The basics of the angler's fighting strategy have always come down to rod angle and line pressure. Learn to adapt tactics to the particular species and situation at hand, and your effectiveness will take a big step forward. When you're close to your quarry, visualize your rod as a fish-steering device, remembering the saying, "As the head goes, so goes the body." Simple geometry reminds us that rod angle has more effect as the fish gets closer to you.
Here's a brief rundown of rod position and fish-fighting methods that can help you adapt to a battle, steer your fish effectively and shorten the fight.
The "rod-up" approach is essential when doing battle with fish that know how to head for the bottom or other deep structure to evade the hook. The "up" angle created when the rod is held high helps lift the fish's head and mouth, where the hook is lodged, up and away from the bottom.
With the rod held high, bonefish will have a more difficult time succeeding in their notorious tendency toward hook rubouts over sand and grass.
All redfish anglers at some point have seen their hooked quarry bury itself into the line-chafing sanctuary of thick sea grass. The rod-up angle minimizes this sneaky spot-tail tactic and lends new meaning to the phrase, "Keep your chin up."
Tropical flats fishermen know all too well those testy moments when hooked permit or triggerfish blast into shallow rocks, rubble or coral, where they have the option of rubbing the hook out of their mouth or parting the leader by scrubbing it on the abrasive bottom.
Rod to the Side
You'll find that the "side-angle" pull of the rod is often useful when your fish is visible, and you can watch how the angle of pull affects the fight.
Bridge fishing for nighttime snook and tarpon often means battling visible fish right beneath you. Using a robust line and strong rod, always pull on the side of the head to steer fish away from the bridge pilings.
You can lessen the fighting time with boat-side bull reds and tarpon by pulling the head away from the fish's intended swim path. If the fish wants to go left, pull on the rod from your right side. Steering the fish away from its momentum disrupts the fish's breathing and confuses its battle plan.
In the later stages of a fight with a shark, or any fish where the leader may be compromised by rubbing across the fish, maintain the side pull so the hook or lure stays on your side of the fish. This minimizes the leader wrapping around the head and keeps it safely removed from abrasive skin or sharp gill plates.
When fish are in deeper water, there are also adaptations that favor the angler. Aim the rod down, even so far as to plunge it deep into the water, and the pressure exerted will tend to take the fish deeper into the water, away from the surface. There are a number of scenarios when it's in your favor to pressure the fish toward the bottom.
Seatrout seem to be more likely to throw jigs and plugs on the surface or in the air. They have delicate mouths to begin with, and without the dampening effect of the water, the weight of a lure is often leveraged for a self-release. Keeping your rod down steers the trout below the surface, where its headshakes are cushioned and subsequently, fewer lures are thrown.
When fishing deeper flats and along mangrove moats for tarpon, plunge your rod deep during the battle to discourage jumping. With active fish like tarpon, airborne headshakes are a major cause of thrown hooks. Of course, if the fish jumps, point the rod at the fish so it won't fall on a taut line.
Employ a similar strategy when fishing for snook along mangrove edges. In one flowing movement, strike your fish, come tight to it and bring your bent rod down into the water. You'll find that sweeping the snook's head away from overhanging leaves, branches and adjacent mangrove roots will result in fewer cutoffs.
Coup de Grace
No matter the water depth, when the fish is close by and the opportunity arises to pressure the rod down and back forcefully, the fight may come to an abrupt halt. Coined the "down and dirty," this move exerts maximum pressure along the length of the fish and downward. When applied properly, this will pull the fish's head down so that its forward motion, away from the angle of pressure, actually causes it to somersault and come up facing the angler. At this point the fish is likely to be disoriented and its spirit broken. Take advantage and land the fish before it recovers, and you'll be back fishing all that much sooner.
About the Author: Jan S. Maizler is a Miami-based journalist who specializes in shallow-water angling. His latest book, Fishing Florida's Flats, published by the University Press of Florida, is available on his website, www.flatsfishingonline.com.