Words & Images: Matthew Perdrau
Back in January 2016 I penned an article for Hooked Up on the introduction, and subsequent rise in popularity, of swimbaits and more importantly bigbaits in Australia. Since that time we have seen considerable growth in the number of bigbaits and associated gear available in tackle stores.
But the increased availability of bigbait gear has, in my opinion, also meant a rise in uncertainty and confusion for consumers. The plethora of options anglers are faced with when they walk into a tackle store is overwhelming. So the aim of this article, based on my knowledge and experience, is to provide clarity for not only new anglers to the bigbait scene but also those with a finger in the pie who may be looking to diversify to other species. In Part One I’m going to focus on rods, reels and line, as I am assuming most have bought some bigbaits first and now need the right outfit to start fishing them.
When talking bigbaits it could be a glidebait, swimbait, a big soft plastic with a wedge or paddle tail, or a surface lure such as a paddler or wakebait. The difference between them all was discussed in the article “Lure Truths” in issue 66 of Hooked Up – so revisit that online for more information.
That said, I now just refer to them all, regardless of category, as ‘bigbaits’ as we are using bigger than ‘traditional-sized’ baits to target a certain species. Big swimbaits, glidebaits, wakebaits, crankbaits, lipless crankbaits and others have all been around for decades, so the wow factor has less to do with the baits and more to do with the fact anglers are catching bream, bass, flathead, mulloway, redfin, golden perch, Murray cod, barramundi and others on baits up to twice the size of what was considered the norm.
Rods are the most important part of any fishing equation. I believe having a functionally suitable rod for bigbait applications is paramount for two reasons – firstly to cast the bait, and secondly to fight the fish (from hook-up to landing). Now you may ask how that differs from any other fishing rod application and I’ll simply say that in 90 per cent of bait (lure) fishing scenarios you’ll also use the rod to work or manipulate the bait’s (or lure’s) action – with twitches, jerks and lifts. When fishing bigbaits I just point the rod in the direction of the bait, with perhaps a small angle (15 degrees) to my non-reeling hand side, and wind. The only reason my rod moves is to follow the natural line of the bait as it is retrieved closer to the rod tip, but it’s always pointed at the bait.
There are three main attributes to look for in a rod – rod length, handle length and blank action plus power. All of these combine equally to make a good bigbait rod. I use nothing under 7ft 6in and nothing over 9ft. If you stated these rod lengths to an angler five years ago they would have looked at you sideways, but today these are pretty accepted.
Put simply, rod length gives you leverage, and the heavier (or bigger) the bait is, the longer the rod you’ll want to help manage that increased bait weight and control casting leverage. Generally for bigbait scenarios, the longer the rod is, the longer the handle should be as it allows for a wider grip, which aids massively in casting accuracy – that is both casting length and direction. On a 7ft 6in rod I like a handle length (measured from the butt end to the front of the reel seat or fore grip) of at least 19in and extending to 26in for rods of 8ft 6in or 9ft long. Bearing in mind that handle length increases as rod length increases, it means the total blank length in front of the reel seat doesn’t increase as much as you think.
Blank action and power can be touchy subjects and difficult to explain, but in a nutshell you want a rod with a moderate action and medium to heavy power rating. A moderate action gives the rod a softer tip section that extends (or bends) further down the top half of the rod as the bait weight increases. Thus rod action is loosely related to the bait (or lure) weight specified on the rod. The power rating (often referred to as ‘backbone’) relates to the lifting power of the blank in the bottom half of the rod. The power rating is loosely related to the line rating specified on the rod.
To be honest, ignore any reference to bait (lure) weight and/or line ratings written on a rod as it just confuses anglers theoretically. It is common to find two differently branded rods that exhibit near-identical action and power traits when physically loaded to have different specifications written on the blank. Instead, just physically hang weights (or the exact baits) you want to use on the end of the rod and see how it loads.
While I don’t think the reel is as crucial to a bigbait setup as the rod, it still needs to tick some boxes, especially if you plan on focusing on a particular bigbait category such as glidebaits. The three things you want to consider when choosing a good bigbait reel are size, retrieve rate and handle length.
When it comes to bigbaits there is a misconception that you need a need a 300 or 400-sized reel; however, you don’t need a big reel to throw bigbaits. More importantly you need a reel that is ergonomically comfortable to grip for long periods of time. So when it comes to selecting a reel just find one that, when mounted on the rod, fits in your hand nicely. I use only 150/200-sized reels as I find anything bigger either too heavy or too cumbersome to use all day. Don’t worry about what it looks like – it’s about function. And don’t worry about line capacity – as long as it holds at least 100 metres of 50lb braid it’ll be fine.
There is a perception that a big fish is going to pull drag and strip hundreds of metres of line off your reel. Trust me; this is highly unlikely given the size of gear you’re using and the fact that most target species will find some sort of structure to wrap you around long before they empty your spool. Honestly, you have more chance of emptying the spool on an extremely long cast than you do from a fish pulling drag. And while I mention it you don’t need heaps of drag pressure – 5kg of smooth drag is going to be far more beneficial than 10kg of locked jerky drag.
Reel retrieve rate, which is different from retrieve ratio, is the most important thing I look for in a bigbait reel. Retrieve rate is the amount of line wound onto the spool per full handle revolution, whereas retrieve ratio is the number of times the spool fully rotates per full handle revolution. For me these two measurements co-exist in the bigbait realm and I say this because a reel with a high ratio will generally have a higher retrieve rate. However, there are some (not many) reels that may have a large arbor spool and a low retrieve ratio, which means they have a high retrieve rate. So to be sure always look at the retrieve rate specification for a reel.
When it comes to reel retrieve speed I’m a firm believer in the saying ‘you can always retrieve slower, but you can’t retrieve faster’ and that’s the number one factor I take into consideration when choosing a reel for any fishing scenario. For me it’s all about having the ability to pick up line quickly when it matters most – which, let’s face it, is usually in an intense situation such as fighting a fish or seeing some fish activity just after you’ve made a cast in the other direction.
Sure, there are scenarios where a low retrieve rate reel will excel – like slow-rolling big spinnerbaits or crawling a big soft plastic along the bottom – and if this is something you do 90 per cent of the time then go for it, but if you can own only one reel I’d argue you could fish those methods on a high retrieve rate reel just as effectively by winding slower. In situations where you want a slower presentation, controlling your cadence on a high retrieve rate reel is easy to do, albeit with a little practise and concentration.
Cadence? Yes, cadence. The easy way to define cadence is to say it is the rhythm of your retrieve. Depending on the scenario or type of bait (lure) you’re using, the cadence of your retrieve will vary. You may retrieve fast, you may retrieve slowly, and you might mix the retrieve up with jerks or pauses; no matter what, it’s all influenced by the reel. Remember what I said above… the rod never moves during the retrieve when using bigbaits. So the reel totally overrides the rod’s role in providing the action into your bait (lure) during the retrieve and this is why retrieve rate is important.
Another thing to remember is that a reel’s retrieve rate is altered by how much line is on your spool (arbor size) and this will affect the cadence of your bait, or lure. When you make a cast the arbor of the spool reduces so your retrieve rate will decrease, but as you slowly retrieve line onto the spool the arbor increases and so does the retrieve rate. So if you wind the reel handle at the exact same revolution speed throughout the whole retrieve your lure will actually speed up through the water as it gets closer. Now this might only be a small increase but it is a one-percenter worth noting, especially if fish are following your bait repeatedly.
I use reels with a minimum stated retrieve rate of 80cm, and up to 105cm, per handle revolution. Any reel with a retrieve rate around 80-85cm will be a great all-rounder; however, when I’m using big top water stickbaits or glidebaits I like a reel with a higher retrieve rate, such as 95cm to 105cm. For top-water stickbaits you need the reel to replicate the action of a rod jerk or sweep, so high line pick allows the bait to dart side to side. The same applies to glidebaits, but it does depend on the size of the glide, the profile (i.e. minnow vs shad shape), where the joint is positioned and the angle of the joint cut or space between the two pieces on the glide. Some will require a full handle revolution, some will require only a quarter handle turn and some can be fished anywhere in between.
The last thing to consider in a reel is handle length. Most good bigbait reels will come with a 90-100mm handle. It may be seen as a cosmetic attribute but a 100mm to 108mm handle will give you a lot more cranking control (especially if it is finished with oversized knobs) when using a bigbait outfit. Handle upgrades are pretty accessible these days and easy to fit yourself.
Line is the one thing that holds it all together and keeps us connected. It’s also the third key investment you’re going to make when purchasing a bigbait outfit. There are three types of line you can use for bigbaits and below are the pros and cons.
Braided line – This is by far the most popular line choice for Australian anglers. It offers thin diameter, high strength and great sensitivity. However, what braid gets criticised for in the realm of bigbaits is its lack of stretch and tendency to snap (launching that expensive bigbait into the abyss) should a cast go pear-shaped or backlash. Good braids for bigbaits are Sufix 832, Power Pro Super Slick V2 and Sunline Castaway.
Monofilament and Copolymer line – For the purposes of this article I’m going to treat these together. Essentially, monofilament is created by extruding one type of nylon and copolymer is made by extruding two types of nylon. By blending nylons you can modify the line’s attributes (such as stretch, sink rate, abrasion resistance, diameter and strength) to get a more desirable line for a certain application. To be honest, I don’t believe there are many true ‘monofilament’ lines on the market. Most are copolymer lines just labelled as monofilament to save confusion. Typically these lines will float, or suspend at worst, are thicker in diameter than braid and have a lot more stretch (anywhere between 10 and 30 per cent). One other trait worth noting with these lines is that they have excellent ‘elasticity recovery’, which means they are designed to stretch and recover multiple times without losing significant breaking strength. Nylon lines are used extensively overseas (particularly the US and Japan) for throwing bigbaits, but are not that popular in Australia. Good monofilament/copolymer lines are Platypus Lo-Stretch, Maxima Ultragreen, Sufix Advance and Jinkai (green).
Fluorocarbon line – Fluorocarbon was initially known as a leader line here in Australia, but it has gained popularity as a ‘straight thru’ option in scenarios where finesse presentations are paramount. It looks similar to a monofilament/copolymer line but has altered properties that give it better invisibility (high refraction index), higher abrasion resistance, less stretch (due to its dense makeup and harder outer coating) and it sinks. Fluoro is commonly used for bigbaits overseas but its high cost makes it a rare choice here. Another thing I’ll add is that although fluoro has great abrasion resistance and less stretch than mono, it has poor ‘elasticity recovery’ and actually fatigues (literally cracks and fractures when viewed under a microscope) and loses breaking strength rapidly. For that reason, fluoro needs to be re-spooled frequently. Some good fluoro lines are Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon, Sunline Basic FC and Berkley Vanish.
I have tried all the lines mentioned above and settled for a braid mainline to monofilament leader system on my outfits – but this isn’t without knowing its limitations and where the strengths and weakness are in my bigbait setups. Braid can still be problematic for casting bigbaits if you don’t have your reel’s cast controls set up correctly and exercise a bit of caution, especially at night or in windy conditions. That said, its strength and sensitivity is an asset that can’t be underestimated in today’s fishing environments. I use heavy braid – 50lb on my light outfit and 80lb on my heavy outfit – so if I do backlash I have good line diameter to help prevent bust-offs. I employ a very moderate-action rod and one or two rod lengths of leader that adds stretch into my system for casting and fighting fish. I tie an FG connection knot and either a loop knot (for baits with inherent action) or locked blood knot (for baits I want to control) to my baits.
At the end of the day there is no ‘one size fits all’ bigbait set-up, but I hope the information outlined above, at the very least, gives you a starting point to getting into the bigbait game. This is only the first instalment of Advanced Bigbait Basics and rest assured I am penning the remaining parts of this series as you are read this, aimed at helping you unlock the bigbait puzzle.