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Briar Patch Outdoors

Hooray for the Hand Line!

by Keith A. Williams

The inception of the modern rod and reel has made such an impact on the outdoor community that it is often difficult to imagine thoughts of intentionally trying to catch fish without one. While fishing poles have been around for a few thousand years or so, fishing reels are relatively new improvements to the overall fishing scene. It would be stubborn of me not to admit that the two are upgrades to any anglerís arsenal, but I can assure you that neither is really needed, and that people have been doing quite well without them for about as long as we have recorded history. Even today, scores of people go forth on a daily basis to procure sustenance with nothing more than a few feet of string and a makeshift hook, and never worry about the ďinferiorityĒ of their gear.

I often get asked that with all the modern technology available, why anyone would want to fish with a hand line.† The hand line has many benefits that are often overlooked by those who have yet to try one.† With that in mind, Iíll take a few minutes to go over a few of them- in hopes that I can bring you over to my way of thinking.

†† A hand line is low maintenance, and has no springs, gears, or similar parts that require a lot of upkeep.† Other than a hook, there are really only three essential parts to a hand line.† These include some object (often an old bottle) to use as a spindle, some line, a hook, and a weight.† Iíll go over a few examples of assorted options that you may want to think about, but the rest is pretty much limited only by your imagination.

Weights -- Split shot works fairly well for dropping your line over the side of a dock, gunwale, or similar object, but egg sinkers or wheel weights are often preferred.† Smaller weights donít spook the fish as bad when they hit the water, but larger and heavier weights cast farther, and are better suited for keeping the bait in one position in turbulent waters or strong currents.† Pyramidal weights will work, but tend to hang up on submerged objects more than the rounded edges of the egg shaped sinkers.

Rigging setups can be configured with a stationary weight above the bait, sliding weight above bait, or with either fixed or sliding bait rigged above the weight.†† Weights which are rigged to slide up the line allow the fish to run with the bait without feeling resistance on the line, and this can be especially useful when targeting bass or catfish.† Weights rigged below the hook allow the bait to be suspended above the bottom, and have the additional benefit of slightly better casting due to the weight being at the end of the line.† One thing to think about in this configuration however is that if the line gets snagged, pulling the line hard enough to straighten the hook will probably not help to free the line.† Also, a large portion of your line will be wasted if you are forced to cut it.† If this setup is used, I have had favorable results by securing the egg sinker with a crimped split shot at the end of the line, instead of a knot.† This way a snagged sinker can usually be just pulled off with a hard pull on the mainline.†

Line -- Regular 10 lb. test fishing line can be successfully used for pan fish or trout, but since there is no springy buffering action like typically experienced when using a pole, nor the drag provided by a modern reel- it is highly recommended to use heavier strength line to help prevent breakage.† Modern fishing line can easily cut right through your hands so the use of thick gloves is recommended.† Twisted or braided line is easier on the hands but is easier for fish to spot in clear water so is best used with a monofilament leader.† Using monofilament line by itself is another option.† It will bite into your hands even worse, but casts farther and is easier to detect the more subtle strikes.†

Spindles -- Although not absolutely necessary, a spindle makes for a nice way to crank in your catch while keeping your line in a well organized manner. Some shapes will work better than others; a suitable spindle can be made of most any object that has enough surface area to hold a few yards of line.† Boards or flat planks are about as basic of an example as you can find, and will work just fine if that is all you have handy.† In traveling about, the most common thing seen is the classic plastic Coke bottle (I prefer the glass versions).† Any bottle will work, but the trademarked hourglass waist of the Coke specimen works best to keep the line from accidentally falling off.† I doubt that Cokeís shareholders had fishermen in mind when they labored to market Coca Cola to foreign markets in the companyís early years, but the end result has worked out nicely for us.

††† The hand line is simple to use.† Regardless of their experience level, anyone with just a few minutes of instruction can successfully use one.††† Casting a hand line may take bit of getting used to but in practice, is a not a technically complicated endeavor.† One method that is often touted is to flick your hand and let the line play off as it leaves the reel, but doing this makes it difficult to cast long distances- and increases the likelihood of your bait being flung from the hook.† Personally, I prefer an alternate technique.† What works best for me is to pull some slack line out in front of your feet (similar to fly fishing).† I then hold the line a few feet from the end and circle it above my head.† By using this method, the momentum built up by the spinning weight is enough to get decent range without as much risk losing the bait before it ever hits the water.

††† I like a solid feel when using a hand line, so my examples tend to have slightly more robust foundations.† The first example Iíll share with you is made from a hairbrush.† A plastic model would work just as well, but I liked the look of this bamboo version and just had to add it to my collection.† Taking a pair of needle nose pliers, it is a simple matter to pluck the bristles from the base.† I securely tie the tag end of the line to the handle as a little insurance against some runaway fish relieving me of this crucial piece of gear.† I like to use #18 braided nylon twine.† It is rated at 155 lbs. and I find that this works nicely when paired with a couple of feet of 50 lb. Spiderwire Fusion as a leader.† I sometimes join the two with a barrel swivel to keep my line from twisting.† My egg sinker is free to slide up the mainline if a fish runs with the bait, but the swivel serves as a stop to keep it from going down to the actual leader.

††† The bamboo hand line works quite well, but I have saved my all time favorite hand line for last.† This little gem is made from a girls bicycle rim and is a real joy to use.† This model is approximately eight inches across and the larger surface area really is appreciated when reeling in bigger fish.† Better still, is the added bonus that if it is held with the side facing the targeted location while casting, the line will feed freely from the spool, and I get about half as much more distance with same amount of effort.† This configuration is also easily setup for use as a limb line for those times when you have more pressing projects that require your attention.† With the addition of an ever present bungee cord, it is easily staged against a tree limb.† A fixed amount of line is then played out to the targeted location.††Another thing that I like about using the tire rim is that the channel of the rim naturally straddles the limb and keeps it in line with the bait- and yet a sudden snatch on the line will cause the reel to rotate and feed off a little bit of slack without breaking the line.† The bungee cord gives the additional benefit to lessen the shock of a hard strike, while being quick to remove to reel in the catch.

† ††† Hand lines, by design, are small and their compact size allows them to be stored in practically any mode of transportation.

† ††† Why should someone use a hand line?† I ask why not?† Keep one with you and when we meet, Iíll look forward to seeing what youíve come up with.




- Woodsrunner Tips -


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