Proper Technique for Fighting Big Fish – A Primer
How many times have you lost your footing or slipped your grip when reeling in a big fish?
No one ever wants to tell the story about “the one that got away,” so it’s essential that you’re prepared with more than muscle alone — you’ve got to have the right skills and technique to bring it on home.
In addition to reacting quickly to every move the fish makes, you’ve got to
- use your gear effectively,
- set the hook, and
- strip the line to finesse a running fish.
Here’s a look at how to prepare your gear and wield your rod and line like an expert so you can bring those big fish home every time.
Prepare the Rod and Line for Battle
If you’re fishing in a narrow area where the fish have less room to run, fly line backing shouldn’t be a problem. If you often face line memory issues or you want a quicker retrieve, make sure you attach sufficient backing to your fly line. It can be a nice insurance policy against broken lines and other costly mishaps.
Anglers should practice knot tying as well. A strong knot with an appropriate tippet will serve you well while fly-fishing, but weak knots can result in lost fish. Some anglers may set the drag with the fly line completely out of the reel, with several inches of backing exposed.
It all comes down to your preference, the type of fish you are going after, and your experience level.
Decide How You’re Going to Set the Hook When You Feel a Bite
When you feel a nibble, you’re going to use one of two methods to set the hook:
- Sharp Lift: With your rod extended in front of you, raise the tip sharply to set the hook. Don’t let the rod move vertically, as you risk jerking the hook out of the fish’s mouth or flinging the fish out of the water.
- Strip Set: Leave your rod in its original position. Hold the rod in your dominant hand, and use your other hand to strip some fly line. Use shorter movements to speed up the process and when you finally feel tension, maintain that tension on the line.
Note that the strip set generally works best in saltwater or when fishing for larger prey. If you don’t have enough tension on the line, you may lose the fish if it charges.
Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Allow Your Rod to Bend
A rod that’s held too straight often results in a lost fish, as the tension gets held in the rod, not on the line.
Make sure you move your rod to the right or left — whichever is opposite the fish’s direction — to transfer the bend to the butt of the rod and heighten the pressure on the fish. As the fish moves closer to the boat, it’s okay to bring your rod down toward the water and follow the fish around the boat.
Some fish may run away from the boat for a few minutes, then switch direction without warning, so be prepared to strip your line when such a shift in direction happens – you can’t always reel quickly enough to regain tension, but a strip set may work.
Be Ready to Lower Your Rod During Unexpected Maneuvers
You can’t always predict how a fish will react after you set the hook.
If the fish jumps in the air — as tarpon commonly do — or swims under your boat, bow to the fish. When you lower the tip of your rod into the water, you reduce the risk of pulling the hook out of the fish’s mouth or snapping the leader.
Beware that bowing to the fish adds instant slack to the line. As soon as you have control over the situation, increase the tension again to resume the fight. You might need to bow several times before you’re finally able to reel it in.
How to Guide the Fish to the Water’s Surface
Instead, guide the fish toward the water’s surface at the end of the fight. You or a fishing partner can reach into the water to pick up the fish once you see it breaching the water’s surface. This technique won’t stress the fish as much, which makes it ideal for catch-and-release fishing.
As long as the fish continues to make runs, let it. Continue the give-and-take process until you’ve successfully worn out the fish and guided it up to the surface.
Enjoy The Fight, and Observe the Differences in Fish and Equipment
Fighting big fish takes practice and skill, and the key to winning the battle will be different every time.
Your techniques landing trout in freshwater, for example, will be vastly different from your methods with tarpon in saltwater.
How do you keep a big fish on the line?