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The Light Fantastic

May 26 2009

You wouldn’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut or a flamethrower to cook a steak. So why do anglers of all disciplines use such heavy tackle to land relatively small fish? It’s time to put the fun back into fishing and join the light tackle revolution says Dominic Garnett.

One of my favourite scenes from Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a sketch where machine guns and rocket launchers are used to kill a mosquito. It was about the daftest case of overkill conceivable. But how far off this scenario are some of today’s anglers? From specimen carp set ups on half acre ponds to the powerhouse rods used to tame undersized sea fish, where will it all end?

Naturally, tackle choice is a highly personal issue. The golden rule is to use “balanced” tackle, fit for the job. But somewhere into the equation must come sporting consideration, since we are all here to enjoy our fishing, aren’t we? Most fish will put a pleasing bend in our carbon, given the chance; but set up too heavy and playing all but the biggest specimens becomes a chore rather than a thrill.

Something to carp about…
Brilliant though they are, carp have changed the entire mentality of coarse fishing towards big fish tactics. But whilst a trio of 3lb test curve rods may be ideal for a gravel pit, the same set up is now being found throughout the land at day ticket carp fisheries. Whilst the tackle companies cash in, anglers are missing out on a lot of fun, hauling in carp as if they were bream.

It is not just for the sake of fun that I would advocate a change of approach in these circumstances however; replace the tackle mountain with a lighter set up and you will often find a far more effective method. A light float rig will earn more bites and spook far fewer fish than casting around with heavy leads. It needn’t be a small carp method either and it’s interesting to note that carping pioneers such as “B.B” and Dick Walker often used 5-8 lb line where conditions permitted. My other half consistently beats the bivvy crew with a waggler or free lined bait on our local ponds; to the point where they sometimes get sick of watching her catching and pack up.

All well and good, you might say, but what happens when you hook a double figure carp? Not a problem with today’s high standard of tackle; just take your time, set your drag carefully and play fish sensibly but firmly. In fact, even some of the specimen boys are now stepping down their tackle in search of better enjoyment and more bites. Running rigs and lighter lines are clearly the way to go when action slows on conventional tackle.

Or otherwise, next time you fish for summer carp, I dare you to take a single rod and reel and free line a mixer or piece of crust. If you find a more straightforward or exciting method, let me know.

Sea the difference?
With specimen sized fish in short supply around our coast, sea anglers too are beginning to see the sporting benefit of light tackle. And although a beach caster may be essential for distance work, there are plenty of places where big lumps of lead are totally unnecessary. Rocks, piers, estuaries and harbours are all ideal for light tackle, if you can be bothered to experiment.

The hard-fighting mackerel is probably the best example of a species undervalued because of crude conventional tackle. If you don’t rate the mackerel as a fighter, try swapping the feathers and beach caster combo for a spinning rod and 8lb line. Any metal lure will also work, but to my mind there is hardly a finer sight in shore fishing than a float surging off as a mackerel takes the bait, followed by that serious looking curve in the rod. Equally, with worm or live prawn baits, the float is a thrilling way to take wrasse, pollack and even bass.

Just remember to keep tackle balanced and avoid crude rods, oversized hooks and those gruesome floats that could almost be used as buoyancy aids. That carp rod could also come in handy…

Flying Away
Bring game fishing tackle into the picture and the light approach becomes even more thrilling. Today’s anglers realise that fly fishing is about far more than catching trout and can offer unbeatable fun and excitement for carp, bass, pike, pollack… you name it, the chances are it can be taken on the fly.

Once again though, provided the tackle is balanced and appropriate, stepping down our approach can be the key to a healthier fighting arc. The small stream fisherman, for example, might find using his 7-8ft wand terrific fun for still water rainbow trout. Your river tool might take on a dangerous looking curve, but in actual fact is ideal for presenting small dries and a light blank is the ideal shock absorber to protect light tippets. Fighting a two pound rainbow will never be the same again!

Seeing the light
In these size obsessed times it is all too easy to fall into the trap of gearing up too heavy. Fun becomes a secondary consideration and we forget the fighting qualities of many of the fish we catch. Yet the technical excellence of specimen tackle shouldn’t dictate our fishing, which is at its most fun when we keep it simple. More often than not you’ll find that straightforward, balanced tackle is perfectly capable of landing bigger fish, and scaling down a little will earn you more bites into the bargain. Clearly the final choice is yours. But for the sake of enjoyment alone, why not lighten up a little?