Finesse Fishing part 2: Why does finesse work?

Starlo with a big dusky flathead taken on a lure. Flathead aren’t renowned for being the shyest nor most cunning of customers, but you’ll still hook more (and larger) flatties if you employ a little extra finesse.

Starlo with a big dusky flathead taken on a lure. Flathead aren’t renowned for being the shyest nor most cunning of customers, but you’ll still hook more (and larger) flatties if you employ a little extra finesse.

Last month, for the launch edition of Kaydo, we looked at the concept of applying ‘finesse’ to fishing and I offered you my definition of this term as it applies to our sport. This time ‘round I’ll explain why the application of finesse is capable of improving strike rates in nearly every form of recreational angling. Why is it that the application of this relatively simple philosophy of making everything lighter, finer, longer, quieter and subtler can hook us so many more fish over the long run? To answer this question we need to first understand that fish are incredibly well-adapted to their environments and have finely-tuned senses dedicated to just three tasks: detecting danger, finding food and reproducing. The ability of fish to detect and flee from potential danger makes it obvious why we should avoid roaring at speed in our boats over shallow areas where we intend to cast a line, waving our arms wildly when fish are clearly visible, or noisily rattling chains over boat gunwales as we anchor up at our chosen spot. But how are those fishy senses and modes of danger detection tied to the finer line selection and simplified rigging aspects of finesse fishing? What’s the connection?
Mulloway or jewfish can be cautious, flighty targets and are often difficult to fool, especially when using lures during daylight hours. Finesse helps to trick these suspicious fish.

Mulloway or jewfish can be cautious, flighty targets and are often difficult to fool, especially when using lures during daylight hours. Finesse helps to trick these suspicious fish.

Concealing the trap

It’s my firm belief that increasing the finesse of our tackle and fishing methods decreases the chances of fish sensing danger in the ‘trap’ we’re effectively setting for them, while increasing the food-like appeal of our bait, lure or fly. At its most basic level, the application of finesse simply makes it harder for fish to detect the fact that our lure or bait has strings attached. Keeping our line and leader thinner and reducing the number and size of terminal items (sinkers, swivels, rings and so on) attached to that line ahead of the bait or lure reduces the likelihood of these things being detected by a fish and, if they are detected, makes them seem less obvious and less threatening. In a perfect world, what we’re aiming for is an impression that our lure or bait is real food and safe to eat. Ideally, we don’t want that representation of a potential meal looking like it is attached to anything suspicious. In reality, I suspect that the chances of our rigs truly appearing to be free-swimming or free-drifting and not connected to anything are pretty slim. I’ve seen plenty of underwater photos of lures or baits attached to various thicknesses of line and leader. I’ve even donned a facemask and flippers on many occasions to get in there and have a look for myself. In almost no instances is that line or leader (no matter how fine) completely invisible to my human eyes. I have little reason to believe that it would be completely invisible to most fish’s eyes either. However thinner, finer and clearer leaders and lines are much less obvious to my eyes in these photos and underwater observation sessions than thicker, more opaque strands. It seems reasonable to assume that if these finer connections are unobtrusive enough, they become almost an incidental part of the total picture and are therefore largely ignored by the fish.

Finer lines lead to enhanced action

Trout fishing is one angling style where finesse has long been accepted as an essential philosophy for success.

Trout fishing is one angling style where finesse has long been accepted as an essential philosophy for success.

There are other ways in which the use of fine lines, thin, transparent leaders and a lack of terminal accessories in the form swivels, rings, sinkers and snap clips can improve our fishing results. One of the most important is the manner in which the application of these finesse components enhances the action and life-like appearance of our offerings. Thick lines and leaders and the addition of unnecessary terminal items to our rigs have a tendency to sandbag the actions of baits or lures and reduce our ability to present or manipulate them in a truly natural or life-like manner. Thick lines also slow the drop rates of sinking lures or weighted bait rigs, and reduce the running depth of many lures when casting or trolling. Put simply, thick, crude rigs with too many obviously man-made bits hanging off them don’t tell a very convincing ‘lie’ to the fish, nor do they set a particularly effective trap. As a result, they don’t fool as many fish as more subtle set ups.
Trout fishing is one angling style where finesse has long been accepted as an essential philosophy for success.

Trout fishing is one angling style where finesse has long been accepted as an essential philosophy for success.

It’s the subtle factors that really count

In addition to the fairly obvious ways just described in which finer lines and leaders and less terminal accessories can enhance the appeal of our rigs, there are many other, even more subtle factors at work when it comes to explaining the inherent effectiveness of the finesse approach. One really interesting area that we know only a little about at this stage is the subject of the sound waves or ‘sonic signature’ produced by thick line versus thin line and rough line versus smooth line. We do know that most fish have excellent hearing, as well as an ability to detect vibrations and pressure waves travelling through the water via their lateral lines. There’s good reason and abundant evidence to indicate that these senses of sound and vibration detection are sharply-tuned enough in some species to alert them to the presence and movement of thicker lines in the water, especially if these strands have a rough or textured surface capable of creating tiny areas of cavitation and thus increased vibration. The bottom line (pardon the pun!) is plain enough: finesse works, and it does so for both the reasons we can know and easily understand, along with some we can only guess at. Accepting this truth is a big step on the road to becoming a more successful angler.

About Steve Starling

Steve Starling is one of Australia’s most prolific and widely recognisable fishing communicators. With four-decades of experience as a specialist angling writer and on-screen presenter Starlo, as he’s better known these days, draws on a rich wealth of knowledge that runs the full angling spectrum -from ultra-light tackle fly fishing to big game fishing for the giants of the ocean.

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