Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

What on earth is that strange knob ?

Take a look at a spinning reel and you'll see this strange kind of knob on the front of it - so what on earth is it ? Well turn it clockwise and you'll find a strange thing happening whereby it becomes harder for a fish to take line off when it's hooked. Honestly, it's the most amazing thing, yet for some weird reason most anglers seem to be completely terrified of winding that drag knob down and putting some decent hurt on the fish they hook. I have thought for years that far too many fish are lost via messing around with them.............

Why are we so afraid of breaking our lines or indeed our fishing rods on the fish we hook in "our" waters ? Why are so many anglers so worried about stopping certain species of fish literally dead in their tracks ? I stand behind my belief that a "green" fish (i.e. a fish with plenty of scrap left in it) is a stronger, healthier fish that can go back strongly. We've got some very cool fishing in our waters, but let's be honest and accept that most of the fish we might chase on our lure gear are not really in the habit of breaking our lines or our fishing rods, and most broken fishing rods are through angler error anyway (whether the angler admits it or not) - high-sticking for example ?

Look, I love wrasse fishing. I think they are truly fantastic fish and I love how I can go lure fishing for them and usually catch a few, plus the larger ones tend to give a decent account of themselves - but voracious line breakers and line strippers they tend not to be. Oh, hang on, you got bust off the other day ? Well most fish will snap a fishing line if it's run over a sharp rock, but if the line broke for no apparent reason then I would personally be looking at the quality of my knot tying or perhaps the age and/or condition of my line.

If we were to take a "standard" kind of lure fishing for wrasse set up that perhaps revolves around some kind of line in the 15-20lb breaking strain range and a rod rated say to 28g then I just don't believe that any wrasse we might hook should be taking one single inch of line - and if a wrasse does take any line then I would argue that your drag simply isn't screwed up tight enough. As I said, I love wrasse, but we are talking about a fish here that we would be very fortunate to catch over 6lbs in weight, and as powerful as they are, they are not remotely built for any kind of stamina. Hold on to that initial hit and most wrasse should be yours (sharp rocks and dodgy knots notwithstanding), but I keep hearing tales of wrasse taking yards of line.............

Which they quite clearly should not be. End of. Wrasse are not a species that we should allow to run any distance at all - unless we let them of course because we are so scared of winding that drag up and trusting in our (perfectly strong enough) lines and rods instead of really fighting the fish properly and landing them within a matter of seconds. And yes, I accept completely that a wrasse can smash you up - tight line against sharp rocks usually means curtains, but that is the ground you are fishing over and you simply can't do much about it other than horse the fish in properly and work on keeping it away from the snags. But fishing is fishing and sometimes we lose.

Pollack I accept are a different proposition in that they grow bigger and we all know they tend to do a big crash dive when hooked and can sometimes reach sanctuary, but even then most anglers could fish for them with a far, far tighter drag. They are great fish, but no way should they be running long distances. And the same with bass fishing, which as much as I love we again have to be honest and put them in some kind of context in relation to the gear we tend to use. I am not in any way belittling "our" lure fishing, because I love it with a passion, but perhaps the fact that we just don't have big, horribly powerful fish therefore never teaches us to really fight fish hard on much tighter drags. There is a species of fish called a dogtooth tuna which often fights so hard it literally fights itself to death - which then begs a raft of questions, but surely the more energy a fish expends the worse it's going to go back ?

What's the first thing I do if somebody hands me a lure setup to have a go with ? I check the drag setting, and I can guarantee you that nine times out of ten I'm going to tighten it up a whack-load more, indeed I often can't believe how light most anglers set them - to the point that a blenny could take a hundred yards of line on its first run !! Nope, I am not going to wind my drag up for bass fishing as solid as I would for wrasse because they are different/potentially weightier fish "running" in different ways, but as different as bass are, they simply should not be taking yards and yards of line from a "typical" setup we might be using. And yes, hook a big bass in shallow water over rocky as hell ground and it might well do you (guilty !!), but again a tight line against a sharp rock is no competition and fishing is fishing.

Any hook that I use for lure fishing is de-barbed (trebles and singles), yet I don't recall losing a fish that I could blame on having no barbs. Sure, if I had my drag set really light and persisted in giving my fish loads of line (wow, look at him go) and an increased chance to slack-line me then of course I would expect the odd barbless hook to simply fall out of a fish's mouth, but I set my drag most likely somewhat tighter than you do and I reckon my landing to losing ratios are pretty good (aside from when I have occasionally cocked up thinking about photography angles and "forgot" about the fish - don't ask and it still pains me to this day). I do know though that my fish tend to come in pretty quickly, pretty green and this is the way I want to fish. You may not want to do it like this and who says I am doing it right anyway, but whatever the case I can guarantee that most of you could wind that drag knob up a lot more and land more of the fish you hook in a far shorter space of time..................