How to play a fish
West country instructor Nick Hart explains...
THE moment of the take is the part of the angling experience that we all crave. But getting a take is one thing; if we fail to land our prize then the take itself is not nearly as satisfying. We must play the f ish to the net if we are to gain the most enjoyment and actually get to admire our catch. This can be easier said than done. Trout f ight hard (that’s why we like them) and can throw a hook at any point – it happens to the ver y best of us. But there are a few tips that can at least reduce the risk of losing that f ish.
Set the hook
You’ll soon lose a f ish if the hook hold isn’t firm enough. To achieve a decent hooking, enough pressure must be immediately exerted to force the hook home. If f ishing dr y f ly, a mere purposeful rod raise is usually enough – not too hard or you could pull free or break your leader.
When pulling lures, the fish tend to hook themselves as they turn against the direction of the lure. But when f ishing nymphs slowly, it may be necessar y to strike the rod to set the hook f irmly. A lternatively, a swift pull on the f ly-line usually does the job.
Raise the rod
This helps to absorb ever y lunge from the f ish because the rod will f lex and help to play the f ish for you. Many anglers set the hook with a high rod strike which also immediately achieves a tight line to the f ish. Slack line prov ides trout with a chance to shake off the hook, so avoid this.
Keep a tight line
A tight line gives you more control over the f ish, allowing you to respond quickly to ever y move that it makes. To maintain a tight line, retrieve slack line with your line hand when a fish swims towards you. Just keep the pressure on the f ish and it will eventually tire.
Apply side strain
If there’s an obstacle nearly where the f ish can snag (such as a weedbed) it’ll probably tr y to reach it. Tr y to apply enough pressure to stop the f ish from getting there. If the weedbed is to the side then apply side strain by pulling the rod away from the obstacle and against the direction of the f ish. The skill is to not be too bullish because you’ll risk snapping the leader or pulling the hook out. But, obviously, you don’t want to be too soft with it either. Experience will eventually show you a happy medium.
When a fish leaps
This is a critical time. Tr y not to keep a tight line when a f ish leaps free of the water. Instead, lower the rod tip slightly to allow some slack. Then, as soon as it returns to the water, regain that tight line. A tight line to a trout in water is one thing…but imagine a tight line in thin air – a shake of the head and your leader will likely break.
When a fish runs
If you’ve hooked a f ish in shallow water, it has only one way to run and that’s far away from you and at speed. You’ve no option but to give line in this situation. Simply feed line through your line hand or – if you have the f ish on the reel – let the disc drag allow line to be pulled off by the f ish. But make sure you regain a tight line once the f ish stops its run.
It’s ver y important to set the drag so that it’s appropriate to the size of quarr y you’re expecting to catch. The correct setting can be ver y helpful when playing a f ish. When a fish wants to run, it can run and all you have to do is keep a tight line by winding in excess f ly-line. The beauty of play ing f ish on the reel is that there’s no slack line around your feet for you to stand on, causing huge problems when the fish runs. Many anglers have lost fish due to standing on loose line at their feet.
Catch and release
Obviously, the faster you can play a f ish to the net the less build-up of lactic acid and the greater chance of the f ish being returned well. But, with this in mind, don’t be silly and bully the f ish too much. Just don’t hang about when playing and get it in the net, unhooked and returned as quickly as safet y allows.
“If you hook a fish in shallow water, it has only one way to run and that’s far away from you and at speed. You’ve no option but to give line.”
Strike upwards and you’re in immediate control of the fish. Get fish on the reel and allow the disc drag to free up line as the fish runs.