Off the Porch: Saint Croix rod was the perfect choice for the task
The spot was perfect for the time we were fishing. The tide was rolling out of Bogue Sound and the current was pulling the bait over the top of a little bar that extended out into the inlet. The water dropped off from a foot or two to about four feet and the puppy drum were holding in the wash. Our original plan had been to catch specks, as spotted sea trout are commonly called along the Crystal Coast, but the trout weren’t there. I’m a firm believer in fishing for what’s biting, and we changed over to fishing for puppies.
I was using the new Saint Croix Gulf Coast Legend Inshore rod, and it was the perfect choice for the task. We were tossing 3/8 ounce jig heads baited with Berkley Gulp, into pooled water above the bar and retrieving them across as they dropped into the deeper water. I’d chosen a seven foot, medium light Legend rod that I’d used before on redfish in Lake Charles, Louisiana. That trip was from a boat, but this time we were fishing from the beach at the mouth of the Bogue Inlet. The Legend was the perfect choice, allowing me great casting distance with the light baits, and having enough to handle frisky puppies in the 22” range. I’ve got another trip planned to Lake Charles later this month and I can assure you that the Saint Croix Legend will be going along for the ride.
I’ve been a fan of Saint Croix ever since I toured their plant in Park Falls, Wisconsin in 2010. The plant is just a few miles from my sister, Margie’s, house in Butternut. We toured through the entire plant and I was impressed that Saint Croix is a small company with a long history of making high quality tackle. Made in the USA and with the finest materials, the Legend line of rods offers state of the art blanks, the best in components, and real craftsmanship.
I matched the Legend with a light Pflueger casting reel and ten pound mono for casting distance. The rod is remarkably light and responsive without having a whippy feel. I suspect this is because of their Integrated Poly Curve® design that allows the taper of the rod to be an increasing taper, giving more sensitivity without sacrificing the backbone needed for handling big fish. The Legend uses Kigan Master Hand Zero Tangle guides with zirconia rings and titanium frames for protection against saltwater corrosion. It has a Fuji® SK2™ split reel seat and a split-grip cork handle.
I know a spinning rod and reel is easier to use, but there’s something about a racy, lightweight baitcaster that just makes fishing more fun. I think part of this is the line being so close to the axis of the rod makes the whole package seem more integrated, I also like fighting a fish better with a casting reel and the handle on top of the rod instead of below.
Recently, there’s been a lot of improvements to fishing rods. Saint Croix products represent the leading edge of that technology. The Legend Inshore Gulf Coast isn’t a rod built with cost as a determining factor. It isn’t cheap at just under $300, but it is a rod that will last through your lifetime and give you a lot of great days of fishing.
Fighting big fish on light tackle
When the conditions allow, I fish light tackle because light lines allow greater casting distance and greater responsiveness and feel. Light lines require light rods, but they don’t require short rods. I chose the seven foot Legend Gulf Shore because the greater leverage allows me more casting distance and complements the light line. Just because you have a light rod and reel and line doesn’t mean you can’t catch really big fish.
Several years ago, my friend Dan Yates hooked a big striper on a tiny seven foot ultralight rod with six pound line. We’d been fishing the Roanoke for hickory shad and decided to drift a section of river with some threadfin shad. It took about thirty minutes, but Dan boated that striper on that tiny rod in spite of the fact we had to dodge other boats with anchor lines out on a narrow river. Here are some tips to remember if you’re lucky enough to hook a fish that’s bigger than the tackle you’re using. These techniques will work whether you have a six pound bass on a crappie rod or a marlin on a dolphin rig.
Keep your drag adjusted low
In theory, you should be able to eventually catch a 100 pound fish on six pound line and it has been done but the key is drag management. Resist the temptation to increase the drag and stop a run. When the fish takes a lot of line, the only time you should tighten the drag is when you can see the last few wraps of line on the spool. The reducing diameter of the line on the spool has the effect of increasing the drag and, if you do anything, it should be to reduce the drag as the spool gets smaller.
Tie good knots
Good knots are the only way to catch big fish on light line. Learn to tie good knots and pull on every knot to test it. Practice tying knots and pulling on them with a fishing scale so you know you’re tying good knots. This will give you some confidence if that big one decides to hit your lure. Retie your knots, both for terminal tackle and leaders, for every fishing session.
Steer the fish
By holding the rod horizontally against the pull of the fish, you can change his direction. If your potential trophy heads for the brushpile where you know he’ll break you off, try to turn him. Hold the rod perpendicular to the fish and make him fight the drag in the direction you want him to go. Remember, if you can turn the fish’s head, you can turn the fish.
Chase him if you have to
When Dan caught his seventeen pound striper on six pound line, we had to maneuver the boat or Dan would have been spooled in the first three minutes. We first chased Dan’s fish up river and then fought to keep him from going downriver and tangling in anchor lines. When the spool got thin, we made a little run to get line back, but we did it slowly so the fish didn’t get a chance to rest.
Don’t blow it at the end of the fight
Most fish are lost when they’re almost on the boat or beach. As the fish gets close to the boat or beach, take a deep breath and figure out a strategy. Keep him away from other lines and watch out for the boat and trolling motors. Any anchor lines should be pulled in and be ready to run around the boat if the fish goes under it.
Landing a really big fish on light line is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Losing a trophy right beside the boat is memorable as well, but not nearly as pleasant to remember.