Tips On… Fighting Saltwater Game Fish A Beginners Guide

The following guidance assumes you are fairly new to big game saltwater fishing and are out fishing on a charter boat. This type of information is given to all guests aboard our game boats if they are not experienced anglers. Occasionally we have to remind experienced anglers as well !

Lets assume you are out doing some general trolling for wahoo, mahi mahi or tuna on 30lb class IGFA tackle. The deckie has set a pattern of 4 lures behind the boat and one of the reels starts to scream….

1. Pick up the rod.

Sounds simple but sometimes the rod seems to be jammed in the rod holder. Don’t try to yank or force it out. It’s wedged because of the pressure the fish is exerting on the rod tip. Grasp the rod fore-grip in front of the reel and pull it slightly backwards (away from the fish). You will find that the rod then easily comes out of the rod holder.

2. Assume the position

Unless you are fighting a fish from a game chair, hold the rod with the reel uppermost, your left hand well up the fore-grip and the butt of the rod resting low down on your hip. This leaves your right hand free to wind the reel handle. Hold the rod at about 45 degrees. The higher up the rod your left hand is, the more leverage you can apply. It’s important that you feel comfortable. Some fights can last hours though 10-20 minutes is the norm so you had better be comfy. It is usual at this point for the deckie to put a butt pad on you. No, its not a comfy cushion for you to sit on – its a plastic cushioned pad that hangs from your waist, rests on your thighs and has a slot where you rest the butt of the rod. This will stop the rod butt digging into you and causing bruising and spread the load over your thighs during a prolonged fight. With the end of the rod sitting in the butt pad and your left hand holding the fore-grip you should feel stable and comfortable. You are on a boat, its moving around so step up to the side of the boat or better still the corner, bend your knees slightly and wedge your knees slightly under the cockpit combing – the padded edge. This is a good stable position even on a pitching and rolling boat.

3. Keep The Rod Tip Bent.

Its that simple. The greatest cause of fish being lost is the line not being tight between the rod tip and the fish. If the line is not tight, the hook is not being held in place and the fish will likely spit the lure out. If the rod tip is bent at all times, then pressure is being applied to the fish at all times. This also means that the fish doesn’t get a free rest and you will wear him out more quickly and get him to the boat sooner. If the fish swims towards you, wind wind wind to keep that line tight and the rod tip bent.

The rod also acts as a shock absorber. Any jerks from sudden movements by the fish are absorbed by the rod tip. If you point the rod straight at the fish, it’s not doing anything and sudden jerks are transmitted straight to you and the reel. (Trust me – it will end in tears)

4. Slow Down – Its Not A Race !

Most (wait – scrub that) ALL novice anglers when confronted with a screaming reel panic and franticly wind like crazy. You are wasting your time and energy. If the reel is screaming it means that it is paying out line and will continue to do so whether you try to wind or not. Wait for the fish to end its run for cover. Then you can think about winding.

5. Lift Up and Wind Down

Good quality game fishing reels have a sophisticated drag system. A reasonable analogy would be the clutch in a manual car. Adjusting the lever drag on a game reel is like depressing the car’s clutch pedal. All the way out and the engine is engaged, (reel drag engaged), all the way in and the engine is free wheeling (Reel is in Free-spool).

This means that an angler can set the lever drag somewhere in the middle. The reel will then pay out line (clutch will slip) when the line is pulled with sufficient force. To put it simply, you can set the drag to pay out line if the fish pulls harder than a set amount.

It is normal for the drag to be set at between one quarter and one third the breaking strain of the line. In theory it is therefore impossible for the fish to snap the line. If the fish pulls really hard, instead of the line snapping, the reel just lets line out.

When the fish ends its run, the reel will go quiet and the pressure on the rod tip will ease up a little. Now is the time to win some of that line back.

Raise the rod tip, start to wind the reel and whilst winding, slowly lower the rod tip. Don’t raise the rod tip so high that it’s over your head and don’t lower it so low that the rod is pointing at the fish.

Lift up and wind down. Try to keep your movements as smooth as possible and keep that rod tip bent at all times.

6. Tag & Release or Boating a fish

Different fish react in different ways when near the boat. Yellowfin tuna for example go into a circular pattern underneath the hull. The most important thing here is to not let the line touch any part of the boat. If it does, it will probably break. The skipper will manoeuvre the vessel as best he can to keep the line and fish away from the props and rudders but it’s also your job not to let the line touch the side of the boat. Feel free to move about the cockpit. Change sides if the fish swims in the other direction. Don’t plant yourself in one spot and stay there. Listen up for instructions from the crew and move to anywhere where it’s just you and the fish with no boat in between.

Usually the boat will be slowly moving forwards. You are trying to work the fish up alongside the boat so that the fish can then be tagged or gaffed. Moving the boat forwards maintains a flow of water over the fish and its gills. This keeps the fish much happier than if you stopped and the fish is therefore less stressed and less likely to do something unexpected. It is always a good idea to do this if you intend on tagging and releasing the fish.

7. And Lastly…

Everybody looses fish, even the real pro’s. Don’t knock yourself down. Learn from mistakes and it won’t happen again. Every trip out there I learn something new. Don’t be shy in asking questions.

Gamefishing is a sport and like all sports, you need to practice…

Just make sure you have fun practicing….

Adrian was born on the island of Cyprus and graduated to his first rod & reel at the age of five. Having fished around the world from the Arabian Gulf to the North sea and English Channel, he finally settled for the tropical waters of the South Pacific around the island of Kadavu, Fiji Islands. Director of Matava Resort Gamefishing, he skippers ‘Bite Me’, the resort’s 31ft DeepVee Gamefishing vessel and thoroughly enjoys exploring the light and heavy tackle fishing around the island and Great Astrolabe Barrier Reef. An IGFA Certified Captain, he advocates tag & release and is a keen supporter of the IGFA and the Billfish Foundation.

Adrian Watt
IGFA Captain

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