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Handline Fishing Theory / Handline Fishing Practice

I haven't been seaside this week to fish so I make up for the lack of practice by developing my Handline Theory.

You may wonder why I choose to fish with  a handline when the whole world seems  to prefer rod and reel. But that is a misconception as there are some still active handline traditions in Singapore, the Pacific Islands,and  parts of Mexico and Puerto Rico to name a few locales. Hemingway's famous novella, The Old Man and the Sea -- which recounts an epic battle of wills between an old, experienced Cuban fisherman and a giant marlin -- is a fish story  tied together by  a handline.

But imagine, if you will, how easy it is to go fishing when you main item of equipment is a handline such as my beloved Streamline Handline  which can fit in my pocket. That was what first got me hooked. This is low tech hunter gathering.

Once I got into the swing of it -- and you need to swing it to cast -- I improved on the simplicity by using soft plastic baits.
I had no need to rely on fresh bait either dug up, caught  or purchased. I could be more ecologically considerate by not destroying nature to capture edibles of my culinary preference; and with soft plastics you are always ready to go.

With nothing between your fingers and the lure at its depths, it is like being a puppeteer imagining a show you put on underwater for Mr Fish. I had no interest in fishing if it meant dropping a line and waiting. Having to play  the lure and work it -- in the way fly fishing people do -- made fishing for me a very active and exciting  pursuit.

Handline fishing with plastic lures is never boring and with each cast who knows what messages may come back up the line?

Of course, you pay a price for using a handline. While I can cast 30 feet/15 metres, father with the wind behind me or with a heavier weighted end, a fishing rod and reel setup will carry your bait and hook further (in the same way that a sling shot will throw a stone some distance). I compensate for that drawback by entering the water and wading. Whereas your standard fishing person will position themselves on the shoreline or bank and stay rooted to the one spot I work a large area by advancing up to my waist and casting at spots that take my fancy. So on any given day I may work an area 200- 300 metres long, back and forth. I'll follow the sandbanks out on foot to explore the drop offs at close quarters.

[Safety note: I wear shoes to protect my limbs from stingrays, sharp rocks and stonefish and I shuffle forward as in the muddy waters of Moreton Bay estuaries you cannot see the bottom. ]


This has required me  to be mobile and self contained.  I work with a creel hanging from my shoulder and this carries the various knickknacks for rigging my line  and fishing.

This focus on a limited range of equipment has caused me to study my methods in order to fine tune them.

I am also experimenting with bubble floats. Because I can run the line freely through one of the eyelets on the float (pictured above right) I can change the angle between myself and the jig head and lure. This allows me to instill more play in the lure's movement so that I can occupy any depth in the water column rather than being sentenced to the bottom or top layers depending on my lure weight and the angle of the line to my hand. This discovery is exciting as it allows me much more creative use of the handline even in situations over rocks and around snags. I have more control up and down when once  I was forced primarily to draw on  the line diagonally  at very acute angles. This is where the theory part kicks in as I'm trying to improve that last few centimetres if line that runs to the lure so that my free running float is protected from floating off when the line may be cut or when it's snagged.
I've experimented so far with various beads and strips, metal clips and such -- and am now thinking, since I want to preserve the  appeal of the lure, that a dab of  clear Superglue on the line  just before the jig head/hook may do the trick (or may not) as a sort of wax stopper.That or maybe a small clear plastic bead if I can locate a supply.
  These round bubble floats  can be filled or part filled with water so that not only  do you get a 'float' with each cast, but the added weight of the water increases the line load so that you can throw the lure further without having to wear the lure sinking to the bottom and staying at that depth -- as you would if you relied on lead weights for the descent.
It is also exciting to discover that in Eastern Europe, at international fishing tournaments and with garfishing (gars are  surface feeders) in the Aegean -- using floats like this is common. Carp in Europe are also often fished  using floats. But here, using floats doesn't seem to generate a following except among those who rock fish and support their lure above the rocky bottom by using cork to float it.
Floatfishing has some unique advantages that I am keen to explore:
  • It helps cast the bait
  • It carry's the bait in the swim.
  • It helps to present the bait naturally or un-naturally, by slowing it down or speeding it up.
  • It registers a bite visually.
  • It can also help to land the fish. (guiding the fish out of snags)
  • It can under certain circumstances attract the fish to the bait.
  • It can now carry burley and other attractants into the swim.
  • It can help you fish in the dark with a light on top.
  • It can cast tremendous distances.
So that's the drum on handline fishing by a person who has no desire to take up a rod. Between me and the line (and the fish's strike) there isn't a darn thing.