Fight Big Fish with the Butt Section of the Fly Rod Not the Tip

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Jeff Hickman applies perfect side pressure on a big fish. Photo By: Louis Cahill

If you fly fish long enough and pay your dues, it’s just a matter of time until you hook into a giant fish and experience defeat.

I’ve always loved the saying, “It’s always the big ones that get away”, like it provides anglers a viable excuse for losing battles with big fish. I’ll admit there are times when we’re at complete mercy of big fish, and defeat is 99% inevitable, but most battles are lost due to angler error, specifically by fighting big fish incorrectly with the fly rod.

For many anglers, every time they lose a big fish, a portion of their fish-fighting confidence disappears with it, and they become more paranoid with each unsuccessful encounter. Overtime, this paranoia and lack of confidence distorts their fish fighting instincts, and they begin to play big fish too conservatively, thinking if they put more pressure on the fish, the tippet will break or the hook will pull free. What they end up doing most of the time is fighting the fish with their rod tip instead of fighting the fish with the mid-section and butt section of the rod. This seriously limits an anglers ability to apply power and steer the fish during a fight, because all the power comes from the butt and mid-section of the rod, not the tip. It also will keep the leverage in the fish’s court, which will take it far longer for you to tire out a big fish. Fight times can be doubled, sometimes even tripled, and that’s bad news for a trophy specimen if the battle is taking place during the year when oxygen levels are low (you can play a fish to death). Furthermore, the longer the fight is prolonged, the better the chance something could go wrong, resulting in a fish being lost during the fight (teeth wearing through tippet, fish raking you across rocks and breaking line, fish snapping you off in a snag, ect).

Fight a big fish the right way

First, set your drag precisely before you wet a line. Doing so, you’ll be confident if you begin applying too much pressure on a big fish, your reel will smoothly let out fly line. Second, when applying side pressure (to flex the mid and butt sections of the rod) on a fish, it’s critical you make sure you’re pivoting your body around and rod away from the fish, while also keeping your rod tip low. You don’t want your rod tip and body pointing or facing towards a fish if you’re trying to apply side pressure, it won’t work near as well. Third, unless you’re at the age where you cannot aggressively follow a fish up and down the stream during the fight, make sure you’re staying right with the fish during the fight. My client the other day, was fighting a giant wild brown trout in the 25-27″ range, and he snoozed for just a few moments, standing stationary, and this allowed the brown to move downstream into fast water. As soon as the fish hit the fast water, its momentum was too strong to stop, and it went straight into a snag and broke us off. If my client would have stayed with the fish by quickly moving down stream, there would have been a really good chance we could have turned the fish and eventually landed it. If you have bad balance and can’t risk chasing after a fish, try dropping your rod tip under the surface and very gently and slowly begin reeling in. Quite often you’ll be able to slowly work the fish back to you upstream.


Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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