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Some of the best anglers I know are like muscle car enthusiasts. They constantly tweak their gear for maximum performance, adding subtle touches that you won’t find in stock equipment. Some of these upgrades improve nothing more than the comfort of a rod in your hand, allowing you to fish longer and easier. Others can change your entire approach to small-stream trout fishing or distance casting. But they all give you an edge that ultimately leads to more fish hooked and landed. These are 8 of the best you can do on your own this season.
8 Fishing Tackle Hacks and Modifications
Rope-Tape Your Grip
Skill Level: Basic
Having a good grip on your rod can make or break a fish fight, especially when you’re fishing for big species like salmon or muskies. Even if the rod’s handle is tucked under your arm, the less it slips and moves, the more control you maintain.
To increase that grip, try wrapping your handle hockey stick-style. Start with a spool of cloth stick tape, available at sporting-goods stores. Make a few wraps around the butt of the rod, unwind about a foot of tape, and spin the spool to create a thin tape rope. Wrap that rope in inch-wide spirals around the handle toward the reel. Next, wrap the tape flat back down the handle toward the butt, covering the thin rope.
Not only does this wrapping style boost your grip as you hold the rod; it’s extra protection against the rod’s slipping out of a holder on the troll.
Upgrade Your Lube
Skill Level: Basic
Remember the days when grandpa greased his reels with petroleum jelly or machine oil? Those do-it-all household lubes are old school to today’s reel technicians. Products such as Reel Saver (mil-comm.com) and Xtreme Reel Plus (xtremelubricants.com) feature micro-polymers and have high tolerances for heat and cold. They won’t gunk up inside the reel, and their densities are scientifically engineered to be just right for reducing friction without slowing down gear action. But most important, as much as they lubricate, these new oils protect internal parts from corrosion. So besides increasing performance, they’ll extend reel life considerably.
Make sure you remove all the old lubricant first. Some companies that produce high-end lubes also make special reel degreasers, but lighter fluid or mineral spirits can do the job.
Widen Your Gathering Guide
Skill Level: High
Cost: $15-$20 D.I.Y.; $50-$80 for professional installment
Ask a custom rod builder about common requests they receive, and one will be using a gathering guide wider than one typically used on stock rods. The gathering guide–the guide closest to the reel on a spinning rod–allows line to peel off the reel smoothly during the cast and feed back on the spool evenly during the retrieve.
A wide gathering guide offers several benefits: It will increase both casting accuracy and distance by giving the line more freedom of flow during the cast, and will let you feather the line more effectively when you need to put a frog between two pads. During the retrieve, a wider gathering guide can reduce kinking and memory by adding more tension to the line as it winds back onto the reel.
With a wider gathering guide, you also will be able to use a reel with a wider spool on a lighter rod. That means you can increase your line capacity without the need to downsize line strength and lure weight. And you’ll be able to use a lighter outfit for bigger fish.
Cut Out Short Strikes
Trim your plastics for more hookups.
One solution to bass tapping at a spinnerbait without connecting is to add a trailer hook. That’s fine for open water but can result in more snags around structure. Instead, trim the skirt so it hangs evenly with the hook bend.
2. Leg Shave:
Sometimes bass grab the skirt legs of a hollow-body frog lure and miss the hook. Trimming legs back even 1⁄2 inch can reduce short strikes and actually give frogs a smoother side-to-side glide when “walking the dog.”
3. Back Seat:
How many times have you reeled up a curly-tailed grub with the curly tail bitten off? Solve this by cutting away a portion of the front so the hook sits just in front of the tail. Cut back a soft-plastic shad for the same hook placement.
Rubberize Your Handle
Skill Level: Basic
You’ve probably walked by Plasti Dip (plastidip.com) in the hardware store a hundred times, but the liquid rubber has great tackle applications. Use it to coat the end of your reel handle for added grip when burning spinnerbaits or aggressively twitching jerkbaits. Your fingers won’t slip off from rain, sweat, or fish slime. You can also coat the front of your spinning reel’s drag cap for easier adjustment.
To increase grip even more, pour the amount you need for coverage into a separate container and mix in some fine sand.
Nail Down Bass
Hammer largemouths and smallmouths with these tricks:
1. Heavy Head:
Make a wacky-rigged worm or Senko even wackier by inserting a small finishing nail into the head of the bait. The soft plastic will flail more erratically.
Push a nail into a soft-plastic shad’s back just forward of the tail and run a plain hook through the nose. The lure will drop back when you pause the retrieve.
3. Craw Sticker:
Insert a finishing nail in the tail of a soft-plastic crawfish and hook the bait through the head. The nail keeps bait and hook at a better fish-hooking angle.
Make a Small-Stream Trout Outfit
Skill Level: Basic
Cost: $0 if you own components; $100-$400 if you buy components
Putting a spinning reel on a fly rod might not seem to make much sense unless you understand the intricacies of presenting tiny jigs and spinners on small streams full of easily spooked trout. The whippy tip makes it possible to toss light lures farther and with more accuracy than a short spinning rod. Likewise, the length allows you to fish tight seams and eddies without casting at all. When a trout strikes, the longer, softer rod lets you maneuver it around rocks and overhanging limbs more delicately.
Some steelhead anglers customize such outfits further by fitting fly rods with large gathering guides and spinning-reel seats; for small streams, those tweaks aren’t necessary. Ultralight or ice-fishing reels will fit the seats of most 3- to 5-weight fly rods. If you prefer a longer grip, tape the reel in place farther up on the rod’s handle.
Convert Your Bail to Manual
Skill Level: Moderate
Pro bass anglers rarely, if ever, trip the bail on their spinning reels by turning the handle. That’s because closing the bail with the handle can spin a little slack line onto the spool, which can lead to twisting. The bail is also the part of a spinning reel that fails most often. To prevent knots and malfunction, unscrew the side plate that houses the internal bail gears and remove the spring. Some reels require the removal of small bail-tripping mechanisms as well, but on many models, ditching the spring will suffice.
A manual bail forces you to close it by hand, letting you keep tension on the line by flipping it as soon as your bait or lure splashes down. Mikesreelrepair.com has an extensive catalog of free reel schematics that can help you remove the correct parts.