On the final stop of our quick sprint down the shore of the lake, I dropped my rod tip to a slight bump and loaded the blank with the weight of a solid bass on the other end of the line. I hauled back and felt the thunder of the fish as it wrapped itself around a pair of dock posts in an attempt to get away. I felt the scrape of line against metal and the rod snapped back in my face. Angrily, I whipped the rod tip back and forth to the point that the line zipped off of the surface and began curling above my head as if I was casting a fly rod.
“That’s it…five breakoffs, I’m done,” I barked in frustration to my brother who had no problems pulling in some nice bass from the back of the boat.
As I’m a pretty constant line checker, rare has been the day where such a number of bites had busted off. The first lost fish was an outlier, as I had bounced a bait over the bar of a boat lift and the bass opportunistically snatched it and had the advantage before I could recall the cast with a quick retrieve. But the three fish in the middle were in the open and escaped on the hook set when the line just plain snapped.
If one time is happenstance, two times is circumstance and three times is enemy action, five times must be something pretty suspicious, especially when the collective eight to twelve pounds of bass I had hooked into were swimming around with newly-donated lip jewelry and an even angrier attitude. I stared at the stormy horizon during the boat ride home thinking of how disappointing and strange the trip was, running the frayed end of the gray line between my fingers, troubled by the handful of break offs. After all, fishing line is to angling as breathing is to living; it’s pretty dang important but we don’t often think about it until there’s a problem with it, and when we do, it can be a bit upsetting. But, just like maintaining good respiration by working out and not smoking, there are a number of things one can do to ensure strong connections from reel, to rod to bait.
Solid knots put fish in the boat, plain and simple. Knowing how to tie secure knots is the key to taking the questions out of the line-to-bait connection. Strength-retaining knots like the Palomar and Improved Clinch knot hold on to 95 to 98 percent of the pound-test rating of the line. Using a little lake water, or if you’re using your teeth to wrap things up, saliva, to grease the knot before pulling it tight will also prevent excess friction from compromising line strength. Keep the knot set at the 12-o’clock position on the hook eye cast after cast and check for fraying around the connection point after each fish or any time the bait is pulled loose from a snag.
End of the Line
The most vulnerable area of fishing line, no matter the type and no matter what species pursued with it, is the bottom six inches. This stretch of line is where business gets done and even the small scrapers of non-toothy fish like trout, bass and crappies can impact line integrity with repeated contact, not to mention the razor-like quality of teeth on fish like pike, walleye and muskies which can make short work of any chosen strand. Additionally, structure both natural, like rocks and timber, and man-made like metal posts and cement pilings can nick, ding and outright cut lines of any kind, even today’s best superlines and braids. The key to continued good fishing is checking on this section above the lure, cutting and retying when it starts to fray, feels rough or shows other signs of wear.
Finally, some line is just old, or bad, or might have some sort of flaw in that particular batch. Check packages of line closely when picking up a new spool to see when they were made and what condition the carton is in. If a year or two of dust from the roadside tackle shop shelf has accumulated on the box, perhaps a different selection is in order. Respooling a reel with fresh line each season – or more often if needed – is a good idea to make sure that time, moisture, sunlight or other exposure hasn’t weakened it; when it doubt, swap it out.
Leaning on that adage, the local fleet store was my first stop the morning after the break offs, to pick up a fresh package of superline. And though the previous reel full didn’t appear to have anything wrong with it as I pulled it off the spool; I wasn’t going to take any chances after the five frustrating losses the day before. With a fresh hundred yards loaded up, it wasn’t long until I was flipping a tube back on a suicide mission under overhanging trees and stumps, and after a few casts and bumps along the bottom, setting it soundly into a bulldogging bass that I was happy to bring to hand once again…in our outdoors.