From the ITB Vault- Conquering the Backlash
by Sam White
Chasing billfish with light tackle, circle hooks and dead bait is a tactic that’s gaining in popularity worldwide. It’s a great way to keep the anglers involved in catching fish rather than just waiting for a blind strike, not to mention that pitch-baiting a lit-up marlin or sailfish off the teaser is just about the coolest thing you can do. Unfortunately, with new anglers there’s also a corresponding rise in burnt thumbs and bird’s nests—we’re talking about the dreaded backlash. Here are a few tips on what to do once you’ve had one and, even better, a few thoughts on how to keep them from happening in the first place.
Just about everyone that’s used a conventional trolling reel has had a “professional overrun.” If you’ve never had a backlash you, A) have not been fishing very long; B) are not to be trusted very far; or C) are a lure fisherman. Most backlashes happen when a fish sneaks up and beats you to the rod, thumping the bait with authority before swimming off at top speed. You grab the rod and try to go to freespool, clamping down with your thumb in the process, but it’s too late—the rubber band action of the stretching mono has already started, the spool speeds up faster than you wanted and friiiizzzz….a monster bird’s nest magically appears and the line snaps like a rifle shot. The captain looks down from the bridge with a frown and the mate reaches for the rod, not looking forward to the next five minutes that he’ll have to spend untangling your God-awful mess. Meanwhile, you go searching for the coldest beer in the icebox, not only to wallow in shame and calm your frazzled nerves but also to slow the swelling of the dime-sized blister that’s already forming on the pad of your thumb. Damn that hurts!
So now what? The first step is to keep it from happening at all. And this does NOT mean using the clicker, which just about everybody agrees is a bad idea (that’s far from a scientific statement but I honestly don’t think you could find anyone fishing competitively in dead-bait trolling tournaments that advocates using the clicker). Capt. Bubba Carter spends a lot of his time teaching anglers the art of the freespool dropback from the bridge of the Tijereta, his 43-foot Island Boatworks charter boat that’s based out of Los Suenos, Costa Rica. He says that you need to beat the fish to the bait. “Being ready and in freespool before the fish bites makes all the difference in the world,” he instructs. “You have to be ahead of the bite. If the rod’s already bending over then just push up the drag and hope for the best because you’re already too late.” Going back to freespool at this point in the bite sequence has disastrous consequences so just roll the dice and hope you get lucky.
Josh Ruskey is another Los Suenos captain that spends a lot of time working with his guys, many of whom are experienced East Coast fishermen escaping the cold winters of Ocean City and hoping to get a few shots at billfish down in Costa Rica. He has a similar philosophy about being set before the fish bites, to the point where his anglers either hold the line or the rod while they’re in the cockpit. “Even if we’re fun fishing and a guy has a backlash, he’ll say, ‘What could I have done to stop that?’ I’ll tell him, ‘Well, if you had the rod in your hand, chances are you would’ve ready for the bite and it wouldn’t have happened.’ Usually after that, everyone’s holding their rod for the rest of the day.”
Having good eyes in the cockpit, on the bridge and/or in the tower also helps tremendously. A good mate can see the fish coming and shout a warning to the correct angler to be ready for the bite, which again will improve the hook-up ratio quite a bit. Nobody likes being surprised by the bite, least of all the angler who’s had his thumb on the reel for four hours without a bite.
Most every captain I spoke to about this prefer to run their lines straight through Black’s clips on the riggers. This allows their anglers to freespool back to a fish through the clip without having to wait for the fish to pop the line free. It requires constant attention, either holding the rod or the line, but if you’re serious about catching every single bite then that’s what it takes.
Another thing is to ensure you have good freespool on all the reels in your inventory. One team that’s recently switched equipment is…………………http://shop.inthebite.com/collections/back-issues/products/inthebite-volume-12-edition-04-digital-edition