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Beginner's Guide: Saltwater Game Fishing

Posted 30/07/2013 10:26 AM
Updated 30/07/2013 10:27 AM

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Beginner's Guide: Saltwater Game Fishing

The following guidance assumes you are fairly new to big game saltwater fishing and are out fishing on a charter boat with a variety of fishing tackle. This type of information is given to all guests and customers if they are not experienced anglers. Occasionally we have to remind experienced anglers as well!

Let's assume you have your fishing tackle and you are out doing some general trolling for wahoo, mahi mahi or tuna on 30lb class IGFA fishing tackle. The deckie has set a pattern of 4 fishing lures behind the boat and one of the fishing reels starts to scream...

1. Pick up the fishing rod

Sounds simple but sometimes the fishing rod seems to be jammed in the fishing rod holder. Don't try to yank or force it out. It's wedged because of the pressure the fish is exerting on the rod tip. Grasp the fishing rod fore-grip in front of the fishing reel and pull it slightly backwards (away from the fish). You will find that the fishing rod then easily comes out of the rod holder.

2. Assume the position

Unless you are fighting a fish from a game chair, hold the fishing rod with the reel uppermost, your left hand well up the fore-grip and the butt of the fishing rod resting low down on your hip. This leaves your right hand free to wind the fishing reel handle. Hold the fishing rod at about 45 degrees. The higher up the fishing rod your left hand is, the more leverage you can apply. It’s important that you feel comfortable. Some fights can last hours though 10-20 minutes is the norm so you had better be comfy.

It is usual at this point for the deckie to put a fishing gimbal pad on you. No, it’s not a comfy cushion for you to sit on - it’s a plastic cushioned pad that hangs from your waist, rests on your thighs and has a slot where you rest the butt of the rod. This will stop the fishing rod butt digging into you and causing bruising and spread the load over your thighs during a prolonged fight. With the end of the fishing rod sitting in the gimbal pad and your left hand holding the fore-grip you should feel stable and comfortable. You are on a boat, its moving around so step up to the side of the boat or better still the corner, bend your knees slightly and wedge your knees slightly under the cockpit combing - the padded edge. This is a good stable position even on a pitching and rolling boat.

3. Keep The Fishing Rod Tip Bent

It's that simple. The greatest cause of fish being lost is the line not being tight between the rod tip and the fish. If the fishing line is not tight, the hook is not being held in place and the fish will likely spit the lure out. If the rod tip is bent at all times, then pressure is being applied to the fish at all times. This also means that the fish doesn’t get a free rest and you will wear him out more quickly and get him to the boat sooner. If the fish swims towards you, wind wind wind to keep that line tight and the rod tip bent.

The fishing rod also acts as a shock absorber. Any jerks from sudden movements by the fish are absorbed by the rod tip. If you point the fishing rod straight at the fish, it's not doing anything and sudden jerks are transmitted straight to you and the fishing reel. (Trust me – it will end in tears)

4. Slow Down – It’s Not a Race!

Most ALL novice anglers when confronted with a screaming fishing reel panic and frantically wind like crazy. You are wasting your time and energy. If the fishing reel is screaming it means that it is paying out line and will continue to do so whether you try to wind or not. Wait for the fish to end its run for cover. Then you can think about winding.

5. Lift Up and Wind Down

Good quality game fishing reels have a sophisticated drag system. A reasonable analogy would be the clutch in a manual car. Adjusting the lever drag on a game fishing reel is like depressing the car's clutch pedal. All the way out and the engine is engaged, (reel drag engaged), all the way in and the engine is freewheeling (Reel is in Free-spool).

This means that an angler can set the lever drag somewhere in the middle. The fishing reel will then pay out line (clutch will slip) when the line is pulled with sufficient force. To put it simply, you can set the drag to pay out line if the fish pulls harder than a set amount.

It is normal for the drag to be set at between one quarter and one third the breaking strain of the fishing line. In theory it is therefore impossible for the fish to snap the line. If the fish pulls really hard, instead of the line snapping, the fishing reel just lets line out.

When the fish ends its run, the fishing reel will go quiet and the pressure on the rod tip will ease up a little. Now is the time to win some of that fishing line back. Raise the rod tip, start to wind the fishing reel and whilst winding, slowly lower the rod tip. Don’t raise the rod tip so high that it’s over your head and don’t lower it so low that the fishing rod is pointing at the fish.

Lift up and wind down. Try to keep your movements as smooth as possible and keep that rod tip bent at all times.

6. Tag & Release or Boating a fish

Different fish react in different ways when near the boat. Yellow fin tuna for example go into a circular pattern underneath the hull. The most important thing here is to not let the fishing line touch any part of the boat. If it does, it will probably break. The skipper will manoeuvre the vessel as best he can to keep the fishing line and fish away from the props and rudders but it's also your job not to let the line touch the side of the boat. Feel free to move about the cockpit. Change sides if the fish swims in the other direction. Don’t plant yourself in one spot and stay there. Listen up for instructions from the crew and move to anywhere where it’s just you and the fish with no boat in between.

Usually the boat will be slowly moving forwards. You are trying to work the fish up alongside the boat so that the fish can then be tagged or gaffed. Moving the boat forwards maintains a flow of water over the fish and its gills. This keeps the fish much happier than if you stopped and the fish is therefore less stressed and less likely to do something unexpected. It is always a good idea to do this if you intend on tagging and releasing the fish.

7. And Lastly...

Everybody loses fish and fishing tackle, even the real pros. Don't knock yourself down. Learn from mistakes and it won't happen again. Every trip out there I learn something new. Don't be shy to ask questions. Game fishing is a sport and like all sports, you need to practice...

Just make sure you have fun practicing...

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