Gearing Up with the Right Tackle to Fish Coastal Waters

On the right tide and with the right tackle

If you ask a bait camp operator or an old salt at the fish-cleaning table, “How’s the fishing?” you might get a glowing answer. They might tell you, “Man, you should have been here yesterday. They were absolutely jumping in the boat!”

In all my years of fishing the coast, I have never “been there yesterday,” and I’ve never had fish “jumping in the boat,” unless you count an errant jumping mullet or two. I have had my share of banner fishing trips when the tides and the waters were right and the fish were feeding. On those occasions when the fish are there, you need to have the knowledge, the skills, and the right equipment to catch them. You need to take advantage of the window of opportunity to put fish in the boat.

I may get some argument over this, but overall, the Texas coast is level-wind reel country. Most serious trout chasers and redfish rustlers are armed with a quality open-faced level-wind reel and a solid built graphite rod. When you spot someone with an inexpensive closed-face spinning rig and a tackle box full of cheap snap swivels and those stiff, store-bought, pre-tied leaders, it is usually the sure sign of an inexperienced novice.

I cut my saltwater fishing teeth on the old Ambassadeur “red reels”. In fact, I still have a shelf full of them of different vintages. Even though I have a few more modern Shimano, Quantum, and a shiny silver Ambassadeur Model 6500, I still revert to using the smooth working old red reel occasionally.

Although there are some quality bail-type spin-cast reels out there, I have never been comfortable with them. They have been popular on the East Coast for many years, but I have found them awkward and clunky. It’s a matter of performance and personal preference. No matter what style of reel you choose, make sure it is top quality. Buy the best you can afford, take care of it, and it will serve you well for many years. The world of saltwater fishing is a harsh environment. Don’t even think about going near the salt water with a cheap or flimsy-built fishing reel.

Although few macho fishermen will admit it, the reason many of them stick to closed-face spinning or spin-cast tackle is that they can’t effectively cast the level-wind reel without backlashing. My advice to those is to buy a casting plug, find some space, and learn to master the bait-casting reel before going on the next fishing trip.

As far as terminal tackle, I know that snap swivels are convenient and are easier and quicker to tie on. Using them, especially the cheap ones, is courting disaster. A big fish can pull them open during a fight and be gone before you realize it.

Another problem with snap swivels is that on days you may be fishing exceptionally clear water and the fish are spooky or finicky, they will avoid anything that looks unnatural. If you insist on using swivels, make sure they are the black ones, or you can spray paint your own to make them less visible.

Using those stiff, store-bought leaders with all those cute little red beads may be easy and convenient. However, if you tie your own terminal tackle, you can use lighter leader material, and this strategy will allow your bait to look more natural. Fish will only eat what looks natural to them. For example, it may be difficult to get a fish to eat a live shrimp that does not look or swim like the other shrimp he has been used to eating. If you are serious about your fishing, it only takes a little extra effort to fine-tune your tackle and fishing techniques.

No matter what terminal rigging is preferred, the salty coastal angler uses a short shock leader to guard against the sharp snaggle teeth of trout, flounder, or the occasional Spanish mackerel.

Too many people ignore the importance of the fishing rod. As the golfer would never go to the course with just one club, the experienced fisherman never goes to the water with just one rod. Most fishermen I know wouldn’t think of going on a serious fishing trip without an extra rod or two rigged and ready for action.

Whether wade fishing or fishing from a boat, an all around choice is a good, two-handed rod in the 6’ to 7’ range with a fairly soft tip. The softer tip provides a cushion for sluggish striking fish to get a better grip on a passing lure or bait. If the slow striking cold-weather trout is lightly hooked, the soft tip will prevent you from pulling out the hook.

There are two other often-overlooked things to remember about your fishing gear. Make certain that your reel is clean and oiled and working smoothly. Also make sure your reel is filled with fresh, top quality line.

There is no time to trust a balky drag and a brittle line when fighting a thrashing trophy trout. It can break your line, and it can break your heart.