Becoming a better angler 202: fish-fighting skills

Young fisherman lose big fish often, simply because they don’t have experience fighting fish. This makes that first big catch, where everything goes right, all the more special.

We were sitting on the end of the dock – me and the kids – watching a couple of bobbers when one of them slipped halfway under. I told Jo to set the hook, which she sort of did. At first, as she reeled feverishly, the fish didn’t put up much of a fight but as soon as the dogfish approached the dock, he turned it on.

The problem was, Jo didn’t stop reeling and within a few seconds her line snapped. Not 20 minutes later my daughter Lila tied into a dogfish that looked awful familiar. This time, the big rough fish made it under the dock and for a few seconds I could see the six-pound line seesawing along one of the metal supports. Same verse, same chorus. Both of the girls were bummed at losing such a big fish.

Lately, I’ve taken out a lot of young anglers and inexperienced fisherman, and I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out how to instruct them on the proper way to fight a fish. I think it’s impossible, at least when it comes to a decent sized fish, which of course is where it matters most.

You really can’t teach someone how to fight fish; they just have to learn it as they go. This can be frustrating for youngsters and newbie fisherman, but it is reality.

The conclusion I’ve reached is that it’s just something that comes naturally over time. Lose enough big fish, and your brain will change up the command to “reel, reel with all of your heart and soul!” Before that sets in, it’s a long road for some fishermen.

It’s kind of like drawing your bow when a buck has his head up and is looking in your general direction or lifting the shotgun off your knee while a gobbler is eyeing up a suspicious camouflage lump sitting 30 yards away. Over time, after enough encounters gone awry, things go right. Not all of the time, of course, but more than they do at the onset of a lifetime in the outdoors. Fighting fish, like so many outdoor skills, just has to be learned and developed. As heartbreaking as it can be to lose a big one, that’s probably exactly how it needs to go to develop a good appreciation when it all comes together.

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