Locating and hooking a fish on a lure or on natural bait is usually the toughest problem in fishing, but after the fish is hooked there's also the important job of boating or landing it. In doing this, experience is the best teacher; the best way to learn how to play and land a fish is by hooking many of them.
However, there are some tips and hints which can be studied in advance so that you won't be fumbling and groping in the dark.
Playing and boating or landing small fish is often no problem and with a strong line and a stiff rod you can usually merely tighten the drag and reel them in. But when you are fishing with light rods, thin lines and for big fish you must be careful not to strain your tackle. Naturally, broken lines, straightened hooks and even a snapped rod or two are all part of the game and even top-notch anglers encounter them from time to time, but the idea is not to let this happen too often.
When fishing with a spinning outfit you usually use a light line with the right drag setting. This is very important. One way to set the drag is to run your line through the guides on the rod, tie it to a stationary object, such as a pole or a tree, and then start backing up and letting line off the reel spool until you are at least 75 or 100 ft. from the end of the line
Next, you tighten the drag a bit and back up, holding the rod tip high. Keep backing up and tightening the drag until the rod takes its maximum bend. When this happens try backing up again. The line should slip off the spool but not too freely.
When fishing for fish which, when hooked, start off with long, fast runs, you need a fairly light drag. If a fish tends to take out a lot of line you may even have to loosen the drag still more. When you are fishing from a boat and you hook a big fish on light tackle it may be necessary either to follow the fish to keep it from taking too much line or to regain some line while the fish is resting.
On the other hand, when you have a fish near the boat or shore ready for boating or landing, you often have to tighten the drag a bit in order to bring him in. This is especially true when fishing in a strong tide or current. Of course, you should never tighten the drag so much that no line will come off. With a spinning reel it is often safer to apply pressure to the reel spool with your finger than to tighten the knob which increases the drag tension.
The same principle applies when you are using a conventional rod and reel. When you are fishing for big fish the drag should always be set well below the strength of the line. The longer the runs made by a particular fish, the lighter the drag setting should be. During a fight the rod should always be held up so that the strain and shock will be taken by the rod tip. Never point the rod at the fish or let it rest on the gunwale of the boat.
The most crucial time in fighting a fish is when it is near the boat or the shore, almost ready for the gaff. Here the angler shouldn't tighten his drag but should be set for a sudden run when the fish sees the boat or the first attempt at gaffing is missed.
Gaffing is a job for a man with steady nerves and quick reflexes. Always wait until the fish is near the boat and thoroughly played out. Gaffing a big fish when it is still green is dangerous - you can be pulled overboard. Also, a wild run or leap can break the line.
With these few guidelines in mind, you should be able to land that fish every time!
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