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Balancing Your Outfit

When I refer to outfit in this article, it’s not what you’re wearing out on Saturday night, but your rod, reel, line, leader and lure- the whole package. The biggest mistake most anglers make is overdoing it by choosing an outfit that’s too heavy for the size of fish they’ll be encountering most of the time. It’s a natural and healthy thought to imagine the fish of a lifetime when you’re picking a new outfit. No one wants to lose that trophy catch through being under-gunned; however, you’ll be surprised at how well modern tackle can deal with very large fish.

You’d think it’s obvious but there are a lot of variables involved and if you don’t look at them logically you can end up with something out of place in your outfit, leading to issues such as wind knots, poor casting distance and accuracy, and just general poor performance. Every little element needs to be balanced and that includes line, leader, lure and, of course, the target species.

Technique & Species

The idea of a general-purpose outfit is a bit of a fallacy – there really is no such thing. There are outfits that are suitable for multiple species but targeting a snapper with a jig and soft plastic rrequies two very different outfits. You can get away with using just the one, but it’s not an enjoyable experience and it could lead to problems.

Having a specific outfit for every species and target can be a very costly exercise; you don’t need to go out and do that (although many anglers do), but you can place greater focus on the outfits you’re using most of the time and make sure they’re right. Believe me, there wouldn’t be such a huge second-hand market on Facebook if anglers got it right the first time.  

The Rod Matters Most

Now you know what your species and target method is, you need a starting point; the best place is the rod and what you’ll be casting with it. The rod is the most important part of any outfit yet for most anglers is the afterthought to the reel. Reels are exciting, they have moving parts and glamour and amazing marketing, however, the rod does all the work, it’s where you start and where you finish when catching a fish. When buying an outfit, you should split your budget 50/50 on the rod and reel or even lean it in the rods favour.

The rod determines the rest of the outfit, so focus on the rod’s rating and what you’ll be doing with it. Take into account what you’ll be casting, look at length and keep in mind length provides great casting distance but less control of the lure and the fish. The best advice when targeting any species is to fish as light as possible, but to the point you won’t be under-gunned if a very large model of your target species comes along. It won’t be easy when that big fish comes along – it will be challenging – but that’s what makes fishing so enjoyable and those big fish so memorable and such an achievement. For example, if you are targeting snapper on soft plastics, and the average fish you’ll encounter will be 2kg, don’t choose a rod that can easily handle a 6kg fish, choose a rod that can easily handle a 2kg fish. This allows you to fish lighter, which provides more strikes as you’ll have a more finessed presentation, but it will still allow you to fight and land bigger fish.

The exception to the rule here is if you’re fishing in close proximity to structure. In this instance you will need to go slightly heavier to quickly extract fish.  Rods that can cast light offerings yet extract big fish without pulling the hooks are where rods start getting expensive.

The next thing to consider after you’ve decided on the rod’s rating is what you’ll be casting and choose a rod that can handle it.  Most rods these days state what casting weight the blank can handle, and they all state a line rating, so be sure to look at this when choosing your rod. The other important thing to consider is the length of the rod butt, or the distance between the reel seat and the end of the rod.  In my opinion this measurement should be included in every spec sheet for every rod, but it’s the hardest bit of information to find and is why buying rods online is a tricky prospect. A short butt is great for one-handed casting and fighting smaller fish, but if you’re fighting bigger fish or casting big lures or baits, longer butts are essential. Assess all these aspects and be sure they suit what you’re doing. A well-designed rod that suits your style of fishing with perhaps slightly cheaper parts will always be better than an expensive rod with all the best components that isn’t quite right.

Line & Leader

While there are sometimes exceptions to the rule, always stick with the rod’s rating. They’ll often have a line rating that covers a range, such as 4-6kg or 10-15kg. Don’t go heavier than what the rod has been built for. A good rod manufacturer has taken the diameter of the line and the leader (and they’ll most often allow for a heavier leader) into account when fitting the guides to the rod. If you have too heavy a line and leader going through the guides it will make casting difficult and this will lead to wind knots, poor casting distance and a frustrating time on the water. When using braid and leader you want to ensure there isn’t too much variance in diameter between your line and leader, as this will also cause wind knots and poor performance with casting and general line management.

The other reason you don’t want to go heavier than the rod’s rating is that you don’t want to overload the rod. The rod’s rating is based on its action and the minimum drag setting it can handle in order to set hooks and keep pressure on the fish, and the maximum drag pressure it can handle when under load. If you overload a rod it can perform poorly or even break.

Drag pressure should be dictated by the breaking strain of your line and this brings us to the final piece of your outfit, the reel.

The Reel

Remember that you’re choosing a reel to match a rod that can easily catch the average fish you’ll encounter yet provide a challenge on the larger model. So don’t go buying anything too big for fear of being under-gunned. Modern reels, even at mid-range price points, can be smooth and dish out some extreme drag pressure even in a compact unit. 3kg of drag is quite a lot, and most reels these days are equipped with far more drag pressure than that, so don’t be fooled into thinking that a reel’s maximum drag pressure is the most important factor.

Buy the best reel you can afford but not at the sacrifice of the rod. Look at the spool size and the stripper guide and ensure they are in harmony. Think about its spool capacity, and if you don’t think you need any more than 150 metres of line you can opt for a smaller reel or one with a shallow spool. You may want something with a power handle, a double handle, or a small finessed handle. Match all these elements of the reel to the style of fishing it’s for and try to ignore the hype of what’s considered an amazing reel and buy what suits the purpose. While the more you spend, the better the reel will be, you’re much better off with a mid-range, well-balanced reel than an expensive reel that is poorly matched to the rod. Reels are amazing these days in the mid-range price point, and you can now spend less on the reel, mor eon the rod and have a better outfit for it.

You Will Buy More

As you gain more experience and a better understanding of just how advantageous a well-balanced outfit is that suits a specific purpose, you’ll want to go and buy specific outfits for all your different species and target methods. As I said earlier, this is an expensive exercise so you’ll have to compromise as you build your arsenal and you’ll start to see how one set-up may be perfect for one style of fishing, and, while a little less perfect for another, will work just fine. Having a balanced outfit will make your fishing a whole lot more enjoyable and hassle-free and this will lead to better fishing. There is a rod, line, leader and reel out there for every style of fishing – this isn’t just a marketing ploy, it’s because you need the right tool for the job. Look at your current outfits, assess the things you don’t like and adjust where necessary.

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