Put the expensive gear and toys away. Test your true skill by handline fishing.
Handline fishing, or handlining, is one of the oldest forms of fishing. It is also one of the simplest forms of fishing out there. People have relied on this tactic since the early Egyptians all the way to contemporary times.
Handline fishing offers some advantages over what we consider traditional fishing. There is very little equipment involved so you don’t have to worry about damaging poles, reels malfunctioning, or any broken tackle. All that is required is a bottle or stick, some heavy fishing line, a hook, and sinker. Everything can be carried in one hand or tucked away in your backpack until you need it.
My favorite part about handline fishing is being able to feel the raw power of a fish as you try to land him. There is literally nothing between you and the fish but the line. You can feel every little thing that is going on from the strike to every move it makes during the fight to shore. It is a very unique experience that you will never get with a fishing pole.
To start, let’s go over how to make yourself a handline fishing rig. It is extremely simple and takes a whole 10 minutes to put together. If you already fish, you should have everything you need; if not, it will cost you about eight dollars to get going.
1. Spool– Your spool is what holds your fishing line. It can be a small flat or round piece of wood, a stick, or even a coke bottle.
2. 20 Yards Heavy Fishing Line– You don’t necessarily have to have heavy fishing line. Just remember there is no rod and reel to help control drag or the fight. It is the only thing between you and the fish. I recommend at least 12-pound test; I use 20-pound because I use it in a river, so you never know what might hit your line.
3. Hooks, Weights, and Bobbers– I have a small pocket kit of hooks and weights I carry with me in case I want to switch up what I am going after. A bobber can be used with this setup, but I mainly use it to fish bottom.
4. Bait– You can use artificial lures while handline fishing buy they can be very difficult to get a smooth retrieve going with them. I mainly use live baits because this is all about simplicity.
5. Gloves– This is optional but I wear a pair of fingerless gloves while handline fishing. It helps you keep a better grip on the line and stops the line from cutting into or burning your hand if you are fighting a bigger fish.
Take your fishing line and tie one end around the middle of your spool. Wrap the rest evenly around the center and attach your hook and weight. Place your bait on the hook and attach your bobber if you are using one.
This is where things get tricky. I highly recommend practicing in your yard to fine-tune your cast before heading out to actually fish. The key to casting a handline is weight. The farther you want to cast, the more weight you will need.
Unwind about two feet of line off your spool. Point the end of your spool towards the water. Make sure no one is around you and begin spinning it in a circle to build up some momentum before letting it fly. It will take quite a bit of practice to get accurate direction and distances down.
Another great way to use a handline is trolling it off the back of a boat or kayak. Just drop it in the water and slowly unwind line off while you float across the water.
Bringing in a fish
This is the best part of handline fishing. If you are not using a bobber, you will want to put as much tension on the line as possible when it hits bottom. You will be able to feel the slightest ping on your line from a fish with it sitting in your hands. You will hook a fish faster than anyone else around you waiting to see their rod tip or bobber bounce.
After you feel a hit, yank back as hard as you can on the line and get ready for an awesome fight. Keep tension on the line as you grab it and wrap it back around your spool. Keep doing this until you bring in your catch. Just remember to keep a firm grasp on your spool or it can be yanked out of your hand.
Even though this is a simple form of going after fish it does have its challenges. You must be quick to get tension on your line or fish will steal your bait before you even get the chance to prepare yourself. The same goes for when you are fighting the fish. It can be difficult at times to keep a good amount of tension to keep the hook set while winding the line back onto your spool.
What type of fish you are fighting can be a workout. Even the smaller red eye bass I caught, that is pictured above, put up a heck of a fight and yanked the line out of my hand twice when he made quick jerks and turns.
I highly recommend that every angler should try this fishing method just to mix things up. You will be pleasantly surprised at the gratification when you haul in fish. Plus, the looks from other anglers when they see you throw your line out is priceless.
All photos by Alex Burton unless otherwise stated.