How to catch a fish – by Steve Cooper

There are many different forms of fishing techniques but regardless of whether you fish in saltwater or in fresh, the basic principal of catching a fish on a rod and reel is the same. Put out bait with a hook in it and then, when the fish bites, set the hook. What could be easier?

Before you can go fishing you will need to choose an outfit and get some terminal tackle such as hooks, floats and sinkers. Jarvis Walker has put together rod, reel and line combinations to suit fishing in different areas, such as lake, estuary and surf. Sometimes they will be labelled “3kg outfit”, which is a reference to the line breaking strain that best suits them. These “Combos’’ offer a sound basic starting point, and come at a price that delivers either the rod or the reel free.

Most beginners start out in lakes and rivers or estuaries and bays. It’s all about access. To fish all of these you will need a medium in the three to four kilogram line range with a rod length of about 1.8 metres to 2.5 metres.

The most popular reel is the threadline or spinning reel. Children as young as six or seven years old are able to grasp the basics of using threadline reels. Most threadline reels are left or right hand wind.

Terminal tackle is a general term used to describe all the bits and pieces, such as hooks and sinkers that are used beyond the rod tip.

Swivels: The swivel is a dual-purpose tool: it is used to minimise line twist and as a link between the main line and leaders. The swivel does not eliminate all line twist, but it helps.

Floats: The floater can range from a quill or pencil float to a bubble float, with the traditional egg-shaped bobby cork and even pieces of polystyrene or cork thrown in for good measure. There is nothing sophisticated about floaters, the trick is to understand their function and use them to that end. Floats are used to keep bait off the bottom and at a set depth below the surface.

Sinkers: There are a wide range of sinker shapes available but you can fish most situations with either a ball, bean or barrel sinker for running rigs; a pyramid, star or helmet shape for paternoster rigs, and split-shot for using under floats or where only tiny amounts of lead are required.

Hooks: Fishing technology in terms of rods, reels and lines has come a long way but ultimate link in the chain is still a bent piece of wire. The patterns vary but the main variation is in shank length, whether the eye is turned in or out and a straight or offset point. It is better to use a small hook than one that is too big and it is difficult to go past the ‘Suicide’, ‘Octopus’ and ‘Baitholder’ patterns.

Lures: There are hundreds of different lures to choose from. These range in price from a couple of dollars to $20 or more. Not all of them catch fish. As a starting point for freshwater, look closely at bladed lures and wobblers. In saltwater, rubber tailed lures and chrome slices are a good start.

Rigs: There are three basic rigs used in fishing with baits: the ‘Paternoster’, ‘Running Sinker’ and ‘Float’.

Thepaternoster rig is used for fish that feed off the bottom. This rig has a sinker at the end of the line and a leader with a hook and bait running off the main line above it.

Arunning sinker rig is used to fish on the bottom. This rig has the main line running through a hole in a sinker. The line is attached to a swivel, which acts as a stopper. A leader to the hook is tied to the other end of the swivel. The idea is that a fish will pick up a bait and run, and feel no resistance because the sinker is stationary while the line runs through it.

Afloat rig is used where the fish you are after are feeding from mid-water to the surface. The depth of the bait is set and the float is held on the line by passing line through elastic bands on the float shaft.

Where to fish: It doesn't matter where you choose to fish, reading the water and fishing in the right spot is most important. Fish tend to congregate along or near structures, which offer either a food source or protection from larger predators. Such areas include jetties, rock walls, sunken logs and weed beds.

Estuaries, lakes, river backwaters and small jetties in bays are the most obvious choices that would normally fit the criteria.

Bait: The ideal bait for any fish is one that occurs naturally in the environment being fished. In freshwater, mudeyes, minnows and scrubworms suit trout; but for native fish like golden perch or Murray cod, shrimp, bardi grubs and yabbies cover most situations. In saltwater, sandworms, bass yabbies, mussels, pipis, pilchards and squid will suffice for most species.

Remember, fresh bait does not come frozen in a plastic bag. The best bait you can use is one you collect yourself.

Before casting a bait, check the drag system on your reel. It should be set at about one third of the breaking strain of the line you are using. For example, if you are fishing with 6kg line, set the drag at about 2kg.

Catching a fish: Some fish nibble, others pick-pick-pick, and there are those that simply swallow a bait and run for it. Success comes in knowing when to lift the rod and set the hook. Do you wait for two nibbles or three? Should you attempt to set the hook when the tip of the quill float wiggles, or wait until it is pulled below the surface?

The answer is yes and no to all of these. Sometimes pickers need to be left for a couple of seconds, on other days the same fish will need to be struck the instant they are felt. But as a general rule of thumb, a couple of picks will be followed by a good bite and the angler will react instinctively. A problem with new anglers is that they are often so keen to set the hook they will consistently strike at the first indication of a bite. Patience in waiting for the right moment is not a virtue; it comes with familiarity bred by the experience of having been there before.

When the bait has been cast out, set the drag of the reel to about one third of the breaking strain of the line. Next, tighten the line on the rod; lay the rod down almost in the horizontal position, preferably with the rod pointed at the bait. Having a slight angle on the rod will make it easier to discern a bite if fishing on the bottom.

With some fish, it may pay to open the bail arm to allow the line to run freely from the reel. In this case, the line is not taut and a small piece of polystyrene on the line indicates a bite. To stop the line running out with the wind or tide, place a small stone on it; alternatively hook the line between the reel and the first guide around an empty can. When the can topples over the bait has been taken.

If you are using a quill float, the time to set the hook is when the tip of the float disappears below the surface for a second or so. If the fish are finicky, they may pull the float under for a fraction of a second without taking the bait properly.

Hooking a fish is only half way to achieving a result. Once the fish is on, a gentle pumping action, with line gathered in on the downward stroke of the rod, is the correct method. Take your time and don’t try to rush things, your drag should be set so the fish won’t break your line.