Short, quick rod strokes are particularly applicable to light tackle. “You can usually lead smaller fish a bit more than big, offshore pelagics,” Ruwitch says of everything from schoolie-size dolphin to snook and bonefish. “Keep the rod parallel to the water, or even with the tip down a bit, and pull to the side.” The rod’s foregrip remains about perpendicular to the fishing line. “When you get that head angled toward you, even just a little, the fish is closing that gap.”
Making Your Move
“When a fish is running, you’re not going to stop it. Once it settles down, that fish is going to give you something,” Ruwitch says of the moment the fish makes a mistake and tables turn. “You have to know when to take advantage of that.” Experienced anglers do this by feel, but Ruwitch says: “People don’t watch their rods enough. You’ll see that rod tip give a little bit. That’s your opportunity to reel down and get that half a crank.” Such short, quick line gains never give fish a chance to turn away.
Hand Pressure and Drag
“The whole key is that little extra that gives you that half a crank,” Ruwitch says. “You need to know how much hand pressure you can add to the drag without breaking the fish off. Practice on a barracuda or a jack, but know how to feel what it takes to break the fish off, whether it’s 130-, 20- or 2-pound line.”
Braid starts with lever drag reels set to one-third line test and bumps the drag up a bit after each run. He ultimately reaches as much as 28 pounds of drag on 50-pound line by the end of the fight.
Keep reels in high gear, using leverage of the rod to lift, and the speed of the reel to take up slack on the short rod drop that follows, advises Ruwitch, who almost never switches out of high. On the other hand, when fighting 600-pound-plus bluefin tuna on stand-up gear, Braid often switches between high and low, comparing it to driving in the mountains.
Some fish tend to stay straight down. Ruwitch says a pinwheeling tuna might take a bit of line as it swims out, away from the boat, but: “You’ve got to put extra heat on when it’s on the inbound turn of that spiral. As long as his head is up, even a little, you’ll corkscrew that fish up.
“With billfish, you never want to get into that straight up-and-down scenario. You’ll lose that game,” Ruwitch says. “If it’s been 30 minutes and nothing is happening, I’ll back the drag off almost to free-spool.” Without line pressure, “a billfish will naturally want to come back to the surface, and then it’s a whole different game,” Ruwitch says. “But as long as you’re getting a half a crank every time, don’t change what you’re doing.”
Half a crank at a time is exactly how Ruwitch has beaten every billfish species on the planet, including an 800-pound blue marlin on 20-pound tackle. “I fought that fish for six and a half hours,” Ruwitch says. “When you’re miserable, your legs are burning or your back is hurting, but that fish is about to turn it’s head and come toward you, you need to suck it up right then and beat it. For every half-crank you’re winning, the fish is losing.”
About the expert: Rob Ruwitch lives in Miami and fishes his 46foot Kincheloe-Nickerson throughout the Caribbean and his Contender 32T in South Florida. While he’s still an avid tournament fisherman, Ruwitch’s perfect day offshore is watching his family catch billfish.