Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Heavy Cover Fishing for Snakeheads 101

I was introduced to Snakehead fishing around the first half of 2008 by none other than Bong Chua --  our Snakehead expert and the man who started snakehead fishing using lures in PH,. It was during that time when I started lurking a fishing forum called FilipinoAnglers.org and that's where I first learned that you can actually catch snakeheads using lures. The most famous lure back then was Bong's hand-made spinner-bait. The lure caught snakeheads of all sizes. Heck, it even caught other species such as Barramundi, tilapia, and threadfin herring. Wanting to learn about snakehead fishing on lures from no other than the best, I pm'd Bong to buy some of his lures. I didn't realize that he's my neighbor and he lives just a block away. That's when I started hanging out with him and learned about the snakehead fishing techniques and lures.

Back then, I mostly caught snakeheads in open water using Bong's spinners. Bong on the other hand, was also able to catch them using solid body frogs. I wanted to try them but he had no spares and not a single tackle shop in the country sells snakehead lures let alone frogs. The frogs he used were a couple of really old Harrison Hoge Superior Frogs. I think they are now called Panther Martin Superior frogs. From the looks of the lures he was using, (the legs had been glued, replaced, and repaired for god knows how long) they were probably at least 30 years old.  Although old and tattered, the snakeheads loved them. The topwater explosion when a snakehead lunges at them was unforgettable. Because the frogs were not available anywhere in the country, my obsession about these lures became worse. Ordering overseas was a pain at that time.
Harrison Hoge Superior Frog (pic borrowed from Bassmaster.com)
Sometime a bit later, online lure shops started offering International shipping and that changed everything. We found what frogs that were available online and how to order them. I believe I ordered and tried whatever was available online at that time.


Whenever a new set of frogs arrive, Bong and I would meet in our secret-but-not-so-secret spot called 'kangkungan". It's a stinky swampland near our village. Although it was full of vegetation in very little water, it has lots of snakeheads. The only game to be had there was topwater fishing using weedless frogs. After months of testing different frogs, I was convinced that were only 2 that really delivered -- Boze Sumo frogs and Spro Bronzeye frogs. The rest were pretty much inferior compared to these 2. To be honest, I stopped buying other brands. I got a few other brands but they rarely catch anything.

October 2008, snakeheads from the Kangkungan
Aside from learning what I can about the new frogs, I tried some of the the rods, reels, lines, and leaders that were perfect for that type of fishing. From the lowly kangkungan, we tried other spots nearby. Because of the new frogs, we were able to fish the heaviest swamps that you can find and we were able to catch the snakeheads. With the the help of FilipinoAnglers online forum, dalag fishing became popular. A lot of people would fish for snakeheads using spinners and frogs all over the country. Different groups even organized a few tournaments in honor of the sport. It was a blast and a lot of people were into it.

Around three or four years ago, snakehead fishing lost it popularity. Perhaps when saltwater shore fishing and UL fishing became a big trend. I think it also coincided with the rise of Facebook and the slow downfall of online forums in the country. Because of that, I sold most of my snakehead rods and reels and lures.

Last year, the game became a hit once again thanks to our friends from HCG Pampanga. It is now called Heavy Cover Game, inspired by Japanese Heavy Cover anglers for Northern Snakeheads. Almost a decade after, more young anglers are taking a liking to fishing for snakeheads. Fishing tournaments were held and more are being planned in the future. I am so happy that more angler are picking up the game and I even started joining a couple tournaments (with great success if I may add ;-)) and started buying rods and lures once again. I hope the trend continues and we keep on catching and releasing them so we can still enjoy them in the future.

After 9 years of fishing for snakeheads, here are some of the gear that would I recommend  if you want to get started.

Rods - 6'6" up to 8' Heavy baitcasting rods. Longer if you frequently fish relatively open spaces. Shorter for tight spaces. My preference is at least 7' rods with 12-30lb rating. Why heavy? Heavy rods will make sure that those big hooks from frogs will penetrate the tough haw of snakeheads -- specially the big ones. It is also needed to deliver the muscle to pull the snakeheads out of the weeds when hooked. This won't force you to wade into the water when you hook a big one. Trust me, I have had  a few close calls when wading -- I didn't realize that the water was deep or the mud was really thick. Drowning is always a possibility when fishing swamps/marshes. Make sure the rod is light enough -- 130g-150g if you can find one. Lighter rods allow you to fish longer and cast more frequently. I prefer a rod with Fuji ECS reel seat when using low profile reels or Fuji ACS if using round reels.

After wading in neck deep water, I was able to land this beast. If I had a heavier setup, I probably would be able to land it without wading.

Reel - Baitcasting setup is what I recommend. It allows you to cast accurately and has more power when pulling out those snakeheads from heavy cover. Low profile or round reels in the 100 size is enough. 200 size is also ok but the smaller and lighter the better. You don't need a lot of line anyway. Lighter means more time casting. A reel with a speed is 6.3:1 up to 7.9:1 is recommended. Too fast and it loses torque. Too slow and it will take a lot of cranking to get the frog back for the next cast.

Ryoga 2020HL on a 7'6" Daiwa Flippin Stick

Line
- Definitely braid! X8 (8-strand) is nice but not necessary. X4 (4-strand) should be adequate. The problem with braid in heavy cover is that it frays easily because of the smaller strands. This means you need to trim the braid every so often to remove the frayed sections. Otherwise, you will lose those precious frogs. One solution to minimize the length of frayed braid is to use longer shock leaders. A meter to meter and a half is ok. Tip: The make sure that the knot between the leader and main line does not reach the reel's line guide when in casting position. This will prevent backlash during casting.


Leaders - I recommend mono shock leaders. 30lbs for regular vegetation such as kangkong (water spinach), lilies, or lotus. Use 40lbs if there are sharp grasses and sticks. Flouro is ok but they are expensive. Besides, there is no need to hide the leader from the fish when your lures are on top water. For Philippine-based anglers -- check out Goodcatch Fishing's bulk Sufix Superior Shock leaders. They are in rolls (not in spools) and they come in 100m lengths. The spool are making the line more expensive. Just buy the unspooled line and spool them on used spools. Anyway, Sufix Superior shock leaders in bulk are cheap and reliable. I have been using them for god knows how long and they never failed me. In Japan, they don't use leaders. They tie their frogs directly to the braid main line. Probably because braid is cheap in Japan. :-).

Lures - Spro Bronzeye 65. Buy a Spro if you don't mind spending the extra coin and select the size 65 if you are only after the big ones and don't want the small snakeheads to bite. Get a Spro Bronzeye 60 if you don't care what size of snakehead bites. Boze Sumo frog if you want a cheap frog that performs like a Spro. It only has one size and weight-- same as a Spro 65. You are lucky if you can find a Boze Sumo frog somewhere. I think they are out of the market already. (Dear Boze Sumo manufacturers, I hope you are reading this. Please continue to make them and sell them in Asia. PLEASE! Forget BASS, they are candies for Snakeheads!). Hard bodied frogs from Thailand are also ok but in my experience, they are more suited in light cover or open water. They snag often and then hookup ratio is not that great. A snakehead needs to hit exactly the hook to get a solid hookup unlike hollow-bodied frogs. When you do get a hookup, the weed-guard would open up and snag more weeds making it hard to land the fish.

Others - I stopped using Snap Swivels or other swivels. I just tie the leader directly to the lure using enhanced Uni-knot or clinch knot. I have had occasions when snaps would give way when the snakehead rolls after they are hooked. When a snap gets twisted, it will eventually fail. In addition to that, snaps will snag on vegetation. When they snag on a tough grass or stick, they will fail. Get a decent waders. Hip waders with rubber boots will do. It protects your leg from creepy crawlies (bugs, snails, snakes, and worms) and keep your feet dry. Also, don't forget a decent polarized eyewear. It protects you eyes from the sun and roque lures. Happened to me once or twice. When setting the hook, the snakehead spits out the frog and it came flying back to my face. The eyeglass saved my eyes from a lot of pain. Knots? main line to leader -- try to learn how to tie an Aussie FG knot. It is faster to make and does not snag on vegetation. Lure to leader: enhanced Uni or Clinch.

The 60lb snap gave way when the snakehead rolled after hook up.


Basic Techniques --  Learn to fan-cast! It will allow you to cover more water. Fan-cast at least thrice before moving to another spot. When there is a strike, I always count 1-2 seconds before I set the hook. Faster and you will not be able to set the hook properly. Slower and you will allow the snakehead to dive in deep cover. Tip: Snakeheads seems to start feeding when the sun is up and the temp is a bit higher.  This means it is not necessary to fish really early. (This does not apply to Tomans). Also, monster snakeheads seem to feed just before dark. :-)


My goal right now is to find the perfect replacement for my last 2 Boze Sumo frogs and my last Spro frog that I lost during the last tournament a couple of weeks ago. If you have something in mind, let me know! So, go out there! Fish and release!


Friday, February 10, 2017

Servicing a 2015 Shimano Curado 201HG



I bought a Curado 201E7 a few years back. I got one myself because at that time it was a big hit in the US. The reel was made in Japan and was intended for the US bass anglers. I am pretty sure that Shimano made tons of money out of that reel. A lot of anglers bought tons and tons of this reel. But for some reason, everytime I use them, I somehow end up selling them. Could be the feel, the build quality, or possibly personal bias.

Anyway, because of the success of that reel, they made variations of it to capture more budget conscious bass anglers from North America. -- Citica, etc etc. I think that move was the big mistake that Shimano made, Instead of releasing an improved Curado following year, they just made copies of that platform and released a reel with a different name/model. If I remember it correctly, they called it Chronarch 201E7. It was pretty obvious that it was the old Curado and the fans were not amused. What was even mind blowing was that they used the old Chronarch platform and released it as the Curado. 

It was pretty obvious that Shimano was trying to save money by not building machinery/tooling to build new reels. They opted to just use the same tools to build rebranded reels with a new paint scheme and cheaper materials. To save cost even further, they were no longer made in Japan. Instead, the new reels were made in Malaysia. 


A few weeks ago, I got my hands on a "Curado"  201HG (actually a Chronarch) . A fellow angler needed help because the reel was rough and did not cast as far as before. He was hesitant to dismantle the reel so he decided to contact me. 

After holding the reel the first time, it is hard not to like the ergonomics of the reel. That frame was borrowed from the more expensive Chronarchs which are actually a couple of tiers higher than the Curado. It's more palmable and I believe it was supposed to be lighter (the Chronarchs). 



I think the Curado HG internals are almost the same as actual Chronarchs except perhaps the former has cheaper kinds of bearings. This probably explains why this reel's former owner replaced the stock bearings on the spool and handle with an orange seal.  I also think that the gear and pinion material is different than that of the Chronarchs.



Personally, I am no a fan of Orange Seals. They are expensive and they don't last long in salt water. Bass, yeah they are fine but after a while, the seals collect dirt and mud and slows down the spin of the bearing. This is was what happened with this reel. Upon opening, it was pretty obvious that it has not been serviced for a long time. The oil and grease was replaced with caked dirt and grime.



I had to completely dismantle everything and brush and rinse the parts and use an ultrasonic cleaner on metal parts including bearings. I had to remove the orange seals to get rid of the dirt.





One of the complaints by the owner was that the reel was no longer smooth when cranking. It was rough and sounded like it grinding teeth when you turn the handle. I noticed that a couple of bearings were rusted one under the spool adjustment knob and the big bearing that holds the pinion. The bearings are regular steel bearings and not the SARB type that you see from higher-end Shimanos. I had to replace both.better bearings.


After removing the worm gear and pawl. I found one more rusted bearing. The stock reel doesn't have a bearing in the worm gear. It only has a nylon bushing. This bearing was an upgrade made by the original owner. Personally, if you don't maintain your reel regularly, I suggest that you keep the bushing. You will be spared from rust. This is specially true for saltwater anglers. Don't replace the bushing with bearings (rollers, knobs, and worm gear). They will eventually rust if you fail to maintain them.





After replacing the bearings, cleaning the rest of the parts, I greased, oiled, and put them back together. I also cleaned the carbontex washers and re-greased them with Cal's grease.



After the cleaning, repair, and reassembly. IT was relatively smooth again. But not so smooth as a Chronarchs or Conquest.

My thought on this Curado 201HG? Well, it has a Chronarch body and I like the size of it compared to the old green Curado. But somehow, Shimano's habit of cutting corners was at the expense of refinement. Because the build quality is unlike the Made in Japan Chronarchs, it has that Shimano signature clackity-clack and handle play which I don't like. For the price, I am sure you can find an old school all aluminum Made in Japan reel from Shimano (Conquest, Aldebaran, etc) or a Daiwa Millionaire, Alphas, TDZ, etc. from year 2000-2006. They are cheaper, more refined, and more durable in the long run.

As the saying goes "New is not always better".




Friday, December 16, 2016

Daiwa Luna 203L: A workhorse reel for the American market

I was doing an end-of-the-year clean up of my laptop when I saw pictures of my old round reel --- the Team Daiwa Luna 203L. Daiwa's answer to Shimano's Calcutta TE series. 


I got this reel 5 years ago and for some reason I have completely forgotten to write about it. The reel is a watered down version of Daiwa Millionaire CVZ that was intended for the US Market. Same design but the components such as the handle, knobs, and a few of the bearings are cheaper versions of their Japan counterpart. Five years ago, the reel wasn't cheap. Around $200-250 for a brand new reel. When I checked eBay, it's still not cheap! It's still within that price range. In some countries, it even fetched at a staggering $300! The price really tells you a lot about the quality of the reel. 


I no longer have it but I had a lot of fun with it. It was a workhorse in both fresh and salt fishing. It never failed me even I sometimes I forget to wash it after kayak fishing in saltwater. Similar to a Millionaire CVZ, it has Magforce Z brakes - which is probably the best mag brake on a round reel out there. It has an externally adjustable brake (EAS). Just slide the brake setting to match your lure weight and wind conditions. It can cast a relatively small lure or even a huge heavy lure without backlash. The 203 is probably best used for swimbaits, spoons, top water for big barra, talakitok, mangrove jacks, or huge mamali (threadfin salmon). The drag is awesome, smooth and does not stutter, the AR is tight and solid, and most importantly balances well with a matching rod. You won't get tired of casting all day. AND, this is a really nice reel for light jigging! Just pop in a jigging handle and you are in business. It has a synchronized drag/guide system -- meaning the line guide moves as line goes in or out which reduces friction and improves casting and deep dropping.


Like most of Daiwa's reel designs, it has very few parts that can break down, It is so easy to disassemble, clean, and repair if needed. You can still get parts from Daiwa and also from their distributors all over the globe. You can use Millionaire parts if you want to upgrade it a bit. This is very important for a relatively expensive reel. If it breaks down, you can get the parts and repair it on your own. Unlike the newer Abus, newer Shimanos, or other no-name reel brands in the market. They are practically disposable as parts are hard to come by and when they break down, it will take you a while to get it repaired if ever.


At that time, I realized that the 203L was too much for the kind of fish I was catching. It was too powerful in my opinion so I had to let it go and bought it's smaller Japanese sibling -- The Millionaire Bay Casting Special 103L. Will I buy another one if given a chance or budget? Hell yes, if I can get it a bit cheaper. There are Millionaire CVZs that almost match the Lunas in terms of price right now but these CVZs are the ones without EAS (External Adjustment System), which I will discuss in some other post in the future.

So, my advise, get one if you can find one. It's a dual-purpose and reliable reel that will last for long time.