How to choose the best terminal tackle for you.
By Chad LaChance
The ol’ hook, line and sinker…the very foundation of angling. It’s where just about every budding fisherman starts out, and for many folks remains the staple of their fishing. Alas, not all hooks, lines, or sinkers are created the same, and while they are all designed to catch fish, they have specific attributes that make them better for specific applications. For the less initiated anglers out there, let’s delve into some general rules for selecting terminal tackle.
Smaller or lighter wire hooks make it easier to penetrate a fish’s jaw than do larger or heavier wire hooks. Smaller, lighter hooks also affect the action or look of your bait or lure less. Choose the smallest hook that will hold your bait effectively. It will get more bites and hook more fish. Hooks are sized by number; the bigger the number, the smaller the hook.
If you intend to set a baited rod unattended and wait for fish to bite, consider a circle or octopus style hook. These are designed to set themselves into the corner of the fish’s mouth when it swims away with the bait, either from the tension of the line coming tight or the resistance of pulling a bobber under. This hook style minimizes the chance of fish being “gut hooked”. Gut hooking usually results in killing the fish and/or needing to cut your hook off the line. Circle hooks are excellent for live bait, Powerbait, or cut bait fished on a variety of rigs including under a bobber. The thing to keep in mind is don’t actively set the hook with the rod; let the tension do the work instead.
If you will be holding the rod and actively setting the hook, J hooks (the most common style) are a great choice. Here you will be feeling and/or watching your line or bobber for bites, and you’ll need to actively set the hook with the rod in a timely manner. Most flies are tied on J hooks, and they are very popular for panfish as well.
Treble hooks have three hook points welded in a triangle pattern. They are best suited for lures that are actively retrieved. They are used by bait anglers sometimes because they can hold a bigger hunk of bait, but it’s important to note that they should not be used for un-attended baited rods because fish will either feel them and spit your bait out, or if they are small as we suggest, fish will swallow them resulting in no chance at a safe release. If you are replacing damaged treble hooks on a lure, choose hooks the same size as the factory hooks to avoid messing up lure action.
Line is available in basically three types, based on what they are made of. Nylon monofilament, commonly referred to as “mono,” is by far the most popular nationwide, and it’s available in a bunch of colors. It’s the least expensive, but also the least durable. Mono absorbs water and then dries out and is vulnerable to U/V damage, both of which reduce the breaking strength quickly. Mono floats until it absorbs too much water, and will commonly stretch +/- 10% under a load, and will return to its natural length afterwards.
Fluorocarbon, commonly known as “fluoro” is another category. It’s claim-to-fame is visibility; fluoro has the same light refraction properties as water making it virtually invisible under water. Fluoro does not absorb water and is more U/V stable so it retains its strength longer. It’s also denser than water so it sinks, which can be good or bad; if you’re bottom fishing, it will keep a straighter line from your rod to your sinker. Conversely, your bobber or surface lure will be pulled under water. Fluoro is more sensitive and less stretchy then mono, but if it is stretched from hard force, it will not fully return to its natural length and will be weakened. Fluoro is commonly used for a “leader” tied to the main line because it resists abrasion from teeth very well and its aforementioned invisibility. It’s important to note that fluorocarbon is stiff by nature so it is not as popular for spinning rods due to tangling issues and it’s more expensive than other lines as well. Both mono and fluoro are single, extruded fibers.
“Superlines” are the third type and are available in a couple of different construction styles. Braided is the most common and popular style, but there are extruded styles that are chemically fused as well. Superlines, commonly lumped under the term “braid,” last basically forever, have no measurable stretch, cast the farthest, and are the most sensitive. Braids are very thin in diameter compared to mono or fluoro, but they are also opaque, making them very visible under water.
New anglers are best served to learn with monofilament line. For freshwater applications, four to ten-pound test is a good range depending on what kind of fish you are after. Panfish and trout will be on the lighter end, while bass, walleye, catfish and others will be best with the higher end. Lighter lines get you more bites and are easier to cast, but obviously they break easier too.
Sinkers are important because they not only sink your bait, but also make up most of the weight that you will be casting. They are available in a bunch of styles and shapes and the rule of thumb is to use the lightest sinker that you can cast and that will get your bait down. Wind or current will often force anglers to use heavier weight, but if it’s reasonably calm, lighter is better.
Sinkers that slide freely on the line can be really good for bait on the bottom applications. Typically, a small swivel is used between the hook and sinker to keep the sinker from sliding all the way down to the bait. If you’re using a bobber, split shot that is lightly pinched onto the line above the hook is a good choice, especially if you're using small weights in general. A “bell” sinker is shaped like a bell and has a loop at the top. It is best used on the end of your line, with a hook above it.
Bobbers are used for depth control and bite detection. They also make up some of the weight that will be cast. Here again, smaller is better. Choose a bobber just big and buoyant enough to float your rig. The classic red and white bobber is easy to attach to your line, can be easily adjusted for depth up to a certain point (if the distance between the bobber and the bait is too long, casting becomes difficult…the limitation is about three feet or so), and they’re cheap. There are clear plastic bobbers known as “bubbles” designed to be partially filled with water for casting weight, thus eliminating the need for a sinker, and they are commonly used to cast flies on spinning tackle—a popular technique for trout fishing. There are also “slip bobbers” that allow you to suspend a bait under them at virtually any depth. They slide down the line to your sinker to cast, but then the weight of the sinker will pull the line back through when the bait lands. The key is a “bobber stop” on the line at whatever depth you desire. These can be reeled in through the rod guides and onto the reel to allow you to cast. Slip bobbers are the most advanced and a bit trickier to rig, but they can be very effective when fishing bait.
To sum it up, if you are just getting set up for basic bait fishing, keep your hooks, lines, sinkers and bobbers on the small side. Bigger terminal tackle does not usually mean bigger fish! For a basic western trout or panfish rig, 6-pound test mono, a few #6 or #8 hooks, a tin of BB sized split shot sinkers, a 1” classic bobber, and a jar of Powerbait or tub of small live worms is a fine starting point. Learn your skills, have some fun, and grow from there!