From the time I was a kid I was always fascinated with the idea of a good fight. My friends, my music, my movies, the sports I got into. All of it was aggressive, scary, and exciting. I remember my first punk rock concert being the smallest kid in the crowd and being picked up and tossed around the crowd and seeing the mosh pits, and seeing Fletcher of Pennywise throw his middle finger in the air… It was the best thing I had ever seen!
What Do You Mean “What Do I do?”
Just as impactful, I remember the first time I ever had a client hook a good fish. It took a Parachute Adams and screamed down stream! My client in pure panic looked at me, and yelled “What do I do?!” I was not prepared for this response and was in full on adrenaline mode. I fumbled on the words, cursed a lot, and eventually with both of our hearts pounding managed to get the fish in the net. We both laughed, high fives, and I was hooked. To the best of my knowledge he had no clue that I didn’t know what I was doing. I never looked at fishing the same way, how could I? I still to this day find guiding far more exciting than actually catching a fish of my own.
There is a lot of things I noticed immediately once I started guiding. One of the things is that most trout anglers never learn how to fight a fish. Particularly how to fight a fish effectively and efficiently as we should be. This all starts with a good hook set.
Set, Set, Set… Not Like That!
Before we can engage a fish in a fight, we have to make sure they are hooked in the best way possible. It’s sort of like throwing the first punch. If we wait to long, we get punched in the face, and thats no good. But if we jump the gun and just throw a wild haymaker out, we will probably miss and be left looking like an idiot. Setting the hook is all about timing and technique.
When stripping a fly the way we do for cutthroat, the hook set should be low, and it should start with an extra strip. The biggest reason on Sea Run Cutthroat that you want to start with a strip is the fish is a chaser, and when eating the fly is typically heading at an angle towards you. This causes slack in the line and if you yank back on your rod you are just pulling the slack out and “popping” the fly right out of the fishes mouth. So strip the fly into the fishes face, and pull to the side with the rod to get the rod bent.
The angle you pull the rod should keep the rod tip below your eyes, and should pull the hook through the fishes mouth finishing a great hook set. Adding an extra strip should set the hook into the corner of the fishes mouth, hopefully puncturing the flesh and allowing the hook to do it’s job. Yanking the rod low into it’s bent position should ensure that the hook is all the way through, and keep the pressure required to make sure it will not pop out. If you do both of these things you should have a huge head start on the fight.
Everything from here on out is about efficiency of the bend in your rod and shadowing your fish. If you are being efficient with managing the pressure on your rod, the fish will always succumb to that pressure and you will land your fish the fastest. Consistent pressure is always the best most ethical way to fight a fish.
Manage Your Bend Bro
The way to keep consistent pressure with your rod is by managing your bend. Many fish will pull agains your rod bending it deep into the blank. This is fine and fun! Allow line to feed out to keep your bend where you want it to avoid pulling the hook or breaking off. If the fish runs towards you or starts letting up on his output, bring line back in and keep the bend where you want it to avoid slack line.
Shadow Your Fish
If the fish runs to the left and your rod starts straightening out, change the angle, pull to the right and get the bend back. If the fish starts going right and lightening the load against the rod, pull left and bring that load back into your rod.
Eventually the fish will not be able to fight against the pressure that is consistently being applied. Once the fish wears out, it will be easily lead into the net. The faster this can be done, the less stress we are bringing onto the fish. The less stressed fish are likely to survive being released back into the water .
It’s our job as fishermen to be the fighter, the ref, and the doctor of these prized fish. It’s a job that requires doing all of these things at a high level to ensure the safety of the fish so we can come back every day and enjoy them. Fighting them effectively will keep them happy. Being the ref and knowing when to end the fight and put them in the net will keep them healthy. Being the doctor and deciding whether they are healthy enough to get a quick photo will ensure they survive and be there again another day.
Cheers guys, and I hope you enjoyed and I look forward to seeing you on the water!