The Stealth Factor

Fishing live bait but can't seem to score? Reignite the bite by scaling down your terminal tackle.

Capt. Mike Genoun July 26, 2012

Now that the blazing summer season is upon us, coastal waters are typically as calm as they are going to get with smooth seas and variable winds the norm. With school out of session and kids itching to go fishing, recreational pressure is also at its peak as pleasant conditions bring out both hardcore anglers and weekend warriors in droves. These serene conditions with stifling water temperatures, coupled with increased boat traffic, mean the fish we seek are more wary than ever—a condition that is especially true as the summer sun climbs higher in the sky.

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While presenting baits on the surface hides terminal tackle to some degree, anglers can still benefit by scaling back. Photo: FSF MAG

Along both the Atlantic and Gulf Coast, summer scenarios like this mean that getting an early start when heading offshore is key to successful days on the water. While it is the early bird who usually gets the worm, fishing through the late afternoon with decreased boat traffic can also be extremely rewarding. Both time frames provide low-light conditions that often set the stage for exciting action near-shore and beyond.

It doesn’t matter how shiny your new reel is or what space-age material your rod was fabricated from because your hook and leader are the only things that matter when a fish races in for the kill.

Surely you’ve heard about the latest generation of lighter rods matched with micro reels loaded with ultra-thin braid currently employed to subdue big, powerful fish. We, too, have touched on how this technologically advanced gear is helping offshore anglers achieve optimum presentations. And yes, you can certainly count on seeing this trend of light tackle angling continuing to gain popularity. While lighter, more manageable equipment is certainly advantageous, the same scaled down approach can be applied to your terminal tackle. It doesn’t matter how shiny your new reel is or what space-age material your rod was fabricated from because your hook and leader are the only things that a fish sees when racing in for the kill.

Certainly you have experienced a red-hot morning bite, only to have the action fizzle out before noon. It’s scenarios like this when many anglers believe the fish they are after, or were previously catching, simply aren’t in the neighborhood any longer. This may be the case during a percentage of scenarios when you would swear you were fishing The Dead Sea, but on a number of occasions the targeted species may very well still be in the vicinity. While the pressured fish are not only seeking refuge from climbing surface temperatures, they may also be extremely line shy and wary of anything that doesn’t look right, move right or smell right. While your tantalizing offerings may still attract fish into your spread, bulky terminal tackle might deter and prevent spooky fish from committing. This is when the stealth factor enters the equation.

To fully understand where I am going with this, it is important you make a decision. Somewhere along the evolution of your offshore angling career you have to commit. Are you a casual fisherman who doesn’t care much about what tugs on the end of your line, or are you serious about advancing your skills? Are your rigging techniques up to par and do you have confidence in your connections? Do you trust your equipment and your ability to fight fish properly? As long as you answered “Yes” to these questions, you are well on your way and there is no reason you can’t scale back your terminal gear. This small adjustment alone will ultimately result in more strikes.

For example, if you are fishing 80 lb. monofilament leader material, scale back to stealthier 50 lb. fluorocarbon. When keen-eyed blackfin tuna are present, you may even consider going as light as 30 lb. fluorocarbon. For those targeting tasty demersals the same theory applies, with seasoned Florida Keys charter captains often scaling back to 10 lb. test in an attempt to fool cautious yellowtail.

Wire leaders, too, can be scaled back. With stinger rigs intended for smoker kings, #5 wire is common, but quite visible. As a typical summer day progresses and things begin to heat up, and I’m not talking about the action, anglers with confidence in their abilities often lighten up in an effort to increase their stealth factor and fool fish that may otherwise ignore their offerings. Regardless if you are competing in a tournament or fun fishing, when you find yourself begging for a kingfish bite try losing the stingers and fish shorter traces of #3 wire. By the end of the day you may even resort to fishing straight fluorocarbon snelled directly to a circle-hook or triple hook rig, which at least stands a slim chance against toothy predators. Hey, do you want the bite or not?

Not to be overlooked, lighter terminal tackle also allows frisky baitfish the ability to swim more freely and remain as strong and healthy as possible for the greatest amount of time, effectively increasing the attractiveness of your presentation even further.

Bulky swivels, too, can be eliminated from the equation by using streamlined Albright knots to connect leader to wire and by utilizing knotless connections like splicing top shots into spectra backing. The stealth factor means decreasing your presence as much as possible without greatly increasing the risk of losing quality fish, which is where proper fish fighting skills enter the equation.

Beating a smoker king or gaffer ‘phin on heavy leader material is one thing, but battle the same fish on 30 lb. and you have to alter your technique. Instead of applying maximum pressure, now is the time for finesse as you skillfully persuade your quarry to the boat without applying too much heat. It is a game of give and take, with anglers who consistently emerge victorious knowing precisely when to give and when to take—a skill that can only be perfected with experience.

Scaling back your terminal tackle is obviously not the answer for all occasions, as there are many factors to consider including prevailing conditions, target species and size of baits utilized. However, when air and water temperatures heat up and game fish are no longer as aggressive as they were earlier in the day, it may be exactly what the doctor ordered for reigniting a hot summertime bite.

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