Choosing a fishing setup is a lot like choosing a partner: you'll meet, learn to take care of each other and hopefully achieve many great milestones together. Unlike however the case with your significant other, you'll be able to swap out certain components of your gear to suit specific fishing requirements, and feel little remorse about trading up!
When you fish from a boat, you have access to much more water than you can normally reach from the shore, and with it the chance to employ a wide range of fishing methods. When you step into a tackle store, you will be greeted by an intimidating array of fishing gear designed to suit every specific method, and the scene may be reminiscent of Harry Potter choosing his first wand at Ollivander's. How do you know which one is the one?
In this post, we shall consider how to go about choosing a reel, rod and line that will enable you to get the most out of your fishing trip. Be warned that acquiring new gear is both extremely addictive as well as expensive; most anglers will invariably accumulate shelves full of equipment over the course of their fishing careers. It's almost as though the collecting, modifying and maintaining of fishing gear is as fun as the fishing itself!
3 General Rules
Before we focus on the rod, reel and line respectively in later posts, here are three rules that you should bear in mind:
1) Know your aim
As you set out to acquire your fishing setup, you must be certain of the purpose which you wish it to fulfil. If you were to walk into a tackle shop and ask to buy a rod, I'd wager that the first question you would be asked in return (besides your budget) would be about what you intend to use it for. A setup that is designed for casting large lures for pelagics will be decidedly different from one designed for heavy bottom fishing, which will in turn be different from a setup which is meant for light jigging. The more specialised the setup, the better it will shine in one specific area, but the less suited it will typically be to other types of fishing.
This is a trade-off that we all face, and also the reason why you'll see people bringing two or three rods on board for a day's fishing. While having a dedicated setup for each type of fishing is ideal, don't fret if you find yourself not quite at that stage yet. It is still possible to go for a one-size-fits-all fishing setup which is broadly applicable for a few different applications, but you should consider your own unique preferences and fishing style in order to end up with something which will give you the maximum enjoyment during your time out on the water.
2) Be systematic
Now that you're clear of the end to which you intend to use your setup, you can examine the means with which you will achieve that end. I often find it helpful to think of my gear as a system that helps me to locate, attract, hook and then hopefully land my target fish. A good system should be uncomplicated and efficient, and should also be balanced and in harmony.
There are literally thousands of components (from your rod to your hooks and everything in between) purported to aid you in catching fish, and a practically infinite set of combinations you could elect to present them in. It can be confusing, but remember that each additional component (including knots) that you introduce into your system represents one more potential point of failure. The links in your chain should be judiciously selected and arranged: typically the lesser the number of links you need to get the job done, the better.
In general, it is also advisable to make sure that no one link is significantly stronger or weaker than the rest. The reason for this is because a weak link will fail early and a link that is too strong might cause a failure elsewhere (though there are of course exceptions). Additionally, when you contemplate adding or tweaking a link in your chain, you should consider the effect of the new addition not just in isolation, but also relative to the smooth and optimal operation of the rest of the system. All in all, every part of your system must have a place and a purpose.
3) The light side
The question of power versus presentation is one that anglers routinely grapple with. Heavier gear allows you to put more pressure on hooked fish, but puts you at a disadvantage when fish are sensitive to heavy tackle. On the other hand, lighter gear allows you to make the presentation of your offering much more tempting to finicky fish, but puts you at risk of being outgunned by the odd monster. When it comes time for you to make that choice, I'd suggest that you lean towards a slightly lighter setup if possible.
The reason for this has to do with your development as an angler. It starts with the greater number of bites you will receive with lighter gear: right off the bat, you gain a better understanding of how to draw strikes. You will be able to make minute changes in your setup and observe the results, and you will get the chance to tangle with more fish. As an added bonus, light gear is also more sensitive and far more enjoyable to fish with for long periods of time without excessive fatigue on the angler.
Of course, of all the fish you are able to hook, quite a few will get away. Some of these ones that get away will invariably be big, massive even: potential fishes of a lifetime. Loss aversion dictates that the memory of such near misses will loom large in the mind of the angler, to the point where some would rather have not hooked up with the big fish. But hold up! Frequently I find that I learn more from losing fish than I do from catching them. I go back and inspect the point of failure, I replay the scene in my head (albeit unwillingly at times) over and over to uncover my errors, and from there I improve.
This process of prospecting, being tested, and reflecting is immensely valuable learning, and it seems almost foolhardy to terminate it prematurely for fear of losing a big fish which, in hindsight, you probably did not specifically intend to hook. Think about it: if you were going for that fish of a lifetime in the first place, would you have used the same tackle?
You would be well-advised to do your homework before you step into the tackle shop. You may be able to test out a friend's rod while you're out fishing, and product specifications and reviews are easily available online. Take your time, and make your decision with conviction. Remember also that any equipment must first catch the angler before it can catch fish, so do your best to ensure that yours catches both!
Each time you get hold of a new setup, spend some time getting used to it on the water. The best setup is the one that you can fish the most effectively with, and you will fish effectively with something that you are both familiar and confident in. Lastly, don't be afraid to experiment and make mistakes. I've landed many nice queenfish (like the one below) on leaders of less than 8lbs breaking strain, so when we started going after groupers I thought a 16lb leader was plenty. Needless to say I lost many fish, and I've since adjusted (both my leader and my drag) upwards, and the conversion rate has improved substantially. Those missed fish have not been in vain.