THE TRACE – CONTINUED FROM PART ONE - Hooks
The sort of hook one uses on a slide-bait is very important. Whilst there are many arguments advocating the use of circle hooks, there is a very strong argument in favour of the Boss Octopus pattern with squashed barbs. Once broken off they certainly fall out of a fish a lot easier than a Circle does. The other huge advantage of the Boss Octopus is that it is generally off-set and especially for the second hook that goes into the main body of the bait, this off-set is critical as it presents a sharp point away from the bait when applied correctly.
Most fish are not shy of big whole fish baits, no matter how bold the hooks and trace may be. For this reason, only the sharpest hooks will do, as they tend to snag on any inquisitive fish that come to investigate the bait. This often results in surprising catches on big whole slide-baits, not just from a size point of view but also from a specie point of view.
From time to time, one may be presented with incredibly strong hooks that have straightened or bent open on fish. There are only really three ways that this can occur and it certainly helps to understand so that one can take cognisance of this when baiting and fighting fish. The first scenario is where the back hook has hooked the shark firmly in the mouth, invariably in the corner and as he shakes and thrashes, the lead hook finds purchase elsewhere in the body and something has to give. One of the hooks generally straightens. The other scenario is the same as the above, but another fish tries to steal the remaining bait out of the other’s mouth and one ends up hooking two fish. When they are rather large sharks, invariably one has the good fortune of a straightened hook. The third and probably the most common scenario is generally played out when landing fish in rocky gullys where a loose hook hooks into the rocks as the fish washes up and down the gully. This is especially true with flat fish. This results in either the hook tearing out or one of the two hooks straightens.
One of the dilemmas one is often faced with when making a trace, is how far the two hooks should be apart as sometimes one needs to slide a head-type bait where the two hooks are fairly close together and other times it might be a whole fish like a Shad or a Bonnito and the hooks need to be quite a distance apart. The solution is to take the lead hook, bend the eye ever so slightly back and rig it with an adjustable braid rig, which means the hook can be moved into a position that suits the bait and locked there. Most specialist fishing tackle stores will stock this type of trace, which is a little difficult to make.
The Blacktip Phenomenon
Prior to the advent of slide-baits, Blacktip Sharks were extremely difficult to stay connected to. My personal records have certainly shown that since slide baits, not just the bite, but also the bite-to-landing ration on Blacktip Sharks has increased dramatically. In fact these days one does not expect to lose such a fish once having hooked it. People often ask what the reason for this is and my opinion is that it is quite simple. With a slide-bait we have learnt from experience that fishing with a very tight line is critical, a good anchor is also critical and so are sharp hooks. What this has done is that as the Blacktip picks up the bait to move off, the hook finds purchase either in the lip, often outside of the teeth, or just inside the jaw. If everything has been done correctly and your trace is reasonably short, it is almost impossible to hook the shark any deeper. Where the hook goes in, is the key, because once the Blacktip takes off, spinning either through the water or in the air, wrapping the trace around himself, as soon as he arches or bends his body, there is an incredible amount of force placed on that metre or so of bite-wire and trace in the vicinity of the hook. If the hook is well inside the mouth, which invariably was the case in the past, the huge tension on the bite-wire across the teeth results in an immediate “bite-off”. I am sure you can appreciate how little force is required from your bait-knife to snap trace wire that has been stretched to close to breaking point.
The above scenario certainly applies to some other species, but none more so than with the Blacktip Shark. It is that instant hook-up that is the key - hence the need for sharp, proud hooks.
As mentioned before, particularly with whole-baits, fish seem to be a lot less trace-shy. If you are fishing for sharks and going to be using wire, it makes little sense to go with anything less than 200lb’s. Being nice and stiff, it doesn’t kink and tangle quite as easily and certainly provides a lot of protection.
People often use lighter wire due to the difficulty of securing of tying the knots in this heavy 200lb. The two best options are shown in attached photo, the first one being the lock and twist method, which is where one takes the wire around the shank of the hook or the eye of the swivel for one and a half turns, goes back out of the eye the opposite way and then does a haywire twist up the wire as shown. Strong fingers and a bit of practice makes this much easier. The second option is the Uni-Knot. It is very important to remember once you have formed the knot and pulled it fairly tight, to slide the knot down to the eye of the hook and not to try to pull it down, otherwise it kinks the wire. When making this knot, I ensure that I have a long enough piece of wire to wrap around my hips so that I can pull very hard on the knot and with pliers on the tag end at the same time. Obviously the hook or swivel that you are tying to needs to be firmly secured in a vice or to some other strong and firm anchor. This leads to neat, tight, small knots as shown.
Carbon-coated has proven to be more popular than the nylon coating. This is primarily due to the effect of the stripping back of the nylon and build-up in the shark’s teeth, because it forms quite a thick coating on the wire. Carbon on the other hand tends to not strip back and build up anywhere near as easily. If one needs to go any lighter than the 200lb, you must ensure that it is nothing less than 90lb and consider how much pressure the fish might be putting on the trace with you attached to the other end. Fast-moving fish with a lot of line in the water can place an incredible amount of pressure on the trace in its mouth very quickly!
If your focus is purely on edibles, then again rather err on the thick side than on the thin. Granny knots in the trace have led to many a fish’s freedom. Recommended diameters would be 0.80mm minimum up to 1.2mm especially if the mono is relatively soft. A general rule of thumb here is the softer and clearer, the thicker one needs to go on the mono.
Swivels should be avoided between the leader and wire as the slide may stick on the swivel-knot and there is already a swivelling effect produced by the swivel on the stopper. Use either double-uni’s to join the wire to the leader or an Albright. If however, you prefer to tie it straight onto a swivel, make sure that it is relatively small and try to put a bit of heat-shrink tube over the knot in the first eye of the swivel to enhance the slides progression down to the stopper. The slide jamming on the knot of the swivel often leads to breakage on that knot. When using swivels ensure that you use nothing but the best and that would be a Power Swivel or a Centro Crane or Rolling Swivel in a No. 3 size.
In today’s market there are many brands in leaders advocated throughout the retail trade. There is a strong tendency for manufacturers to go with softer, more translucent leaders. Often bad knot-strengths on the hard mono’s and fluoro-carbons are the primary motivating factors. There is no doubt that it can be a little difficult to tie a hard mono or a good fluoro-carbon, especially in the higher diameters, but it is also a lot more resilient to the effects of abrasion than the softer monofilaments. For this reason if you do go with one of the softer mono’s, give yourself adequate protection in the form of diameter. With a 200lb wire trace, I would be looking for at least 1.4mm to 1.8mm in a softer mono. In the harder fluoro-carbons, 1mm is normally adequate. There is also the option of a tapered leader, which really seems like the way to go. This allows for smaller knots for casting easily through the guides, but really good diameters at the end of the trace.These are available from a 0.6mm tapering to 1.1mm right through to 0.85mm tapering to almost 2mm. They are certainly a better option and a more economical one than the wind-on leader option that recently gripped the slide-bait fraternity. The only real advantage of the wind-on leader is that the leader can be replaced without having to retie the bimini on the main line side.
Technique will be covered in part three.