Fighting Fish

For some, the best part of the experience is fighting and sometimes landing a fish that has made a strong accounting for itself. These fish fighting techniques will work on smallmouth or any other type of fish you may encounter, fly rod or otherwise.

Initial Hookup
You finally got bit! Wait, before you WHOA-BACK on him, strip in the slack and FEEL the fish first! Then whoa-back if you must. Typically raising the rod sharply will be sufficient (with a sharp hook). Don’t forget to sharpen your hooks. Bring a file along to touch up the hook. And bend down the barb. By the way, how good does this little river look? Mid July, water temperature around 80 and the smallies are going on top, it’s heaven boys and girls! Heaven on Earth.

If you are continually missing the strikes on good solid rolls, bend out the hook point to one side a millimeter or two. It’s an old jig trick that works when the alignment of the fly or jig hook impedes hook impalement.

Using Other Body Parts or “Your Mouth Ain’t Just for Jabbering”
Most of the time, especially with smaller fish, you can simply strip in the fish. Try to keep the fly line away from hang-ups in case of a run. If the fish is charging you and you can’t strip fast enough, use your mouth as a second hand! Strip back and bring the line up by your mouth and bite down (not too hard, now) holding the line while reaching up with your line hand to make another quick strip.

If this sounds like a Chinese fire drill, it is! The point is to hold some line temporarily with your mouth to allow you to reach up and strip faster to retrieve line quickly. (I don’t actually do this but have observed it. Try to get your buddy to try this technique, it’s amusing to behold and might even help in some rare instances).

Big Fish
Many larger fish will take up your slack line quickly and run some fly line off the spool. Rarely will a smallmouth take a run into your backing but in shallow water it is known to happen. When hooking a strong fish you usually have a couple of seconds, right after the strike, to ready yourself for the battle. Make certain the slack fly line is not hung up on anything in and around the boat and clear it if necessary.

Palming the Spool for Drag
As the fish begins to run, let the line ease out from where you have it clamped beneath the index and middle fingers on the underside of the rod handle. The line hand should be directing line towards the reel until the fish is “on the reel”. It’s good form to make an OK hand signal with your line hand, letting line through the “O” formed by your thumb and index finger. This allows for it to flow freely. This works extremely well for fast running fish, especially in saltwater as well.

Reel Drag and Level Wind
Have your reel drag set just enough so the spool won’t overrun, when sharply stripping out line. You will put pressure on the fish by palming the spool or tightening your clamping grip with the rod hand. As you begin to take in line use your little finger as a level wind apparatus. This will keep the line from bunching on one side eventually jamming the spool.

Landing the Fish
It’s critical you land the fish as quickly as possible. That’s again where the #8 weight rod comes in handy. You can lean on them pretty hard, depending on your tippet strength. Remember to use low rod angles on tough fish and change the angles often to keep the fish off balance. Once the fish begins to roll over upon changing rod angle, she’s ready to land. Do not over handle the fish when planning a release. The best way to handle a fish prior to release is to keep it in the water. Either hand-land it or grab the fly with a tool (hemostat, long-snout pliers, or Hook Out) and quickly remove it – and your done. A pinched barb makes all this a snap.

Holding Fish
This is extremely important. Either hold the fish with the thumb in its mouth and hand fingers below the lower mandible. Allow the fish to hang vertically. Do not angle the fish horizontal by leveraging  its jaw – you can break or injure their jaw making it impossible for them to capture prey.

Horizontal fish position. If you must hold the fish horizontally, support the fish from beneath with your other hand, this will lessen pressure on the jaw preventing potential injury.

Fish Photos
If you are photographing the fish, plan ahead. Have the camera accessible and ready during your fish fighting time to make quick work of the picture taking. Tell your fishing buddy to grab the camera while you fight the fish and get ready for a couple of quick shots and a fast release.

Fish photos to avoid.
Do not to lay the fish on the rocks, sand or any dry land. Why? It should be pretty obvious, but as the fish flops around, it will lose it’s slime layer opening it up to injury and disease. If you want a “relational” photo, keep the fish in shallow water and set your rod in the water near it. Everyone benefits when you keep these fish wet! I see way too many photos of beached fish that the proud angler is showing off. Needless to say, many of these fine specimens will suffer as a result of mishandling.