Using passes and pulls to set lines on the Great Lakes

Old-time reels without line counters can still be used to catch Great Lakes fish. (Photo by Mike Schoonveld)

There was a time when dinosaurs walked the Earth and reels with line counters on them were non-existent. The distance a lure was set behind a downrigger weight or planer board was determined by “pulls” and the amount of line deployed between the rod and Dipsey Diver was determined by “passes.”

Line-counter mechanisms can break. Great deals on non-line-counter reels can pop-up. Some people just like to go retro from time to time. Regardless of why, fishing the Great Lakes with a reel without a line-measuring function is still possible and effective.

Start with the lure right at the rod tip and the reel’s clicker set to make noise. Be sure the reel’s spool has enough tension on it to keep the line from free spooling without assistance.

Grab the line just ahead of the reel, pull line off the reel until your hand bumps into the first guide on the rod and think or say “one.” Then repeat, but at the end of the procedure say, “two,” then again and “three.”

Each pull is about a foot on my rods, but it doesn’t matter if it’s eight inches or 18. If setting the line out 25 “pulls” works once, chances are it will work twice whether 25 pulls equals 18 feet or 32 feet. If you commonly use 60 or 80 pulls, get a line-counter reel.

Using “passes” as a Dipsey Diver line measure required pre-planning and arithmetic skills. Start with a reel’s levelwind guide all the way to the right or left side of the reel. Grab the line at the rod tip and unspool line until the levelwind guide travels the full width of the reel to the opposite side. Measure the amount of line that was pulled off the reel. The reels I used for this would spool on or unspool about eight feet with each “pass” of the levelwind. If I wanted to let out 50 feet, I’d start with the diver at the rod tip, do the math in my head and count six travels of the line guide across the breadth of the reel (48 feet), then let out a couple feet more.

Some guys called one complete movement, over and back, as one pass. It made for confusion when talking to them about tactics, for sure. For me, doing the math in my head using the number eight is much easier than long-division using the number 16 as the divisor.

It didn’t really matter. The fish were bigger, meaner and less intelligent back in the Age of the Dinosaurs. Passes and pulls worked just fine.

Categories: Blog Content, Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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