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November 18, 2011

Shorter Strokes for Shorter Fights

Improve your fish-fighting efficiency using tackle of any size

Battles with billfish vary greatly, the fish sometimes tiring early enough in the fight to be taken quickly, while at other times settling in for a long battle.

What makes the difference? “If you rest, the fish rests,” says Rob Ruwitch, who has released more than 2,500 billfish in 20-plus years of targeting them. “That fish will find a comfort zone of some kind, maybe nice, cool water under a thermocline. It gets its head down, and you’ll lose line.”

Ruwitch says constant pressure with short, quick strokes of the rod shortens fights. “It’s just a little lift of the rod, and then a crank down. If you’re gaining, even if it’s a few inches at a time, the fish is losing,” he says.

Ruwitch’s goal is a rapid succession of short rod strokes and quick single cranks on the reel. This technique — commonly called “short stroking” — was popularized by yellowfin tuna fishermen on long-range boats out of Southern California, where 200-plus-pound fish are taken from stationary boats without aid of fighting chairs. But short stroking is effective on any fish with tackle of any size.

Heavy Tackle

Short stroking works well with 50- or 80-pound stand-up tackle. Big gimbal plates span across both thighs, and harnesses distribute pressure from a reel equally between the lower back and buttocks. Short, stiff rods give fishermen power to lift.

“You want your rod adjusted, so when you’re standing upright it’s pointing no higher than 20 degrees above the water,” says Dennis Braid, founder of Braid Products ( “When you lift, you want that rod tip up around 45 degrees,” he says, so each stroke lifts about two feet of line. Relating it to the hour hand on a clock face, the rod angle doesn’t fall below 2:30 (15 degrees) nor above 1:30 (45 degrees). Lifting higher, between 45 and 75 degrees, Braid says: “You move your body just as far, but the rod tip bends over. You’re gaining only eight or 10 inches of line.”

Medium Tackle
Lighter tackle and fights that can change rapidly (e.g., billfish) often don’t call for a harness. Ruwitch frequently uses just a Rod Huki — a Tshaped extension that fits over the rod gimbal ( — primarily to keep the rod from rotating. (Braid prefers a waist belt with a gimbal pin.) When fight times extend, Ruwitch switches to a harness he’s preadjusted for fit and rod position.

Billfish typically fight out, away from the boat, which calls for keeping the rod tip a bit higher, Ruwitch says. At that point, he’s working the 30- to 50-degree range — between 1 and 2 on the clock.