavier leader, and then to an even heavier, more chafe-resistant leader, which is tied to the hook or lure. With this setup I can hold onto the leader to control a fish in order to remove the hooks and release it.
When you’re in a real hurry and don’t need a doubled line and leader at all, simply double a few inches of the line and tie on a swivel, lure or hook using a clinch knot of the doubled line. Trim the tag end, and the knot is stronger than any knot tied in a single strand of line. This is one of the first things I teach a new deckhand, because we need to catch bait almost every day. If a shark, wahoo or ’cuda cuts off our lure while we’re catching bait, we tie on a new lure and get it back out there quickly! We use the same doubled clinch knot described above.
Getting the new lure out immediately may save us valuable minutes, or even hours, of time when we most need to catch bait. A school of fast-moving small tuna will not stay on the surface feeding madly forever. You need to catch them when they’re in a feeding frenzy, not when it takes an hour to catch one new bait. Time spent catching bait is time taken away from fishing for the big fish.
Even when catching small or midsize game fish, speed is one of the greatest assets a new mate can acquire. When a school of small tuna, dolphin, cobia, king or Spanish mackerel — whatever — is looking for something to eat, provide it quickly!
If you have to tie a hook straight onto your fishing line and jam it through a ballyhoo’s eyes, go ahead, and do it and get the bait out immediately. You may get bit the second it hits the water.
A great mate can grab an unrigged ballyhoo, wiggle it rapidly a few times to limber it up, break its nose off close to its head, stick the hook’s point into the exact center of the bottom jaw, up between its eyes and out the center, and get it overboard quicker than you can read this sentence. When done properly, the bait will actually swim for a little while — long enough to get a bite, or to rig another bait properly on a decent leader and switch it out. No one I know has ever caught a fish on a bait lying somewhere inside the boat, on the deck, in the bait box, or even properly rigged and hanging from a rod tip.
One of my real pet peeves is when a mate puts out a lure and then wastes a bunch of time getting it set in what he thinks is just the right spot — like three-eighths of the way down the fourth wave! Meanwhile, all the other lures or baits are still in the boat with exactly no chance at all of getting a bite. If I’m on a boat we’ve chartered for Marlin University and have a mate like this on the boat, I change the procedure a bit.
After we’ve caught a fish, I put a lure out in a position somewhere in the same zip code that the mate had it in beforewe hooked up, put it up in the outrigger clip, and put the drag up just enough to make it troll. I then get another lure out, maybe shorter than I would prefer, and hold onto that rod, making sure it doesn’t get tangled while I point to the first rod and tell the mate calmly, “Set that where you want it.” When he gets it where he wants it, I hand him the rod I was holding and go get the next rod that needs to go out.