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January 27, 2011

Tuna Fishing with Stand Up Gear

West Coast tricks to fish for tuna with stand up rods

I had just cracked a Coors when the fish came up. I set the brew on the bait tank, buckled in as a tuna slurped the bait, lifted the 80-wide Tiagra out of the holder and went to work. My beer was still ice cold when we gaffed the 192-pound yellowfin.

That short, effective fight depended on the 200-pound Premium Seaguar fluorocarbon leader, 40 pounds of drag and a true winch of a reel. But the gear doesn't matter if you don't use it right, and that means using its power to hurt tuna instead of yourself. I'm a big guy and I've caught hundreds of tuna over 100 pounds, but size doesn't matter. I've seen little old ladies use the right techniques and catch fish much bigger than I ever have. My friend Dan Felger caught a 300-pound yellowfin on stand-up gear when he was 78.

Suit Up
The key is a good harness and pad, and the ability to use it. One of my favorites is the AFTCO Maxforce 1 designed by Greg Stotesbury.  Stotesbury's stand-up experience, like mine, is grounded in the San Diego long-range fleet. No offense, East Coasters, but most of you don't know how to use a harness.

Here's how it works.

If you learn anything here it should be this: When fighting a fish, you should feel all the force transferred by the harness from the point of your hips down. You want the belt around your butt, not the small of your back.

In preparation, wear the harness before the bite. Wait until the fish is solidly hooked and pulling drag before you put the rod in the belt and clip in. Many fish are lost early when folks fumble with their gear instead of fighting the fish.

Once you are fastened to the fish, attitude is everything. Stay calm and relaxed. Don't let adrenaline and bad form hurt you.

Stylin'
Proper form means good posture: Put your left hand on the reel to guide the line, with your right hand on the handle. Keep your back straight, and bend your knees enough to distribute the pressure across the tops of your quads and your backside.

Modern composite rods do all the work when kept at right angles to the rail. When the tip comes up, wind it back down. If you can't turn the handle, switch the reel to low speed. Can't keep up? Go to high speed.

Don't impart the wild pumping motions made popular by a lady angler some years ago. Instead, focus on the rod tip.

Call out deep color when you see it, and wind the fish up to the gaff.