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January 22, 2009

Get Up, Stand Up

Get into the stand-up game and don't give up the fight with the fish of a lifetime.

"Harnesses are an integral part of any serious stand-up system for game fish over 50 pounds," says Temple. "Any beginners with their hearts set on chasing these fish should include a top-of-the-line harness in their lists of stand-up gear." Good examples include AFTCO's Maxforce harness or Braid's Power Play system. Temple also suggests that each angler have his own harness and that he takes time to set it up before he leaves the dock - to avoid rushing around in the cockpit amidst the battle.

Hooking Up and Clipping In
Before you can start the stand-up fight, you have to get hooked up. And that's where most of the problems begin, according to South Florida charter skipper Ken Harris. Over a 10-year period in the late 1980s and early '90s, Harris fished giant bluefin tuna off Massachusetts with fellow guides Jose Wejebe, Robert Trosset, Bruce Cronin and Ralph Delph. Together they landed 31 tuna between 500 and 1,200 pounds - all on stand-up gear. Harris, who is also a pro staff member for Braid Products, took what he learned there and adapted it to fishing lighter stand-up gear for triple-digit yellowfin tuna, blue marlin, giant sharks and broadbill swordfish in his home waters off Key West. The system has worked so well for him, he's translated it into multiple tournament wins, including top prize in the 2000 Drambuie Key West Marlin Tournament. During that event, his then 15-year-old son, Clay, brought a 400-pound blue marlin to leader in under 15 minutes.

For Harris, the most critical time is the first 20 seconds following a strike or knockdown. 

"More good fish are lost when people have their heads down, fumbling around either trying to get clipped into the harness or trying to seat the gimbal," says Harris. "I don't care how big the tackle or fish is, tough it out for 20 or 30 seconds. Get control of the rod and feel the fish, figure out what you need to do (engage the drag, wind, drop back) before worrying about getting locked into the harness. If you can't get through that first 20 seconds, nothing else matters."

Once you've gotten the fish settled, it's time to get down to the business.

The stand-up concept revolves around using your entire body to move the rod tip up and down - the same as pumping and winding in a conventional fishing scenario - to avoid physical strain. With the fish hooked up and moving off, lean into the harness with your back straight, balancing your weight against the resistance of the fish.

The biggest help in reducing the physical strain caused by fighting fish, says Bierman, is mastering the pelvic tilt - keeping your hips tucked under your lower back.

"That tilt is the most important thing to learn when battling big fish on stand-up gear," says Bierman. "It keeps the lower back from getting strained."

Place your left hand on the side plate of the reel, with your right hand on the handle. Once the fish stops and you are able to gain line, pivot at the knees, leaning back in the harness until the rod tip rises and it feels like you can wind down and regain line. With the hand on the reel, keep tension between the rod and the harness - and never wind or drop the rod tip fast enough to introduce slack into the line. The left hand can be used to guide line on the reel during the fight to make sure it doesn't stack up on one side of the spool. In that position, it is also helpful in case of an unexpected break off, preventing the rod from potentially injuring the angler.

"It's not a very radical movement," says Harris. "I tell people, 'Don't raise the rod tip any higher than your eyeballs."' He likes the rod angle to range from about 15 degrees when the fish is pulling drag, to about a 40 or 45 degrees at the top of the stroke before recovering line.
But Harris is quick to point out that it's more important for the angler to know what the fish is doing so he can respond accordingly.

"I watch people make the same motion over and over, regardless of what the fish is doing. I call it 'robo-fishing,'" says Harris. "How can you keep doing the same thing all the time when the fish is doing something different? Sometimes you can lift and gain a lot of line. Other times, it might only be a matter of inches. That's when it's up to you to read the fish and get on them. But the angler must  always be aggressive."

Bierman agrees. "It's important to pace yourself so you don't wear yourself out early on," says Bierman. "But if the fish isn't taking line, you had better be. There should never be any standoffs - they never work in the angler's favor. Don't take time out for a drink, to take a little rest or anything. The fish isn't aware of the time-out rules, and while the angler is in time-out, the fish is going to be hauling his behind off into the deep blue yonder."

And that's definitely something you want to avoid.

The Stand-Up Stroke


  • Hips tucked under to support lower back
  • Left hand resting on reel; Right hand ready to gain line
  • Feet slightly less than shoulder width apart


  • As angler settles into squat, rod tip rises.


  • Left hand guiding line on reel; Right hand cranking
  • As angler rises out of squat, rod tip drops, allowing him to recover line.

Illustrations by Joe Mahler /