A few tips for you to land bigger fish

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If our weather can get any more schizophrenic, I’m not sure I want to see it. After teasing us with a few days of unseasonably warm weather leading up to a gorgeous day for the opening of trout season, things chilled off again last Sunday.

Heavy rains late that night rendered many streams all but unfishable, and I spent last Tuesday afternoon tying flies and doing some writing while occasionally glancing out the window at the ever-increasing snow flurries and trying to convince myself that it is actually the third week of April.

I’m not much for the TV hunting and fishing shows, but I’ve even watched a few of them as a diversion lately. One thing struck me about some of the folks featured on a few of the fishing shows: these guys are really lousy at playing fish.

I imagine some of that bad behavior can be attributed to hamming it up or being over dramatic for the camera. At least, I hope so. One thing that seems particularly silly is a grown man grunting while reeling in a fish, “Oh boy (grunt, grunt), it’s another big ‘un (grunt).” Some guys sound like they are trying to push a pickup truck up a hill. Now, I’ve reeled in my share of big fish on all kinds of tackle, and cranking the reel handle requires minimal effort and certainly nothing that would evoke stressful grunting and groaning.

Especially puzzling to me are some of the ill-advised and impractical moves performed by tournament bass pros. It would seem doubtful these anglers would risk losing a fish for the sake of showing off for the camera. Smaller fish are swiftly reeled in and hoisted into the boat in order to get back to casting for another one. I get that. Time can be money in a tournament.

It’s when a bigger bass is hooked that the shenanigans begin. Often, the angler will plunge his rod tip under water to prevent the fish from jumping and potentially throwing the hook. That tactic sacrifices vital line control, however, and forces the angler to run back and forth on the deck if the bass swims parallel to the boat.

Landing nets aren’t permitted in many of the high-level pro tournaments. The typical bass boat is great to fish from but can be troublesome when it comes to landing a big bass without a net.

If the fish is too big to be lifted over the gunnel with the rod, some anglers literally lie on the deck and reach over the side to grab the bass. Sometimes that maneuver becomes a circus as the fisherman also lays down his rod and holds it by the tip section or drops it altogether and grabs the line.

I find it hard to watch guys who are supposed to be top pro fishermen resort to such a sloppy approach to landing fish.

For those of us who fish for pleasure rather than profit, I can offer a few tips for successfully playing and landing bigger fish. I have caught all kinds of fish on all kinds of tackle.

One thing I have learned is if a fish is hooked well, you will probably land it; if the fish is not hooked very well, it will probably throw the hook regardless of how carefully you play it. Therefore, I’ve found the best overall strategy is simply play the fish as skillfully as possible and enjoy the experience, and usually the outcome will be a good one.

In the excitement of battling a big fish, don’t make it a tug-of-war. The fish will win that one almost every time. Instead, make it a give-and-take. When the fish runs or struggles hard, let it; when it stops or turns your way, that’s when to gain line. And never try to “reel in” a big fish. Use the rod to tire and control the fish. This is true for fly, spinning or bait-casting tackle.

Pump the fish toward you with the rod, then smoothly reel the rod tip back toward the fish. Repeat the process of pumping and reeling until the fish is close enough to net or land by hand. Always be ready, however, for the fish to make a sudden run, especially when it comes close for the first time.

Never hold the rod anywhere but the handle. I’m not sure why some folks think this is a good idea, but I see it done far too often. Grabbing the rod up the shaft takes the butt section, which is the most powerful part of the rod, out of the mix.

Doing so also puts undue pressure on the weaker tip section of the rod, which can result in a broken rod. When the fish gets close, never grab the line unless you are trying to allow the fish to shake loose without touching it, because that will usually be the outcome.

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