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How To Fight Strong Fish

While I've never caught a truly big, strong fish on fly tackle, I keep hoping. I've been reading about how to fight them, but I'm confused. Can you offer any pointers?

June 16, 2005
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Q
While I’ve never caught a truly big, strong fish on fly tackle, I keep hoping. I’ve been reading about how to fight them, but I’m confused. Can you offer any pointers?

– James Johnson
Boston, MA

**
A**
Most fly-rodders lose the first few strong fish they hook because they don’t know the proper fish-fighting technique. Unfortunately, it would take far more space than I have here to detail exactly how to do this.
 
There are two schools of thought. Advocates for each one land many big fish, so it’s difficult to say which method is better. One group favors using constant side
pressure,  pulling the fish off balance. For example, if the fish is going right, rod
pressure is exerted from the left. If the fish turns to the left, rod pressure is exerted to the right. This also makes it harder for the fish to pull and tires it out faster.
 
The other school advocates pulling toward the fish’s tail as much as possible. This applies maximum pressure against the fish and makes it burn energy faster. The problem with this method is that it takes experience and skill to apply the technique properly.
 
But both groups adhere to certain fundamentals. The fish is fought with the lower butt portion. When rods break while fighting fish, it’s usually because the angler elevated the tip, which places all the pressure on this fragile part. The best fish fighters advocate staying as close to the fish as possible in order to reduce line stretch. Most floating fly lines stretch 15 percent to as much as 25 percent. It also pays to know how much pressure you can apply to your tippet.

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-Lefty

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