The concept of "light tackle" varies among offshore anglers and often depends on the fish they pursue. While 80-pound gear sometimes seems less than adequate when trolling Australia's Great Barrier Reef for behemoth black marlin, some feel over-gunned using 30-pound for Atlantic sails. Most of us, however, agree that conventional and spinning outfits in the 12- to 30-pound class, perhaps up to 50-pound in certain cases, qualify as "light" when battling pelagic game fish.
Fishermen who employ stand-up gear to pull on large marlin or tuna wear heavy-duty harnesses with wide gimbal plates at mid-thigh level. By bringing the legs and body weight into play, such setups help anglers exert and endure aggressive drag pressures without fatigue. We'll examine stand-up harness systems at another time; this Gear Guide focuses on belts for lighter duty.
Despite the downsizing trend that has seen offshore rods and reels become smaller and easier to manage, light-tackle enthusiasts still benefit from having support for the rod butt. Rod belts, fighting belts, gimbal belts - whatever you like to call them - help anglers concentrate on fighting fish rather than wrestling with their tackle.
The selection of belts on the market today ranges from small plastic models designed for use with 15-pound tackle or fly rods to large aluminum plates that rest across the upper thighs.
"When choosing a rod belt, keep in mind that you need a good base to support pressure transmitted to the rod butt by fish pulling against the reel's drag," says Dennis Braid, stand-up fishing expert and owner of Braid Products. "The pressure should be dispersed over as large an area as possible. A belt that's too small offers little support and tends to dig into your groin."
Greg Stotesbury, sales manager for AFTCO, points out, "The size of the plate determines how well it distributes the load." A simple experiment illustrates this concept: Push hard against your leg with the tip of your index finger. Not a pleasant feeling, eh? Close your fist and push with the same amount of force, then try it again with an open hand. Enlarging the area of contact decreases the discomfort. A broad surface area (like a gimbal belt), as opposed to a single point (like an unprotected rod butt), makes the pressure bearable.
Belts designed for 20-pound and heavier tackle have padding behind the plate for additional comfort. "We stamp plates from heavy, marine-grade aluminum and pre-anodize them before adding the pads," Stotesbury says. "Our pads are made to a specific density that absorbs the load without hurting your legs, and the contoured shape rides easily on the thighs. AFTCO doesn't glue the pads; we mold them onto the aluminum. In fact, we over-mold them to cover the edges of the plate so the corners won't dig into the angler when pulling hard on a fish."
Strapping on the right belt not only protects an angler from getting bruised by the rod butt, it also helps to more effectively fight fish. "Besides cushioning the belt, our rubber backing offers a nonslip surface," says Mike Milford, of PlayAction Products. "As you fight a fish and it gets near the boat, it may turn suddenly. On a tight line, this can cause the rod butt and belt to kick out to one side if the belt slips. Good backing prevents the belt from sliding around the angler's waist; it holds the belt in place."
A properly fitted fighting belt holds the rod at an optimum height for applying maximum drag. The lighter the tackle, the closer to the waistline you can wear the belt. Braid suggests starting at a level a few inches below the waistline when using 15- to 30-pound line. "With 40- or 50-pound line, you should wear the belt four or five inches below the waist," he says. "This puts the rod butt lower and allows you to reach up for a higher pull point on the rod and get increased leverage. But there are limits, of course. You don't need a rod belt down around your knees for 30-pound tackle."
You obviously don't need a belt with a gimbal pin if your light-tackle rod doesn't have a gimbal butt. Some belt manufacturers offer a cover-all-bases option in the form of a removable pin held by a quick-release clip.
For rods sporting gimbal butts, though, Braid strongly recommends using belts with pins. "Say you hook a large fish on 30-pound gear and the fight lasts an hour. You'll end up tiring a bit and struggling to keep the rod from sliding about in a smooth cup. A gimbal anchors the rod butt so you can focus on fighting the fish and not the tackle," he says.
Braid claims that in the 1980s his company designed and patented the V-shaped area above the gimbal cup. This configuration serves two purposes: The V section acts as a rib to strengthen the plate and prevent it from flexing under pressure. More importantly, anglers who have their eyes on a fish can drop the rod butt into the plate without looking down, and the butt guides itself onto the gimbal pin.
Some models of PlayAction belts have fixed, guided gimbal cups while others, such as the Snap-On and Swivel belts, feature a rotating fixture that resembles a ball-and-socket joint. "It may take an extra second to line up the rod butt and place it in the swivel cup, but then it holds securely," Milford says.
Anglers who fish heavy tackle often use a vertical pin because it allows them to remove the rod easily, even when under tension. "A horizontal pin works better for lighter tackle be-cause it keeps the rod from rocking around," Stotesbury says. AFTCO belts let the user decide: The removable gimbal pocket allows anglers to orient the pin vertically or horizontally.
Look at a belt's gimbal position, Braid advises. A gimbal that's placed too low will force the face plate's bottom edge to tilt inward and dig into your legs. "That arrangement offers little support and can get painful to use," he says.
Most belts close with either a plastic, quick-snap buckle or Velcro fasteners. "Charter crews prefer Velcro closures on belts because they wrap around and quickly adjust to fit different anglers," Milford says. "Private anglers like buckles because they're easier to keep adjusted for individual fit."
Stotesbury adds that Velcro can pick up junk, get fouled on itself or stick to a glove or shirt. "Buckles deliver solid, positive closure and won't creep open like Velcro," he says.
PlayAction's Snap-On Belt stands out thanks to a "self-closing" waistband of solid plastic. "There are no adjustments," Milford says. "Just open it, slide it over your waist and it springs shut. Anglers can keep it handy in the cockpit, grab it and put it on in a matter of seconds."
Keep comfort and quality in mind as you consider the many available sizes and designs of light-duty rod belts and then choose one that meets your needs and suits your fishing style.
By The Numbers...
|Manufacturer/Model||Tackle Weight||Dimensions||Gimbal||Belt Width||Closure||MSRP|
|Alutecnos/Dolce Vita||15- to 40-pound||13 x 7||Yes||1 3/4||Buckle||$129|
|AFTCO/Alijos||20- to 50-pound||11 x 6||Yes||2||Buckle||$102|
|AFTCO/Socorro||50- to 80-pound||13 x 9||Yes||2||Buckle||$127|
|Braid/Dolphin Belt||15- to 40-pound||8 x 5||Yes||1||Buckle||$35|
|Braid/Light Tackle Pad||15- to 40-pound||9 x 7||No||1||Buckle||$17|
|Braid/Manta Belt||30- to 50-pound||14 x 8||Yes||2||Velcro||$90|
|Braid/Sailfish Belt||20- to 40-pound||10 x 7||Yes||1 1/2||Buckle||$57|
|Braid/Stealth Limited||30- to 60-pound||13 x 10||Yes||2||Buckle||$100|
|PlayAction/Economy||20- to 40-pound||12 x 5||Yes||1||Snap||$32|
|PlayAction/Snap-On||50- to 80-pound||Varies||Yes||Varies||Self-Close||$90|
|PlayAction/Striker||15- to 25-pound||10 x 5||Yes||1||Buckle||$14|
|PlayAction/Super Cushion||30- to 50-pound||14.5 x 8||Yes||1||Buckle||$40|
|PlayAction/Swivel||30- to 50-pound||13 x 5||Yes||1 1/2||Buckle||$40|
|Sumo/Light Tackle||15- to 25-pound||13 x 8||No||1/2||Velcro||$25|
|Sumo/Ninja small||20- to 50-pound||12 x 7||Yes||1 1/2||Velcro||$50|
|Smitty's/Small Day||20- to 50-pound||10 x 6||Yes||1 1/2||Velcro||$95|
Gold Hill, Oregon