April 25th, 2005

Landing Big Ones
By James Castwell

From the time we start fishing we dream of catching the 'Big One.' We spend years learning, years in pursuit and we invest mucho bucks on gear and getting there. But for sure, the one thing we never plan for, or even try to learn anything about, is what to do if we actually tied into a 'Big One.' Why are we like that?

I think I can tell you why. We don't ever figure we will get a 'Big One.' Not us, the other guy perhaps, but not us.

In fact, be the truth known, it even kind of scares us a tiny bit as to just what would we do. But, before it might happen, will we ask anyone what to do if we hook into a 'Big One'? Of course not. We are who we are and we're not about to ask directions when we are lost, what really is in quiche and for sure, how do I land the 'Big One?' We are guys, born with lots of knowledge on lots of things, landing 'Big Ones' must certainly have been included.

Well, it ain't! Or, wasn't, or whatever. Anyhow, it is not something we have, not in our genes, instincts or heredity. So, in true J Castwell style, I am here to help you over this fly-fishing speed-bump without anyone noticing that you really do not know how to land a 'Big One.' You don't mention where you read it, and I won't tell anyone that you didn't know. Ok, ready now?

Relax. The first rule is you must relax, or work very hard at trying to. What makes that a bit difficult is the fact that most rods are broken landing fish. Got that? Landing fish breaks most rods. Like I said, relax. If you are all squirreled up, you have an even better chance of screwing up. Now this mostly applies for landing a fish when you are in waders, and can get to the shore or stream edge or whatever you call it. Some of this will apply for other situations but you make what ever connections you like.

Relax, (yes, it's number two also). When you are relaxed you can take control of most any fish or situation. You do it moment by moment, foot by foot by foot, sometimes inch by inch. But, you must take, and be, and remain in, control. Even when and if the fish runs, you must be in charge of the situation.

By the way, here is a tid-bit of interest. If the fish is deep into your backing, switching your rod from the left to the right side to really irritate the fish is dumb. All it does is annoy the guide if you have one, if not it makes you simply look silly. No, I do not care if you saw some jerk on T.V. doing it. If the fish is in very close that might be another situation.

If you have not 'put your fish on your reel' yet, do so. If he did not do it himself, I am surprised. By now several things may be happening. He's in your backing and heading for the next zip code. Not a lot to do. Hang on, make sure you have reduced the tension on your drag, remember it increases the deeper you get into your reel. Keep the rod low to apply pressure, pump in and wind line on the reel on the way down, then repeat, bow to a jumper if you like or can. Eventually the fish will get off or come in. If you go at this in a relaxed way you improve your chances.

Do not lie to me here. What? I mean it. Don't do it. I have heard it all before. Remember I also fly fish. You can not convince me that you are going to get the fish in as fast as possible for the sake of the fish. The first reason really is you are all excited and are in a 'fish-fever' (a bit like buck-fever) moment and all you can think of doing is reeling like hell. Your second thought is on the lines of "I must hurry and get this one landed so I can get another one!"

Boy, doesn't that take the cake. You have a big fish on and can't wait to get your fly out there to get another one. But, join the club, remember, I fly fish too. Somewhere in all of this you should try to make a decision on whether to fight the fish or play it. Fighting it is using the strongest possible gear and wrestling the thing in the shortest time. Some feel that this scares the crap out of some fish and is not really good for them, but that is not for this column.

Playing would be not trying to land the fish immediately, but attempting to stay connected while you somewhat artfully gain line and cause it to spend energy at a less than atomic rate and then land it without a huge display of flying water, debris and fish scales. Your choice, I made mine years ago.

Ok, your fish is now tiring and you can look at it 'eyeball to eyeball.' Oh, by the way, if you haven't (during the fight or play) pointed your flyrod straight back (180 degrees) to the fish and busted it all to heck by now, this is the time when you can smash it by pointing it up while the fish is down by your feet. (The 180 degree thing again). With a tight line, the rod pointed like that, a very short flip of a fishes head will snap the rod tip instantly. Remember here, you are not concentrating on your rod, you are bug-eyed over some 'Big One.'

If the fish is downstream from you at this point, shame on you. Fix that and fix it now. Yes, if you have to, get out of the water and get below the fish. In fact if you haven't done that by now, I think you have already lost it. But, if you are, by some small miracle, still are connected hold your rod arm straight up. Yes, up, elbow straight. Hold your fly rod horizontal. Yes, bend your wrist and hold the rod flat, horizontal. As soon as your 'Big One' feels bottom tickling his tummy he is going to go for another swim. With your rod in the position I just described he can go wherever he wants and not bust anything, rod, leader, or line. Simply follow him with the rod tip.

Now, this time when you have him near your boots for the second time, or maybe one of the next several times, at one of them you will see some signs of tiring, (on his part, not yours). On his side is a good indicator of being pooped out. Still remain composed here. Position yourself, if at all possible, to the outside of the fish. Get him between you and the shore. Do not stand on the bank and try to winch him into you unless there is no other way possible.

With your 'Big One' now between you and the stream edge or bank or shore, again holding your arm straight up and the rod horizontal, with the rod and a bit of strain, and with you behind him, lead him onto the land. If he wags his tail he will land himself, if he flips around and goes back out you are protected by the way you are holding your rod. Eventually you will get him landed.

In some states it is illegal to even hold some fish out of water for a picture or any reason, even unhooking. Make every second count now if C&R is your choice. Be gentle and fast. Revive him for as long as it takes. It could be several minutes. It is your responsibility, don't screw it up. If you are going to keep it, dispatch it in your own way, I slice the gills and let the heart pump out the blood while he is still alive. Smart guys tell me he just goes to sleep. Bonking with a rock leaves all that in the fish.

I hope this gives you a few things to think about while you are face-to-face with your 'Big One.' Oh, after you have caught one real big one, the next ones will still be just as much fun. Isn't that what we are all after... just one more 'Big One?' ~ JC

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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