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Reel Time: Master the basics

Today’s anglers are barraged by the constantly changing “state-of-the-art” innovations in the angling world. Side scan fish finders, spot lock trolling motors and even lures with cameras might improve your odds at catching fish, but there’s no substitute for learning and applying what might be called the basics, the foundations that successful angling is built on.

Fishing means different things to different people. To some, it’s the simple pleasure of being on the water where catching is optional. To others, it’s serious business and the outcome can make or break a day on the water. For others, it’s the search for a meal or just an opportunity to share time with friends or family.

Whatever fishing means to you, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, I’m convinced that the less complicated, the better your chance of success. That might not be apparent when browsing the tackle department at your nearest sporting goods store or tackle shop.

There is a plethora of gear lining the shelves meant to dazzle and “lure” anglers. Even the basics like line and hooks come in a wide variety of shapes and colors, each promising the angler an advantage over the fish. In truth, experience has taught me that there’s no special magic to finding the right gear for angling success. Instead, concentrating on a few basic time-tested techniques will improve the luck of even the greenest angler.

Most important is the essential outfit – rod, reel and line. Pick the best quality tackle you can afford, but not the most expensive available. I’m talking about gear that is solidly made and able to survive the rigors of saltwater. Whether you’re using spinning tackle, fly tackle or bait casting gear, get an outfit that’s balanced and appropriate for the kind of fishing you’ll be doing. A balanced outfit means that the weight is evenly distributed when held just forward of the reel on the cork of the rod. This isn’t an exact science, but you’ll be able to feel if one component is oversized.

An appropriate outfit is one that is up to the task of catching the fish you’re targeting, but no heavier than necessary. An 8- to 10-pound rig is perfect for snook, trout, redfish and other inshore species while a 20- to 40-pound outfit works best for anglers hunting kingfish and cobia along the beach or bottom fishing for grouper, snapper or amberjack over offshore ledges and wrecks. The line should also match the outfit you’re using and fill the spool of the reel. The most common problem I see is reels with too little line. This severely hampers the angler’s casting accuracy and distance.

When it comes to deciding whether to use live bait or artificial lures, I think artificial lures are a better choice, especially for beginning anglers. First and foremost, lures are less of a hassle. Live bait takes time to acquire, must be kept healthy and usually stays close to where it’s cast. Artificial lures by contrast don’t have to be changed often and aren’t affected by pests like pinfish. At worst it only involves changing the body of a jig occasionally. Using lures will allow you to cover more water, testing various water depths and retrieval speeds.

My personal favorite is a jig and, while I now use mostly weighted jigs with plastic bodies, the original with bucktail skirts are still a great choice. My second choice would be a top water plug. These lures require a bit of practice to master “walking the dog” but allow the angler to cover a lot of water and attract fish with their sound and surface disturbance.

Consult your local tackle shop when choosing an outfit. They know the area, have a wealth of experience and can be trusted to get you off to a good start. While big box stores might seem a good place to shop, you’re not as likely to get the professional advice of a local shop. Do some homework before shopping so you can pick the best rig for the fishing you intend to do. There is no doubt that innovations appear that you want to be aware of, but your overall experience will be enhanced if you master the basics first.

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