Handlining is one of the oldest and most basic forms of fishing. At its simplest, the technique consists of just a line, weight, and baited hook or lure. This is one of the most mobile and compact of all means of fishing, due to the minimal amount of equipment needed. Throughout history, the technique has been used for commercial fishing to increase their catch, as well as for food gathering for such groups as Indians living near salmon waters.
The benefits to handlining have been noted many times; from being able to feel a strike more effectively, to having more control of a jigged lure. While there are now reels that take up the slack line being pulled in, there are still many simple approaches to handline fishing, such as simply using an empty coffee can as an enlarged spool to wrap line around. The technique has many obvious risks with fingers or other appendages being tangled in (or cut by) the line at the onset of a hard strike from a large fish or, while trolling, having the line snag.
Handlines are used in a variety of ways throughout different saltwater regions. Many resorts will advertise handline fishing from their local pier or cove, while even a few charter boats specialize in bluewater trolling with handlines. In most areas, there are wide varieties of fish that can be caught in salt water.
Some species that are commonly sought by handlining are salmon, bonefish, snook, jack, snapper, tuna, and mackerel, as well as smaller swordfish and marlin.
Many tribes of Indians near the salmon waters of Canada were known to use handlines while rowing in their canoes. Some would attach a line to their oar and with each stroke cause the bait or lure to jerk and stall through the water giving the appearance of a lame baitfish. This movement through the water promoted strikes on the primitive bone hook and bait or feathered lures.
Commercial fisherman found that relatively large numbers of fish could be taken in a short period of time using a similar method of handlining. In the past, many fishermen had to compete for the best waters surrounding their coastal communities and found that handlining allowed them to take many fish relatively discreetly. This method would help them keep any highly productive coastal waters they found secret from competitors.