The popularity of stand-up fishing has created some interesting consequences, including new developments in tackle. Originally developed in California as a way to successfully deal with simultaneous hookups, the use of stand-up gear has since spread to the East Coast. Anglers chunking the canyons for bigeye or yellowfin tuna commonly enjoy multiple hookups and have widely adopted stand-up techniques for midstrength line classes.
Stand-up gear also allows anglers in smaller boats, both inboard- and outboard- powered, to venture offshore for ever-larger quarry. Big-game fighting chairs with footrests are considered too large and bulky for these smaller boats, whose owners now regularly target the largest species of sharks, tuna and billfish.
The most common large-game fish pursued in Florida these days (actually nights) is the broadbill swordfish, the huge majority taken by anglers in small boats using stand-up gear. As a result I have recently given several seminars to educate anglers on how to use both stand-up tackle and conventional trolling gear with a fighting chair. At the end, I pit a petite teenage (or even younger) girl in a "tackle tug of war" against the biggest, toughest guy in the crowd. The girl always wins; in fact, she crushes the guy like a grape. Why? Because she sits in a full-sized fighting chair with footrest while the man employs stand-up gear.
I start off my presentations by recruiting a volunteer: an adult male angler. We first provide him with a normal, East Coast-style trolling rod with an overall length of about 6 1¼2 feet and a 12- to 15-inch butt. A snap swivel connects the outfit's double line to a clock-faced spring scale shackled to 150 pounds of weight placed on the floor.
With nothing fancier than a butt cap over the rod gimbal, the average, reasonably competent male angler can generate from 14 to 18 pounds of force - as read on the scales - while pulling with his arms. Of course, variation exists between individual anglers' results, but the trend remains constant.
Give the guy a basic "belly gimbal" (also called a "butt pad" or "gut bucket"), and he can pull 20 pounds or slightly more. If he keeps his left arm straight and reaches up the rod past the foregrip (this way, the bicep muscle of his left arm is not flexed and under constant tension), our man might even exceed 20 pounds of pressure. At this point the poor guy works very hard to use drag settings equal to those that expert anglers can put on 30-pound-class line.
Unfortunately, this is as far as many anglers ever go in learning to fight fish standing up. Drag settings remain low and fights are long. Decent-sized fish win these fights with a high degree of regularity.
A simple shoulder harness that takes strain off the left arm should help our angler easily maintain 20 pounds of force for at least an hour or two, but his back will eventually begin to bother him - a lot! Without the shoulder harness, a grown man has difficulty pulling just 15 pounds of drag for a couple hours, and this is a drag setting that 20-pound line can withstand for extended periods.
Now we go to a real stand-up harness. AFTCO, Braid and Matesaver - three brands with which I'm personally familiar - make high-quality stand-up harnesses. These models pull from both above and below the buttocks, enabling the angler to assume a semiseated position in the harness. A number of companies make gimbal/pad devices that spread the pressure of the rod butt, which becomes considerable at high drag settings, across a large area of the angler's thighs.
With a harness, pad and Florida-style (6 1¼2-foot) rod, a top angler can reach around 35 pounds of drag, but usually for only a very limited time - far less time than a sizeable marlin or tuna can pull that amount of drag. Backing off on the drag would relieve the angler but prolong the fight dramatically.
For our next test, we use a rod with a shortened tip and a 12- or 13-inch butt; the rod measures about 5 1¼2 feet overall. A skilled stand-up angler in a first-rate harness can now achieve a maximum pull against the scale of about 50 pounds and can sustain 40 or 45 pounds for maybe an hour or two. Our angler is now capable of doing a good job of fighting fish on up to 50-pound-class line with this setup.