Fishing with Multiple Rods

Is fishing with multiple rods a help or a hindrance? Sam Mossman investigates the pros and cons.

A lot of people fish with multiple rods. Surfcasters, for example, commonly have at least two sticks propped up on the sand, usually so they can prospect the water in close, and also further out. At the very least this can improve your sprinting as you race between the rods when the tips start nodding!

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A recent, and unwelcome, development is some appalling hogs who spread up to ten rods along various Auckland wharves, ruining the fishing opportunities of others. In boats, you don’t affect other anglers much, except those you are fishing with.

So why use multiple rods? The obvious answer is so you can have more hooks in the water, increasing your chances of catching more fish. This is only true up to a point, however. Sometimes less is more.

Many years ago, my old mate Ian Mickell and I were fishing out of a nine-foot dinghy off Spirits Bay in the far north. We had a live kahawai out for a kingfish and were both soaking baits for snapper while we waited. Suddenly, a school of kahawai popped to the surface nearby. Dropping our snapper rods in the holders, we grabbed our pre-rigged spin rods and both hooked kahawai from the school on lures.

The situation quickly started getting out of hand. While we were playing the kahawai, both snapper rods hooked up reasonable reds, and then we were bounced by a school of kingfish (which were presumably shadowing the kahawai school). Our livebait was eaten and then the two kahawai on the spin rods were grabbed by kingies, too. We had three kingfish and two snapper on at once and five lines screaming out in all directions.

Before we could do much about gaining any measure of control, the three kingies had all cut us off in the foul and one of the snapper had come unstuck! All we managed to salvage from five minutes of mayhem was one lonely snapper. That certainly taught me a lesson about trying to fish too many rods at the same time.

Covering the field

Yet there are many situations where multiple rods are an advantage. Take trolling for gamefish for example. More rods allow you to troll more lures of different sizes, actions and colours, which gives you a better chance of finding the fishes’ preferences for the day. In the tropics you can also harvest sportfish like wahoo, yellowfin and mahimahi by running a diving lure like a bibbed or bibless minnow under the set. Billfish are seldom interested in minnow lures and this allows a bit of fun on a lighter rig, and the harvest of fish for the table.

More rods allow trolling more lures of different sizes, actions and colours, giving a better chance to find the fishes' preferences quickly.

More rods allow trolling more lures of different sizes, actions and colours, giving a better chance to find the fishes' preferences quickly.

You can run as many lures as you can fit in the set without tangling up – as long as you have enough crew to clear the gear in a timely fashion. In smaller trailer boats, however, with a crew of, say, two or three, it is best to keep the rod and lure numbers down – say three or four – depending on the transom-width and if you have outriggers or not. You need an angler, a helmsman and a third guy to clear the surplus rods. Or, if you are trolling a livebait, one rod is plenty. In a party boat situation with multiple anglers, there is seldom room to fish more than one rod each without asking for trouble in terms of tangles.

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In a party boat situation with multiple anglers, there is seldom room to fish more than one rod each without asking for trouble.

In a party boat situation with multiple anglers, there is seldom room to fish more than one rod each without asking for trouble.

Bread and butter

But what about the type of fishing that the majority of us do – targeting inshore bread-and-butter species like snapper, blue cod, gurnard, tarakihi, kahawai, trevally and kingfish from your own boat, or that of a mate?

The first rig my dad showed me when I was a kid was the ledger rig. We bottom fished from trailer boats in Hawkes Bay, mostly in 40-60m – a reasonable distance to wind up just to check your bait, so a two hook ledger was ideal, giving you a second chance if a fish removed your first bait without being hooked. We often fished two rods each and eight cut baits on the bottom put out a reasonable scent trail, which meant that we didn’t need to use much additional berley; and if you hooked one fish from a school there were enough baits left down there to keep the others interested until you could get your gear back down.

The downside was that a five metre-class boat + four rods x 60 metres depth = plenty of chance for tangles. But this was back in the days when we all used monofilament, so untangling was not such a drama. These days, with braid, untangling is much more painful and discourages you from getting too carried away with the number of rods.

Covering the options

While there is no doubt in my mind that when inshore lure fishing, the fishing rod you are holding and working the lure with is the one that catches the most fish, a ‘drag rod’ fished from a rod holder is often a useful addition. This, as when trolling game lures offshore, allows you to try a different technique, action, colour or size of lure. When drift fishing in 10-40 metres, a favourite combination of mine is having a kabura-style lure on the drag rod (they hold the bottom well and are seldom damaged or disarranged) while I work a soft-bait on a casting rod.

When on the drag rod, kabura-style lures hold the bottom well and are not damaged or disarranged as much as soft-baits.

When on the drag rod, kabura-style lures hold the bottom well and are not damaged or disarranged as much as soft-baits.

The advantage of being able to try different lures applies to baits, as well. What are the fish on today? Pilchards, skipjack, squid? And there is a whole range of other baits that produce other interesting species: tuatua, crabs, crayfish and paua gut (hua), for example, can put a whole range of fish, including spotted smoothhound and blue moki, on your menu.

When fishing our home region with baits, primarily for snapper with berley and strayline, my buddies and I usually start with a single rod each. But if the action is not hot initially, there is often a bit of ‘mission creep’. As a few jack mackerel or small kahawai gather in the berley trail, the first temptation is to catch a few mackerel on sabikis and put one down on the bottom as a livebait on a single-hook ledger rig anchored by a reasonably heavy sinker. This usually produces a few delicious john dory, but occasionally a bigger-than-usual snapper or the odd kingfish comes to the party.

The other rig that is well worth deploying in this situation (at least in the northern half of the North Island) is a whole or half mackerel (or kahawai, mullet etc) dead bait cast out the back of the berley trail using a heavier rig (say 10kg) than usual. Regularly, this produces the biggest snapper of the day.

A big bait cast out the back of the berley trail can turn up better than usual fish.

A big bait cast out the back of the berley trail can turn up better than usual fish.

This last rig is usually fished from a rod holder and when the big bait ‘goes off’ and the drag screams, it is cause for great excitement, although sometimes it turns out to be just a shark or ray. I have had the best results by resisting the urge to pick up this rod at every bite. Big, tough baits can normally last through the nibbling of small fish. Leaving it alone until a better fish hooks itself is the way to go.

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Staying out of trouble

You have to be realistic about the amount of gear you deploy and how you fish it, especially with braid lines, as a bad tangle can be a nightmare to unpick. Often, if it is not going to cost you too much line, it is a lot easier to use the ‘silver untangler’ (a knife) and retie your terminal rig (or deploy a spare) rather than waste too much valuable fishing time fruitlessly trying to unpick the mess.

To minimise tangles, try to keep your lines well apart. For example, with the combination mentioned above, two anglers can fish a livebait straight under the boat, a big bait cast well astern and two or more strayline rods thrown out at 45 degree angles from the sides and fished through the swing, from a four or five-metre craft, without too much trouble.

But you can get into a bit of strife fishing multiple bait rigs if the action suddenly heats up. For example, two anglers with two double hook ledger rigs each in the water can easily have an eight-way problem if a school of kahawai passes through.

Strong, active fish like kahawai can be hard to control on light gear and create some serious tangles, especially in braid lines.

Strong, active fish like kahawai can be hard to control on light gear and create some serious tangles, especially in braid lines.

Sometimes, when the fish really come on the bite, it can be counter-productive to fish several rods at once. You miss fish because you are re-baiting another rod or doing some other task, and you go through a lot of bait without result because you always seem to be holding the wrong rod. It is important to be able to recognise this point of ‘diminishing return’ and then reduce the amount of gear in the water for efficient fishing.

Some other keys to staying out of trouble are:

1) don’t under-gun the sinker weights to prevent your lines drifting around too much;

2) have a fishing buddy/s who understand the system of keeping the lines clear of each other; and

3) have an appropriate array of rod holders to keep the rod tips separated.

My little 4.3m dory, for example, has seven through-gunwale holders, another seven designed just for rod storage and carrying and a further seven Railblaza Starport mounts for a total of 21. This gives me, and whoever is fishing with me, lots of options. The Railblaza rod-holders that suit the Starport fittings, in particular, are very adaptable and can be adjusted to suit most situations. They are particularly useful for fishing rods down parallel to the water’s surface or spreading the rod tips apart. Other manufacturers make similar products.

Your old mate Rod Holder can often be the best fisherman on the boat and I don’t need to tell you that rods left in the rod holders should be armed with good sized circle (recurved) hooks and fished with the reel in gear for best results and to avoid deep-hooking unwanted fish.

Having a well set-up array of rod holders is particularly useful when bait-fishing for schooling species, especially in an area with high currents. Gurnard, for example, mostly travel in small schools and to make the most of a passing school before they move on, my fishing buddy and I often like to fish several rods each. Here, using adjustable rod holders which can be set up to suit the combination of wind and current and keep the rods separated, is the way to go.

Multiple Rods - Help or Hindrance?


• Allows a wider range of bait types, and lures of different sizes, colours and actions to be tried.

• Allows different techniques to be used that target different fish species/sizes at the same time.

• When fishing baits, more rods/hooks put more scent in the water, creating a mini-berley trail, attracting and helping keep fish in your vicinity.

• Using multiple rods allows more fish to be caught from passing schools while the action is hot.

• You still have a ticket in the raffle when one rig is out of the water for re-baiting, re-rigging or dealing with a fish.

• Tinkering around with other rigs or changing lures helps keep you entertained while waiting for some action.

• When surfcasting, using several rods allows you to prospect different depths/distances so you can locate the fish.


• The bite always seems to be on the ‘unmanned’ rod (or is it just me?).

• It is not easy to keep a sharp eye on multiple rods and inattention leads to missed hook-ups.

• Sitting bait rods can lead to deep-hooked fish. Use only in-line circle hooks in larger sizes.

• Multiple hook-ups of active fish (kahawai are a prime example) can lead to some awful tangles.

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

August 2020 - Sam Mossman
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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