Putting Your Rod Tip In The Water Can Be A Game Changer

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Bruce Chard Dropps The Tip Photo by Louis Cahill

Bruce Chard Dropps The Tip Photo by Louis Cahill

Everyone wants to catch big fish but learning to outsmart them takes some doing.

Big fish often hold a PhD in fly selection and presentation, but any experienced angler can tell you that getting them to eat your fly is only half the battle. Getting them to the net is another thing. Most anglers do not land the first really big fish they hook. Often they don’t land the first several. Much is written about feeding big fish and far too little about what comes next. Generally speaking anglers learn to land big, strong fish the way I did, by losing a few.

Fighting a tough fish is not just a show of force. It’s a game of strategy, but also of tactics. It’s problem solving. The fish creates problems and you have to solve them. There are two such fish problems that can be solved by the simple tactic of putting your rod tip in the water.

The big downstream run

When a strong fish runs hard downstream too quickly for you to follow, you find yourself at a disadvantage. With the fish directly downstream, the angle of the hook in the fish’s mouth is perilous. Any thrashing or head shaking on the part of the fish can easily result in a long distance release. If you are unable to get downstream and establish a better angle to the fish you are left with only one choice, bring the fish to you. But how?

You can’t tow a big fish upstream on 5X tippet so the fish must come by choice. Once the fish has stopped his run and turned to face upstream, drop your rod tip into the water and ease off the pressure and give him a bit of line. The force of the water on the fly line will keep the tension on the fish.

As the line bellies below the fish, the angle of the pressure on the hook will change. The hook will, once again, be at a favorable angle and the fish will feel the pull from downstream. The fish, wanting to escape the downstream pull, will swim back upstream to you. Take the line up just enough to keep a small belly in the line and when the fish reaches a place where you can restore direct pressure while keeping a good angle, take up the slack and lift the rod tip out of the water.

This is an old steelheader trick and the first time you see it work it’s like magic. It’s not without risk however. There are lots of places for the line to snag and if you don’t manage the line it will find them. If you have a lot of line out and you let the line belly too far, the pressure of the line in the water can become great enough to break the tippet or straighten the hook. This trick, done well however, can save the day.

Oh no! They’re coming straight for us!

The same principal, applied in different circumstances solves another problem. I learned this trick bonefishing. Bonefish are notorious for making a blistering run, putting you well into your backing, then turning and running straight at you at thirty miles per hour. I don’t care how large your arbor is, you can’t pick line up that fast. Without pressure on the fish, the LDR is imminent. Fortunately, the solution is right at your rod tip.

Dropping your rod tip into the water, again uses the resistance of the line in the water to keep pressure on the fish. As the line bellies behind him, it keeps the hook engaged until you can take up the slack. In this scenario you should reel like a madman until you have the fish back on the reel before lifting the rod tip out of the water.

Again, there are still plenty of things that can go wrong. Not the least of which is coral cutting your line but it’s your best chance of landing the fish. Although you can count on getting the chance to try this trick on a bonefish at some point, it will work for any fish in a similar situation.

Getting schooled by a big fish is a high class problem but a problem none the less. When the time is right, keeping a cool head and putting your rod tip in the water can be a game changer. That’s outsmarting a fish.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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4 thoughts on “Putting Your Rod Tip In The Water Can Be A Game Changer

  1. Great tips Louis. As I get older, chasing fish downstream on slippery rock bottom is less and less an option. In fact, on most of the waters in my area, it is downright crazy for anyone to chase a fish downstream. Like you, I have learned to play big fish by trial and error, and I have tried the tarpon tactic of “down and dirty” for a change of pressure. Now I see from your article that with trout and lighter tippets a more subtle and somewhat safer method is available: using the current to your advantage. Thank you for the knowledge. Now I can’t wait to hook into a fish big enough for me to consciously practice this approach. I expect it takes practice, like everything else we do fly fishing. One other point: it seems this is another advantage of having fly line over ultra-light spinning tackle-right?

  2. Cool tips Louis. Especially for the downstream run. It makes perfect sense. Ive lost a few fish running after them. And my biggest problem was my angle on the fish once they turned their head back upstream, creating a poor angle like you said. The next time I have one run downstream on me, I’m gonna have to try this out.

  3. This was one of the main takeaways for me from my first trip in the salt but I lacked the full understanding (& eloquence) to explain it to buddies back home. They thought I was nuts, continued to hold their rods straight up in the air, and couldn’t understand why the leaping salmon threw the hook…

    I had tip-in-the-water almost backfire on a sailfishing trip, though: the first mate was at the helm and he accidentally turned toward the sailfish as it was coming towards us, causing the backing to loop around the tip of the rod. The captain took over & turned the boat while the sail turned away, causing the loop of backing to close and snapped the tip. Still landed it, though…and TFO has a good warranty…

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