Have you ever felt outgunned by a monster fish? Maybe you were out on the local bass pond on your way home from work and hooked a lunker where you’ve only ever caught smaller fish? Or Perhaps it was a big 20” brown in your local brookie creek or a big breeder striper from out of a pack of schoolies, we’ve all been there. We wanted to break down the 5 stages most anglers go through when they’re outgunned by a fish. This way the next time you hook a big fish on a light rod, you have the knowledge and tactics to stand your ground and get that big fish to hand because big fish don’t come around every day on the water.
#1 – Denial
Only for a moment do the words “I can’t believe that wasn’t a rock” slip through your mind after you start feeling big headshakes on the end of your line. You weren’t expecting to find that big of a fish here, but now you have it hooked. Make sure your drag isn’t set too tight during the initial contact and know that it’s ok to let the fish run a bit and tire itself out before you put the wood to him.
#2 – Panic
The next stage is the make-it-or-break-it point in the fight, it’s when that big fish starts throwing around their weight trying to break you off or get enough slack to spit the hook. The best way to avoid a snap off is to use your rod angle to bring the fish away from snags they want to break you off on, and back into an area, you can feel some semblance of control again, because you know that hook is set in place and it’s off to the races.
#3 – Acceptance
Now the fight is in full swing, you know you have that fish solidly hooked, and now its time to figure out where the best spot to fight and land this big fish will be. I prefer to find shallow flat water where the fish cannot use the current to put more strain on my tippet. If you’re in a creek, look for a shallow gravel bar or beach to stand your ground so when you get that fish close you can reach out to net, lip or tail the sucker. If you’re in a lake or the salt, try to find an eddy out of the current or a spot not getting crushed with waves., making it easier to handle and land that fish without filling your waders.
#4 – Commitment
This is the part of the show where you start chasing that big fish down or upstream as they try to get the heck outta dodge. You’re fully committed to landing this fish and you can already see the grip and grins in your head. But be careful, young padawan, this is the time when you can get too cocky and break that fish off, be strong, hold your ground, and be conscious of what tippet you are using to make sure you can get the big fish to hand.
#5 – Success
This is the final stage in the battle and some of the most nerve-racking for the angler and net-person alike. All you’re doing now is easing that tired fish into the shallows to claim your prize. Always try to net the fish head first and avoid touching the leader or tippet, that way if the fish makes a sudden run for freedom you won’t get left holding a frayed leader and feeling sad. A tip I picked up from fishing for steelhead and trout in New York is to always net the fish downstream of yourself that way you can use the current to your advantage and easily maneuver the fish into the net.
Dan Zazworsky’s passion is sharing his love of fly fishing with anyone that will listen, read or watch. You can find him exploring new waters every day while chasing any fish that will eat a fly!