There is no better feeling than catching fish on gear you have made yourself. I guess it’s the hunter-gatherer element within us that brings out a feeling of pride when you can entice fish to take the bait and it results in food on the table. This part of the human psyche has been in evidence for centuries, even millennia, where humans once made all their own traps, bows, arrows, spears, nets, rods and lures to hunt and fish for food. In more recent times, however, a combination of busier lifestyles, less time and a greater reliance on convenient solutions along with so many technological advancements, means most people have moved away from making their own gear. One consequence is that most fishers find it far easier to purchase ready-made fishing rigs, such as flasher rigs.
Another option I will often use prior to a fishing trip, because I get a sense of pride and satisfaction from it, is making my own flasher rigs. When you make your own flasher traces up, you know exactly what you are getting. And when done right, they can work just as well, if not better than, some of the pre-made flasher rigs on the market.
Flasher rigs are very versatile and are one of the most commonly used rigs when chasing just about any type of bottom dwelling fish that live around the coast of New Zealand. Flasher rigs have proven to be extremely effective for targeting table fish. They can be used without bait; however, if you dress them up with some bait, you have a lethal fishing rig at your fingertips. I first started using flasher rigs – sabikis – when I was a young fellow fishing off the wharf in New Plymouth over 30 years ago, and have been using them ever since.
Sabiki rigs are much smaller than what we commonly refer to as flasher rigs and are most often used for targeting bait fish such as mackerel, pilchards and yellow-eyed mullet, both from the shore and from boats. They are designed to imitate small shrimps. Dressing them up with a small piece of bait, not only gives the attraction of smell but also gives a visual stimulus to the targeted fish – that of a small shrimp holding onto a small piece of food. However, sabiki rigs are not solely for baitfish. You can always catch a big fish on small hooks, as long as you take it easy with the light line. I have caught many John dory, gurnard, snapper and kahawai while stocking up on bait fish with sabikis. You will actually be surprised at how lethal sabiki rigs are for chasing gurnard with small bits of bait on. As I said in my ‘Carrot Patch’ piece in the last issue, gurnard love small baits.
The typical description of a flasher is that it is essentially a dressed-up ledger rig. It generally has two snooded hooks, each with a lumo bead and some reflective, lumo, sparkly material bound on to complete the attraction. Some types have UV reflective material to provide that extra advantage when fishing in low light conditions
Flasher rigs use either circle / recurve hooks, or beak hooks and there are differences in how you fish the two different types. Using these correctly will significantly improve your fishing success. Circle hooks are most commonly used on flasher rigs, so striking a fish while you are getting a bite is certainly not recommended, especially when using larger flasher rigs for groper / hapuku. To fish circle / recurve hooks correctly, you need to let the fish bite and not strike straight away. It can be extremely hard to have the will power to do so, but if you don’t wait for the bite, you will pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth nine times out of ten! So restrain yourself from striking. Simply hold the rod and line tight until it loads up, or give the rod a slow lift which will roll the circle hook into the corner of the fish’s mouth resulting in a solid hook up. A beak hook / J hook will require a positive hook set or strike.
There is an extensive range of flasher rigs on the market these days; however, some are far superior to others and most fishers will already have favourites. The different types of flasher rigs vary considerably in design, colour and price, which often reflects the quality and the success you are likely to have when using them. You will quickly learn which rigs are the best, especially when one person on the boat is catching all the fish using a certain type or brand of flasher rig! My all-time favourite would have to be the Black Magic Snapper Snatcher. I find it is one of the most reliable pre-made rigs on the market. It never seems to fail and will out-catch most other brands. I have had many trips where others on the boat have been using other types of rigs and simply could not catch a fish. After a number of snapper came into the bin from my side of the boat, I started feeling guilty and gave them one of my ‘Snapper Snatchers.’ Straight away they caught fish. I’m not quite sure why these rigs are so superior, but the UV reflective material, combined with quality New Zealand tied rigs is simply a success story. When people come fishing with me, I tell them what rigs they should go and purchase before they come out. Some listen and have good success, while others see much cheaper rigs on ‘special’ and opt for those rigs, where you get two or three packs for the same price as the ‘Snapper Snatchers.’ But by the end of the trip, they wish they hadn’t selected the cheaper option. It’s the old saying, you get what you pay for, and when you have a day out on the water, you want everything in your favour for the most enjoyable experience.
Two of the biggest problems with a number of the pre-made flasher rigs are the strength and quality of the nylon and hooks, and the length of the trace. Very often light nylon trace is used, to keep costs down, but it often results in traces not lasting more than a few fish before it breaks. You certainly don’t want your trace to let you down while fighting a good fish. Likewise, inferior quality hooks are a common fault, where the tips will often fold over or blunt significantly after they catch a couple of fish. They can be straightened and sharpened, but they are seldom as good after being weakened.
Another option I will often use prior to a fishing trip, because I get a sense of pride and satisfaction from it, is making my own flasher rigs. When you make your own flasher traces, up you know exactly what you are getting. And when done right, they can work just as well, if not better than, some of the pre-made flasher rigs on the market.”
I am a busy person, but finding time to make my own rigs also provides some relaxation, as I can think about my next fishing trip while I make up my gear. If I am too busy with work or family, I just buy pre-made flasher hooks, add a lumo bead and make the trace up.
I make my traces with 80lb line, similar to the Black Magic ‘Snapper Snatchers.’ This provides some additional abrasion resistance and reduces the number of lost fish through broken traces. I often make the branch traces, the droppers, longer so they can move more naturally in the current, as opposed to being short little stumps off the mainline. This allows the baited hook to trail in the current, and is certainly more appealing to snapper, if that is the target species. Tying your own traces also gives you the ability to target your fishing zone dependent on what species you are chasing. For example when you are going to target gurnard the two hooks don’t need to be a long way off the bottom, whereas for snapper you want one closer to the bottom and one further up. Likewise for blue cod, you wouldn’t want to make long droppers, as cod are well known for twisting and spinning when hooked, so a longer trace with long droppers will simply make more of a mess. The other is that if you tie both of your droppers well up from the bottom, you can often avoid some of the undesirable bottom dwelling fish like carpet sharks or dogfish, as they vary rarely swim too far from the bottom to chase their prey – or take your bait. This modification is easily achieved by adding a section of trace to the bottom of pre-made flasher rigs to raise the hooks further from the bottom.
Another important thing to remember when you open your flasher rigs or sabikis, is to ensure that you have them the right way up. Some rigs, such as the Black Magic rigs make it easy. They tie a swivel at the top and leave the tail end of the nylon at the bottom of the trace longer and untied, so you cannot mistake which way up they go. A flasher rig, when tied correctly should have droppers which spring out and down away from the main line. If the rig is the wrong way up, the droppers and hooks will lie parallel to and against the main line and they don’t fish as well.
For those of you who might like to make your own rigs, or would like to make some variations to the gear that you have available at sea, I have provided a step by step photo guide of how to make your own flasher rigs. You can Google how to tie these knots, or if you need to, a simple three-way swivel will suffice, but hopefully you will be able to see how it is done from the images. Using a three way swivel will provide everything you need to make the flasher rig work well for you – and this also gives you the advantage of being able to change a dropper easily if it becomes damaged.
You can decide whether you want circle hooks or beak hooks on your rigs, depending on how you like to fish. If you cannot help yourself from striking every time you get a nibble on your line, then you definitely need to go with beak hooks. However, if you are more restrained, circle hooks are the way to go, or if you fish with the rod in the rod holder, that will work well with circle hooks.
My favourite colours for flasher rigs, in order of preference are chartreuse, pink and silver. For some reason chartreuse and pink seem to outperform all other colours. A combination of the two is even better. A fluoro bead on my rigs, provides a bit more attraction.
Bait is certainly a requirement on a flasher rig, and most baits work very well; however, it is dependent on the species you are targeting, where you are fishing and time of day and the time of year. Common baits used on flasher rigs are squid, pilchard, mackerel, and anything fresh, such as barracouta, mackerel or kahawai. Flasher rigs are designed to imitate a shrimp holding onto some bait, so you don’t want them to be too big or to bury the barb and point. If you can, use bait which is the same as what you are using in your berley trail, you will find that provides excellent results.
I most often use pre-tied flasher hooks when tying my own rigs. There are many different types available on the market but take care to ensure you are buying good quality hooks. Some types of flasher hooks have eyes built into them to provide additional attraction; however, this prevents tying a snood on the hook. When tying the dropper trace onto the hook, start with a length of nylon about 300mm long as this gives you enough line to play with when tying your knot to the main line.
Use a soft lumo bead; slip this over the knot or the eye of the hook to cover it up and it also provides some additional attraction in front of the flasher (PHOTO 2).
Take your dropper trace and flasher hook and lay it alongside the mainline. The knot you tie to attach the dropper to the mainline will need to be about 500mm from the end of the line where you will attach the swivel. The hook end of the dropper trace needs to be toward the swivel. Form a loop with both the dropper trace and the mainline and hold it between your fingers.
Pass the swivel end of the mainline and the dropper trace and flasher hook through the loop together, twice.
Wet the knot and slowly pull the dropper trace and mainline tight in one hand, while the mainline and tag end is in the other hand. This should pull up tight and provide a nice dropper trace which hangs away from your mainline. Trim the tag to leave a short tag.
Repeat the procedure with your second flasher hook and dropper trace. Make it 500mm from the previous knot (it can be closer or further apart depending on how close to the bottom you want this hook to be). Make another loop with both the dropper trace and mainline as before. Now pass the swivel end of the mainline and both dropper traces and hooks through the loop twice. Wet and pull the knot up tight and trim the tag end of the dropper. It’s easy to do, you just have to take it slowly and you will then have your bottom dropper trace attached to the rig. It is important to ensure that you tie both of the knots in the same direction, so the dropper traces hang the same way.
After you have finished each rig, tie a loop on the bottom of the trace for attaching the sinker. It is probably best to tie your swivel at the beginning so you know which end is the top of the rig as you are tying the dropper traces. The rig is then coiled up and placed in a zip lock bag so it’s all ready to go when you need it.
If you feel you might like to make your own flasher rigs, give it a go. It’s very easy to do and very rewarding to catch fish on them, especially when the person next to you isn’t catching any on their store-bought flasher rig! In case you need some an extra incentive; I’m pleased to say I have caught snapper up to 22 lb this season using my own flasher rigs. (PHOTO 0/0a and 8976).
If fiddling around with knots and traces isn’t your thing, keep in mind the huge variety of flasher rigs out there on the market, at a range of different price points and quality. Don’t get me wrong, some of the cheaper rigs do work well when the fish are feeding, but there are certainly some brands which are superior to others. I trust this article has helped you understand a little more about flasher rigs, why they add to the effectiveness of your ledger rigs, and how to tie your own.
There is still plenty of fishing left as the summer becomes autumn. Flasher rigs will still prove their worth, and just remember - if you’re using circle hooks, don’t strike as soon as you feel a bite. Wait for the fish to load your line and rod.