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Saturday October 7, 2006

Hooking the fish

Fishing A jerk on one end of the line waiting for a jerk on the other! 

That’s a well-known joke among anglers. Well, this article extends the joke further, like when to strike with the rod when that tell-tale jerk occurs. 

Successful hooking of a fish depends on your understanding of its habits and behaviour, and the fishing tackle and bait you use. 

Different fish react differently to a bait or lure. For example, a tilapia will mouth the bait and then blow it out before sucking it in again.  

It may do this several times until your hook lodges in its lip or, more often than not, the empty hook is blown out and the fish swims away smiling. 

The writer holding up a 9kg pacu that took a beef sausage bait.
You watch that line shudder and jerk away, and wonder when you should grasp the rod and give a good thug.  

You decide to strike when the line tightens up. The line shoots back out of the water, along with the free hook.  

What you just did was strike when the tilapia was blowing the bait out of its mouth. In tilapia fishing, you should strike when the line stops, indicating that the fish is mouthing the bait! 

Kalui, our giant gorami, has a similar habit of gently mouthing the bait. The line appears to slowly tighten up, then sag, then tighten up again.  

This may happen a few times. Do not strike! The kalui is tugging away at the bait, trying to free it from the heavy resistance of the lead weight (you are, of course, using a legering method with a running lead sinker). 

Just lower your rod tip to slacken the line. The kalui will finally swim off with the bait. When the whole line finally tightens, just firmly lift the rod. Usually, the fish will hook itself. 

Striking on a fish is a game of timing and, more importantly, cool nerves. Many newcomers to the sport get too tensed up, ending up either striking at the wrong time or striking too hard. Worse still is when you have a buddy beside you, egging you to make that strike, and secretly hoping that you miss! 

All is not lost. There are many fish that will hook themselves, provided you use the right bait and present it properly.  

The first rule is to make sure that your hook is sharp. Most hooks nowadays come sharp straight out of their packets. However, there may be the odd dud one, or your hook may have dulled through usage. Test its sharpness regularly, and change it when the point is blunt. 

If possible, make sure that the hook point is proud of the bait (it is sticking out). There is thus a better chance of the fish being hooked. Then bury the whole hook in the bait. If the latter is soft enough, striking with the rod will usually hook the fish. 

Before striking with your rod, make sure the line is as taut as can be. Striking on a slack line merely brings in that very slack. The hook may not even have moved, let alone ensnare the fish. 

Occasionally, the fish may swim towards you creating a horrible slack line. In this case, you need to reel in like crazy and quickly strike when the line is almost taut, and hope for the best! W 

  • Compiled and coordinated by Anthony Geoffrey. 

    The bite behaviour of several freshwater fish, and tips on how to strike  

    Lampam Jawa - It usually mouths the bait and swims off with it. A firm lift of the rod will usually hook the fish.  


    River lampam - This opportunistic feeder will quickly bite the bait and dart downstream. Legering from upstream is best. If the hook is sharp, it will start to penetrate when the lampam swims off. Lift the rod firmly. 


    Toman (left) - It will bite its prey to stun it, swim off a short distance and then reposition itself before swallowing the bait. If you are using live baitfish, let the toman swim away with it first. Open your bale arm (spinning reel) or free your clutch (multiplier reel). The line will eventually stop running out. Close your bale arm or engage your clutch. At the next run of the toman, point the rod to the fish and strike firmly when the line has gone taut. If you are using a lure, it is best to strike at the moment the fish has taken it. You will know it’s a toman; a circle of small bubbles will appear at the water surface. 


    Haruan - A haruan’s bite is similar to the toman’s. When you are using a frog bait for haruan, let the fish have a good hold on the bait before striking. When using lures like spinner bait, spinners or spoons, the haruan will usually hook itself. 


    Keli - It’s usually gluttonous when taking bait. Chances are the fish will hook itself deep in the gullet. Using a barbless hook will make it easier for you to unhook the fish, and causes less harm. Just make sure your line is always taut when playing the fish. 


    Sebarau - The sebarau roves around rivers and lakes, slashing out at small baitfish before returning to the depths or under snags. Most anglers use lures for sebarau. Usually, there is no chance or need for striking; you would be busy holding on to the rod and keeping your balance! Make sure your lure hooks are strong enough to handle their awesome jaws! 


    Kelah - This fish has pharyngeal teeth situated deep in its throat. It will thus suck in the bait, taste it and either blow it out or crunch it. Whatever bait you use, make sure the hook point stands proud of the bait.  


    Rohu (right) - This is a nibbler, much like its cousins, the terbol, rong and ara-ara. The rohu bolts away when it feels the hook poke its lips. Smaller hooks are needed for rohu (size 10 to 6). If you find your bait being wasted by these tricky fish, you need to strike when your free-line or float indicates nibbling action. 


    Patin - River patin feed at the bottom and will hook themselves when swimming off with your bait. Pond patin take more time with their bites, sometimes nibbling at the bait before taking it confidently. It is best to allow the fish to swim off with the bait.  


    Pacu - It has strong teeth that can break even stainless steel hooks, let alone nylon leaders. Its feeding habits are much like pond patin. When bait-fishing for pacu, it’s best to use a circle hook of size 2 or larger, with braided leader of, say, 25lb. When a pacu takes off with your bait, let it take up the slack line. Do not strike. The tightening line will slide the circle hook to the side of its lips and the hook point will embed itself there.  


    Grass carp - Like most carp, it has pharyngeal teeth and feeds like the kelah. Grass carp fishing is a waiting game. The pastebait is usually free-lined. Set the rod on its bank-sticks (rod rests), and put a light indicator (e.g. tin foil paper) on the line between two-rod guides. The rise and fall of this indicator shows a feeding fish. When the whole line tightens up, lift the rod up firmly and strike. 


    Belida - It has a surprisingly small mouth compared to its large size. It feeds close to the bottom, sucking in small minnows or prawns. When a belida takes the bait, allow it to swim off with it. Only when it has taken up all your slack line, do you strike. 


    The ketutu, a self-hooking fish!

    KETUTU (Marbled Goby/ Emperor Fish) is considered a delicacy. You need deep pockets if you intend to have steamed ketutu for dinner at some of the city’s seafood restaurants!  

    But what makes the ketutu a unique fish is its feeding habit. It will take your bait of dead fish or prawn, and then simply lie still. Your line will register a twitch, then come back to rest.  

    Minutes later, when you reel in your line, you feel a heavy resistance as if your rig is snagged on a plastic bag. Then up comes this fish with its mouth wide open and your hook embedded in its gullet! 

    Obviously, the ketutu is not an angler’s fish for it has no fighting qualities. If you intend to release the fish, a pair of surgical pliers (or small long-nosed pliers) will help to disgorge the hook safely. 

    When you release the hapless fish, it will remain still in the water, pretending to be dead. Much later, it will slowly swim off. 

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