The ultimate guide to preparing game fishing tackle
Correct game fishing tackle preparation. It's the difference between the guy in the photo on the dock and the guy telling you about “the one that got away”.
Did January and February seem unusually warm and humid to you? Was the delightful feeling of warm sunshine on your back noticeably absent? Sadly, if you live in NSW that feeling has gone well beyond a joke. Well that’s La Nina for you. The cycle of the Pacific Ocean’s southern oscillation known as "the baby" is in full swing bringing warm, wet northeasterlies in a virtually relentless stream. The upside, however, is the gamefishing. Just ask the guys in Port Stephens.
La Nina cycles are renowned for pushing the indigo coloured gamefish-bearing currents farther south than usual. The fishing is usually more consistently spread along the coast than other years, rather than a few isolated hot spots allowing anglers in less productive fisheries to get into the action.
The real bonus is the prevalence of blue marlin. These tackle-beating beasts will almost certainly turn-up at the shelf near you, so if you are used to dealing with stripeys and medium-sized blacks you may to have to lift your game.
How to prepare a boat for serious gamefishing
Heavy-tackle fishing rods
Most big-game rods come in two- or three-piece configurations and need to be pulled apart for pre-season servicing. The threaded collars need to be unwound in order to separate the component parts. Avoid the temptation to using pliers on seized threads as you are likely to damage the anodising. Excessive corrosion can be treated with white vinegar if CRC or Inox fails. Often an overnight soaking will work wonders. Once all the joins are separated and cleaned, apply a light coating of Lanocoat to all the exposed surfaces including the threads before reassembling all the sections.
The performance of the roller guides should not be overlooked either. Seized guides will cause an issue referred to as drag-scrape, which manifests as a form of line chafing. Coat the roller guides liberally with a product like Inox and use a length of Dacron to thoroughly work the lubricant in. Guides that will not run free should be disassembled for maintenance and inspection. Replace any parts that cannot be restored.
Obviously the performance of your reel is a key component in the success of any excursion into wild beast territory. In truth, correct storage of the reels at the end of the last season is the best course of action to ensure they are functioning perfectly after seven or eight months in the shed, but regardless I like to start from scratch for a result I can have confidence in.
Close-up the reel’s clutch plates by pushing the drag lever to its maximum. This will help prevent any water ingress into the drag surfaces where it will cause problems. With a bucket of warm, soapy water thoroughly rinse the entire reel to remove any contaminants as well as any of last season’s grease from the reel. Once the reel is dry again open the clutch plates up by returning the drag lever to its freespool mark preventing any long-term damage to the fibrous surfaces.
Remove the reel from the reel seat entirely and clean away any corrosion before drying and applying a liberal coating of grease to all the surfaces including the threads. I also like to apply a light coat of a product like Lanocoat to the reel surfaces and screw holes as an extra corrosion preventative. Reassemble ready for fishing.
Always give the drag a test pull with the drag lever set to the strike position. It should be smooth and quiet. If it is at all lumpy, I highly recommend servicing the internal parts and the clutch plates. This is a job that can be done at home, but if you are at all uncertain take it to a professional; the work needs to be done precisely for the reel to operate correctly.
Outriggers tend to suffer badly from a lack of love. They get used every day and then forgotten about. Occasionally they might receive a cursory wipe down but usually a bit of rain is all the regular maintenance they receive. But outriggers can, and do fail at key moments in the heat of battle. Bolts snap, eyes pull out and even occasionally (such as has happened to me) the pole itself work-hardens until it literally snaps off on a rough day.
If time allows lay the outriggers down on the deck to make it easier to inspect them properly. Consider replacing all the cord or nylon with new stuff as these materials are particularly susceptible to damage from sunlight. Inspect all the pole sections, guy wires and moving parts for signs of corrosion or fatigue and replace if necessary. Liberally coat anything that moves, including the bait clips, and roller trollers with Inox to keep them working as intended. Remember to pay special attention to all the hinges, bolts, shear pins and anything else that could result in a catastrophic, gelcoat destroying collapse.
In summary, my outrigger servicing follows the same philosophy as any other piece of equipment. When a thorough inspection finds any issue the part in question gets binned. Gear failure due to negligence is unacceptable on my watch and nothing is more gutting than watching a giant swim away because of an easily preventable failure.
When the flying gaffs come out on my boat, we mean business. The call is made to stick the picks in and there often isn’t any time for second-guessing that decision, particularly when chasing records. Flying gaffs do not require a lot of maintenance, but the use of them is a dangerous business and failure can result in serious injury.
The main issues to look for are metal fatigue on or around the shackles and rot or damage to the rope. These problems are easily fixed with replacement parts or rope. It is also important to make sure the gaff head can free easily, particularly with wooden gaff poles as they can swell, jamming the gaff head in place. This is an extremely dangerous situation as flying gaff heads are designed to release for a very good reason — an angry marlin or shark with a wooden pole swinging out of control from its back can be a serious problem.
Note: The common practice of using insulation tape at several points along the gaff pole to secure the head and rope is quite dangerous. It can be difficult to break the multiple wraps of insulation tape free in the heat of the moment, effectively jamming the gaff head in place. Most professional boats use only one wrap of tape or a zip-tie at the poles end to secure the head in place. A coat of grease on the base of the gaff head helps keep things in safe working order.
Good quality flying gaffs can be bought ready to go at almost any tackle shop in the country. If you buy one with an aluminium pole you will need to pay attention to the fatigue of this material in the marine environment.
Also, flying gaffs are subject to the International Game Fishing Association rules and any breach of these will disqualify a fish from a tournament or a potential record claim. Double-check all the important measurements against the IGFA rule before going fishing.
Much like outriggers, fighting chairs are often overlooked at maintenance time. Much like the rest of the equipment mentioned here they do failure at the most inopportune moments.
Unless you have a wooden chair that requires regular varnishing, a quick inspection and some generous dollops of grease is all that is required. I like to make sure the swivel tensioner is working correctly. Ideally the chair should swivel smoothly with just enough tension to prevent it swinging around on its own in rough conditions.
It is also worth inspecting the rod gimbal while you are there. Check it is swinging freely and that the pin that holds it in place is in good order.
Tuna tubes & bait tanks
These two pieces of equipment have caught me more fish than any other single piece of equipment on the boat. In fact it would be safe to say that more than 70 per cent of the striped marlin I have tangled with in the last 10 years have fallen victim to a creature that had once swam in either place. Getting to the grounds and finding one has failed is a real blow to our chances of success. Sure, lures work and you can a pitch a dead bait, but on heavy tackle your chances of a clean hook-up are greatly enhanced if the offering is still wriggling when it hits the water.
The first thing to do is to switch everything on and see if it is all running. If all looks well give the system a good clean and leave it all running for an hour or so to check that the breakers don’t trip under extended load.
Bait tanks should have a consistent flow both into and out of the chamber. Check the outlets are clear as it is not ideal if the system is over-spilling into the boat. Tuna-tubes need a very high volume of water flowing through them to be fully effective. Usually this is achieved with a high-volume low-pressure pump that unfortunately does not usually self-prime. For this reason any blockage is not likely to clear itself so if things do not appear to working properly a thorough inspection is required.
If a blockage cannot be found my checklist is as follows: visually inspect the pump and all the wiring for obvious faults such as a leak or corroded wiring. Good quality wiring is a must and the feed should be of the largest practical diameter. Thin feeds or damaged connections will overload the electrical side of the system tripping the breaker or even potentially causing a fire. That is not good. If all appears to be in order it might be time to take a dip. Check the intakes for fouling — oysters are a common problem. While you are there check the rest of the intakes as well.
Ready for game fishing
It is at about this point that I would normally start pulling all of last year’s lures and bait rigs out of the cupboard for similar attention, but that is a topic for another time.
In the meantime, good luck out there. If the bite keeps going at the rate it is right now it is going to be a season to remember.
From Trade-a-Boat Issue 425, March-Apr, 2012. Photos by Joe Fish
Want the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the free TradeBoats e-newsletter.