Reeling in little pan fish is pretty simple: keep the tip up and reel away. If you lose it, you can probably catch another one soon.
Large fish, however, are much more complicated. You need to be strategic, patient, and alert in order to land a whopper. Do it wrong, you may never see a fish like that again; do it right and you’ve got the trophy of a lifetime.
It is essential that you keep a firm tension on the line at all times. If there is slack, the fish will have a better chance of throwing the hook, and you will be left with a large amount of disappointment. (Although you might have a good story, it’s not worth it.) Maintain pressure on the line by keeping the tip up and reeling in with a smooth, consistent motion, but remember that too much tension can snap the line, which brings us to our next point...
When large fish decide to make a run for it, the worst thing you can do it try to keep them in place. By fighting their runs, all you are doing is increasing the chances that your line will break and your prize will get away. Instead, set the drag so the fish can take out line while still tiring itself. This will wear down the fish; eventually their runs will get shorter, less violent, and less frequent.
When hauling in a big fish, you can’t just reel, reel, reel and hope to land it quickly. Instead, lift the tip of the rod with a smooth and firm motion, pulling the fish closer to you as you do. When you drop the rod tip down, this is the time to reel in line. Go slow, be patient, and you’ll catch more fish and have plenty of trophies to brag about.
This tip is for inshore saltwater fishing and angling on lake shores and rivers, so if you’re deep sea fishing, you can pretty much ignore it. If a fish is making a run for structure like logs, rocks, or reefs, the structure can strain the line and cause it to snap. If your trophy is heading for cover, do whatever you can to keep them out. Throw out the previous tips and go into emergency mode. If a heavy fish makes it into the cover, you can pretty much assume they will be lost, so draw the line, tighten the drag, and crank them out as hard as you can. If the line snaps, oh well; you would have lost them if they made it to cover anyway.
Okay, this tip is really for what to do after you reeled in a big fish, but it’s still important. If you plan to release the fish, do so as quickly as possible. You may have just fought the fish for 30 minutes to an hour (or more); that fish is now exhausted and extremely vulnerable. It can’t afford to stay out of the water long, so take your photo, get a quick measurement, and release the fish back to its home. You’ll help preserve a healthy population and hopefully give another angler the chance to enjoy a big catch.
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