The Do's and Dont's of Fighting a Big Fish

         During my career as a guide and as a fisherman I have seen my share of big fish landed and lost.  We relish in our victories with wall mounts, photos and epic tales of battling the monster, but the one that got away is always swimming in the depths of our memories.  There are always excuses, "I had bad tippet," or "I would never have landed that thing," but why chalk it up to a loss when we can learn from our mistakes by evaluating what went wrong during the fight and how we can approach the situation in the future.  Fighting a fish is just as much of an art as tying a fly or casting, and must be learned through experience, but here are a few tips so that you won't be caught dead in the water when that big one comes a tuggin'.

Do: Set the hook quickly and firmly.  Trout are capable of inhaling your fly and expelling in a fraction of a second which is why you must react quickly when you have a strike.  A good hook set creates a solid connection between you and the fish and is the foundation for your success in landing a big one, especially with small flies and light tippet.

Don't: Check set, false set or set hesitantly.  If you think you have a strike, set the hook!  A half hearted hook set is a sure way to lose the fish of your dreams and will likely leave you with a pile of line in the bushes.  

Do:  Put pressure on the fish.  A big fish is capable of moving very quickly and forcefully.  In order to counter this you need to keep the pressure on so that the fish doesn't get the upper hand by running into logjams, boulders, submerged ledges or strong currents.  Try to gain leverage by holding the rod high and lifting the fishes head upwards.  This will tire the fish out as it attempts to pull lower its head and swim deeper.  

Don't:  Try to muscle the fish.  If it runs hard give it some line, but make it work for every inch.  There is a fine line between too much pressure, and not enough.  Just remember to always keep tension on the line and let the fish run if it is pulling hard.  Generally the initial run will only last a few seconds and you can re-gain the advantage, but if you muscle the fish and it breaks free the fight is over.

Do: Lead the fish away from obstacles and into slower water.  A big fish moving fast builds a lot of momentum, but is not very good at stopping.  When a big fish is hooked you have the advantage because you can control its momentum.  If a big fish is running in heavy current you can pull its head to the side forcing the fish to lean away into the softer water on the edge.  The fish will try to pull against you, but as it becomes tired you should be able to use your leverage to steer it where you want it to go.

Don't: Try to drag the fish or hang it in heavy current.  I have seen more fish lost like this than I care to re-count.  The fish is spent and the angler attempts to "surf" it over the current, dragging it across the water towards the waiting net.  The fish makes one last pull in the heavy current and the hook pops free.  Oh well... Lead the fish into soft water and land it there, it works out much better, trust me!

Do: Work the fish quickly and get it in as fast as possible so that it does not overtire.  Especially during the hot summer months trout are susceptible to exhaustion and in order to ensure their survival it is important that we play them with this in mind.

Don't:  Overtire the fish.  If a trout is belly up as it enters your net its chances of survival are slim.  If you play the fish right you should be able to land it in a reasonable amount of time and release it with a good chance of survival.  Use leverage and fight the fish into slower water where you can control it better. 

Do: Net the fish.  A good net will protect the fish’s delicate skin coating and keep it from flopping around causing further damage to itself.  It will also make it much easier for you to nab your trophy!  When you think the fish is ready pull its head out of the water with your rod high and guide the fish head-first into your net.  If you jab at it with the net you risk spooking it, so it is best if you gently let the fish glide to you when it is ready.  If you are netting the fish for someone else stay close to them and let them play it out, trying to chase a fish on someone else’s line is a bad idea.  You will scare the fish and risk tangling yourself in your partner’s line.  If you want to help land the fish, let them fight it out and net it when it is close to them.  

Don't: Drag the fish up onto the bank or shallow rocks to land it.  The fish will be impossible to control and it will most likely damage itself while flopping around in the rocks and dirt.  If you care about these amazing sport fish you will treat them with respect and use a net or land them by hand in deeper water.  I wouldn't recommend the latter, it is a sure way to lose that fish of your dreams!  Be prepared at all times with a net!

Do: Release the fish.  If you want a picture take it quickly to minimize the amount of time the fish spends out of the water.  Try to keep the fish cradled under water in the net until you are ready to take the picture.  Hold the fish out in front of you with one hand under its belly and the other beneath its tail and don't touch the gills!  If the fish is very tired you may have to revive it.  Hold it facing into the current and let the water run through its mouth and over the gills.  This may take a minute or two, but the fish should re-gain its strength momentarily.  Wait until the fish is ready to swim away under its own power to release it and watch it swim away to fight another day!



Home Nor Cal Fly Guides
Sacramento, CA

All Rights Reserved

Site Design By
Lupien Internet Services