Seven miles off Hannibal Bank, in Panama, the radar screen displays working flocks of seabirds. We’ve found the tuna and are closing the distance to the school.
My client is in the bow, with 70 feet of line stripped off his reel. The fish he’s about to throw to are all easily 100 to 150 pounds. I instruct him to cast to the edge of the baitball. The fly lands perfectly, and on his second strip, he’s tethered to a monster yellowfin tuna that immediately takes off with indescribable speed and power. The fly line is off the reel in the blink of an eye, and the backing on the spool shrinks rapidly. The rod tip starts to bounce, and the angler’s arm jerks hard. A second later, he lunges forward, and in a terrible instant, it’s over. My client looks down at his favorite rig, smoking and stripped clean. The fish, a brand-new line and the chance of a lifetime all sink back deep into the ocean.
Catching big fish on fly presents one of the greatest challenges in all of angling. From the get-go, the odds are in the fish’s favor. However, when that magical moment arises and the fish of dreams takes hold, a few simple things can tip the odds back in your favor.
Gear Up for Big Game
So many factors are out of your control when it comes to blue-water species that it pays to eliminate as many potential problems as you can. The first favor you can do yourself is to use tackle designed for the task.
For doing battle with truly large offshore fish, I prefer a 15-weight rod with a gimbal butt, since when a really big fish is on, comfort becomes key. I also use a huki (small fighting belt) to hold the gimbal, and for long fights, I even have an attachment that allows me to clip into a harness.
I strongly suggest matching your rod with a reel that offers the highest drag settings possible. Fish pushing 200 pounds make a smooth, hefty drag a necessity. That said, you need to have a thorough understanding of the drag system. You must be able to differentiate what 8 pounds and 12 pounds of drag feel like. You also need to know what a half turn or full turn of the drag knob represents in terms of pressure. Does a full turn add a quarter pound, 1 pound or 4 pounds? When a big fish takes off, too much thinking will only muddy the waters.
Your fly line needs to be castable. Many anglers have the impression that all big-game fly-fishing takes place right behind the boat, but that isn’t always the case. The line obviously needs to be strong and durable and should have a core that can take the strain of a big fish.
As for the leader setup — well, the way I look at it, there are two options: the International Game Fish Association record-book way and my way. The latter requires straight 60- or 80-pound monofilament. Rigging style is totally a personal preference. Personally, I feel that the memory lies in physically wrapping your arms around a fish of lifetime and not in the breaking strength of the leader it was caught on, but again, that’s up to you.