Street-fight tactics for taking down the heavyweights.
Caught between a snook and a hard place, something’s gonna give. Hint: It’s not that concrete piling.

When you hook a big fish on a grassflat, you just let it run. When you hook a big fish under a dock or around pilings you can’t do that, unless you want to lose your expensive fly line as well as the fish.

It’s very sad when a fisherman loses a good fish to a dock and says, “There was nothing I could do!” Of course there was!

I’m a big fan of light tackle, but fishing around structure is not the place for it. Go sufficiently geared up rod-wise. Think of what you’d ordinarily use for the size fish you’re after and go up at least one rod size, or better yet, two.

The same holds true for your leader. Sharp-eyed snook require a tippet of no more than 20-pound-test fluorocarbon. But that’s plenty! Use a two-piece leader with a 30-pound butt and a 20-pound tippet, or even a straight piece of 20-pound right off the fly line.

Jeff Weakley, editor of this magazine, offers this interesting bit of advice: “My own take on this, having fished docks a lot for snook, is to use a hook light enough that it will straighten before the $120 flyline gets shredded over the pilings.”

Okay. You found a dock with fish. You presented your fly. A 15-pound behemoth takes it.

Most anglers are going to lift the rod and try to pull the fish out. After all, this is what we’ve been trained to do.

Sorry. Most of the time that won’t work here. Once that fish spreads its pectoral fins, water pressure is going to keep you from moving it.

What you need to do is to plunge the rodtip deep into the water and pull as hard as you dare. What you are trying to do is roll the fish over. If you can disorient the beast you might be able to pull it away from the structure before it recovers enough to get back in there.

Much better to open a light wire hook than to snap a $700 rod.

And the fish will recover and it will try to get back in there. Don’t let it. Lock up the line and dare that fish to make it back to the dock.

If the boat is not anchored, the boat man should help you by moving the boat away from the structure. Quickly.

Sometimes the fish will cut or break your leader or straighten the hook, or simply out-muscle you. Hey, you’re not going to win every time.

But, hopefully it’s obvious that if you let the fish do what it wants you’re going to lose almost every time.

It has happened to me with cobia on buoys that, after the hookup, we used gentle pressure to “walk” the fish away from the structure with the boat. Once we were far enough away that no surge would get the fish back there, then we came tight and started the battle. They were cooperative fish, though.

With tarpon around bridges you must follow it in and out of the pilings. You’re not going to out-muscle a green tarpon with any kind of tackle. Try to get it out into open water. Use these techniques and see if you don’t get more victories in your close quarters combat. FS

First published Florida Sportsman April 2015

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