The line screams! Your rod is bent over! The adrenalin is flowing! “Big one!, I’ll need another beer” you yell out. And then… the pressure is suddenly missing. It takes a few seconds of futile reeling for the horrible truth to sink in. The hunker fish is gone! As your heart sinks, you finish your drink and your stomach begins to feel nauseous, your brain keeps asking over and over again, “What happened?”
When a fish is lost, a careful analysis requires a fisherman to recognize the obvious; somewhere between the fish and the angler, (actually including the angler), there is a weak link in the chain, so to speak. Rarely is it just “plain bad luck”. From equipment to technique, there are adjustments that can be made to reduce, (though never eliminate), the number of lost fish.
The Hook Set
Let’s start with the fisherman’s technique. Unlike jig or plastic worm fishing, there is no need to cross the eyes of fish with a hard hook set when fishing crankbaits. Because “soft plastics” or “jig” fishermen often pitch or flip into brush, trees, weeds, lily pads, or stump fields, they usually rig their baits to be weedless. Sensing a fish on the other end, however, means a snag-proof bait is no longer desired. Many anglers are taught to rear back, snapping the rod into their chest in order to bend down the weed guards that protect the jig hook, or… drive a heavy worm hook through the thick plastic in which the barbed point was hidden. The idea is to use lightening quick reflexes and explosive power to expose and then drive the hooks into the fish’s bony mouth before it can spit it out.
Crankbaits, however, do not require the same snapping hook-set. Equipped with several treble hooks that are fully exposed, an angler has only to slowly sweep the rod up or to the side to set the hook. If the hooks are sharp they will manage to pierce the mouth on their own as pressure is steadily applied. Many anglers force themselves to wait until they “feel the fish” before doing this.
Why pause or delay on the hook set? Fisherman who lose a lot of fish on cranks would benefit by moving past their frustration and checking the hooking location on the fish that they DO manage to bring in. If the treble is dangerously near the edge of the lip, this indicates the bait is not getting far enough back into the mouth cavity before the angler is setting the hook. Sensing the fish and reacting immediately means the fisherman is inadvertantly ripping the bait out of the fish’s mouth. A brief pause or delay allows the fish take the bait in. Waiting until the fish is swimming away, increases the angler’s hooking percentages. So… wait, feel the fish, slowly sweep the rod up or to the side. The proper hook setting technique can make all the difference.