Everyone who goes fishing probably has a story about "the one that got away." Often, it includes details about how big it was and how hard it fought. But in many of these cases, that heartbreak and regret could have been avoided by getting better at the art of reeling in fish.
It goes without saying that big fish fight much harder than small ones. An encounter with, say, a monster bluefin tuna would require much more elbow grease than one with a tiny crevalle jack. So once you get a bite from a big fish, you have to be ready not only to play it but also to properly reel it in so you don’t lose it.
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Now on to the tips:
Get to know your rod and reel before heading out.
You’d want to be familiar with the rod and reel you’re going to be using. As mentioned before, the rod and reel pairing need to be compatible for maximum comfort and ease. Your reel system, whether it’s a baitcaster or spinning reel, should also be well-suited to the fishing situation and your skill level as an angler. Practice with the mechanism so you don’t end up fumbling with it in those crucial moments when you’re reeling in the big one.
Make sure your fishing line matches your hook.
Like your rod and reel, your line and hook size should also match. Generally, the lighter the line, the lighter your hook should be, and vice versa. There has to be a good balance, or you’ll end up snapping your line or losing your hook.
You also want to think about where you’re casting. Tackle up strong if the area is fairly weedy or has a lot of obstacles. Lipless crankbaits, creature baits, and flipping jigs are also great for avoiding snags in such areas.
In open water, meanwhile, you can get away with using a lighter line and a lighter hook if the fish you’re after isn’t that big. Obviously, bigger fish would require heavier lines.
Check out this article to learn more about the different kinds of fishing line.
Timing is key.
When you’ve gotten a bite and the fish is swimming and pulling line away, reel against the drag and maintain steady pressure. Once it slows down or stops, then it’s time to reel in. Avoid the temptation to rush it. Reeling in too fast can spook the fish, which is the last thing you want to happen. A good rule of thumb is to allow five seconds between each turn of your reel handle.
When you do get a bite, keep the rod bent instead of having it straight.
Having the rod bent at an angle of about 45 degrees helps you put steady pressure on the fish. It also prevents the line from having too much slack, which will definitely give you trouble reeling in your catch. That bend even allows you to use the rod as a shock absorber as the fish flails and thrashes.
Having said that, you don’t want to have too little slack, either. If the line is way too tight, you won’t be able to reel in anything at all. Pull the fishing line in quickly and steadily, paying attention to both the angle the rod is bent and the speed you’re reeling in your catch. Adjust as needed.
Aim to understand fish behaviors better, especially the ones that affect reeling.
For instance, it’s worth knowing that fish can sometimes escape when they feel resistance on their tail but aren't actually hooked by any part of their body except for their mouth or gills (depending on what kind of fish). This happens because most fish have sharp teeth that can cut through fishing line easily. Therefore, if there is no pressure on them from being hooked by another part of their body besides just their mouth or gills, then they are able to break free.
Also, when you’re fighting with larger fish, you have to avoid applying too much force and instead opt to simply maintain tension. Maintaining tension tires them out from struggling, which is their natural instinct. Pulling too hard can also break your fishing line or dislodge the hook from the fish’s mouth.
You might want to check out these related posts on fish biology and behavior:
Have your net or harpoon ready.
Avoid losing the fish in those critical final seconds of the fight by being prepared with your net to scoop it beneath the surface of the water and ease it into your net. If you’re using a harpoon, have someone else on standby with it while you maintain your grip on the rod.
They say that luck is when skill meets opportunity. With these tips, you can decrease the chances of losing that fish by having those skills when that big one bites. Reeling in fish is an art, much like casting and making presentations. Don’t forget that the key to successful fishing is patience and practice, so don't beat yourself up over a lost lunker. Learn from your mistakes, polish your skills, and you’ll be sure to successfully land the next one!