Now that you have your bait, take care of it. Fresh, or frozen, I keep my bait in a small cooler bag and only remove what I need to bait the hook. In warmer weather I include a small frozen water bottle to help keep things cold.
When using squid, I will commonly put 2 whole squid on the hook. I hold them together and put the hook through both at the same time at the pointed end, then turn the hook and put it back through them both again. For mackerel, depending on size, I will use the head cut off just behind the pectoral fins and 2-3 more chunks from the body. I usually cut off the tail from the section that contains it.
You will need rod holders. These can be purchased most tackle or sporting goods stores, or home made. Something as simple as 2-3 feet of 1 ½ inch schedule 40 PVC pipe with one end cut at a sharp angle works great. Just make sure your rod butt will fit in easily.
A light of some kind is essential. I use a headlamp to keep both hands free. Especially helpful when landing and releasing fish.
A knife to cut bait, pliers to pull hooks out and to cut line if you need to re rig.
Rubber boots to keep your feet dry in the water and mud.
After that, the rest is just personal needs, a couple beers, low key of course, some snacks, a rag to wipe your hands, and clothes suited to the weather.
Don’t forget a friend or two, it is good to have some company during slow fishing and good to have some help if the fishing is good.
Hooked One, Now What?
Ok, you have gotten your gear together, picked your spot, schlepped everything down to the waters edge, rigged up, pinned on a nice of bait, and cast out. At some point, you will get a bite. This is usually a long clicker screaming run that will make your heart pound, make you jump out of your chair and run to grab your rod. Other times it is just a subtle bump or bend in the rod.
If you get the screamer, grab your rod out of the holder, put it into gear and hold on tight. Turn the clicker off after you are sure all your friends know you have a fish on. Then set the hook with a couple good tugs. Most times by the time the fish is pulling drag the hook is firmly in its mouth, the hookset is just for security. Make sure your drag is set properly for the line you are using. I do this by hand and always have. One of these days I should measure it with a scale.
If you see a subtle bend, or maybe your line suddenly goes slack, you may have a bite. Put you reel in gear, take up the slack and set the hook. You will know if you have a fish on right away. Hooksets are free and if you didn’t have a bite, it is a good excuse to check your bait.
So, now you are hooked up, line is peeling off your reel, and you are wondering if you really do have enough line. Relax, keep a bend in the rod, and enjoy the fight. Let the drag do its job. At some point the fish will tire or turn and come towards you. This is when you gain some line back. Keep tension on the line and a bend in the rod, as the fish gets closer to shore, it is helpful to back up rather than reel in more line. This will put more of the force into pulling the ray into shore than into trying to lift it up.
Once you have your fish in the shallow water, it is time to pull it onto the beach. From in front of the ray, grab it using the two blowholes, one on each side of the head near the eyes. These make a convenient handle and if done carefully don’t harm the fish. This is when it is nice to have a friend around. Either to land the fish, hold your rod while you land the fish, or run to grab the pliers and camera to release the fish and get a picture.
Beware of the spine located near the base of the tail. It is not a pleasant experience to be stung. I recommend leaving the ray on the ground for pictures.
After landing the ray, and getting a couple pictures, turn it on its back and remove the hook. Then turn it back over and drag it back to water deep enough to cover it. It may swim off right away, or it may need to rest up after its ordeal. If you can see it moving water through its blowholes, it will be fine. They are tough creatures, but should be handled respectfully and returned to the water in a timely fashion.