The River Monster Approach

      I am a River Monsters addict!!!  For those of you haven't heard of it, River Monsters is a television series found on the Animal Planet channel.  The host Jeremy Wade travels the globe in search of some of the "deadliest" or as I see it most amazing fish species found in rivers.  I started fishing 4 years ago as a byproduct of seeing that program.  While viewing the program I started to notice something that was uncommon among the fisherman I have met on the shores here in Wisconsin.  What I noticed was that rather than having dedicated combos like bass and musky fisherman, he used different combinations of reels and rods to accomplish his angling.  I soon realized that if I adapted this idea I could chase a multitude of different species without having to own and maintain a large amount of gear.
     So what do I mean?  How about we take a look at the 6 reels and 8 rods I currently own and how by swapping them around I can chase almost anything that swims.  The starting point when I roll through this approach in my head is what line do I need to get the job done.  Once I know what line is needed, I choose the reel, then I choose the rod that will best suit the fishing at hand.  I normally the choose the rod based on line rating, hookset power, and the ability to flex and protect the line while I am fighting a fish.  The whole process is surprisingly thought provoking when you figure in time of year, the species, and the fact that I pursue some types of fish weekly and others only when on vacation.
     First lets take a look at light line or ultralight fishing.  The reel I use for this type of fishing is a Fishing 13 Black Betty.  I keep this reel spooled up with 2 pound test line.  This light of line is usually reserved for fishing off of breakwalls, docks, and ice fishing for bluegill and perch in less than 10 feet of water.  The combinations are simple, a St Croix legend ice light rod and a St Croix Triumph ulralight rod.  The ice rod allows for extremely fast bite detection  and the ultralight rod affords great line protection when the odd walleye or bass takes up the bait and gives the 2 pound test a real workout.
     The next reel expands on the idea.  The Okuma Avenger Baitfeeder reel is an amazing and often overlooked reel.  The 3000 size reel is priced right, comes with 2 spools so you can always have two different lines at your disposal.   They feature a baitfeeder system with a second drag located on the rear of the reel that allows your quarry to pick up the bait and run with little to no resistance.  This second drag is fully adjustable and with the flick of a switch you are able to engage the larger main spool drag and fight the fish.  No hassles and brilliantly designed.  I keep this reel spooled up with 20 pound braid on the milled spool and with 8 pound fluorocarbon line on the cast spool.  Using these two line styles allows the rod collection to work to there potential.  First up is the medium heavy ice rod.  With the braided line I can chase large pike and catfish through the ice.  Spooled up with the fluorocarbon I have an almost invisible line for catching large brown trout and lake trout in crystal clear water.  On the light St Croix ice rod the fluorocarbon line lets me jig for perch.  When the reel is on the ultralight St Croix Triumph rod the fluorocarbon line lets me cast small jigs farther so that now the walleyes and hybrid strippers are accessible.  Throw on the spool with the braid and switch the reel over to the 15-50 pound line rated Heavy Hooker surf rod by Stingray Tackle and I can long cast swimbaits or jigs for salmon, brown trout, and any number of surf species when I am on vacation.  The possibilities are almost endless when trying to catch small to medium size fish.

     The reel I use day in and day out is the Abu Garcia Revo Toro Winch.  This reel is geared low and has 35 pounds of drag.   I keep 80 pound braid on this reel all the time.  It can cast lures up to 1 pound over and over again with no issues.  As well as force large fish to come to shore quickly almost guaranteeing a healthy release.  Most of the spring you will find this reel attached to my St Croix Mojo Musky rod.  This rod is an extra heavy 3-8oz lure rod.  It's heavy enough to ensure a strong hookset and sensitive enough that I can feel the difference between weeds and rocks when retrieving my lure.  When the water heats up I switch to the medium heavy camo snakehead rod.  The only way I enjoy bass fishing is with frog lures and that means a rod with a sensitive tip and alot of backbone.  The braided line has no stretch, floats, and cuts through the weeds you commonly encounter when fishing the shoreline of small forgotten ponds.  Put this reel on the Heavy Hooker surf rod and you can blast a topwater lure another 50 yards out into the water and give that musky a really long time to follow that lure and hopefully commit.  This same reel on the 50-80 pound shark rod allows you to wrestle up the biggest of  sturgeon when the season is open.  It also makes for a mean cranking reel on the medium heavy ice rod when jigging for pike out in the cold.
     Next up is an Okuma Avenger Baitfeeder in the largest 9500 size.  On the milled spool I have 55 pound braided line and on the cast spool I have 20 pound monofilament line.  The reel has the same dual drag system as its smaller counterpart, but with a crazy amount of line capacity, and 35 pounds of drag.  I have used this reel in tons of conditions and it has never let me down.  I put the braided line on and pair it with a heavy St Croix tidemaster spinning rod for musky fishing.  Switch the monofilament spool onto the reel and big channel catfish and tarpon don't stand a chance.  On vacation I found that this reel on the Heavy Hooker surf rod was a true jack of all trades.  With the monofilament line on  I was able to cast small lures to catch pompano, ladyfish, and other bait.  Then at night the braided line allowed me to cast my bait pass the breakers and target blacktip sharks as they came close to shore looking for an easy meal.  The reel will also be able to be used in the future for deep water jigging off shore on the oil rigs for yellow fin tuna. This winter I plan to use it on the medium heavy ice rod to give me a chance at those giant 30 pound german brown trout that frequent the milwaukee harbor.  The baitfeeder feature should allow me to set the rod down on the ice and let the trout take the bait without taking my rod with it.  

      The Penn 330gt is probably my most under utilized reel.  I keep it in my backpack most of the time as a backup musky reel.  It has a huge line capacity for its compact size and is constantly getting line changes based on what I am fishing for at the time.  The clicker on this reel is loud...really loud.  When salmon fishing over the harbor walls with swivel rigs I load it with 12 pound monofilament and put it on the medium heavy snakehead rod.  The soft tip protects the line when those crazy fish run and the backbone lets me turn them before they make it to the current and inevitably free themselves.  The reel casts well and allows me to use 20 pound monofilament on the Heavy Hooker surf rod targeting channel catfish from the bank.  This summer it will be loaded with 80 pound braid uni knotted to 100 pound monofilament.  With that line setup and the 50-80 pound shark rod it should be a perfect setup for trophy size Texas alligator gar.  It already serves as a great reel for sucker fishing for musky and flathead catfish so the heavier line and roller tip should make quick work of those toothy dinosaurs.  A truly versatile reel that will work in a variety of situations day in and day out.
     The last reel only has one rod that it is used with, the 50-80 pound shark rod.  It is the only reel that was bought with one type of fish in mind and one rod that could handle it.  The reel is a Penn 14/0, loaded up with 1,100 yards of 100 pound monofilament it was purchased solely to shark fish from shore.  This setup is to heavy to be used for anything you can find in Wisconsin as the reel itself weighs 10 pounds and requires a fighting belt to use correctly.  Still it did the job and will be used again in the future when the opportunity presents itself.  Maybe for tiger sharks in the Florida keys.
     Hopefully I have explained the idea well enough.  This approach has proven very succesful and is the reason that I very rarely have to purchase any new gear and now almost never end up in any tackle shops in my area.  The idea came from watching to many episodes of River Monsters and turned itself into a very reasonable way to downsize the tackle I owned without having to give up any future opportunites to fish for new species in new locations. My long term goal of becoming a true adventure fisherman on a budget has shown that owning the right gear, not all the gear is the only way I can be up for anything that the angling world can throw at me.  Maybe this process will work for you?  At the very least it will help explain to my buddies what goes through my head when I think about fishing.  
     Until next time, Tight Lines!!!


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