Finesse Fishing

Part 1: What Is Finesse?

DEFINITION: fi·nesse — Refinement and delicacy of performance. Skilful, subtle handling of a situation.
Finesse is just as applicable to the rough and tumble world of barramundi fishing as it is to any other form of angling, and will definitely improve your strike rates on barra.

Starlo says finesse is just as applicable to the rough and tumble world of barramundi fishing as it is to any other form of angling, and will definitely improve your strike rates on barra.

‘Finesse’, as it’s defined above, is the perfect word for describing an approach I often talk about in relation to successful fishing. It is the concept at the very core of my own fishing philosophy, the point of difference that separates my personal take on fishing from that of many other writers and commentators. It’s also the key, I believe, to becoming a better angler. Some people don’t like the word ‘finesse’. Others over use it, or misinterpret its definition. In my opinion ‘finesse’ is the best way of describing the subtle but critical factors that combine to spell the difference between a mediocre, so-so approach to fishing and one that lifts you into that elite 10 per cent circle. Yes, the group of grinning winners who catch 90 per cent (or more) of the fish taken each year. And trust me, this imbalance does exist. If you’re truly keen to make the jump from those masses who catch very little into the elite ranks who catch a lot of fish, you really need to take notice of the concept of finesse as it relates to recreational angling. If you apply the concept to your day-to-day fishing I promise that doing so will make a huge difference to your results.

SUBTLE, NOT SOFT!

The use of sophisticated and finely-tuned hard-bodied lures demands a reduction in line and leader thickness. It’s all part of walking the fine line that epitomises modern finesse fishing.

The use of sophisticated and finely-tuned hard-bodied lures demands a reduction in line and leader thickness. It’s all part of walking the fine line that epitomises modern finesse fishing.

To my mind, the idea of finesse fishing is all about using balanced, sensitive, responsive equipment that’s a pleasure to handle and use. Tackle that casts well, provides maximum feel and feedback to the angler, is effective at detecting bites, takes or strikes and setting hooks (even at long range), and has the strength and power necessary to control and land a hooked fish. Based on this specific, fishing-related definition, the term ‘finesse’ doesn’t always mean light, any more than it necessarily means soft nor delicate. In fact, it’s perfectly feasible to apply the concepts of finesse to 60kg line class chair-fishing game tackle aimed at catching ‘grander’ marlin or giant tuna. In that scenario, finesse might mean switching from huge skip baits or over-sized lures to slightly more modest offerings rigged with marginally smaller hooks, while also dropping a diameter or two in leader thickness in order to score bites on particularly tough days. A move from a 350 kilo breaking strain leader to a 200 kilo one, or a 16/0 hook down to a 12/0, would hardly be referred by most as ‘going light’ or ‘getting soft’. Yet, in my book, they still represent the intelligent application of finesse, it’s all relative. But finesse is more than this, it’s also a mindset and a way of responding to challenging fishing conditions as I’ll now explain.

 FIRST RESPONSE

The explosion of interest in bream fishing, especially using lures, has been one of the major forces driving the take-up of finesse fishing in this country.

The explosion of interest in bream fishing, especially using lures, has been one of the major forces driving the take-up of finesse fishing in this country.

I firmly believe that one of the very first things we should consider doing whenever our catch rates fall is to increase the finesse of our angling approach. This is always my first response to tougher fishing. Before I try anything else, I shift to longer, finer leaders, thinner main lines, and smaller hooks and lures. I make longer casts and also adopt a more stealthy approach to the water. These relatively simple finesse tactics work. I have proven this fact for myself and many other anglers countless times over the years in every imaginable fishing scenario from mullet to marlin. Our catch rates drop (or stay low in the first place) for all sorts of reasons. Common causes of low or reduced success rates include – adverse weather or water conditions, increased fishing pressure, reduced fish stocks and, perhaps the most critical of all, ‘smarter’ or more educated target fish. This, it should be said, is often a product and a symptom of increased fishing pressure, combined with reduced stocks. In every one of these scenarios, an increase in the finesse and sophistication of your tackle, rig, approach and presentation strategies will invariably result in an immediate improvement in results. Trust me: you will hook more fish by using finesse, it’s as simple as that. But carefully note that I said you will hook more fish. I didn’t guarantee that you’ll necessarily catch more. That’s because as we slide towards the finer end of the finesse scale, we also increase the fish’s chance of getting away once hooked. That’s a fact of life, and something I will deal with in more detail in future instalments of this series. For now, I simply want you to accept the fact that finesse works, and will improve your strike rate. Deciding exactly how far to walk along that line and how fine, light and subtle to go in your day-to-day fishing can only come with experience. There are no hard-and-fast rules or one-size-fits-all answers, but there is this underlying truth – you’ll hook more fish if you embrace the concept of finesse.  
Jo shows off a lovely silver trevally fooled with finesse tactics.

Jo shows off a lovely silver trevally fooled with finesse tactics.

Starlo with a whopping golden perch or yellowbelly ‘finessed’ on bream weight tackle and a small metal vibe. The only bite registered on a tough, slow day, Steve believes this fish would not have been caught at all without the application of finesse.

Starlo with a whopping golden perch or yellowbelly ‘finessed’ on bream weight tackle and a small metal vibe. The only bite registered on a tough, slow day, Steve believes this fish would not have been caught at all without the application of finesse.

Jo hooked up to a feisty Australian salmon on finesse spinning gear. Bright sun and clear water magnify the need for subtlety.

Jo hooked up to a feisty Australian salmon on finesse spinning gear. Bright sun and clear water magnify the need for subtlety.

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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