Q: When fishing in a tournament where the biggest fish wins and you have to weigh the fish in, would you prefer to use macho 130s or lighter 80s? Would you try to get the small ones off quickly without tagging them to avoid fighting them all the way to the boat? I say use 130s and crank them in for a release ASAP! What's your opinion?
San Antonio, Texas
A: I always try to get a tag into every billfish I'm going to release, for a couple of different reasons. Grabbing a leader and breaking it while the fish is still 20 or 30 feet from the boat does not constitute a release in my logbook - no matter what the tournament rules say. Learning to skillfully handle the leader doesn't just mean learning how to pull hard. Proper wiring takes finesse, agility and the knowledge of when to let go - which can only be learned through trial and error.
Here are some reasons why breaking the leader before a fish is tagged or gaffed is considered losing, not releasing, the fish in my book. I never got a world record on any fish - or sold and got paid for any edible fish - that managed to get away alongside or near the boat. It is usually easier to tag a fish than gaff and land it, but at least the crew learns the proper leadering skills and the captain gets to practice the boat-handling skills needed to boat a fish. Pulling the hook on the leader also means a lost fish, and foul-hooked fish need to be handled gently to get them within tagging range - yet another facet of wiring skill.
Even in today's world of sophisticated electronic tags, the good old "spaghetti" tags still provide valuable information. If a large number of tagged fish are recaptured and anglers send in the tags, we can start to calculate things like the size of the overall population. For example, if the fleet tags 100 fish, and only 12 are recaptured, we can say that 12 percent of tagged fish are caught a second time. Deduct the number tagged and released again, say two out of the 12 recaptured, and we now know reasonably well that 10 percent of the overall population of that species is being killed, which should be a sustainable number.
Jack up the percentage to 25 or more of the population being killed (like giant bluefin tuna), and the population will not be able to stand that much pressure! Also when PETA starts giving you heat for torturing beautiful fish, we can reply, "What have you done lately to actually help the fish population? We are helping establish data that will enable the scientists to conserve the fish!"
Since you are from Texas, I presume you consider blue marlin the money fish, but whites and sails usually count for a prestigious release trophy - and sometimes a pretty good cash prize as well.
I would use 80s blueprinted by Cal Sheets (or the new Fin-Nor 80 that can handle 130) for lighter, easier-to-handle rods and reels. Even though I preach about and use heavy drag settings, I do not always use all the drag I have available on my reels. Use as light a drag as you can and still catch the fish quickly to avoid pulling too many hooks.