A Team Approach To Landing Big Fish

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Whitney And Ben Get The Job Done Photo by Louis Cahill

Whitney And Ben Get The Job Done Photo by Louis Cahill

When landing a big fish you need the deck stacked in your favor.

On my recent trip to Alaska West, I hade ample opportunity to practice big fish landing skills. We fished from the boat a good bit and it seemed like every five minutes we were battling another huge rainbow. Landing big Alaska rainbows in a river full of snags and very heavy current is no cake walk. With a little teamwork and cool head though, you can stack the deck in your favor.

Ultimately, you want to be out of the boat when you close the deal. Being on firm footing with both the angler and the net-man able to move independently is crucial. This allows you to fight the fish strategically and take advantage of every opportunity to put him in the net. In order for everything to go smoothly, everyone on the boat should be on the same page and know their roll.

Generally, when you stick a big fish, you know it. Even if you haven’t seen him, his behavior should give you a clue. If he bulldogs you right from the start, feeling like a throbbing log on the river bed or begins to move calmly upstream, you’re in for a long tussle. If he goes ballistic, jumping or making a big downstream run, you’re in crisis mode from the word go. As an angler, it’s in your best interest to let your buddies know what’s happening on the other end of the line so they can react accordingly.

As the oarsmen, you want to try and stick with the fish in the crucial first moments of the fight. If he’s bulldogging, try to hold your angler just downstream of the fish. That will help him keep a good ninety degree connection to the fish without getting a bunch of line off the reel. Once the fish starts to move downstream, go with him. If he makes a big downstream run, it will be easier to close the gap while still in the boat. In either instance, it’s important that the oarsman move the boat to keep the fish away from hazards that might catch the line.

If you are the second angler in the boat and you are not also hooked up, secure your rig and stow your rod as quickly as possible. With a trophy fish on the line your buddy doesn’t need to be working around your line. Keep your eyes open for trouble. It can be easy for the oarsman to overlook a sleeper in the heat of battle. Being a team player will pay off when you have a fatty on the line.

Often, big fish will come off of structure on the outside of a bend. Once the initial panic is over, work the boat to the inside where the water will be slower and shallower. Look for a good place where everyone can safely and quickly get out of the boat. Bear in mind that in some cases this will not be possible or legal, but if it is, it’s a big advantage. Once the boat is in a good spot, you want to proceed in an orderly fashion.

The angler who is hooked up should be first out of the boat. You want a clean and safe dismount. If the water is slow and shallow, and the bottom is hard and even, I will jump out of the boat, landing with my knees slightly bent. If you are not 100% confident in this move, do not try it. Exit the boat in a manner that is safe for you and will assure your maintaining control of the fish. If you need your hands free, pass the rod to angler two while you exit. It you are physically unable or not confident getting out of the boat, stand your ground and let the net-man get out.

Next person out, if possible, is angler number two. It is your job to handle the boat. This may include putting out the anchor. If you are in a jet boat, for example, there may not be an anchor system that the oarsman can deploy. If the oarsman drops the anchor you may still need to carry it closer to shore or even to the bank depending on conditions. Just be sure everything is cool with the boat before joining the fun. And if you don’t mind, bring my camera case. We’re going to need photos of this pig!

The oarsman can grab the net and get downstream of the fish as quickly as possible. Sometimes the whole party ends up going for a little walk. When fighting a big fish, you want to hold your ground as much as possible but keeping a good ninety degree connection to the fish is job one. Sometimes you have to move downstream several times during a fight. Letting a fish get too far down stream of you is a bad situation, especially when trying to lift his head for the net.

Keep your rod low and to the side. Using side pressure to bring the fish to the bank will wear him out quickly while maintaining a good angle. Once the net-man is in position and the fish is showing signs of tiring, it’s just a matter of looking for an opportunity. When the fish comes high in the water column and begins to roll a bit as he fights you’ll have your chance. Raise the angle of your rod to lift his head. Once his nose breaks the surface of the water, keep it there. With his nose dry he has no rudder and you can steer him into the net.

This team approach to landing big fish on a float trip is not only highly effective, it’s also a lot of fun. Everyone get to enjoy the battle and feel a sense of accomplishment for a job well done. Just be sure you’re not violating local trespassing law and that you are being safe when getting in and out of the boat. Once you’ve done it a couple of times your crew will be moving like a well-oiled machine.

For more tips on landing big fish, check out these articles.

9 Tips For Netting Big Fish On Your Own

The First Ten Seconds

2 Common Mistakes That Break Fly Rods While Fighting Fish


Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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2 thoughts on “A Team Approach To Landing Big Fish

  1. Sound advice Louis. I like how you emphasize using side pressure during the fight. In my experience, fish don’t like fighting against side pressure at all. Using side pressure greatly reduces the length of the fight, which is better for the fish, and increases your chance of netting that fish. This also reminds me of the Rapala extreme net man commercials! You gotta have a good net man/woman for sure. Someone inexperienced can bring you to tears when they bust your trophy fish off trying to net it. That might make a good post for the future.

  2. Pingback: Fighting Big Fish on Tenkara Rods | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog

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