Tough Tackle

IMG_2424.jpgI went fishing in a new spot for trevally. It was a bit of a drive by Hawaii standards but I was confident that the extra effort would put me in a good position to catch some fish. But this story isn’t about fish, it is about tackle. It does begin though, with a fish, a BIG fish.


I paddled out and anchored the SUP board but finding a place to fish from was tricky. I hopped and waded out to a big rock where the surf wasn’t going to knock me off, but the ten feet between me and the drop-off was full of deep holes and gnarly pinnacles, a great place to lose a big fish, I thought to myself.


I had some bites right away, and then lost my tackle when a small fish, probably a hawkfish or a wrasse, pulled my line around a rock. I rigged up again and had only made a few casts when, just as my lure was approaching the rocks (i.e. the omilu’s strike zone!) I saw a big rise and felt a hard strike, but didn’t hook up. I kept retrieving because papio will often return for a second try. I slowed the lure down as I pulled it into a deep hole in the reef. Less than twenty feet from the rock I was perched on, I saw a flash of silver as the fish shot up from the deep for a deadly ambush from below. Suddenly I understood how big this fish was. I use a tight drag in these types of spots, tight enough that it is painful to pull line from the reel by hand, so even though I saw it coming I was almost pulled off the rock. The fish pulled so hard I couldn’t lift the rod, with two hands I could only keep it just above the horizontal.

This is where I lose the fish on the reef, I thought, but somehow I kept the line free of the hazards as the fish ran. Thirty feet, forty feet, sixty feet, eighty feet into open water, and then pop! It was over. You know it was a good fish when you still feel elated after losing it.



What really surprised me was how I lost the fish. My line did not get cut on the reef and all of my knots held, but my 1/0 hook was mangled, bent down and twisted off to one side. I was also shocked to realized that the fish had ripped the top guide almost completely off of my rod. The damage reminded me of two things about tackle.

First, I never start with the best, most expensive gear. (And I don’t start with the cheapest, either.) It is hard to know what is really worth the extra cost until you have tried it. My rule of thumb is this: when something breaks or fails while you are using it the way it was intended to be used, you should spring for an upgrade.

The next thing, which I read somewhere but sadly do not remember where, is that even small hooks are extremely strong, as long as the pull is pretty much in line with the shank. The problems arise when the the pull is near the hook point or sideways, i.e. close to perpendicular to the shank. (If I remember where I found this, I will update this post with the source.)

So I don’t blame a small hook with the loss of the fish. Indeed a smaller hook might have been inhaled completely and found purchase inside the monster’s mouth. Also, the hook may have been a little dull. A freshly sharped hook might have penetrated better. Finally, I think that the biggest factor was the classic ulua “ambush from below” that resulted in an awkward hook-set, which is why the hook was bent sideways instead of just pulled open.


Just in case you ever happen to find yourself with a broken top rod guide, I discovered that it is possible to fish directly from the second guide. I used pliers to remove the top guide and then just re-tied everything through the second guide. I had to be careful when casting so that the line didn’t get wrapped around the tip of the rod. I found that a sidearm cast worked best.

I went on to land three solid fish that morning, the largest was about 4 pounds. The low tide meant my board, hence my camera, were too far away to wade back for a picture. I did take a portrait of a little papio I picked up the next day while fly fishing. Note the orange fly that this fish ate – it will be featured again soon!


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