Balancing Tackle & Fish Talent

Balancing Tackle & Fish Talent

Each fish species brings to the table in any match with us a genetic talent set. Smallmouths by nature pull hard, fight frantically, and jump high. Channel catfish pull hard and dig deep. Pike give us a characteristic mad dash and sizzling run after a slight pause, post hook-set, when suddenly they realize something is amiss. Bluegills swim in tight powerful circles, while king salmon jump higher, pull harder, and run faster than just about anything that swims in freshwater.

Fish display their unique talent sets best when the tackle we bring to bear is reasonably matched to the size and nature of the fish and the environment in which we find them. An angler interested in matching not only wits but also tackle against the talents of any fish, must choose lighter tackle than we use in an attempt to accomplish extreme efficiency. Articles in almost every In-Fisherman draw on this tenet.

I am fishing for smallmouths in the Mississippi River on a late-summer afternoon. I could choose a 7-foot medium-power rod and a reel spooled with 10-pound superline—a combination that allows long casts and the option to pressure fish once they’re on—but I’ve chosen a 6-foot 2-inch drop-shot rod (medium-light weight and action) and a smaller reel spooled with 6-pound monofilament.

With the longer rod I can pressure fish enough to actually keep them from jumping—and a long battle might be 60 seconds. Hook them, beat them, release them, catch another one. Much of the contest is in finding the fish and getting them to bite. Once a fish is hooked the contest isn’t much in doubt.


With the lighter combo, even small fish jump multiple times, often whoo-ahh! high, and steadily pull drag multiple times. The combination qualities of the rod, reel, and line come into play. The contest might not be that much in doubt, but the battle often requires at least several minutes of careful, skillful maneuvering and talented rod-reel-and-line play. Meanwhile, the fish has a chance to display its talents. With smallmouths, it’s an impressive display.


Switching to 4-pound line, the same set of circumstances, and similar results play forth, except the battle takes a little longer. Now, though, the contest is a little more in doubt. The fish displays its genetic talent and at any moment it may get away.

With 2-pound line everything changes. The contest now is in the fish’s corner, and it’s so in control that it no longer has to use all its talents at times, and often doesn’t jump as much, although it consistently pulls hard, relying mostly on that aspect of its talent to get away. The contest is in constant doubt.

I could play through a similar set of circumstances with any of the many fish we love to catch—along the way there’s a balance point between tackle and fish talent. For the smallmouth in the situation I describe, the 6-pound line on the light rod is close to an optimum match. The fish displays its best characteristics, the battle is a challenge, but not so in doubt that we are likely to lose a fish with a lure stuck in its mouth, or play it to utter exhaustion.

Some might argue that the balance point is on better display with 4-pound line. Perhaps. Clearly, though, 2-pound line verges more on exhibitionism than a balanced contest—and perhaps is dangerous for a fish that will be released.


Attaining a measure of efficiency in any given situation is a vital part of successful fishing. But success can be measured in various ways. More, bigger, more-bigger-faster, might not always do it for you on every outing.

Consider the situations you face and whether it might at times be more satisfying to fine-tune the equation’s balance—that is, give the fish an even shake so they can strut their stuff with all the swagger inherent in their genetic design. The other point often made in articles is that at times such finesseful fishing is just what it takes to scratch more fish during tough times.

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