Avoiding Snags

Snags – An Inevitable Part of Sea Fishing

In sea fishing snags occur when part of a rig gets stuck on a feature underneath the water, preventing the rig from 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 bull huss, and species such as pollock and conger eels will only be found in and around rocky areas, explaining why anglers persist in fishing areas where tackle losses are high. 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 merges 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.

Pollock are a species found across rocky and snaggy areas.

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 fishing time pulling out of snags and tying on new rigs. Other anglers will 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 from rocky, snaggy areas on a regular basis to invest in strong rods and fast retrieval reels that are designed to handle this type of fishing. Rods designed to fish rough and snaggy ground are usually fairly expensive but are specially adapted to be stiff and powerful so that they can pull through snags and heavy weed beds. 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. Traditionally multiplier reels with a high retrieval ratio were used for rough ground fishing but today it is not unusual to see large fixed spool reels being when fishing from rock marks as some anglers find that the retrieval rate of modern fixed spools is just as fast as multipliers. As well as using a suitable rod and reel there are further steps which can be taken to cut down on getting snagged:

  • Strike before reeling in even if there is no indication of a fish on the end of the line. This helps get the weight and rig up off the seabed and away from snags.
  • Reel in fast. This gets the weight off the seabed and keeps it in midwater away from snags. A slow, dawdling retrieve that maximises the time the weight is dragged over the seabed will increase the chances of getting snagged.
  • As stated in the rock fishing section the rig which is used can also help. Pulley rigs are specifically designed to reduce the chances of getting snagged when reeling fish in over snaggy ground, while other rigs incorporate a weak link section which allows the weight to become detached if it becomes snagged (more on rigs for snaggy ground below).
  • Whatever rig is used keep things simple – the more terminal tackle included on a rig then the more components there is to get snagged on the seabed or caught in weed (and it is more expensive it is when rigs are lost).
  • If fishing close in there is no need to use expensive purpose made fishing weights. Anglers have experimented with using scrap metal, bolts and even spark plugs in place of weights, although only the simplest short-range casts should be performed when using unconventional items as fishing weights.

Terminal Tackle to Avoid Snags

Weak Link Release
A Cronus Weak Link Release.

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 simple weak link (pictured) to more complex products from big manufacturers such as Breakaway and Gemini. See this page on the various weak link releases available to UK anglers for a more detailed discussion of the pros and cons of the most commonly used weak link releases. Buy Cronus Weak Link Releases from Sea Angling Shop by clicking here.

Breakaway Lead Lift
Breakaway Lead Lift

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 but 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 that 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 for Rough Ground Fishing

Many anglers buy ready-made rigs which are suited for fishing across rocky and rough ground. These rigs feature components such as weak link releases which prevent tackle loss, while others, such as the pulley rig, are designed to increase the chances of successfully landing a fish over rocky, snaggy ground. Some of the most popular rough ground rigs are featured below:

General Rough Ground Rig: This rig is specifically designed for rough ground fishing and features some form of weak link release (either a Gemini Breaker, a Breakaway Escape Link or a simple weak link clip). As stated this allows the weight to detach if it becomes snagged in order to allow the rest of the rig (and any fish which have taken the bait) to be retrieved. A simple yet effective rig for rough ground fishing. Purchase a rig similar to this one from Sea Angling Shop by clicking here.

Pulley Rig: The pulley rig has long been a favourite with anglers fishing over snaggy ground. It is so-called because when a fish is hooked and reeled in this rig acts as a pulley, with the weight being pulled upwards and away from snags by the weight of the fish (see a simple animation of the pulley rig working by clicking here). Purchase a conventional pulley rig from Sea Angling Shop by clicking here, or anglers targeting larger species can purchase a pulley rig with pennell hooks by clicking here.

Basic Rough Ground Rig: This rig is a variation of the general rough ground rig. It is made using an absolute minimum of components. For example, it uses a dropper knot (instead of a swivel crimped between two beads) and also features a simple weak link release so that the weight will detach if it becomes snagged. As it contains so few components this rig is very cheap to make, meaning anglers will not be losing much money if several are snagged over a fishing session. Despite its simplicity this rig is still very effective at catching fish in rocky areas. Read more about this type of rig here.

Pulling for a Line Break

If a rig becomes firmly snagged there are a number of measures an angler can take to try and free the rig. If these do not work then it will be necessary to pull until the line snaps. Anglers should never put the pressure of pulling from a snag on their reel as this can seriously damage the gearing of multiplier reels and the bail arm of fixed spool reels. It is usually best to let out some slack line and put the rod down to one side and then pull the line that way.

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

Anglers should begin by moving sideways and trying to pull the rig free from a different angle as sometimes this can release the rig or 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. If strong line is being used then it will take a significant amount of force to snap the line and it will be essential to wear gloves to stop the line from cutting into 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 strong monofilament line 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 pull from a snag. When pulling for a snap it quickly becomes apparent why monofilament with a 30lb breaking strain is the strongest mainline that should be used as a main line – 35lb or stronger can prove near to impossible to break and the angler may have to cut the line. If a 15b mainline and shockleader is used then it will always snap at the leader/mainline join, as this is by far the weakest point, whereas 30lb breaking strain line used straight through will usually snap at the rig.

Getting Snagged When Lure Fishing

Cronus Atlantic Spinner
Becoming snagged is a common occurrence when fishing with lures.

Becoming snagged also happens when fishing with jelly lures, spinners and sinking plugs. The issue here is the same as when fishing with baited rigs – when the lure comes into contact with the seabed it may become snagged on rocks, heavy weed or some other underwater obstruction. Anglers fishing with lures generally become snagged less often as lures are drawn through mid-water sand come into less contact with the seabed. However, if anglers are not getting any interest in their lures higher up in the water column they may then allow the lures to sink deep down to try and locate feeding fish there, and take the risk that they may become snagged as a result of this tactic. When anglers who are lure fishing become snagged they simply pull the line to break in the usual way, but as lines used in spinning and lure fishing are generally 12 – 15lb breaking strain or lighter it is relatively easy to snap the line free when lure fishing.