Captain’s Blog

Big Fish – Little Hooks

Cefus_Big_Rainbow_CI love fly fishing.  I’m not the best long-pole thrower on the planet, but I can usually make a cast that gets the fly in the general vicinity.  One thing I’m continually amazed by, especially when trout fishing, is how small those dang flies are.  And just how big the fish are that I’ve caught with such a tiny fly.   I mean, some of the flies are almost too small to see.  Or to tie on the end of a leader.

One thing I’ve learned from fly fishing which I’ve carried over to conventional fishing techniques is an understanding of hook size.   And the fact you don’t necessarily need a hook made from rebar to catch a big fish.  The biggest rainbow trout I ever caught was over seven pounds, and I caught it with a fly tied to a #18 size hook.  By the way, a #18 hook is small…really small.

I believe a mistake many anglers make is using hooks that are too big.  They think you need a big hook to catch a big fish.  In some cases, that’s true.  Strong fish require a strong hook that won’t straighten out under pressure.  But more often, it’s the gap of the hook that you really need to be focused on.

Hooks come in a variety of configurations, shapes, sizes and materials.  My rule of thumb is to always use the smallest, lightest hook I can get away with.  And that rule of thumb is guided by the size of the bait that I’m using…not the size of the fish I’m fishing for.  Usually, the two will go hand-in-hand.   A hook used to fish for bream with a cricket is going to be much smaller than a hook used to troll for marlin with a 3 pound spanish mackerel.  The more you can conceal the hook from your quarry, the more likely they are to eat the bait attached to it.  A hook size properly matched to the bait you’re using will let allow that bait to move more naturally, and keep them frisky longer too.

circle hooksNowadays, I use circle hooks almost all the time.  Once you get used to the hook-up technique, you’ll find you actually have a better success rate.  And if you are in the catch-and-release mode, fish have a much better chance for survival after the release.

For circle hooks I like the Gamakatsu Nautilus Light circle hook.  It comes in a variety of sizes…small enough for mud minnows and fiddler crabs and big hooks for full grown mullet.  Even though it’s a relatively light wire hook, it’s strong enough to handle big fish.  The shorter shank means there’s less ‘hook’ exposed that might shy fish away.

While we’re on hook styles, I love to throw soft plastics.  Many worms, flukes and paddletails need a little help getting down into the strike zone.  Carolina rigs, Texas rigs and jig heads will serve the purpose, but sometimes you need to be super-stealthy.  All that weight in front of the plastic can spook fish or get hung up on grass, brush and rocks.   Years ago I discovered the advantages of what I call the “Flutter Hook”.  In reality, it’s a weighted-shank, worm hook.  The Gamakastu EWG (extra wide gap) Weighted Monster hook offers a big gap, sizes to match even the biggest plastic swim baits, and you rig it weedless.  The weighted shank gets the lure into the strike zone quicker too.  On the fall, the lure ‘flutters’ down like a distressed minnow, and as you retrieve the weight imparts a lot more action that a non-weighted worm hook might create.  I’ve used this hook for everything from soft plastics to cut bait, and it’s become my go-to hook for inshore fishing.  Again, I match the size of the hook to the size of the bait I’m pitching.

There’s an axiom that states, “Elephants eat peanuts”.   I think that’s true for fish too.  Fish don’t necessarily eat peanuts…but big fish will often focus on very small prey.  I’ve seen 25 pound stripers crashing baitfish that were an inch long.  And I’ve seen 40 pound amberjack gulping 3 inch glass minnows.  The only way to catch those fish was with similar-sized baits.  And that meant sizing all the terminal tackle down to match.

The next time you rig up, take a moment to consider your quarry.  Also consider what your bait or lure looks like to the fish you hope will eat it.   Does it look and move naturally?  Or is it hampered by a hook that’s too big?  Try sizing down and be prepared to reap the rewards of the big fish you’ll catch.

Tight Lines and Calm Seas

Capt. Cefus McRae

Piscatorial Pooches – Keep you pet safe on the water

Meet Capt Buck ICONI once read a survey that stated about 90% of people who own boats also have at least one dog.   Out of that 90%, nearly 50% of those people regularly take their dogs along with them on the water.  I fall into that category as well.  All my dogs have been ‘boat dogs’, and all of them have loved being out on the water.

But before you leave the dock with Fido, there are a few things to consider prior to putting your pooch on the pontoon.

Just like us two-legged animals, dogs need clean, fresh water to keep them hydrated and happy.  Regardless of what kind of beverages you take for yourself, be sure to have plenty of cool (not ice cold) fresh water for your dog.  That can be in the form of several bottles of water, or even a thoroughly cleaned gallon milk jug with tap water in it.   You should know how much water your dog needs during the day…so take 1 ½ times that much along.    Carry a plastic or rubber-based metal bowl that won’t spill if the boat is rolling a little.

And take them something to munch on too. You wouldn’t go out for a day of fishing without a few snacks.   Take some doggie snacks for your pup.   Something that isn’t affected by heat, and can be kept in a watertight container.  If you plan to be away from home all day, then you need to take a real meal along.

Now the aforementioned items will ultimately result in your pup’s need to relieve themselves at some point during the day.  Let’s presume that you’ve fed him his morning meal, and he’s had time to digest and eliminate breakfast, so you’re not immediately facing a bathroom break as soon as you get on the boat.   But, as a responsible pet owner, you are providing him enough water during the day, he will eventually have to go pee.  And just like us humans, they can only “hold it” for so long.

Don’t make your pet miserable, and induce a mentally bad experience on the boat by expecting them to “hold it” forever.   So, what do you do?   Well, you plan your day and your destinations such that you have easily accessible pit stops during the day.  Even if it means pulling up to an island, a beach, or a marina to let your pup relieve itself.   And of course, remember all the things you need to do to clean up after your pet.  Be aware of leash laws, etc. wherever you stop.   On a normal day, given the conditions described above, I wouldn’t expect my pup to go more than four hours without a pit stop.  Neither should you.

Something else we can tend to forget is shade for your pup, and keeping your pup cool in hot weather.   Find someplace on the boat that offers a cool shaded place for your dog to lay down comfortably.   That hot deck that burns your bare feet is doing the same to his paw pads.   Put down a towel, soaked in cool fresh water, for them to lay on.

All my four-legged best friends have been retrievers, and they have all absolutely loved being in, and around, the water.  In fact, Buck, The Wonder Dog’s been on the boat with me since he was 12 weeks old.

But remember, you’re bringing the dog along so everyone can have fun.  They should not be treated like an inconvenience.  If that’s the case…leave them at home or at the pet spa.  And while they’re on the boat, they need to be constantly in sight, and under your supervision.

If you decide to stop for a swim, and you choose to let your pup go in the water, then I would suggest getting them a Puppy PFD,  which is a comfortable, wearable flotation device that fits your dog’s build. You want them to enjoy having this PFD on.

Here’s a simple fact.   It’s fun to throw the tennis ball and have your pup chase it in the water.  However, because they’re having fun, they will actually swim to the point of exhaustion and could drown.  So be aware of when they are getting tired and get them out of the water before they get into trouble.

For most of us, our dogs are members of the family; whether they’re a duck dog, a show dog or just a loveable companion.  And just like any other member of the family, it’s our responsibility to make sure they are safe and comfortable on the water.  So before you take your best four-legged friend out on the boat, give some serious thought to the things they’ll need out there too.   Make it a part of your Pre-Launch Checklist.  Your pup will definitely thank you for it.

Tight Lines and Calm Seas

Capt. Cefus McRae and Buck, The Wonder Dog.

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