How The Big Ones Get Away

Knowing where and when to fish for the big ones is but a small part of the recipe for a successful fishing trip. It is attention to small details that consistently puts fish on the line, and ultimately gets them landed.

How many stories have you heard about big fish that got away? Were most of them due to preventable miscues? I will wager they were, because even if your tackle was correctly matched for average-size fish, the exceptional, unusual big fish can find a flaw in your equipment.

The advantage of age and experience allows me to point up an assortment of mistakes that cause anglers to lose fish that they should land. And this is not secondhand information.

I can’t prove it, but I suspect that far more fish are lost due to dull hooks than any other reason. Like most anglers, I used to think that a new hook fresh from the package was sharp enough to use. Then one day on the Salmon River in Pulaski, N.Y., I was paying close attention to a guide in a driftboat that was directly across the river from me.

He and his clients were tearing the steelhead up. The guide was doing all the casting and working a particular lie in the river. I was able to cast to the same spot. I hooked a fish and lost it in that same lie.

Sharp Hooks Are Key
Then, as frequently happens when fishing in crowds, the guide and I hooked our baits together. He graciously bid me to reel in and break his hook off, which I did. He was fishing a red yarn fly, tied on a No. 6 hook, and I noticed that the bronze hook had been carefully honed to a fine point. The lesson was not lost on me. Never put a hook in the water without working on the point, unless it’s one of those new-fangled chemically sharpened hooks.

The fish that I had just lost did not throw the hook, however; it broke off. I had tightened the drag to break off on a snag and forgot to reset it. I could have saved the fish had I thought fast enough to switch off the anti reverse. That’s what that particular option is for on spinning reels, and once a big fish is on, it is a maneuver worth knowing. Unexpectedly big fish can make a run your drag setting can’t keep up with, and disabling the anti reverse might save a break-off.

Years later, fishing with that same reel, I had another fish break off. The time the drag did not function smoothly and I did not have time to get to the anti reverse. It was an inexpensive reel, past its prime, and I was trying to milk another season out of it. The moral here is to use the best equipment you can afford and replace it as necessary. Really good fish are too hard to come by to throw them away by being cheap.

Even the best equipment requires maintenance. Clean your reels after you use them. Make sure you have a tube of reel grease, and a can of oil, which I prefer over silicone spray. Order a spare bail spring when you buy a spinning reel. Keep it and a screwdriver in your tackle box and know how to change the springbefore it breaks. If it does break when the fishing is hot, you will have a replacement handy and the know how to make the switch.

Maintain Your Tackle
Make sure the reel’s drag is clean and lubricated. A fish should never be able to break you off unless it gets into structure.

Next to dull hooks, I suspect the second leading cause of lost fish is using old, cheap fishing line. Line is cheap! Keep your spool full, and change the line often.

The next great pardon for well-hooked trophy fish is a poorly tied knot. Learn to tie a good knot. The standard fisherman’s knot is easy to tie but learn to tie the uni-knot, or one of the other easy to tie knots that have better break strength. A book on fishing knots is a good investment, and knowing how to tie several knots for different applications will serve you well.

With this attention to detail, the next time you hook the fish of a lifetime, you won’t have to worry about telling yet another story of “the one that got away.”

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