Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Drag, Not The Dog, Is Man's Best Friend

Courtesy of Neil Mcnicoll Photography
Courtesy of Neil Mcnicoll Photography
It is truly big fish season.  Last week in Texas, 3 Bass were caught weighing between 11 and 15 lbs.  This week's article can be the difference between landing the fish of a lifetime or having to tell the sad story of what could have been.

Rod selection is important.  Having the right line is crucial.  Heck, even presenting the right bait and in the correct manner is truly necessary.  But if your drag is not set correctly, all of that goes down the pooh-tube very quickly.  I have been around fisherman that speak of the drag like it is not a manly component on the reel.  "Let line out?  Not me!  I am not soft!"

Yep and I would wager that you don't routinely catch very big fish either.

I watched my dad for years lose big fish.  Something always seemed to happen. Line snaps.  Hooks pull loose.  Solar know, crazy stuff!  I was following in his foot steps until two things happened: 1.  I met a man that all he did was catch fish above 7 lbs.  and 2. I began to fish in a saltwater environment.

I was working with youth at a small East Texas church while in college.  I was given a shack (no literally a shack) to live in at a local Church Encampment facility.  They had a lake and so I fished almost daily.  An older gentlemen invited me to fish with him one evening and I gladly stepped into his boat.

Courtesy of Neil Mcnicoll Photography
Courtesy of Neil Mcnicoll Photography
The guy was a master.  He used 10 inch worms and this was the late 80's before this was even popular.  He was the first person to ask me how tight my drag was set.  I had it on lock-down being the chip off the old block.  He advised me to be sure to allow these fish some room.  I had no idea what he meant until the water exploded.  He hooked a huge bass as the moon was coming up on a July night that was over ten pounds.  It wrapped up in a tree and we couldn't retrieve it.  He cut the line so as not to kill the monster bass.  But, unlike my dad, his line had not broken.  The knot had held flawlessly.  The fish had room to charge and surge, regardless his hook stayed firmly embedded in the fish's mouth.  If not for the brush, he would have easily boated a fish larger than any bass I had ever witnessed in person.

I had learned a giant lesson that evening with the old man but what came next radically changed my world.  Saltwater might as well come from another planet.  Two-pound fish in saltwater fight more violently than five to seven pound fish do in freshwater.  Oh sure, small-mouth put up a great fight and like spotted bass most of them live in areas where there is current.  But, a saltwater fish deals with a water that is dynamic and moving everyday and all the time.  Twice a day that tide is going to roll in or out and move a lot water going either way.

Speckled Trout
Speckled Trout
I was now traveling and speaking to youth groups and found myself near Galveston, Texas.    I was fishing with a man named Big-Fred.  All of his reels were set to perfection and especially the drag systems.  The very first saltwater fish I ever caught was a speckled trout...again, I had no idea.

When the fish hit, it almost took the rod right out of my hands.  I was amazed to see the line being ripped off the reel as the fish ran.  As it slowed, I was able to turn the fish and we landed it.  I thought my heart was going to explode.  The adrenaline rush was amazing.  Nothing had ever pulled like that in my freshwater only experience.  I have gone on to land Red-fish, Mahi-Mahi, Barracuda, Snapper, Grouper, shark and even one Black Marlin.

Drag on a spinning reel
This was my baptism.  Everyone who has fished saltwater understands the necessity of the drag on their reel. Without it you get spooled (all the line taken off the reel by the fish).  It is a tool just like anything else.  Why would you not want to take every advantage available to you to land the fish of a life-time?

In freshwater, your drag being set correctly can help you boat fish that otherwise should have gotten away.  I know this personally from a painful experience.  My wife and I were invited to stay a week at a ranch near Luckenbach, Texas.  The ranch had a spring-fed pond with water clarity to about five feet...Amazing.  It was spawn time and the first day it got warm, my wife and I both set the hook on Goliath sized bass within ten minutes of each other.  I landed mine weighing 9 lbs 14 ounces.  We think the one my wife hooked up with was even larger.

We don't know for sure because like a ding-bat, I had not checked the drag on her reel after we had arrived from traveling. The fish snapped her line.

I was sick.  She was MAD!  I don't blame her.  Just a few clicks on that dial would have given us one of the greatest days we had ever had on the water together.  Instead, I truly felt guilty to even rejoice in the biggest bass I had ever caught.

Don't be the goat.  Set it correctly so that your wife, son, daughter or grandchildren can experience one of coolest moments in life - catching a fish with you.

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