Avoiding Snags

Snags – An Inevitable Part of Sea Fishing

In sea fishing snags occur when part of the rig gets stuck on a feature underneath the water, preventing the rig being reeled in. Getting snagged is one of the most frustrating parts of sea fishing, and can be costly if a number of rigs are lost over a fishing session. While getting snagged and losing gear is one of the less enjoyable aspects of fishing, action can be taken to reduce tackle losses and allow anglers to spend more time fishing, and less time pulling out of snags and tying on new rigs.

Rock Mark

Fishing rock marks inevitably lead to getting snags and losing tackle.


At the risk of stating the obvious, the mark that is fished will dictate the extent of tackle losses. A nice clean sandy beach will offer snag free fishing and there are many beaches that produce plenty of fish without risking tackle losses. However, rock marks are often very productive, especially for fish such as big cod and bass, and species such as pollock will only be found in and around rocky areas. A good compromise is to fish mixed ground such as a sandy stretch of an otherwise rocky coastline, or the edge of a sandy beach as it edges into a rocky coast. This can provide the best of both worlds as fish will be attracted to the shellfish, crustaceans and other animals which live in the rocks but tackle losses should be lighter. Popular venues such as piers and breakwaters can also contain very snaggy areas. This is because anglers losing gear years ago will have created a large tangle of lost rigs and line underwater, which in turn traps more and more rigs, increasing the size of the area where anglers are likely to lose gear. Lost boat moorings, ropes and even lost or discarded trawler nets can all also lead to tackle loss blackspots around popular fishing venues.

The risk of being constantly snagged is enough to put some anglers off fishing certain marks, especially ones which have a reputation for being ‘tackle hungry,’ and this is understandable, no one wants to spend half their time fishing snagged. Other anglers will however happily take on the challenge of fishing a rock mark, and accept the snags and lost gear as a price to pay for the chance to land a big fish.

How to Minimise Snags

Snag Sign

A sign on Southend Pier informing anglers that snags are present, but most anglers have to locate snaggy areas by trial and error.

As stated on the page on fishing rock marks, it makes sense for anglers who fish rocky, snaggy areas on a regular basis to invest in strong rods and fast retrieval reels which are designed to handle this type of fishing. Rock fishing rods are generally expensive, but are specially adapted to be stiff and powerful so that they can pull through snags and heavy weed beds. As the key to avoiding snags is to reel in quickly as this gets a weight and rig off the seabed and into midwater and away from snags. For this reason reels used for rock fishing generally have a large line capacity and fast retrieval rate. Using this type of equipment will help avoid snags but there are additional steps which can be taken to cut down further on the amount of snags:

  • Strike before reeling in – even if there is no indication of a fish on the end of the line. This gets the weight and rig up off the seabed and away from snags.
  • Once this is done then being to reel in fast. This get the weight off the seabed and keep it in midwater – up and away from the snags. A slow, dawdling retrieve that drags the weight over the seabed is a sure way to get snagged.
  • As stated in the rock fishing section the rig which is used can also help – pulley rigs are specifically designed reduce the chances of getting snagged when reeling fish in over snaggy ground.
  • Whatever rig is used keep things simple – more metalwork means there is more stuff to get snagged on the seabed or caught in weed, and more expense when rigs are lost.
  • If fishing at short range there is no need to use expensive purpose made fishing weights. Nuts and blots can be used instead, but it is spark plugs that make the best cheap alternative to weights – read more about using spark plugs as weights.

Terminal Tackle to Avoid Snags

Weak Link Releases (Rotten Bottoms): Weak link releases are items of terminal tackle which allow casts to be performed but once the weight has settled on the seabed it is only attached by a weak link of monofilament. This means that if the weight becomes snagged the weak link will easily snap and the rest of the rig (and any fish that are hooked) can then be reeled in. There are a number of weak link releases available to sea anglers, ranging from the very simple weak link (pictured) to more complex and effective products from big manufacturers such as Breakaway and Gemini. See this page on the various weak link releases available on the UK market for a more detailed discussion of the pros and cons of the most commonly used weak link releases used by sea anglers.

Lead Lifts: An often overlooked item of terminal tackle is Breakaway’s Lead Lift. These are kite shaped plastic fins that are fitted above weights and their design creates elevation which raises the weight and therefore the whole rig higher into the water and over potential snags when reeling in. Although some anglers doubt the effectiveness of lead lifts they really do work and are invaluable when casting over snags onto a sandy patch of ground. Genuine Breakaway Lead Lifts can be purchased from Sea Angling Shop for £1.49 for a packet of two by clicking here.

Weights: It is also important to use the correct weights when fishing in snaggy locations. A plain lead is great for fishing on a clear, sandy beach as it will roll around and find indentations and gullies which hold fish. However, using a plain lead in an area full of snags will see it roll around until it eventually ends up in a snag. The alternative option is to use a grip lead which will not roll around and stay in one place, or use a cheap alternative to expensive weights (such as spark plugs mentioned above) and simply accept that a lot will be lost over the course of a fishing session.

Rigs: Many anglers buy read made rigs which are designed for fishing rocky and rough ground. Sea Angling Shop sells the Rough Ground Rig which is a simple single hook rig which incorporates a weak link so that only the weight will be lost if it becomes snagged. Similarly their Pulley Rigs are useful for fishing rough ground as this type of rig uses the weight of a fish which has been caught to pull the weight upwards and away from snags as the rig is reeled in. Both standard Pulley Rigs and Pennell Pulley Rigs for larger baits are available.

Pulling for a Line Break

If the worst comes to the worst and a rig is snagged the only option an angler has it to pull for a break. Start by gently pulling back on the rod as the weight may come free and it will be possible to reel in normally. However, if the rig does not free itself it will be necessary to pull for a break. Do not pull back on the rod too strenuously – there is serious risk of damaging the gearing of the reel, or potentially snapping the rod!

Rock Mark

Fishing marks such as this rock mark known as the Wherry in Whitburn, South Tyneside will lead to getting snagged. Pulling out of a snag needs to be done correctly to avoid damaging rods and reels.

Instead, the rod should be placed to one side and the angler should pull the line using his or her hands. Try moving sideways as sometimes a different angle can release the weight from the snag it is caught in. If this does not work then the only option is to keep on pulling until the line snaps. With 30lb line it can take some pulling and neoprene gloves will need to be worn to prevent the line from cutting into the angler’s hands (failing this cloth or a towel can be used to protect hands). Be careful with using the sleeve of a flotation suit to protect hands as the mono can sometimes cut through the material and ruin the suit. Another way of snapping the line is to hold it and then turn to face away from the sea with the line over the shoulder and keep on walking until the line snaps, this is generally the safest and best way to snap strong line. When pulling for a snap it quickly becomes apparent why 30lb mono is the strongest mainline that should be used – 35lb or stronger can prove near to impossible to break and the angler may have to cut the line. If a 15b mainline and shock leader is used then it will always snap at the leader/mainline join, as this is by far the weakest point, whereas 30lb line used straight through will snap at the rig.

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