Cheaper isn't always the less expensive option. It never ceases to amaze me that after putting as much time and effort as most of us do into pursuing offshore game fish, many anglers drop the ball at the most critical step. If there's one lesson we've learned time and time again, you never want to skimp on good tackle, and you better rig up all of your gear properly because a big tuna or billfish will find the weak link every time.
If you haven't already started doing it, you need to modify anything in your gear bag that isn't up to snuff to increase your chances for success. The following seven tackle tips will keep you in the game and your lines tight.
1. USE FLUOROCARBON LEADER
When at all possible use high-quality fluorocarbon leader material when fishing for tuna and other line-shy species. My team replaces existing mono leaders on everything we buy, including our spreader bars and daisy chains. Some days it still seems impossible to get a knock down, even when using fluoro. On these days we re-rig our baits with even lighter leader than usual and back off on our drag presets.
2. CRIMPS, NOT KNOTS
Whenever possible avoid tying any knots. They are bulky and reduce the breaking strength of your terminal system. We use black, double-barrel aluminum crimping sleeves like those made by Bill Fisher. Crimps and crimping pliers have very specific strength and holding calibrations that have to be matched exactly to the diameter and strength of you leader. If you don't have crimps, there is one knot I recommend - the old-school Palomar knot.
3. NO BROKEN SWIVELS
Inferior swivels are almost undetectable to the untrained eye. The size of the swivel has little to do with its overall strength. What it's made of and how it was constructed is the main consideration. Don't go cheap on swivels. Use quality, name-brand swivels.
I prefer inline swivels. These work excellent on lures like jets, diving baits and single Green Machines -- basically anything other than combos or bars that require a snap swivel to attach them. Inline swivels are machined flawlessly to allow a full range of motion without chafing the line, so you don't need chafing gear. You end up with a completely streamlined connection that can be reeled directly through the guides so the angler can bring the leader right to the rod tip, giving the crew easy access for landing.
4. NO CHEAP HOOKS
Cheap hooks are brittle, dull and oxidize heavily after one use. Good crews only use hooks made by high-end manufacturers such as Mustad, Owner, Eagle Claw and Gamakatsu. My personal favorite for trolled, skirted lures are Owner Jobu hooks.
5. CORRECT PLACEMENT
Now that you've got a sturdy hook, you'll want to make sure it sits far enough back in the skirt so it can stick a fish. This placement will help grab anything that decides give it a "check swing." Use small plastic rigging beads to take up the required space and keep the section both strait and dynamic at the same time. Different types of beads will also work as long as the diameters of the holes are large enough to allow the leader to pass though but avoid glass beads or anything that could chip easy or chafe the leader.
Hold the skirted lure face down so that the skirt material opens up, allowing access to the posterior side of the head. Pass the leader through the lure and experiment to get the length just right. You'll need to leave enough space after the beads for the crimp and hook to line up correctly. If you notice that you are getting short strikes on the water, the hook may be rigged too far forward. For a quick fix, you can trim the skirt closer to the hook with a pair of shears.
6. USE CHAFE TUBING
You'll want to protect the leader material from excessive wear and tear with a piece of chafe tubing. Just slide the chafe tubing over the leader before crimping the terminal connection. I've found that the plastic tube style chafe gear is far more effective than the metal spring style chafe gear which under enough tension can open up enough to allow the hook to wear through the line. Both forms of chafe protection are still better than using a knot with no protection.
7. TOOTH PROOF
When toothy predators such as wahoo and sharks show up, we swap out the stinger baits with tooth-proof stingers. These baits are rigged identically to any other bait previously mentioned, only behind the head of the lure we attach a single bead to the leader and crimp it directly to a barrel swivel. To that swivel we attach a short section of multi-strand wire with a crimp and then leave enough space to place the hook far enough back in the skirt. Then we crimp the hook to the opposite end of the wire and since we're using wire here, there's no need for any chafe protection.
Offshore fishing is all about the little things. Using quality hooks and leader and making sure all of your gear is properly rigged will go a long way when it comes to landing big fish.