By Pete McDonald
Landing Big Fish
A few important pointers to minimize the fish you remember as the "ones that got away."
The fish that stay with me the longest are the ones I didn’t catch. That alligator-sized northern pike, the snook with a mouth like a manhole cover, the striped bass that could have eaten a dog. These are all fish I should have caught. They were hooked and fought and seen in all their glory, only to be lost at the last moment. What makes it worse is that, on most of these occasions, losing them was my fault.
If only fishing were as easy as hook fish, reel fish, land fish. There are many other variables going on in landing a trophy. Here are a few things to think about that could make the difference between snapping a hero shot or living with haunting memories.
Hooks and Drags
A lot of big fish are lost before the fight even starts. A dull hook will doom your chances and since it takes all of 30 seconds to sharpen one, there’s really no excuse. While you’re at it, make sure to properly set the drag on your reel. Common practice is to set the drag to 25 percent of your line’s breaking strength. So if you’re fishing with 12-pound test, set your reel’s drag at three-pounds. How? Attach your line to a handheld fish scale, hold your rod tip up as if fighting a fish and pull down. When the drag slips, measure the reading on the scale.
Set the Hook
Many times when a fish is lost five minutes into the fight, the angler tends to think it’s something he did at that moment, when in reality the fight was doomed from the start. When the a fish eats, use your rod to drive the hook point. A popular expression is “cross its eyes” or “rip its lips,” implying that brute force is required. Not true. Lifting the rod tip up with a swift, firm motion should drive the point home.
Even with a properly hooked fish, slack in the line is the biggest enemy, allowing the fish a chance to rest or to work the hook free from its mouth. Slack line usually happens when a fish changes direction, jumps, or runs back at the boat. If you can’t reel fast enough, move to put a bend in your rod to keep pressure on the fish.
Pump and Wind
Many people practice the pumping technique–lift up then wind down–but not done properly it can create a moment of slack giving the fish a shot at escape. Raising the rod too high during the pumping process actually reduces pressure on the fish, giving it a breather. Use short quick pumps to keep pressure and disorient the fish, like a boxer constantly jabbing his opponent. Never reel on the way up, but make sure to start cranking on the reel before you start dropping the rod tip and reel the entire way down.
Bow to the Jump
The only time you want slack in your line during a fight is when a fish jumps from the water. When a fish leaps, all its weight is no longer suspended in the water but falling through the air, like a cinder block. All that mass is now fighting your drag, and if it lands on your line as it falls, something’s got to give. When a fish leaps, point your rod tip at it and bow as if she were the queen. When the fish lands, raise the rod again and resume pressure.
The End Game
Most fish are lost right at the boat, which is like losing a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning. Many times it’s psychological; the angler sees the size of the fish he’s about to land and freaks out, trying to horse it in over those last few feet. Remain calm and keep constant pressure; the fish is at its most dangerous here in its last ditch effort to get away. It could thrash against the boat or sprint away in one final burst.
When using a net, don’t try to scoop the fish from behind. Lead the fish to the net and scoop it head first. Keep the fish close to the surface and lift its head up so it doesn’t dive underneath the net or the boat and break the line. Then exhale, knowing you won’t be forever thinking about the one that got away.
Pete McDonald is a contributing editor to Power & Motoryacht. Previously, he spent 11 years on the editorial staff of Boating. He has won multiple writing awards and holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
- Pete McDonald is a contributing editor to Power & Motoryacht. Previously, he spent 11 years on the editorial staff of Boating. He has won multiple writing awards and holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.