Catching Natal snoek on wireline

By Jono Booysen

[Originally published in the September 2020 issue of SKI-BOAT magazine]

ANYBODY who has fished in a tournament under IGFA regulations will be familiar with the rule “no wireline is permitted”. Today, most people will just glance over it thinking “Why would anyone ever use wireline?”.
The practise of trolling with wireline has been around for many decades and, if used correctly, can produce unprecedented results, especially when targeting Natal snoek.
The idea of using wirelines came about when anglers encountered trouble with fish in deep water and strong current. They wanted to get their lines down deeper without using downriggers or weights. The solution was to make the line itself heavier.

Wire line was heavier and thinner than equivalent breaking strain nylon or mono lines and thus has less resistance in the water. As a result, it sank faster. One of the added benefits was that it was not prone to twisting like other lines are. This meant that it was perfect to use for lures such as Clark spoons and drones.
In the mid-1980s to ’90s wirelines became very popular among anglers in the St Lucia and Mapelane area when targeting snoek in the backline. The sheer numbers of fish caught using this method was unreal, so much so that it became taboo and, according to Gary Heath, their use was met with the same disgust as someone caught moving their golf ball on a green.
As a result, most of the once “go-to” wireline outfits were stowed in the roof and forgotten. I know of only a small handful of anglers that still have these wireline rigs that they use. Every now and then, when the snoek are acting, well, like snoek do, it’s time to break out the old gear, wipe off the dust and put them to work.
The reels that one should use are not your typical state of the art setups that most serious anglers are currently using. Instead the old school Penn Senator and Penn 49, both with steel spools, are better suited for this application.
The reason for this is that whenever two types of non-compatible metals come into contact, especially in the presence of saltwater, there is a reaction which causes corrosion. This damages the spool as well as the wireline.
To overcome this, I use a Daiwa 450 filled with 50 lb mono backing and attach the wireline topshot using an Albright knot. I try to spool the wire so that it does not come into contact with the sides of the spool. This, combined with regular use of anti-corrosion spray made for fishing tackle prevents any major corrosive issues.
When it comes to rods, there are specialised rods available in the United States that are designed with fancy guides to handle the punishment that wireline puts on them. The most important feature of a wireline rod is that the tip needs to be on the soft side. Obviously wire does not have any stretch, and the soft tip helps cushion the fast jerks from a fish and keep the hook in place. With a soft tip the action of the lure is also magnified, making it easy to see if there are any snags.

I suggest buying an old solid fibreglass rod and putting steel ring guides on it. I also prefer having a roller tip on the rod.
Trolling wire is a bit pricier than braid and hard to come by in South Africa. It comes in a stainless steel or monel nickel-copper alloy option in breaking strains from 6kg to 45kg. If you do decide to give this type of fishing a try, I can suggest using the AFW stainless steel in 70 lb breaking strain. It is strong enough for most applications and there are 300 yards on the spools but bulk spools are also available.
When spooling the reel I put half a spool on a reel, then you can at least have two outfits to use. It is very important to maintain the wire in a good condition. After each day’s fishing, pull all the wire off and wind it back on through a cloth soaked with tackle cleaner. If you don’t do that you run the risk of having the wire break on the spool while you are letting the lure out — a rather costly experience.
So now you have a reel spooled with wireline on an appropriate rod, but what’s next? This is really the easy part. All that is left to do is attach a section of mono leader onto the wireline using an Albright knot and then tie on your lure of choice.
There is not much room for finesse in wireline fishing, so leader size is not all that important and comes down to personal preference. Many of the old salts believed that a 2m section of pink commercial bottomfishing line was fine to use. I tend to go with a short section of clear 50 lb leader. This leader adds some stretch to the rig and allows the lure to have a better action. Not to mention the fish would probably not bite anything attached directly to thick shiny wireline.
Some days I will tie this leader directly to the lure and other days I use a section of wire, it all depends on how lucky I feel.
The lure I prefer to use on wireline is a good old Huntington drone size 21⁄2 (41⁄4 inches long). Drones have been around for over a century and still work today. They are available in different sizes from just over an inch to around 8 inches and catch pretty much anything that swims.
The action of these lures when trolled on a wireline is so aggressive that the whole setup rattles. The soft tip on the rod really promotes this erratic action. Trolling speeds are roughly 3- to 4 knots, but the easiest way to ensure optimum lure action is to pull the lure alongside the boat and see which speed you get the best action at and then troll at that speed, bearing in mind that trolling too fast will cause more drag on the line and reduce the depth of the lure.
As far as lure spread is concerned, if you are trolling wirelines try to stick to only wirelines. A combination of conventional nylon rigs and wirelines is a recipe for massive tangles. Pulling four lines is the preferred spread, with two small drones or Clarkspoons and two medium drones.

Let the entire length of wireline out and only keep a few turns on the reel. When you get a strike on this unorthodox heavy trolling gear, you can’t play the fish as you would on standard tackle; this is a no nonsense, “bugger the ethics” kind of fishing. You want to get the fish into the boat asap.
Keep the boat at the same speed and either wind the reel in the holder or keep the rod tip as high as possible to get the fish’s head out the water and its body on the plane where you can skip it in towards the boat. When it’s on the leader I find it safer to just lift it in by the leader. If you wait for the fish to present itself for a gaff shot, more often than not, the thrashing fish shakes the hook free as there is a big hole around the hook from the heavy pressure.
Wireline fishing is a very unique style of fishing that is steeped in history. It is unique in that it is a really heavy, in your face, no finesse fishing technique that works brilliantly for one of the most finnicky species that swims along our coast. Hopefullythis method is not forgotten during this year’s snoek run, as it still produces excellent results especially when everything else has failed and you find yourself getting down to the wire.

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