There aren’t many moments on the water more exciting than the first realization that you’ve hooked into a big fish. A trophy fish. Walter. Perhaps that fish of a lifetime.
Unfortunately, that moment is all too often followed by one of the most discouraging moments on the water; when that fish of a lifetime comes unbuttoned. We have a feeling most of you can relate.
So, what’s the key to fighting (ahem, and landing) those big fish? We asked our staff of professional fly fishing guides to share the biggest mistake they see on a regular basis when fighting big fish, and today we share their answers with you.
Guide Poll: Most Common Mistake Made Fighting Big Fish
Dan Herrig, Owner/Guide, Deneki Outdoors: “A poor rod angle and/or too aggressive of a hook set.”
Kyle Shea, Head Guide, Alaska West. “We see a lot of the same mistakes occur over and over again such as losing tension or abrupt angle changes of the rod during the fight, but I’d say the most common mistake I see is not putting enough pressure on the fish. When it comes to landing big fish (particularly those we’re fortunate to use heavy leader/tippet for), maximum pressure is required to maintain a solid hook hold with a barbless hook. I’d rather bend out a hook or break a rod in half than lose a fish due to a lack of pressure. In fact, when swinging for kings, we like to say if you can’t feel the cork handle bend, you’re not pulling hard enough. Put the wood to ’em!”
Jason Whiting, Operations Manager/Guide, Alaska West. “Not pulling hard enough. We see it all the time. Most anglers don’t have a solid understanding of just how deep a rod is made to bend. That deep bend allows for the fish to be fought into the butt section of the rod which is the only part of the rod strong enough to put pressure on big fish.”
Jim Palmersheim, Guide, Alaska West: “Trying to get all the slack line on the reel too soon before the fish settles down. When the angler goes to the reel too soon, they lose focus on the fish and either drop the rod tip or raise it to an extreme and then loses tension on the fish.”
Ben West, Guide, Alaska West: “Giving your line too much Slack. Slack is the enemy right? Especially when fishing single barbless hooks like we do here.
When swinging flies for Kings, a solid, low, and firm hook set towards the bank your standing on is the first step. Then, it is critical to keep a big bend in your rod and a tight line. Sometimes to achieve this tight line you have to crank on the reel as fast as you possibly can if the fish runs towards you. Sometimes you have to chase the fish downstream or upstream. Every battle is different. Whatever you do though, take the fight seriously, and focus on keeping that pressure on your hook.
When trout fishing I often see the slack occurring during the transition from fighting the fish by hand, to getting the fish on the reel. All too often I see guys set the hook on a trout, and immediately try to wind their line onto the reel. During that instance they look down at the reel which lowers the rod tip, which gives the line slack and the fish comes off! I always say to fight the fish by hand at first, keeping that good pressure, and then when you get the fish under control and have a few seconds, then wind up your line onto the reel. All while keeping a nice bend in the rod and good pressure on the line.”
Tom Houska, Guide, Alaska West: “The most common mistake I see people make while hooked into large fish is not enjoying the fight. Feeling the large fish at the other end of the line often makes people anxious resulting in rash decision making that often loses the fish (unnecessary changes of rod angle, too much tension, lifting the fish prematurely, etc.). Searching for and battling the fish is 95% of the experience, so enjoy it. Large fish aren’t supposed to be easy to bring to the net so appreciate the time you have them at the end of your line. Staying calm while enjoying the fight will help you follow proper protocol, enjoy the experience more thoroughly, and ultimately increase your chances of landing trophy fish.”
Ryan Gossett, Guide, Alaska West: “The biggest mistake I see fighting big fish is inconsistent pressure on the fish. If you want to land the big ones you’re gonna need to apply very smooth and constant pressure.”
Rob Rymph, Guide, Rapids Camp Lodge: “Not enough tension. There should be tension on the line at all times. Slack loses fish, and tension keeps them on.”
Cole Cook, Guide, Alaska West: “When guys hook into a biggun, I think a common mistake is not staying calm. When shit hits the fan, you’ll see guys start running quickly to the bank, bear claw the reel, or aggressively change angles. The calmer you can stay, the better judgement you can make at the time.”
Lucas Young, Guide, Alaska West: “I believe a lot of people lose big fish by not maintaining opposing pressure and control of the rod tip. I try to keep the rod at a low angle and fight them from the butt, with my rod always pointing the opposite direction of the fish’s head. Keeping that rod tip steady and not allowing it to bounce as you reel, change angles, and otherwise play the fish helps to ensure that the hook remains firmly held in place.”
Cole Leishman, Guide, Alaska West: “Rod angle. When fighting big fish, especially on spey rods, low angles are key to keep the fly locked in to the point of purchase while still maintaining consistent pressure. Angle the rod towards the bank if there are no obstructions below you and angle the rod towards the main current if there are. The Kanektok River, where Alaska West is located, is riddled with snags so identifying these risks can pay dividends when fighting that 40 pound King.”
Want to tussle with some big fish? If so, then drop us a line for more information. We know where a few live.