Still-Fishing And Dock-Fishing

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On a famous Trout stream in New England, a city slicker with plenty of expensive fly tackle, but not a single fish met a barefoot boy who had caught several huge Trout with a bent pin on a piece of string.

"What did you catch 'em on ?" he asked.

"Mister, you can't improve on Nature!" answered the boy, holding up a can of fat worms.

It's more interesting and more sporting to use the artificial fish-foolers, but seldom will any of them beat a piece of natural bait on your hook when you want to catch the most fish and the largest. Moreover, lures must be kept moving or they won't fool anything because it's their motion through the water that gives them a lifelike action. Even a dry fly must be given a realistic twitch or two, so that old Mr. Trout will think it's still kicking. And to make lures move, you must troll them or cast and retrieve them. Bait can be trolled, or cast and retrieved, too, but it isn't necessary. You don't have to help a worm squirm. Just drop him overboard, and he'll do it by himself. So will a frog, crawfish, grasshopper, and all the others. This fishing without casting, while you let your bait do all the luring, is called "still-fishing," and it's the same whether you're dangling from a dock, or getting blisters from the hard seat of a rowboat, or lounging like Cleopatra on the soft cushions of a cabin cruiser.

Rods, Reels and Lines

Still-fishing requires no special tackle, but don't use an ordinary string because it might not be strong enough. And don't use a bent pin because it has no barb on its point to hold either the bait or fish. Your tackle can be a fly-casting, bait-casting, spinning, or spin-casting outfit or a simple hand line which is a length of fish line wound on a wooden or plastic holder. A rod, of course, will let your fish fight harder when he's hooked; with a hand line, all you do is haul him in hand-over-hand. And a rod will enable you to cast your bait farther from the boat or dock. Use the same line that's on your casting outfit—unless it's an expensive fly line. Then it's wiser to save it for its specialized job of fly-casting and substitute a cheap bait-casting line. Nylon lines are best for both fresh water and salt water. And level leaders are stronger than tapered ones.


A "bobber" is commonly used in fresh-water still-fishing. It's a float that attaches to your line and lets you know when a fish is tugging on your hook. In its simplest form, it's no more than a big cork with a slit in its side into which you wedge the line. Its distance from the hook determines how far the hook will sink. Bobbers sold in tackle stores are more elaborate, but they work the same way. Some are pear-shaped and ride upright on the water. Others are long thin tubes that lie flat. Both types are brightly colored, so you can see them clearly. The pear-shaped kind bobs up and down when a fish nibbles, and when it starts to move away or disappears completely, you jerk the line to set the hook because then you know the fish has a firm hold on the bait. The tube kind stands straight up in the air when a fish nibbles and ducks out of sight when he runs with it. The disadvantage of a bobber is that when you're using it with a rod, you can't fish deep. Usually, you can go no deeper than the length of your rod because you can reel in only a certain length of line before the bobber strikes your top tip guide and stops. The only way you can get the hooked fish is to pull him in by hand. Some bobbers are made with hollow cores so they can slide down the line, but they're not easy to use. The salt-water still-fisherman, who almost always must fish deep, seldom bothers with a bobber.


Hooks for still-fishing with a hand line or with bait-casting tackle, either in freshwater or salt water, should be the "snelled" kind. These are eyeless hooks, each with a 10- or 12-inch nylon leader, or "snell," fastened to its shank. At the other end of the snell is a loop to which you tie your line. The purpose of the snell is invisibility; since the fish can't see it, they're less suspicious of your baited hook. Snelled hooks can be used with fly-casting, spinning, and spin-casting tackle, also, but they're not necessary. With fly-casting tackle, you already have an invisible leader, and the monofilament lines of spinning and spin-casting reels also are invisible. In these cases, eyed hooks will serve just as well. For fish with sharp teeth, always still-fish with hooks that are snelled with heavy, twisted nylon. The fish will bite through them anyhow, but not as often—and without snells, you're not likely to get any bites at all on a heavy line.

Hooks come in many sizes. For practical use, No. 6/0 is the largest. Next smaller is 5/0, then 4/0, etc., down to 1/0, after which the sizes start downward from No. 1 to No. 16, which is the smallest. The size you need depends upon two things: the size of the fish's mouth and the kind of bait you use. The hook with bait on it obviously must be small enough for the fish to grab. For example, the average Bluegill has a small mouth and takes about No. 6. But a Largemouth Black Bass can gobble a No. 2/0 with no trouble. Why not the small Bluegill hook for Bass? Not recommended because a small hook is made of thin wire and is weaker than a large one. Besides, it has too small a curve and instead of penetrating a Bass's mouth, in most instances, it will just catch under the skin and pull free easily. From the standpoint of bait, however, you frequently have to take your chances with a small hook because a large one will kill your bait too quickly. Bass like grasshoppers, but how long will a grasshopper stay alive on a big No. 2/0 Bass hook? Here it is better to settle for a Bluegill hook or use one slightly larger and tie the grasshopper to it with thread.

 An objection anglers frequently have to small hooks for bait is that fish usually swallow them completely and so are hooked inside the stomach instead of the mouth. Then, when a fish is smaller than legal size, it can't be returned to the water unharmed because it's impossible to unhook it without fatally injuring it. Mouth wounds are almost never fatal, but a fish must be cut open for the removal of a hook from its innards. Fish biologists have come up with a startling remedy, however. They recommend that when a small fish swallows your hook, cut the snell as far down its throat as possible, then return it to the water with the hook still in its stomach. They've found that in most such cases, the hooks miraculously dissolve, and the fish live.`

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