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Handlining Basics

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Handlining Basics

Here are the reels in my collection. From left to right, I have an A&S, a old Red Cap, a Katchmann, and a Gold Cap. All were either swapped for or given to me.
Handlining has been around a very long time, its best use comes in a strong river current. I use it in the Detroit River with great success. I didn't know if I would like it at first, but it is an absolute blast! There is nothing like hand to hand combat with a 8 lb walleye!

The technique I use is after I reach my location that I want to fish, I clip on the shank and attach the weight. You want enough weight to achieve a  45 to 60 degree angle of the wire in the water. You need to be in good contact with the bottom, but not too heavy as to drag the weight.

For leads, I use 25 lb limp mono, such as Mason line. The reason is that it coils easily on the floor, and is easy to handle. You need to keep the leads from tangling or you will be in for a long day. I use lead lengths anywhere from 8 to 30 ft long. Always two different length leads, the shorter one on the bottom. You want the longer lead on top so if the lure dives, it wont get tangled in the lower lead. Use a fairly heavy snap swivel with the leads, in case you get snagged you want a good chance to retrieve your expensive lure.


Basically hereís how I deploy the setup. First I clip on the shank, then the weight. Next I will clip on the lower shorter lead, then the lure. Lay this neatly in the bottom of the boat or on the gunnel so it wonít fall into the water.  Clip on the higher lead. One thing I forgot to mention. When you tie up your leads, you can use just a snap on the end that connects to the shank, and a better snap swivel on the lure end to save a bit of money. If you do this, keep in mind when you wind your line on your harness keeper (I use a childís swimming toy ďnoodleĒ about a foot long, with roofing nails in it to hold the leads) to start with the snap swivel first, so when you go to use it, all you have to do is clip the snap end to the shank, and unwind the leader, after its unwound, connect the lure. If you do it the other way, while unwinding a 30 ft leader, letting it lay on the boat to get it connected can lead to tangles. Itís just neater this way, a little trick to make life easier.


So now here we are, we in the place we want to fish, and are moving slowly forward into the current under power. What I do first is take the upper (longer) lead with the lure on it, toss it out to the side, making sure its not tangled and running true. Now I take the shank near the weight in one hand and the short lead in the other. Slowly lower the weight in the water and let the lower lure go so it runs true also. Slowly let the weight down, try to get a 45 to 60 degree angle in the wire line. I use coated 60 to 90-lb. test wire, itís easier for me to handle than uncoated wire. I also use a little leather and elastic finger sheath for my index finger. Let the weight go until it hits bottom. VERY IMPORTANT: When you hold the line, feed it through your fingers ďweavingĒ it through your fingers. DO NOT wrap the line around your finger! This is probably the most important thing to learn! If the rig gets snagged, you have to let go of it right away. Then you can put the boat in neutral, and drift back over the snag and try to unsnag it. Its probably best to shut the motor off, you donít want to catch the wire in the prop!


OK, so now we are moving forward, against the current, line at a 45 to 60 degree angle. I fish the Detroit River where there are LOTS of snags, so you always have to be alert. Try to bounce the weight along the bottom swinging your arm, just enough to tick the bottom every few seconds. Be aware of where the line is in relation to your motor so you donít get caught in the prop. Hereís a little tip if you are using a kicker. Put your main engine in gear, so the prop doesnít spin in the current. I also tip the main motor up to help keep it clear of the lines. Remember, you donít have a rod to fight the fish, it can be a challenge to keep it away from the prop.


Trolling along, keeping good contact with the bottom, but how the heck do you know you have a fish on? Every few seconds when you hit the bottom it feels like a fish is hitting. You think, ok! I got one on! Only to bring it up and nothing. Itís hard at first, especially with a small fish. Sometimes itís easy to tell, but other times, walleyes just seem to hang on for the ride.  What I have found is anytime you feel extra weight, bring it up to have a look. Pull the line in with an easy, steady pull. Remember that there is hardly any stretch in your rig, you are the rod and the drag. If I know I have a fish on, I will steer the boat in a wide arc in the direction toward the side of the boat I am fishing from so as to keep the line clear of the back of the boat. Steadily pull the line in until you see the top lead, if itís off to one side and not straight back, you have a fish on that lead. If itís not on the top lead, grab that lead and put it over your head draped on your inside shoulder. This will help keep that lead out of the way while you fight the fish on the lower lead. If the fish isnít too large, bring it aboard with a smooth motion and into the livewell it goes! It takes some getting used to; sometimes that top lead can get in the way. Itís just something you have to deal with.

To be continued...




These are the weights. Mine are all home made, the top one was given to me, I made the lower two. The sizes range from 1 to 1 1/2 lb.

Here's an example of a shank. You clip the looped end to the wire line, the snap of the shank clips to the weight. I think the snap is a little small on this shank, but you want it smaller than the one used on the main line, because if the weight gets hung up, the shank clip will open before the main line clip does, that way you only lose your weight, not your whole setup.