After the Bite
Once you find yourself attached to something bigger, faster and meaner than you could have imagined, follow these steps. After the take, attempt some sort of hook-set and clear the line. As soon as the line is on the reel, make a few short jabs to solidify the hook-set. Take note: This will light a fire under the fish. Then simply let the fish go; do not try to stop it. During the first minute of the fight, the fish is at its freshest and in control. At this point, your drag should be tight enough to make the fish pull. Right now, your job is simply to keep tight to the fish. Point the rod tip at it, and be alert for the first sign of weakness.
When the fish slows, you have to recover line quickly. Use the boat to your advantage; keep the lines of communication with your captain open. Maintain a slight bend in the rod, and crank in line with as little tension as possible. Don’t haul on the fish; remember, the drag of the fly line in the water will keep the hook in its mouth. As you reel, guide the line neatly across the full width of the spool with your finger. Once you have picked up as much line as you can, come tight to the fish with maximum pressure. A good rule of thumb is to fight the fish as if you are prepared to lose it. Once the pressure is on, keep an acute angle on the fish’s head to prevent the beast from going deep. If you lose the angle and the fish sounds, it becomes a battle of stamina.
Use the Butt
To maintain leverage and apply maximum pressure, you’ve got to put a bend in the butt of the rod. When there’s a bend in this section, short, gentle pumps upward will gradually lift the fish. Be patient, stay focused and pace yourself. Many times, when lifting a fish, you are looking to get only one turn of line on the reel with each lifting stroke. By starting the lifting stroke with the rod tip a foot or more in the water, you can often gain an extra turn on the reel. When you are bringing up a heavy fish, you may find that you cannot lift it without pinching the line or holding the spool to keep line from coming off as you pump. Throughout, keep your movements calculated and smooth, and use the stiffness and strength of the rod butt to your advantage.
The Moment of Truth
You’re exhausted, your reel hand is clawed, and there’s salt in your eyes. You start to think about a nice massage, a pina colada back at the lodge — forget all that! Stay focused! This is the point in the fight when you can really start to recover line.
When bringing up a big fish, good boat handling is essential. On my craft, once we’ve established a solid hookup and the fish has settled down, I move my client to either corner of the stern. This places the angler in a stationary position away from the engines, and I can use the boat to make the fight as easy as possible. When the fish nears the surface, a long rod really gets in the way, and you have to be ready to move quickly around the boat. More than likely, the fish will trace big circles on the surface, and the boat will have to do the same. On the outside of the circle, the fish will tend to rise, giving you a little angle against its head. Maintain the angle with smooth pressure, and back up as the fish circles toward the boat.
Fighting big fish on the fly requires delicacy, stamina and a good deal of luck. Stay calm, keep it simple and take my word for it: Fly-caught sushi tastes a little bit sweeter than the stuff that the hardware boys serve.