playing big fish [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: playing big fish

06-24-2002, 11:37 PM
How are you supposed to play a big fish? Stand your ground when the fish gets downstream of you and hope your 6x tippet doesn't snap as your line gets stretched to the max in the fast current, or follow the fish downstream?

06-25-2002, 06:32 AM
Always follow and try and keep the fish upstream of you. For steelhead and salmon this is sometimes not possible, some just keep running downstream to the nearest large hole with deeper water and shelter (meaning wood). Some just keep going back to the lake or ocean and you will never catch them. Always use a light drag and the first run is always theres. Then get down stream of them and put the pressure on. But I keeep a light drag most of the time, palming the rim control reel for more drag on them or by holding the line against the rod. Keep a high rod tip position with a 90 degree angle to the fish.

gotta go, and be careful chasing them downstream, be ready for your bath at all times. Just hope it is not 30 -40 degree water and air temps like we are faced here with in the great lakes for winter steelhead fishing.

06-25-2002, 06:58 AM
For saltwater it would be a bit different... you will need to get the fish to the reel as soon as possible. The more bend in the rod the less pressure is on the fish. It may be ok for delicate tippets but for big saltwater fish you need to drop the rod with no more that a 45 degree angle and use side pressure... your 15 or 20 pound tippet can take it. Make the fish work the drag not the rod.

06-25-2002, 07:50 AM
Advanced rod handlers can keep constant low angle pressure from the lower part of the blank and that's clearly the best approach - but there is a tendency to lose fish on faster rods when the hard pressure can't be maintained as the fly line gets swept out and you're fighting with just backing in current, surf, or a fish that runs along the shore. More accurately it's the radical changes in hard to soft pressure that the fish can achieve while there is a lot of pressure on the line coming from other forces other than you that let it spit the hook with a long line - sag, current, weight, stretch, etc. When a fish gets way out there in the backing I switch to using the rod, not the reel to fight the fish. Put the biggest bend in the rod possible to create a bungee effect to soften the on/off shock factor that lets the fish spit the hook under long line situations. Work the reel to keep that big bend in the rod until it gets close enough to work normally. This technique has worked for me for years on steelhead, pacific salmon up to 38 pounds, stripers - all on barbless hooks. It's changed my big fish landing ratio dramatically and I've passed this on to many anglers over the years; most have already come back and told me their LDR rates have been significantly lowered and I see them using the technique.

As the line is recovered, and the fish comes back onto the flyline I revert back to the low angle hard butt section method where you can control the pressure.

I am in no position to question what Lefty says, but this really works for me and those I've shared it with.


06-25-2002, 08:03 AM
I agree.. I am certainly not advocating low pressure though the entire fight... If I am well into my backing I will raise the rod... I will also raise it in the surf so that the return swell does not break me off...but trying to get as much line on my real as that fish gets closer... For example ,in a boat... most people will break there tips as they try to land a fish into the boat... the reason is that they put tremendous bend in the rod as the fish is almost to the boat... This makes the fish relax and they thrash about so the angler increases the bend thinking he is subduing the fish when in fact he is not... he should hand line the fish into the boat and not haul it in by the line but pick it out of the water by hand.

06-25-2002, 10:12 AM

<<<<<This fish was landed on 6X fluorocarbon and a 5 wt rod. It made a short run across the stream the turned and went on a slow and steady cruise down the river. 1200 yards later we had it in the net. That is a little unusual however. Typically, a fish would like to go back to the place where he was when you hooked it. If a fish gets to far down stream from you they will turn to face upstream, open their mouths, and shake. Here are some of the basics that I have observed over the years.
1. Attempt to keep as little line out to the fish as possible. In other words move your feet and go swimming if you have to.
2. Try to keep the fish upstream from you. This keeps the line in the corner of the jaw and makes it harder to throw the hook.
3. If you keep up pressure on a fish it puts them in the heavy current so the basically "have" to go down stream. If you are at an impasse and cant follow the fish lower your rod tip and allow the line to sink. Often the fish will get in the slower water on the bottom and begin to come back up stream to it's hold.
4. Try to put big fish in shallow water. This gives you a mechanical advantage on big fish. If they can't get their head down you can control the battle. THATS A BIG TIP
5. The tip of the rod needs to be soft as well as the control of your hands. Keep your rod at least at a 60 degree angle to the fish. this will allow you to absorb the shock of a jump or a shake that a big fish can put on you. The control of your hands are considerably more sensitive that your drag.
6. Since it is impossible sometimes to keep a fish out of the backing remember that your drag changes as line goes out. The radius of the line on the reel get smaller as a fish pulls line. Since the radius is smaller the drag effect of the reel increases. I prefer a medium arbor to get rid of some of this. I don't use the large arbors because I have to worry about the way line is stacking on the reel. That's the last thing I want on my mind.
7. Finally stay calm!!! I instructed a couple of guys last summer on big fish fighting techniques. When they first started they would sit on the bank and shake from the adrenaline after losing a fish. After they lost a few they started to calm down and amazingly they landed almost everyone after that. Funny how freaky your brain gets when you have a fish of a lifetime on the end of a rod.

Finally "How do you get to Carnage Hall?......... practice........practice.......practice


06-25-2002, 02:07 PM

If you are talking a normal 20 inch or so stream trout on a light tippet I did not normally play them from the reel., but via finger pressure on the fly line against the rod to reduce or increase friction(drag) on the fish. For large andramous fish like steelhead and salmon I also get them on the reel as soon as possible with a light drag using rim control and finger pressure on the line to increase and decrease drag accordingly.

After some experiences, won and lost you will develop the right techniques, also don't panic, it is just another big fish you probably have a less than 50% chance of landing on a light tippet anyway. Unless you are a FlyfishAR who is an SME at large browns on light tippets.

Maybe he will share his trade secrets with us ? I see he already did while I was out to lunch and this post was inprocess on my machine.


06-25-2002, 07:41 PM
Another tactic I have been using is that when a big fish is leaving fast to a higher risk situation for me, like the log jam, tree roots, a bend pool or rapids that is to deep for me to follow, I will "give them line".

By that I mean I will start pulling fly line from the reel giving them slack line and reduction in pressure. Many times the fish will stop and come back to the original location you hooked them from. Then start over with them.

It does not work all the time but it will maybe turn 70% of these type of fish. I have mainly used for steelhead and salmon, never tried it on large stream trout though.

Give it a try

06-25-2002, 08:59 PM

Refer to the last of #3. Dominate fish are extreamly territorial. When you are getting your rear kicked by a big fish, let them go back home and start over.


06-28-2002, 10:57 AM
Newbiefish, lots of good advise from people who know how to land big fish. Fighting a big fish really becomes a thinking mans game and like with any challenge lots of practice helps. Often I've watched inexperienced fishermen who have hooked big fish freeze up completely both with physical action in relation to the fish and mental action towards the fish. Ya got to remember that when you hook that hot fish that you are supposed to be in charge. You may not be but you have to keep a cool mind to get the upper hand again or for the first time in the hook up. When a big fish panics he is using every bit of energy to escape what he must concieve as sure death from an unknown source.

There are lots of times that big fish don't panic, yes they fight hard make strong runs but don't seem to panic. A lot of the time I think it's the experience of the fisherman other times it may be just luck or the type of water the fish is swiming in. When a fish truely panics you have to identify it from the regular strong run. There have been many of big steelhead on the Clearwater R in Idaho that when they panic it seems like they are headed at full speed back to the Pacific Ocean 400 miles away. I used to think that there was no way to stop them but over time I've had better luck in doing so. One thing not mentioned above is when a fish is hooked and the fish feels the set where is the leader in relation to you and the fish. More fish have really paniced not so much from the hook in mouth but from the leader runing tight along its side or back. Seems a fish fears more what is behind him than anything. A fishes side is very sensitive and can tell him when danger is coming from behind so one can imagine that when a leader is rubbing against its back that panic is going to come into play. When those Idaho fish would head down river at full speed I'd chase after them but could not keep up with them runing along the river bank. What I eventually found was that if the fish did panic and start down river if it was possible to walk or run as soon as possibe up the bank 20 or 25 feet away from the river I was able to angle the leader away from the fish and he would usually slow down and turn. When playing a big fish and I'm standing in a river I go for the bank as soon as the fish is hooked. I know there is a lot of things going on, fish running, line coming of the reel but getting to land where you can react to what a big fish does is inportant beyond belief.

Anyone ever notice that the big fish you lost will give far more memories and wonderful things to think about than a lot of the big ones you landed. The one landed is a done deal the one lost is an on going struggle to mind and soul.

07-01-2002, 11:50 AM
More fish have really paniced not so much from the hook in mouth but from the leader runing tight along its side or back. Seems a fish fears more what is behind him than anything. A fishes side is very sensitive and can tell him when danger is coming from behind so one can imagine that when a leader is rubbing against its back that panic is going to come into play.


That is a very interesting observation. Many of the fish we catch never really know they are even hooked until they are in the net. But a foul hooked fish goes absolutely nuts. I've made the comment in the past that a clients fish was fouled from the way that it fights. You may have the perfect reasoning for it. That one is going in my little black book. :smokin:


John Desjardins
07-01-2002, 11:59 AM
Funny this thread should popup again. Yesterday I was on a whale watch and it brought back memories of party boat fishing. One of those was loosing the biggest cod I ever hooked at boatside.
From that experience I can add this advice: never tighten down the drag at the last minute with the fish almost at hand. Especially don't do it when the mate is telling you NOT TO :rolleyes:

The points about foul hooked fish is interesting as well. They often seem to fight like a much larger fish.

07-03-2002, 12:56 PM
John D:

Most of the reason that a fish "feels" bigger when they are foul hooked is because they have such a mechanical advantage on you. For some reason if you can get a fishes nose pointed at you you can feed them towards you fairly easily. With a fish having his tail pointing at you all the time, plus the apparent effect of the the predator fear factor, they will fight themselves to death. I really put the pressure on once I have the fishes nose. A fouled fish never gives you that opportunity.

John W.