We've all heard the story from our fishing mates before which starts out with "you should have seen this mammoth fish I lost the other day..." (insert two hands held wide enough apart to be credible but not too farfetched). Let's face it, any angler who has ever caught a fish will agree that there's nothing worse than hooking up a decent fish, playing it and getting it within arm's reach and then it flicks it's head, spits the hook and slips away quicker than you can say "landing net!".
If this has happened to you more than once, then I suggest you read on. And if this has never happen and every fish on the line you've managed to land, then please drop me an email as I'd love to know your secret! The following are my top tips on landing that fish regardless of species, tackle or location.
1) Most importantly: Set your drag BEFORE you start fishing. It's essential to find a happy medium between too loose (the fish takes off and gets away) and too tight (the fish snaps you off in mere seconds of hook up). A rule of thumb is to regularly check your drag is how you originally set it by pulling it with your hand every dozen or so casts.
2) Be prepared. I always take a landing net, even for whiting fishing. It is a great investment at $30-40 for an estuary one; ideal for flathead, bream, whiting and trevally and $50-60 for a super sized snapper net for offshore species. If targeting larger species or fish which aren't afraid to take a bite out of your hand/foot like jack, jew and tailor, then a short gaff is what you require. You will get a gaff with a timber, plastic or lightweight aluminium handle for between $5.00 and $15.00 these days.
3) Be patient. Once you have hooked a fish, have a play – this is how junior anglers learn to handle their catch. This way the fish will tire after extensive fighting and deception attempts. A tired fish will be much easier to land than one going full steam into the mangroves and snags.
4) Wear out the fish, not your gear. When the fish decided to make a "run" by taking some of your line as you release the drag slightly, point your rod tip in the direction of the fish to reduce tension at the tip of your rod. I've seen many anglers work against the fish and the tension/friction has snapped the line unnecessarily. Tighten you line if the fish starts coming back to you or if it jumps out of the water – this is all an attempt to distract you enough to loosen your line so it can spit the hook.
5) Don't duck for cover. If you can see any cover in the water (logs, rocks, mangrove shelves), get the fish as far away from the obstruction as possible. Large fish will almost always run towards cover. If it gets into the cover, 95% of the time it's game over.
Boat Landings can be tricky; as your fish gets closer to the boat, drop your entire rod and reel to your waist. If the fish goes under the boat, get your rod tip in the water and follow it. If you can see the fish, you'll know when it's tired. It'll roll over on his side. And if you can't see the fish, you should be able to feel it. Avoiding the hooks, use the thumb and index finger to grip the fish by the lower jaw. This holds the jaw wide open and temporarily paralyses the fish. Then grab the fish by the mouth or get the landing net out!
Using a Gaff: Only gaff a fish unless you're planning to take it home as in most cases your gaff will kill or maim the fish. Aim the gaff at the upper body just below the nape of the neck and use force to pierce the scales. Once gaffed, the fish will be paralysed and you can easily bring it onto the boat.
Using a net: Always try to land a bigger fish with a net. Place the net in the water and lead the fish into the net head first. Don't stab the net at the fish as this is the easiest way to lose the fish! If you don't get it the first time, re-aim and try again. Keep the fish in the water if you plan on releasing it.
Beaching a Fish: Before there were fancy fandangle toys like nets and gaffs (as my granddad likes to say) the only way to bring in your fish was to beach it. This involves leading your catch into increasingly shallower water and gradually sliding the fish on its side onto dry land. In salt water, time your retrieval with an incoming wave. As the wave recedes, quickly grab your beached fish and pull it ashore.
Hopefully the information I have offered will gradually decrease the number of "The one that got away" stories this weekend! Just remember that practice makes perfect and fish for the future – only keep what you need.
An extra large snapper net or gaff will make landing large fish like this amberjack a breeze.
Large flathead will often wear through leader material by the time it has reached the boat or bank, so a landing net is must to improve capture rates.