When fighting fish on lighter tackle, there are a few actions we can do to try to make sure we get those large fish in the boat. Captain Eric Newman and Captain Moe Newman of Journey South Outfitters give some tips on fish fighting techniques and how to properly release these fish of a lifetime.
Keep the Rod Tip DOWN
You’ve probably heard the dreaded term “high-sticking,” but if not, rest assured that it’s something you don’t want to do, on pain of a busted rod. It refers to fighting a big fish with your rod held high, particularly when a fish is near the boat. That puts too much bend and pressure on the top section of a rod, which is the part of most rods designed for casting, not fighting.
When fighting a good fish, keep the rod tip more-or-less level, raising it only slightly, to keep most of the resistance in the back half of the rod, where its strength lies. Pulling back with the rod parallel to the surface is one way to keep the pressure on the rod where it should be.
Plant your Feet Firmly in a Wide Stance
You don’t want to lose your footing — and lose your fish — particularly in a choppy sea. Also, plant those feet in a pair of good non-skid, non-slip shoes or deck boots.
Keep the Rod Loaded Up
Steady pressure on the rod will wear down the fish; lift or pump but never jerk the rod, nor should you ever suddenly ease the tension, causing the line to slacken.
Follow Your Fish!
An angler who stays put while his or her fish runs around the boat is a recipe for disaster. Follow a big fish as it moves around the boat; the old expression “no angle, no tangle” applies. Any good fishing boat should have walkways clear and open, since often anglers must move quickly to stay with big fish.
Dip Your Rod
You can follow your fish, but only so far. If it suddenly dives beneath the boat, say to the other side, your best defense is to thrust the rod down into the water, sometimes nearly to the reel, in order to be sure the line will clear the props.
Lead Fish Head First Into the Net
Lead large fish into a waiting net. Don’t try it the other way around, scooping the net around a fish boatside — a good way to lose a good catch.
Speaking of nets: Knotless, nylon-coated nets are much easier on fish than older abrasive knotted, hard nylon nets. If you are able to find rubber nets, research shows they also do not rub off slime coats and do not hurt the fish as much.
The very best way to release a fish is to leave it in the water and work the hook out. But at times this isn’t possible. If you need to bring a fish inside the boat, hold it gently but firmly on the gunwale or the deck and carefully back out the hook.
When holding fish that you intend to release for a photo, if the fish’s shape and temperament allow, support its belly with one hand and keep the other under or around the narrow area in front of its tail. For many fish, such as redfish (red drum), this works well, but for spiny or toothy fish, it’s not always advisable. Avoid holding large fish vertically (e.g. hanging from a jaw gripper) since this can damage their spines.