I consider myself a patient person but there are some things that raise my blood pressure while fishing. Tangled line, crowded boat launches and snagged lures are among the top offenders.
Fishing line is cheap and I can get to the launch earlier but a snagged lure wastes time and the expense of lost bait adds up quickly. After donating enough lures to the bottom of my local fishing hole I figured it was time to learn how to avoid snags altogether.
Over the years I have become more attuned to feeling my way through structure as well as using a few tricks to get snagged lures unstuck with improved success.
In this article, I’ve put together my best tips to hopefully help you avoid snags, fish smarter and save money.
Rig up right
Whether you are targeting largemouth bass, panfish, walleye or catfish, gearing up with the intent to avoid snags will spare you from constant frustration. Sometimes snags are a fact of life, especially when fishing right on the bottom.
Most of the time however, it’s just a matter of adapting your techniques so you can fish the dense cover or rocky bottoms that hold fish.
Bass anglers prefer weedless setups like the Texas rig or jig heads with a weed guard. These keep you from snagging in heavy shoreline weeds and wood.
For anglers fishing from a bank in spillways or tailraces, a three way rig is the most effective bait method. Although, snags seem to happen on every cast. If you can get away with it, rig up using a slip bobber instead. You can customize the depth using a bobber stop while still keeping the bait near the bottom. It also lets you cover more water since the bobber will travel in the current.
You can also tie up three way or drop shot rigs in such a way that the weight pops off if it gets snagged. You won’t be forced to break the line and loose the rest of your tackle.
I do this by using a simple over hand knot on the sinker when drop shot fishing. If the weight gets wedged in the rocks, a quick tug pulls the knot free and I can quickly tie on a new sinker.
With the three way rig, try tying a light leader from the three way swivel to the weight or use the same method as the drop shot. Either way, the weight breaks free without breaking the main line and weights are cheap to replace.
There are literally dozens of tricks to rig up snag free setups but I find the best approach is to learn how to detect a snag before it happens.
Feel your way through
I have a buddy who is the “horse whisper” of fishing. We can cast to the same spot and I end up snagged and he’ll come away with a fish. Even with the same baits, I snag bottom before he does.
I finally swallowed my pride and asked for advice, if for nothing else than to spare my bank account from lure replacement costs.
What he shared with me changed my fishing tactics. He told me, “you need to feel your way through structure.” It’s all about creating a mental image of what your lure is doing on the bottom by tuning in to the “feel” as it encounters obstacles that cause snags. Once you become hyper sensitive to these subtle cues, avoiding snags becomes second nature.
In all honesty, it took me awhile to really grasp what he said but over time I learned to apply it to various conditions where before I was having issues. Structure like rocks, weeds and wood all “feel” different right before a snag so here’s what you need to know.
Rocks claim more lures than any other bottom structure. A jumbled pile of rocks has countless fissures where a fishing weight or jig can disappear, never to return.
The best way to feel your way through a maze of rocks is to gently bounce your way over. As you jig or retrieve through rock, pause as soon as you feel resistance. If it’s a bite, set the hook but if it’s a rock don’t keep pulling or you’ll burry the jig. Instead, lift your rod tip to the 10 o’clock position and give it a couple swift flicks. This effectively lifts your bait vertically over the rocks and you can continue retrieving.
This method works almost every time except in the most extreme rocky environments. Another helpful tip is to down size weights. Heavy jigs and weights push into cracks faster and are harder to get out.
Without a doubt, fish love weeds. Food and shelter are the main attraction and catching fish among weed structure means getting your lure in the thick of things. Snag-free fishing in weeds requires developing confidence with a few styles of baits and knowing the feel of a bite versus a snag.
Exposed hooks hang up in plant foliage so start with weedless options like plastic baits on a Texas rig. Flipping jigs are tough to beat in submerged weeds and weedless frogs or spinnerbaits can buzz through most weedy environments.
Feeling your way through weeds is all about slowing down. Let the weight of the lure push weeds aside instead of yanking them through. Try to fish thick weeds, like lily pads and pencil reeds, using a close vertical approach.
With jigs or surface baits, keep your rod tip high. Moving your bait up and away from the weeds helps prevent snags more than dragging the bait straight through.
Snags in rocks and weeds are one thing but snagging submerged woody material is almost always a lost cause. If you snag branches, the hook most likely will dig into the softer material and not come free and the last thing you should do is pull harder.
Rarely will you be able to navigate your boat close enough to get the lure out so avoiding these snags is the goal.
The first step is to keep your hook point tucked away and un-exposed. Once again, the Texas rig is king in this situation but other baits with weed guards or vertical techniques like the drop shot rig work well too.
Much like fishing in rocks, try developing a mental image of what the lure is doing as you feel your way through and over branches or stumps. Often as you reel, the line is first to make contact with a branch and you can feel an increase in resistance when this happens.
Slow down your retrieval to a crawl and just as your bait hits the obstruction, hold your rod at 10 o’clock and give it a quick light pop to lift the bait over. You can fish the nastiest downed trees by taking your time to feel each branch. Just make sure before each cast that the hook point is not exposed.
Even the best anglers are going to get snagged every once in awhile. It’s just a fact of life when you spend enough time fishing. For the sake of time, tournament pros may just break off their gear but us average anglers refuse to surrender our lures to the depths.
There is not really any science behind getting unstuck but let me share a couple tips that have saved me a time or two.
Un-snag from shore or a boat
Bank anglers experience snags more often and getting a lure unstuck is a real challenge.
The first step is recognizing a snag early and resisting the temptation to pull harder. Instead, try moving with a slack line up and down the shoreline to different positions. Give your bait a quick jerk from each spot. Sometimes the change in angle will dislodge the hook.
By far the best trick I have learned is the “bow and arrow” method. Essentially, you are shooting slack line down to the snagged lure using the rod like a bow. This causes the lure to move backwards and dislodge from the obstruction.
To make it work, put some slack in the line and with the your rod held vertically, grab the line a few feet below the tip of the pole and pull it back towards you until you have equal tension on the rod tip and the line heading down to the lure. Once you release it like a bow, the flex in the rod tip sends a standing wave down the line and shakes the lure free. It may take a few tries but it’s better than loosing your bait.
The bow and arrow method works from a boat as well and I usually try it first before driving my boat through a good fishing spot. However, when a snag is extra tough, reposition your boat around the lure and firmly apply pressure until you reach the angle that releases it.
For some, the idea of breaking off a lure is an unbearable thought. Anglers looking to save their valuable lures should consider investing in a lure retriever.
This simple device clips onto the line and slides down to grasp the snagged lure with its own hooks. You then pull it up with the attached rope. After saving a couple lures it will pay for itself and many fishermen won’t fish without one.
Lure retrievers are best suited for boat anglers. Shore anglers have limited success with these devices because the angle is usually too shallow for the retriever to slide all the way to the bottom.
How to properly break your line when snagged
When all else fails, it’s time to break your lure or bait off and move on. Breaking the line can be dangerous, especially when using high strength braids or heavy mono.
The first thing to remember is never pull as hard as you can on a snag using the rod. It can cause a pole to break or the lure can come shooting back out of the water. More than one angler has lost an eye or received a hook in the face trying this.
You’ll also learn a painful lesson if you try grabbing the line with your hand. Fine diameter braid easily cuts through skin.
Do this instead:
- First, point your rod tip in the direction of the snag.
- Then, reel up all the slack and extend the pole as close to the snag as possible.
- Finally, use one hand to grasp the reel spool while you pull directly away from the snag until the line snaps.
It’s important to keep the rod from bending when you pull to avoid any damage.
You can’t avoid every snag but it is worth the effort to learn a few tricks that help prevent lost lures. Lures and bait cost more than ever and developing skills to avoid snags or free hung up gear will make your day of fishing more productive and a lot less frustrating.