Too Cool to Get Spooled? Good!

Submitted by Brett Fitzgerald on September, Sep 19, 2016

“Officers … responded to a sea turtle in distress near the Black Pearl Marina. The turtle was found tangled in fishing line that had a deceased snook attached to the hook. Employees from the marina were able to grab the turtle and place it on the dock unharmed. The green sea turtle was brought to Loggerhead Marine Life Center and is being treated.”

-FWC Law Enforement Weekly Report September 9 through September 15, 2016

The above report is real, and was part of the most recent FWC weekly enforcement report. This email report is my “Dear Abby,” the closest thing to a dose of weekly fishing gossip I can handle. I can peek around the state and see what our fine FWC officers are dealing with on a daily bases on our fishing waters.

In this case, the officer was not ticketing someone for out of season fish, or undersized fish. In fact, nobody was cited. But if you think there were no victims, you’re wrong. And if you don’t think that fishermen and women in general don’t suffer from instances like this, guess what? Wrong again.

First off, let’s look at what happened here. Presumably an angler hooked into a snook, intentional or not. One way or another, the fish overpowered the tackle and ran all of the fishing line from the reel, departing with all of the fishing line which then became a long snook leash.

Now that snook is dead – wasted. And the turtle was nearly killed too, and will at least require some kind of treatment at a specialized facility, costing time and money.

This hurts, and it hurts for many reasons. Wasted resources, unnecessarily killing and/or maiming wildlife, and leaving fishing garbage behind should anger every angler. I don’t know about you, but I have stopped wasting my time around people who don’t adhere to similar principals, and I spend a fair amount of time trying to explain why it is important to younger folks.

Recreational anglers fight many battles. Access, conservation of habitats, sensible regulations, and valid science – these are just some of the common battlegrounds where hours upon hours are spent by activists who believe in fishing. Irresponsible actions such as sending a fish off with a long leash of fishing line only serves to provide ammunition to those who don’t understand why we fish and would rather just see us go away.

On the subject of getting spooled, there are a few things you can do to make sure it never happens to you.

First: Make sure your reel is close to full capacity of line. Cutting segments out due to wind knots? Fine – just make sure you either tie a good line-to-line knot to add more, or just responsibly dispose of the line that is left and start fresh. And don't toss the line you cut. Dispose of it properly.

If you are using a spinning rod, mono line is considered ‘full capacity’ when you have about 1/8 inch showing at the inside rim of your spool. If you are using braid, you can fill it even closer to the rim.

With a spinning reel or bait caster, a fuller spool also helps you reel faster as each rotation nets more line.

Second: When necessary, tighten the drag, even during the battle. This might cut against what you have been told in the past (“Never touch the drag once the fish is on!”), but this is really an important thing to consider. If the fish is running away and you don’t feel you have a chance to turn it before you lose all of your line, you will lose the fish anyhow. And if the line runs out, the weak point is likely going to be the wimpy knot we usually tie when we first put line on the reel, resulting in a leash just like the FWC report above. Not good.

Third: If tightening the drag is not enough, you need to stop/slow the spool manually. On a spinning reel, this is pretty easy. You can literally grab the spinning spool, or apply pressure against the line on the spool with your palm. If you are throwing a bait caster, this is done by pressing your thumb(s) against the spool as it is whirring out. In either case, gloves can save your thumbs or fingers from getting burned.

Often these steps will allow you to regain control of the fish so you can land it for harvest or release, especially if you are using line of fairly good strength. Worst case scenario, your line breaks. This will happen at the weakest point, which is usually the knot at the leader connection or at the lure/hook. Either way, it is far better than losing all of your line.

Avoiding getting schooled – er, spooled – is as simple as 1-2-3. Keep those three steps in mind and you won’t have to tell the shameful story of irresponsible angling.

If you want to take things a step further and become one of the anglers who does more than just take care of your own impacts, here are some easy ways to have a positive influence.

Sticking with the theme of fishermen cleaning up after themselves, next time bring a trash bag or at least a grocery store bag (if you aren’t into re-usable grocery bags yet that is) and pick up trash. Whether you fish from a pier, jetty, shore or launch at a boat ramp, you will always see trash. Always. Most of it is not fishing related, and that’s fine. It is still garbage, and should still be picked up. Especially any plastics. Just do it. Please don’t leave fishing line you see in mangroves or along the shore. If you can safely retrieve it, just do it. Dispose of it carefully, either in the designated containers at the pier/ramp, or home in your trash. Please, just do it.

Logging your fishing trips in to the Angler Action Program (AAP) is the other simple way you can have a positive impact. The current seatrout stock assessment in Florida is using AAP data, and the scientists have reiterated that there are data sets we provide that they simply cannot get anywhere else, period. MRIP, dockside surveys, phone surveys – none of them provide the same info the AAP does. It also function as a great personal log book, which you can access to help plan your trips.

Visit, register and log your next fishing trip. Just do it.

Image notes - Top Right: Keep your spool full, giving you more time to adjust your drag and turn a big fish. Middle left: Always check for fishing line, especially in mangroves, before you leave a fishing spot. Bottom left: Battling a bruiser should never result in getting spooled. Manage your drag, manage your fish.

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