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Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

 

It was on her second cast to the big corner pool that the rainbow engulfed the Stimulator, felt the sting, and, as rainbows do, immediately leapt skyward. My wife, with equal parts awe and surprise, immediately jerked back her rod, snapping the leader in an instant. The trout crashed back beneath the surface and in mere seconds the entire experience was over.

But in that briefest of moments I saw a fish like few others. The tiny creek had revealed to us the crown jewel of its inhabitants, a sleek rainbow that would have surely passed 22” in waters where an honest 16” trout is typically the best of the day. Still in the early development stages as an angler, Jane didn’t quite know what she’d lost, but I definitely did. And, more to the point, I knew why. Like far too many anglers, she’d just lost what would have been a fish of memories because she didn’t have the skills to fight and land a fish of that size.

Of course, that deficit wasn’t her fault as while it’s easy to practice casting skills in the park and knot tying in the garage, there’s no easy and effective way to practice, or teach, how to handle a fish on your line. You pretty much need the real McCoy to develop those skills, and experience, as Jane and most of us have learned, can be a cruel teacher. That’s the problem with experience – you generally need it about 10 minutes before you get it.

Having said that, there are some fundamental truths about hooking and playing fish that most developing anglers can benefit from by understanding and putting to practice. It matters little whether you’re using fly or spinning tackle – the basics are the same.

Setting the Hook

Inadequate hook sets result in more lost fish than most of us care to remember. It’s all about understanding the fish species you’re targeting, the tackle and technique you’re using, and the amount of line you have out.

Hard-mouthed fish such as pike, bass and walleye require, and can sustain, a much stronger hook set than do softer-mouthed species like stream trout and grayling, which most often require only that the angler “tighten up” on the line.

Tackle consideration includes the gauge of your hook, remembering that narrow diameter hooks will penetrate more easily than will thicker hooks. Know the breaking strength of your line or tippet as well – can it sustain a heavy shock without breaking? Is your rod relatively soft or is it stiff – be conscious of the amount of “give” you’ll have when setting the hook.

Give thought, as well, to your technique or presentation. As often as not fish caught while trolling will impale themselves, but you’ll have to set the hook on fish that sip a more passive bait.

The distance between the angler and fish also impacts the effectiveness of your hook set – monofilament line, in particular, stretches considerably, and the further you are from a fish, the more “oomph” you’ll need to properly bury your hook.

Everything else being equal, if you’re losing a lot of fish at the point of impact, most often it’s because you’re not setting the hook firmly enough on hard-mouthed species and you’re setting it too hard on softer-mouthed fish. Think about the variables before a fish takes your bait and visualize how you’ll set the hook when it does.

Playing a Fish

Playing a fish is another of those lessons that’s usually learned the hard way, through trial and error, with errors definitely prevailing in the early sessions. As neophytes we often attempt to haul in our fish by simply cranking on the reel handle, which proves to be a terrific way to lose a fish quickly. A “professional release” some might call it! In reality, it’s your rod that does most of the work in landing fish; the reel is generally along for the ride, with the exception of the drag, which we’ll get to later.

Our objective should be to land a fish as quickly as possible. A relatively brief fight means that fish are less tired, so they’re more likely to survive a subsequent release. A shorter fight also translates into reduced likelihood that a fish spits the hook, breaks you off, or wraps your line around a snag. The anglers I’ve seen who land the highest percentage of their fish are the ones who play them the quickest and hardest.

Back to the drag. Beyond its value in holding line, the drag is the most important function of a reel and, when properly set, protects your line from breaking while concurrently helping to tire a fish. It’s critical, therefore, to set your drag before you have a fish on. The time-tested rule of thumb is to set your drag to 25% of the rated breaking strength of your line, meaning that if you’re fishing with 8lb. test, your line should release with 2 lbs. of pressure. You can use a spring-type scale to accurately measure this, or simply best-guess it by hand. Either way, you want to be able to set the hook without enacting the drag, but at the same time you want your drag light enough that a big fish doesn't break your line.

When fighting your fish, keep your rod tip up – this allows your rod to act as a shock absorber, taking pressure off the line when a big fish makes a run. Keep constant pressure on the fish and avoid stalemates. Either the fish should be taking line, in which case let him do just that, or you should be taking line in. The key is to avoid slack in the line – if the fish in running towards you, reel in the slack. If he’s running away from you, don’t turn the reel handle but keep your rod up and let the drag do its job. If you continue to turn the handle against the drag while the fish is running with a spinning reel you will introduce twists in the line that will eventually cause problems.

If your fish isn’t taking line, “pump” the fish in by lifting the rod tip, effectively pulling the fish towards you, and then lower the tip while simultaneously reeling in the slack you’ve created. Then repeat, and continue repeating unless the fish turns and runs, in which case you stop reeling and again let the reel’s drag do the work. Each time the fish stops running, repeat the process until the fish is at bay and ready to be landed.

When a fish heads in one direction, try to put pressure on him in the opposite direction. You can do this by simply moving your rod in the opposite direction he’s running. This will help tire him out more quickly while keeping you in control of the fight.

The exception to the adage to always keep your rod tip high is when a fish jumps. In those situations, lower your rod tip, or “bow to the fish”, when it leaps. This will help eliminate the common problem of breaking off when a fish jumps, which is particularly common when fighting trout, steelhead, Atlantic salmon and bass.

In the end, experience will be your best teacher, and you’ll likely lose a few big fish along the way. After a while, however, you develop a natural feel for playing fish and won’t be subject to those feelings of panic when you’re into a big one. Just remember, in simplest terms you let him run when he demands it and rein him in when you can. How hard is too hard to pull? Well, you’ll figure it out.




Previous Fishing Articles

(1) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(2) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(3) Keep It Up!

(4) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(5) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(6) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(7) Hawg Holes

(8) Saltwater Salmon

(9) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(10) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(11) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead

(12) IN SEARCH OF SPECKLED FOOTBALLS

(13) FISHING CANADA'S PRAIRIE CITIES

(14) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(15) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(16) Fall Walleye

(17) Wet Flies

(18) Versatility the Key to Success

(19) Grayling of the Boreal

(20) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(21) Size Matters

(22) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(23) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(24) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(25) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(26) The Point Of It All

(27) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(28) Fall Fly Fishing

(29) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(30) Big River, Big Fish

(31) Bottom Bonanza

(32) Fishing Small Flies

(33) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(34) Four Seasons of the Bow

(35) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot

(36) GEARING UP FOR SMALL STREAM TROUT

(37) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(38) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(39) Edge Walleye

(40) FLY FISHING STRATEGIES FOR HIGH WATER

(41) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(42) Four Corners – Four Waters

(43) Chasing Pothole Trout

(44) Springtime Stoneflies

(45) The Torrents of Spring

(46) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(47) Bust Them With Bait

(48) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(49) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(50) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(51) Terrestrials

(52) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(53) Rocky Mountain High

(54) Reading the clues

(55) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(56) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(57) Fly Fishing 101

(58) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(59) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(60) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(61) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(62) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(63) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(64) Trust Your Electronics

(65) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(66) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(67) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(68) Walleye can be Humbling

(69) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(70) Winter Flyfishing

(71) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(72) Hot Fall Pike Action

(73) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(74) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(75) Frequently Asked Questions

(76) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(77) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(78) Deep Water Perch

(79) Post Spawn Brookies

(80) A Fisher's Life

(81) The River's Last Stand

(82) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(83) Coho on the Coast

(84) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(85) Summer in the Mountains

(86) Peak Walleye Season

(87) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(88) Last Ice Rainbows

(89) The Burbot Event

(90) Tackle Matching

(91) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(92) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(93) The Lure of Brook Trout

(94) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(95) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(96) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(97) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(98) The Vesatile Plug

(99) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(100) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(101) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(102) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(103) Daily Fish Migrations

(104) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(105) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(106) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(107) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(108) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(109) The Fun in Ultra Light

(110) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(111) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(112) Never Stop Learning

(113) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(114) Jigging through the Ice

(115) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(116) Rainbows on Ice

(117) The Season of Ice Begins

(118) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(119) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(120) Facts On Cats

(121) West Coast Adventure

(122) June Walleye Frenzy

(123) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(124) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(125) "Northern Exposure"

(126) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(127) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(128) Man Overboard