The crisp air of the early morning burns my lungs a little as my fishing partner Russ and I hike into our next run. We are both excited; the river has come up after a long drought and she’s back on the drop. We’ve pounded a few runs already and are about to drop into my favourite stretch.
“Go through first, Pal”
Russ looks at his leader and notices a wind knot, “You think this is a problem Gardy?” Personally, I’d have changed it, but laziness is quite often my buddy Russ’ nemesis.
On his first swing through the run he hooks up. The battle ensues—with both of us paying as much attention to the wind knot as the steelhead that’s flashing below it. That fight and the subsequent loss of a beautiful steelhead due to a pesky wind knot are forever burnt into my brain.
Leaders need to be examined regularly for wind knots, abrasion and general weaknesses. Don’t be that angler that loses fish due to pilot error. Lets be honest, we all get wind knots. It doesn’t matter who you are, from Phil Rowley to the newbie or whether you are fly-fishing for steelhead or after sturgeon, it happens. Folks lose fish from things like imperfections in leaders to problems with knots all the time. It’s an unnecessary loss. Check your leader by pulling it through your fingers to feel for any frayed mono or braid. Any abrasions on your leader from rubbing up against rocks, logs or sturgeon scutes should be replaced immediately, without question. With any knots or abrasions in your line, the breaking strength is greatly reduced.
Check Hooks for Sharpness
Whether you’re a river fisher, fly fisher or gear fisher, we are all in the same boat here. Our hook’s point will contact rocks and debris that will dull, break or bend them. With realizing it, you could be fishing any of the above problems and consistently losing fish.
I had my own personal nightmare from this while teasing steelies up to the dry, with my brother Davey OB. I had this fish that thought he was a dolphin-nosing my foam bug as it skated this magic riffle one evening. He smacked my fly so many times that I finally checked it to find it broken at the bend.
Even if your hook looks good it could be dull as a butter knife. Most people check the sharpness by pricking their thumb. Without sounding too patronizing, all hooks feel sharp this way, it’s an inefficient test. An old guides trick is to check with your thumbnail. Drag the hook down your thumbnail. If it doesn’t stick, sharpen or discard it. Most high end beak hooks are chemically sharpened and cannot be re-sharpened, others can be repaired with either a stone or diamond sharpener.
Be Aware of Your Gear
Spin, pin or fly—watch it like a hawk. You’ll be able to notice a wind knot forming or a strike indicator or split shot fouling up. When fly-casting, watch your backcast. You can hit rocks or trees behind you or your strike indicator could have popped if it is a quick release. Your proper depth won’t be achieved, thus prohibiting you from your goal of catching fish. Be observant, not just by sight but with your hearing as well. If you hear a snap when fly-casting you can kiss that fly goodbye. She has left you and your leader and has disappeared into your river surroundings like a needle in a haystack. To avoid this, remember that positioning is everything when your space is limited. Take your time and determine the proper cast that is best to be performed in that particular stretch of river or lake. A steeple cast if possible or perhaps a roll. There are plenty of Spey cast techniques that can be employed. You can then proceed with confidence that your hook has been protected from harms way before reaching your quarry.
Out on the water we sometimes overlook the small things that really matter. Leaders, hooks, and proper maintenance of your gear can cause major troubles when you least want them too. Even though you’ve invested in good hooks and leader, without maintenance and careful attention you will always bear the cross of losing fish. In this day and age, when every outing is so precious as we’re all so busy, spending a little in the way of time and precaution will actually save you a lot more than you know.