22 Mar Gear Review: Gear Up for Spring Schoolies
Spring Schoolies – Let the Games Begin
The clocks have turned ahead, the days are starting to warm up a bit and there is evidence of Crocuses and Daffodils beginning to poke from their beds adding the first color to their dreary surroundings. This has many Northeastern fishermen shifting their focus to spring schoolies and the promise of the upcoming season as our area waters begin to warm and once again fill with life. For me, the month or so from the first schoolie sighting, celebrated in these parts with all of the vigor of the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau in France, is the best opportunity to become reacquainted with and upgrade gear and tackle and strategize for the months ahead. It is a relatively small window and I rarely execute all of my intended grand plans for this period as I stumble into the season feeling unprepared and capable of forgetting one piece of essential gear or another (last May I drove all the way to a spot completely forgetting to put my rod and reel in the car). Given what I believe the reality of the state of our area fishing to be and always hoping to maximize the enjoyment of any time spent on or in the water, I have found myself going lighter and lighter each year as well as expanding the list of targeted species and tactics. Don’t overlook the fly rod if you too are headed in this direction, we’re seeing a definite trend in anglers returning to or picking up a fly rod for the first time. In most cases, I think these fishermen are doing so because they are looking for the next great challenge as well as adapting to the fishing that they are presented with along our shoreline in order to enhance their experience. We will again be offering Fly Casting 101 and Surfcasting 101 on many weekends throughout the Spring and early Summer. Check the calendar here.
There is no shortage of new products on the market and we are fortunate to have a remarkable selection of rugged and dependable reels that we can pair with braid friendly rods and super braids which, when combined correctly, will enhance your overall fishing experience. There’s new tackle galore and every which way to rig and fish it. The coming spring run of bass in our area is the perfect time to improve your light tackle set up and accessories which can then be used to target other species throughout the year.
You need only handle and crank out several turns on any of the reels pictured here to feel the quality with which they were designed and produced. Any reel in the 3000-4500 class is perfect for spring schoolie action and will serve double duty down the road when the scup and fluke arrive and then when the annual bonito and albie assaults occur. The Shimano Spheros is a common choice among the professional guides we outfit as it has a long reputation as a solid performer. The Quantum Cabo is fully redesigned and it’s fair to say over built for schoolies; but is tackle that is up to anything. A Van Staal is still the best investment that you can make in a spinning reel in my opinion and there are a number of other great options in varying price ranges from Shimano, Penn and others. My favorite reel from last season for these purposes was the Penn Battle 3500 but I keep playing with the new Spinfisher 3500 and really like the feel of it. I have had the opportunity to fish intermittently a 4500 since last fall and have had nothing but good results.
Similarly, there are some great 7’ to 8’ rod with a lighter rating that would be perfect rods to pair with these reels. I believe that the best way to get the most performance these days is to strap a braid friendly reel on a braid friendly rod and use a light Super Braid. The most “braid friendly” rods have either Low Rider guide layouts or K-Frames. This does not mean that you should exclude manufacturers and builders using traditional guides and layouts but you will find that they are not as efficient for handling the speed with which the line leaves your spool and you will experience tangles at the gathering guide and occasional knots resulting in lost lures. St. Croix has the best selection in this department in particular the Mojo, the redesigned Avid, and a rod that I recently discovered and love, the RAGE, with “micro-guides” will do just fine. St. Croix, Loomis, Star and others also offer some fantastic rods in 7 to 8 foot size range but the guide layouts are the traditional type and when casting light lures from shore I believe that you want every advantage. When you combine these elements you end up with a system that will allow you to cast with very little effort or issue, you will note the remarkable sensitivity through the rod and every fish will be an experience with your ability to feel each twitch of the tail and shake of the head. If you measure the quality of your allotted fishing time by total time spent on the water as well as the individual battles that each fish can provide, a 2 pound scup, a 26” schoolie or a screaming albie can all be a satisfying experience if you have the right gear. If you decide to gear up for the biggest fish that you might encounter in April and early May and all that you catch are smaller fish (which I think everyone must admit is reality in most cases) you are definitely missing out. Properly geared, you can have a ton of fun with the fish that you are most likely to hook, and if you happen to locate that larger specimen, you will have the challenge and satisfaction of really testing your angling skills. The right combination of rod reel and line will give you the casting ability and fish fighting power of a larger set up in a lighter, scaled down package.
There is no shortage of line options and that is a good thing; but it can be a daunting task to figure out what works best for you. I’d suggest you read “How to Select a Saltwater Fishing Line” as a guide to assist in your decision-making. Personally, I’ve always liked Power Pro and the new Slick 8 series performs very well. Suffix and Samurai have their own following and the Berkley Ultracast Invisabraid has become a very popular alternative to Power Pro of late. Nanofil and Microfuse are examples of the latest fused braids at present they are only available to 17lb test. Ideal for schoolies and they cast a mile; but not ready for the larger fish that will fill in before long.
My personal preference has become any “white” braid and the reason is simple. I’ve found it very difficult to manage line and tie knots and cut tag ends in low light conditions with a green or dark colored braid. Take a supple, dark, thin braid in windy, wet and dark conditions and try to tie a knot and it can be very frustrating. If you wrap your line around your kayak at night and it’s a dark colored line, good luck trying to find which way is up. I noticed immediately last season while fishing the Berkley Invisi-Braid that it is not only “not” completely invisible but that it illuminates at night when you shine a light on it which makes retying and dealing with snags and wind knots oh so much easier. But as I said in the beginning, braid selection is very much a matter of preference and it pays to try a few, ask friends or stop by the shop and we can give you a demonstration of what we are using and why.
This is also a great time to pick up some odds and ends to store your light tackle and make it easily accessible. There are many options in the “man purse” department and the universe of bucktail pouches and small plug and tin bags is constantly expanding.
It will not be long now so use this opportunity to gear up!