Fishing basics part 2

Fishing basics part 2

We sometimes forget that we all had to learn the basics of fishing initially. This series by Sam Mossman is for budding anglers just starting off along the path, delving into the basics of tackle and rigging.

Once you have sorted out a hand-line or rod and reel, the next step is the ‘terminal tackle’ – the leader material, hooks, sinkers, swivels, snaps or lures etc that make up the section on the end of the line. In other words, the bits that actually catch the fish.

Trace (also called a leader)

This relatively short section of (usually) nylon monofilament is tied to the end of the main line.

Connecting the two is typically achieved by tying the ends of the main line and the leader to opposite ends of a swivel, or by incorporating a swivel and a swivel-snap so traces can be easily changed.

Until you learn some more complex knotting systems for joining different lines directly (we will get to some basic knots later in this article), using a swivel in this fashion is the easiest and strongest way to join two lines that may be of different thicknesses or materials.

The trace has the hook(s) and sinker attached to it. The leader is usually around 1-2m in length, especially when used with a rod. The reason for making it this length is so when the swivel gets to the rod tip and can’t be wound in any further, the fish is on the water’s surface and can be reached with a net or gaff. Or, if it is not too big, the trace can be grabbed and the fish lifted ashore or into the boat. For elevated fishing positions, such as up on a wharf or a rock, longer traces may be needed so the bigger fish can be lifted in.

There are several reasons for having a trace. A thicker section of line can stand up to fish’s sharp teeth (and sometimes its skin or fins as well) and protects against damage from sharp rocks, weed etc on the sea bottom. Nylon monofilament (or another similarlooking material called fluorocarbon) may be less obvious to the fish than a braided or cord line, resulting in more bites from the fish, which is another good reason for using a trace.

The thickness/strength of the leader used depends on the fishing situation. It needs to be heavy enough to stand up to the work, but if overly thick it becomes too obvious to the fish, which may cause them to become wary and reluctant to bite your bait. 

As a rough guide, 3-4kg leaders are useful when fishing for small fish such as sprats/yelloweyed mullet/herrings, mackerel or piper; 10-20kg traces are useful for medium-sized fish like snapper, kahawai, trevally, gurnard and the like; groper/hapuku, very big snapper and kingfish might need 35-50kg (or more) trace.


Probably no single item of tackle is so closely associated with fishing as the fish hook. There is a huge range of hooks to choose from, all designed for different purposes. To avoid confusion, I will try to keep this as simple as possible.

The two main types of hooks are: ‘J’ hooks, which look a bit like a capital letter J in shape, and circle hooks, where the tip of the hook is bent in at 90 degrees towards the shank. 

J HOOKS are fine for use on lures, and many people like to use them for bait fishing, too. J hooks for lures mostly have the point in line with the shank so they don’t cause the lures to spin, thereby twisting the line (see part one, last month).

J hooks for bait fishing usually have the point ‘offset’. This means they are out of line with the hook shank – bent out to the side – so they hook up more easily.

MY PERSONAL preference for bait fishing is circle hooks. I like them for two reasons: because fish very often hook themselves if your rod is in a holder or the bite is otherwise undetected, and because they produce mostly jaw hook-ups, which make them easy to unhook and ensures a very high survival rate for any fish released.

Modern hooks (except big game hooks) are mostly needle-sharp straight out of the packet and don’t need further sharpening. It pays to check them before you start fishing, though, and from time to time while using them.

The best way to check is to run the point across your thumbnail: if it slides easily it is not sharp enough, but if it catches a little, it’s fine for use. Hooks that fail the thumbnail test need to be replaced or touched up with a hook-sharpening stone or file.

IT IS HARD to tell how strong a hook is just by how thick the shank is; modern hooks can be both thin and strong. Being thin makes them easier to set, which is a good thing. Fine ‘micro-barbs’ make hook setting easier, too.

One indication of a stronger hook is when the wire around the bend of the hook has been flattened or forged. This makes it thicker in one plane than another, so more resistant to bending open. But don’t take this as a sure indication – some poorly-made hooks with flattened sides can still bend easily.

Be sure to buy hooks from a trustworthy brand; buying cheap hooks to save a couple of bucks can cost you a lot of lost fish. Some of the well-known and reliable brands include Mustad, Gamakatsu, Black Magic, Owner and Eagle Claw/Troker.

The hook’s eye should also be checked. The internal diameter of the eye needs to be large enough to pass the trace line through (or two thicknesses of line if looping the hook on rather than tying it).

There should be little or no gap where the eye bends back around to the shank of the hook. A significant gap here can allow the trace line to slip out of the eye, letting the fish escape, or the line can become jammed in the gap and cut on any sharp edges. Poor eye closures are often indicative of badly-made hooks.

HOOKS NEED TO be the right size for the fish you are trying to catch. This is something you learn over time. Check out the size of the mouths of different types of fish. As a starter, 4/0 will work for a lot of species, but you will need much smaller ones for fish such as mackerel, maomao or sprats.

The thing to be careful of is that you loop your hooks on the right way. Pass the line loop through the hook’s eye from the point side, then over the hook. This makes quite a difference to the way the hook hangs – and the number of fish you hook.


Like hooks, there are a great many designs of sinkers, but only two basic types. One is furnished with an eye to attach a line to, the other has a hole through the middle. The first is usually attached to the end of the trace, while the second is designed to run up and down the trace.

If buying the first type, get sinkers that are streamlined, as they can be cast further and sink through the water more quickly. If casting from a sandy beach, use a ‘grapnel’ sinker with wire spikes to stop the waves washing your baits back in or sweeping them along the beach.

The type with a hole through the middle is called a ‘running’ sinker. The trace line is mostly fed through the hole and the hook/s tied on below when using a ‘stray-line’ rig, but they can be tied to the end of the line, too. These sinkers tend to be round (ball sinkers) or egg-shaped.

You will need a range of sinker weights and types, as the conditions and type of fishing determine which will work best.

There is one rule of thumb: use the minimum amount of weight necessary, even if this means changing your sinker from time to time as current speeds change. This will give your bait the best (most natural) presentation and generally results in more bites.


These devices have other applications apart from helping prevent line twist. As already mentioned, they are useful for joining line to leader and in leader assemblies, especially when lines of different materials or thicknesses are involved and which may be difficult to tie directly to one-another.

A swivel with a clip at the end (called a snap-swivel) can be particularly useful for attaching and quickly changing traces. They come in a wide range of sizes and qualities (and prices). Make sure they are not corroded or they will not turn easily, which is a bit selfdefeating.

Swivels and swivel snaps are a good way of attaching traces to lines and help avoid line twist.

Tacklebox basics

The final thing in your ‘starters kit’ is some form of tackle box to keep your gear organised. An important addition is a sharp knife for cutting your bait and trimming your knots. A nail clipper or small pair of sharp scissors is a good alternative for cutting line, as it allows good close-in control without the risk of cutting your fingers! 

   This article is reproduced with permission of   
New Zealand Fishing News

December 2016 - By Sam Mossman
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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