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How to Micro-Fish
Micro-Fishing is a term used to describe angling for small fish. These fish are often small by nature, meaning that they do not reach mature sizes much beyond 6 inches in length. Although we may commonly think of the small fish we see in creeks, ponds, rivers, lakes and the like as minnows, baitfish, or some other general small fish, the fact is that most of the fish species in North America are small fish.
Micro-Fishing for recreation has been very popular in Japan for many years. They have developed short rods without reels and use extremely fine line, or by tradition a long woman’s hair, hopefully one for who you hold affections. They also use very small hooks; similar is size to the tiny fly hooks used by tout angler. Some of these hooks are custom designed, and have a specific shape that allows them to fit in the mouths’ of little fish.
The Japanese have great skill in Micro-Fishing. The wide popularity of the sport has pushed the Japanese to refine and develop their fishing tactics and equipment. Most of the American anglers I know who micro-fish use small Japanese made hooks, as well as very light fishing line, also from Japan < 1Lbs test or < 0.5 test (pretty impressive when you consider your ‘re likely losing ~50% strength at the knot). This type of Micro-Fishing is certainly done all throughout America and all over the world. The Japanese are also pioneers in Urban Fishing, which urban fish (outside of legend and folklore) are largely micro-fish. These areas for Urban Fishing allow people otherwise unable to fish as a consequence of living in large cities, the opportunity to enjoy fishing, some restaurant even insist you catch your own fish before they prepare it! Fish doesn’t get much fresher than that!
However, outside of Japan, many anglers do not target these many fish species due to their small-size. Micro-Fishing opens up the world of angling to many more species of fish, and many more places to fish for them. In addition to the many species of small fish all throughout America, it also exciting to fish for small or juvenile game fish such as trout, bass, catfish, pike, walleye, and so on. This can often be done at your favorite fishing hole, just the think of the 10 feet right off shore your are usually casting over as a whole new hotspot!
Micro-Sport fishing can be incredibly challenging. Some anglers target rare species of fish, or sub-species that may only exist in small areas of certain river systems. Some will hike deep into the mountains to find the small pristine lakes, and ponds that are home to small, eager trout. American Micro-Fishermen and Fisherwomen have developed their own sets of diverse tactics and strategies, and these are diverse as the countless species of little fish these anglers are after.
Fundamentally micro-fishing is just like regular fishing, and like fishing the gear i.e. rod, reel, line, and bait must be matched to the fish being pursued. You wouldn’t take your heavy catfish rig to go fishing for foot-long trout, would you? Similarly you want to make sure if you are micro-fishing you have the proper gear and tackle. More on that later. First a note on tactics.
Micro-Fishing does not really require special tactics. If you are fishing your local fishing hole, then simply by scaling down your tackle appropriately for smaller fish you have taken the first steps to micro-fishing. Small wild game fish such as bass, perch, bluegill, sunfish, trout, pike, gar, catfish etc. can be fished using the same bait and tactics as their older siblings. People are often surprised how close to the shore micro-fish are, do not think that you need to be casting out for the micro-fish. Often micro-fishing 1-8 feet of the shore, or directly off of man-made structure will often result in some very good micro-fishing.
My advice is that it is often good to start close to the shore and then work out if in shallow water, or start out 6-8 feet and work in toward the shore on a deeper bank. Another obvious tip is to go somewhere you regularly fish, or somewhere you know there are little fish, usually because you can see them swimming (or often chasing your bait on your big rod as you bring it in). I mention this because it can be frustrating to go micro-fishing for the first time in a little creek or stream with no fish. It can be surprising where, and where the little fish are at. Pick a good spot, and you’ll be catching micro-fish in no time!
Now for my favorite about fishing (aside from catching fish of course), the gear & tackle! Micro-fishing can certainly be done with simply a very small hook and tiny split-shot weight. The Japanese often use a small pole, some with a soft rubber tip for the last few inches and just a few feet of line. The use small indicator beads for see the bite, as well as a sensitive sense of touch, and then lift the fish out of the water.
Here in America the types of micro-fishing rigs are incredibly diverse. Largely as most anglers have built and developed their own systems. Fishing is always a sport of innovation, and developing new tackle, and tactics. This is certainly true of Micro-Fishing. There are many options to choose from, and no right answer. You can have a ton of fun catching micro-fish on a variety of different types of rigs.
Some popular options:
1. Use your own rod and reel. Put a small hook, and tiny split-shot on to start. Float indicators, tiny bobbers can also be helpful. Ideally you would put a lighter line, or long lite leader on as well.
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to set up and get fishing.
Cons: It tends not to be that much fun catching little fish on regular sized fishing poles and reels. Just takes the sport out of it a little bit. You have to use you main fishing pole. Micro-fishing is nice to be able to do while letting your big fish bait soak! So it is nice to have a dedicated rod.
2. Fly-Fishing Rod: Long fly rods are popular and can make a good choice as they give the angler a long reach. This can provide a great advantage when presenting the bait to the fish. The difficulty with a fly rod, in my opinion, is that you have to be very careful to find just the right stiffness of rod. If the rod is too light then the slight movement of your hand will be translated directly through the fly-rod to the bait. This can make the bait jump around erratically and make bait presentation difficult. If the rod is too stiff then it may as well be a bamboo pole, you simply won’t feel any action.
Pros: Long length of rod allows for bait presentation in tough to reach spots. Wide variety of rods, and reels available. You may already own a rod and reel that could be used for micro-fishing. Also if you get to know the guys/gals at your local fly shop they are great resources for where to find fish, as well as to find small hooks, lite line, foam floats, and a lot of other gear that can be used for micro-fishing.
Cons: Can be frustrating if the fly rod is not the right weight of rod. Some fly rods can be pretty expensive, and also easy to break. Sometimes the long fly rods can be a bit of a pain in the rear to handle. If you are fishing a small creek or waterway, and 8′ rid can feel pretty big.
3. Japanese style pole. These are pretty straight forward as most of these that I have seen are simply a small pole, usually 4 feet in length. Although some are longer. Some will have a 2-3 inch rubber section on the end of the rod as opposed to a standard eyelet. The usually do not have a reel. Very light line, tiny hooks, and a skilled touch are the tools of the trade.
Cons: I am personally not a fan of “Bamboo Pole Rods” as they do not have a lot of action (they tend to be stiff). I also like to have a reel and the option for more then a fixed few feet of line. The “dip the bait and lift the rod” to pull out the little fish method may work on really little guys with not much fight in them, but if you catch a decent 5-6′ little game fish. Not having a reel, or any extra play on the rod usually means they get of the hook, or the fish just gets dragged in.
4. Ice fishing rods. There are some nice ice fishing rods that come standard in shorter lengths (no need to cast when Ice fishing right!). If you find the right Ice Fishing rod, that is light weight enough these can make pretty nice micro-fishing rods because of the short length.
Pros: Compact length is great for Micro-Fishing. Different weights available of rod.
Cons: These rods are usually stiff, and I find even the lightest ice fishing rod can be a little stiff for micro-fishing. Can be tough to order online as these rods really have to feel these rods in order to pick the right weight of rod, this can be a problem as most tackle stores outside of the northern US do not stock Ice Fishing gear.
5. Micro-Sport Fishing Gear. These rods and reels are a relatively new entry into the micro-sport fishing gear line-up, and deserve a little extra attention. These micro-sport rigs are the only rod and reel set-ups designed specifically for catching only micro-fish. These are advertised as fully functional, scaled (1/6th), rods and reels for Micro-Sport Fishing. They refer to this as micro-Sport fishing as their rods and reels are designed to make the little fish, fight and feel like a big fish. These are very sensitive, and use 5+ grades of carbon fiber tube and rods, all hand assembled, and very nicely finished. I actually just picked one of these up a few days ago. I’ll tell you, these are the reel deal little fishing pole. Great action, top quality materials, and very nicely hand built. I am really enjoying mine, and just purchased another for my grandson.
Pros: Designed for micro-fishing, these really do bring the sport into micro-fishing. There is probably no more exciting way to catch a 4″ fish then on one of these rods and reels. The reel is very smooth with all Teflon bushings, and a functional drag that is actually light enough to let little fish pull line of the reel an run, just like sport fishing! These rigs come standard with Berkley NanoFil and Tiemco or Owner hooks (both from Japan) in size 26 I believe. Pretty much ready to fish out of the box, just ad a bit of worm.
Cons: These can be expensive, a rod and reel can easily cost $50-$100. However these are a high quality rod and reel, hand built in the USA. They are just smaller. You definitely get what you pay for and the quality of these rigs is outstanding. Te other issue with these rods is that they are small. Not good for children under 5-6, or if you have bad hands. If you can tie a fly on to a light leader, or bat a small hook with a worm, then you should be good.
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