Preparation and maintenance of terminal tackle
by Chris Tan S.G.
Probably the most important aspect in sport fishing is for the sport angler to make a connection with the gamefish and stay connected with the fish throughout the fight! A commonly overlooked aspect by anglers is neglecting to make sure the hooks are as sharp as needles. Most lures straight out of the box have hooks that are not sufficiently sharp. Only some of the new small freshwater lures come with quality high carbon, chemically sharpened hooks. Unfortunately they rust very easily when exposed to saltwater as they are made of high carbon steel.
A penetrating point
Try taking a standard treble hook and sliding it over the palm of your hand. Not at all sharp. Imagine it does not even penetrate into the soft skin of the human hand, what more when the hooks encounter the hard bony mouth of a gamefish! Do not think that the gamefish will always chomp down hard on the bait or lure and just take off, driving the hook point into its mouth. Often it can take the bait into its mouth and just hold it there and swim off slowly. If it feels anything unusual or the pressure of the mainline dragging through the water it may just drop the bait.
When this happens, if the hook point is sharp, it will catch onto the flesh somewhere in the mouth of the gamefish. In turn, this pricking feeling may alarm it, causing it to dash off, thereby making the hook point penetrate further! On the other hand, a blunt hook will just drag around in the mouth, in the end just startling the gamefish. It will make it spit out the bait, without the blunt hook point catching on the flesh within the mouth of the game fish.
Many people have the idea that the gamefish just takes the lure in its mouth and stops swimming, thus setting the hook as the boat continues to move forwards! Not so! Most game fish can swim faster than a boat's trolling speed, many times over! A spanish mackerel can easily close its jaws over a lure being trolled, and easily keep up with the boat. In reality these fish close and open their jaws in a split second, all the time keeping up with the lure.
Only sharp hooks will catch onto the mouth of these snapping jaws, startling the fish, causing it to try to escape, thus helping to actually set the hook.
New hooks do not equate sharp hooks
Numerous times new lures have been used fresh out the box, untouched the whole trolling session. Or so it seems. Upon closer inspection of the brand new lure, a set of teeth marks can be found! This means a gamefish did attempt to sample the lure, and then just letting it go without getting hooked up. Hooks that are sharp will help ensure a higher hook up rate!
Nowadays very sharp live bait hooks can be readily purchased. They are commonly referred to as chemically sharpened or cone cut hooks. Each different hook company uses different terms for these sharp hooks. They do cost more than the normal hooks but in my book they are worth the extra cost. Alternatively one can invest one's time to sharpen the normal hooks.
Tools for sharpening
I have found a small metal file the best tool for putting a sharp point on the hooks. Metal files can be picked up from a well stocked tackle shop or most hardware stores. The diamond grit coated files are also very good for this, although they are a bit pricey. However they do not rust like metal files.
A four sided point is the easiest way to put a sharp point on the hook. Some anglers prefer a three sided point. If one has enough skill, a rounded point will be ideal to keep the penetrating hole small. A large entry hole will make it easier for the hook to be thrown. But such sharpening techniques are beyond my skills. To me the most important thing about sharpening hooks is to have a needle sharp point. Some anglers also favour having a cutting edge along the inner point, especially those who make a three sided point.
Do not make the point of the hook too fine by taking off too much of the hook point. As a thin hook point will bend easily when it hits a hard jaw bone, therefore keep the angle of the hook point the same as the original angle. Too steep an angle and the hook will have trouble penetrating the jaw.
A favourite method to check the sharpness of the hook point is to drag the hook point across a finger nail lightly, at an angle of approximately 45 degrees. If the hook point just slides across without catching, it is not sharp enough. If it catches and digs in, it is sharp enough.
Most hooks (even stainless steel hooks), will rust when used in saltwater unless precautions are taken,. Non stainless steel hooks, (i.e... carbon steel) rust quickly when taken out of saltwater and exposed to air. The combination of salt (sodium and other minerals) and air (oxygen) causes the rust to occur. I normally rinse the terminal hardware in freshwater to wash off the saltwater, then a quick spray of WD40 will prevent the occurrence of rust.
Carbon steel hooks that are coated/plated with cadmium or tin have the best protection against corrosion. The only problem is when the point of the hook is sharpened the protective plating is removed and the point is exposed and gets corroded. So the point needs to be touched up regularly to keep it needle sharp.
After getting a strike always check the hook points. Sometimes the hook point may have struck bone and become bent or dulled, requiring a quick touch up to get it sharp again.
Swivels are important
Swivels are another weak point of the terminal tackle that is often overlooked. Many an angler has uttered these famous words "but it always worked for toman!" Well, saltwater gamefish have quite different fighting qualities, especially in the power and speed department!
The angler that tries to use the standard brass barrel swivel (known as the single head barrel swivel) for saltwater game fishing, even the really large one, will quickly learn that having a 10kg fish hit the lure, will only leave the line attached to a very straight length of brass wire, minus the lure and fish. The large barrel swivels can only take 20 to 30 lbs of pressure before failing. The smaller ones used for haruan fishing fail below 20 lbs. The sudden impact of the strike and continuous lunges quickly lead to the failure of these soft metal swivels.
The right stuff
There is another type of swivel also known as the split head barrel swivel, crane or mcmahon swivel. The split head barrel swivel has both ends of the wire to make the eyes within the barrel, i.e. split head. This is a far better swivel to use than the cheap single head barrel swivels. They generally are four times as strong as the cheap swivels the same size. Like hooks the quality swivels are made of better quality materials and we can rest assured of the strength.
Manufacturers like Rosco rate the breaking strengths for their swivels, and these figures are normally quite conservative. In the tests I have done, I find the quality brands definitely are about twice as strong as the "no-name" crane swivels. However the "no-name" crane swivels are still much stronger than the cheap single head brass barrel swivels.
The strongest swivel available is known as the offshore swivel or torpedo swivel. At the smallest size the swivel has a strength in excess of 200 pounds, whereas a Rosco crane swivel of approximately the same size is about 100 pounds. This offshore swivel is suitable for heavy duty big game fishing, of which there is not much in our waters.
For trolling, it is really essential to get quality ball bearing swivels. Start with those that are rated to take 100lbs and above of pressure. Every time the swivel is subjected to pressure close to its limit, it is weakened. Even though the drag is never set close to the rated poundage of the swivel, the jerks and severe pulls of a strong game fish over an extended period of time will weaken the terminal tackle, as it is one of the first items of terminal hardware to suffer from the force of the gamefish. Therefore if you choose to fish with 30lb line and a swivel rated at 30lbs, by the end of a prolonged fight, the swivel could be weakened enough to fail at the crucial moment!
Like the barrel swivels there are many different quality ball bearing swivels available on the market. The best ball bearing swivels on the market I know of are made by Sampo. Through experience I have found that most other brands do not last as long. Some of the cheaper ball bearing swivels last just one trip. After that you will find that the cheaper ball bearing swivels do not rotate as smoothly or sometimes they will jam up after the strains and stresses of trolling and fighting gamefish.
Use ball bearing swivels with solid rings as the ball bearing swivels with split rings are much weaker, the weak point being the split rings themselves.
Ball bearing swivels are the choice for game fishing due to their ability to rotate freely under heavy strain. Normal swivels without ball bearings are not able to turn freely under the heavy stresses. This will cause the line twist to build up, especially when fighting gamefish that like to slug it out deep, using circling techniques to stay down. Ball bearing swivels also minimise line twist when trolling skirted lures.
Snaps - the good and the bad
Like swivels, there are snaps and there are snaps. Probably the strongest snaps are known as the "coastlock" snaps. Even when the wire distorts and the snap loses its shape, the wire just locks shut and the snap will still be secure. Distorted out of shape yes, but still holding on . After that there is a snap known as the "mcmahon" or "hawaiian" snap. It is not as strong as the coastlock but it is "clean", i.e... no sharp bits sticking out to catch on weeds or rubbish. Quality snaps, when made by reputable manufacturers normally print the rated strength of the snaps on the packaging.
At the bottom of the snap hierarchy is the safety snap. It is easy to use, readily available, but unfortunately not very reliable. I have heard many stories of how the big one got away because the safety snap failed. I would not recommend this snap for game fishing where the tackle may be pushed to the limits.
When using terminal tackle like snaps and swivels, try to use the smallest size possible. They will generally get the most hits as they are less conspicuous. However the angler must be conversant with the strengths and weaknesses of the terminal tackle. This is where the rated strengths given by the manufacturer come in useful.
The idea of paying so much attention to detail, is to ensure that all the possible weak links are eliminated. Essentially, the terminal tackle takes the full brunt of the initial stresses of the game fish hits! Considering the amount of money invested in the rod and reels and not to mention the cost of a trip, it costs just a few ringgit more to ensure that there are no weak links connecting the game fish to the mainline and rod/reel!