Rigging for Records on the Flats

by Louis Bignami

Realize that rigging for line test records, while vital, is only part of the game. You need a decent guide to find spots where big fish can be played without cutting you off, to spot fish, keep you calm and pole like a demented vaulter when fish run. Since record gear is specialized, the guide may provide this as well. Otherwise you need several outfits so you can switch baits or methods when conditions change. You need a day when the conditions are right -- strong tides or strong winds reduce your chances. You need to know how to play big fish on light line -- keep it short and keep the pressure on, but lightly. Don't forget to "bow to the tarpon" either. Most of all you need buckets of luck! But the luck only counts after you handle the details.


Jose Webeje and Bill Riesenfeld's 44-pound, 12-ounce record permit, a much rarer trophy than a tarpon.

Photo: BILL REISENFELD

At first records like Bill Riesenfeld's 44-pound, 12-ounce permit or 108-pound tarpon taken on 4-pound test seem impossible. They are more probable if tackle is rigged properly.

According to Bill REISENFELD, "If it were not for the Bimini twist, heavy line section and shock tippet, you could play a fish until exhausted, and then not be able to move it in to be gaffed or released."

The Bimini twist is a rather complicated looking knot that comes as close to 100% as you can imagine. The heavy -- usually doubled -- line section lets you move fish to within reach when they're exhausted at the boat and, like the shock tippet, improve abrasion resistance to the fish's teeth, scales and fins and to various bottom hazards. See -- IGFA regulations.

Even given this, there is little margin for error on the flats. The least gear failure means a lost fish and a possible lost record. Riesenfeld noted when interviewed about his records, "I'm meticulous about gear. Maybe it's a carryover from work (New York real estate Investments), but you have to have everything just right."

Reisenfeld has several custom rods, Knightsticks, for his favorite 4-pound test made by Jim Knight. Several outfits rigged and ready offer a quick second chance when a fish knocks a bait off or refuses one kind of lure. Riesenfeld only uses Diawa BG15 reels, but modifies these to his taste.

When interviewed about his record he noted, "The weak spots on spinning reels are the rollers and drags. BG15 rollers are excellent, and I know how to fix the drag. Diawa used to use a mix of Teflon and leather washers. Now they use all Teflon. I replace most of the Teflon washers with leather -- I still have a small supply. Then I use just the right amount -- it's important not to use too much -- of Teflon grease on the washers. This works perfectly if, but only if, you remove all tension from the washers by releasing the drags when you aren't fishing. You have to add extra lubrication more often than casual fishermen might think as well."

Riesenfeld only uses one kind of line too. His preferred Ande 2- and 4-pound-test seems a flats favorite with guides and other record holders like Dr. Corky Adams.

Riesenfeld notes, "Ande seems a bit stiffer and definitely resists nicks. So it stands up to the flats. I've also never had a problem with its rated tests. Some brands test too high. That can cost a world record!"

Attention to details extends to terminal tackle too. IGFA allows 15-feet total between the end of the fisherman's "test" line and the fish.

Riesenfeld says, "I tie a 4-foot Bimini Twist in the end of my 4-pound test Ande line and attach that to 10 or so feet of 30-pound test with a short 50- and sometimes 80-pound test section at the bait or lure."

This rig allows big tarpon to jump and run without their scales or bony mouth, or mild bottom abrasion, breaking the line. Once the fish tires, the fisherman can, if his guide poles strongly, move up until he plays the fish off the leader. This reduces the playing time and improves the fish's survival chances on release without giving the fisherman an unfair advantage.

Even with the best possible rigs, solid skills and a good guide, it's important to understand that most potential record fish are lost. It's also vital to realize that guides have a good eye for size so you can, and should release near-record fish. You haven't given up your trophy. You can take several photos and quick length and girth measurements as you prepare your fish for release. A number of fine taxidermists can make you a fiberglass mount that's just as good looking as any skin mount, a lot lighter and tougher and infinitely more durable.