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The End Game

Set the hook and keep it there.

After a strike, keep the boat movie. You'll stand a better chance of staying hooked up, and you might even connect with the other baits.

“Fish on!” is the sound all offshore fishermen live for. You've trolled through miles of blue water and suddenly the rigger pin snaps, the rod bends, and the fight is on. The line is disappearing at an alarming rate, your sea monster is getting farther and farther away and every instinct in your body is screaming, “Stop the boat!”

Well, I'm here to warn you to never, ever stop the boat. The water pressure on your line that helps empty your reel is the same water pressure that will keep your hook in the fish until he's on the deck. If you think you really are in danger of getting spooled, make sure you turn the boat toward the fish and proceed at an angle that will help your angler slowly gain line. While fighting any good fish, always make sure you leave at least one line in the water. Fish are rarely alone. There's almost always another hungry

fish close by. Don't ever stop fishing at the exact moment you find the fish.

At no other time is it more important to keep the boat in gear than when the fish gets close to the boat. It's a sad fact that more fish are lost at the boat than during any other time. So many times it's because of a poorly planned end game. How many stories have you heard about the monster that got in the motors, or dove under the boat at the wrong time? Ninety percent of those stories could have been avoided if the man at the wheel would have just helped keep the fish under control.

High-speed wahoo fishing is exploding in popularity. Hooking a big wahoo at 12 to 18 knots is an adrenaline rush like no other. The guys that are racking up big numbers know full well how big a hole a 12/0 hook can rip in the mouth of a wahoo at that kind of impact. They know that unless they hold enough speed to keep that wahoo moving forward through the water, the hook will fall out. The basic leader setup calls for a 4- to 6-pound trolling weight followed by at least 30 feet of heavy mono shock leader. That means the leader man has to act with great caution. On the Dos Amigos we have a dedicated weight man. When the leader man grabs the shock leader, the first thing he does is hand the trolling weight to the weight man. The weight man's sole job is to hold the weight free and clear of everything. I've seen the most exhausted medium sized wahoo on his side in complete defeat suddenly spot a shark closing in, and he'll come to life like he's never been hooked. That's when it's time for both the leader man and the weight man to let everything go back overboard preventing anybody from getting hurt by a flying trolling weight.

It's the captain's job to make sure the line never goes slack once the fish gets near the boat. I've been cussed out more than once by exhausted anglers on my boat because I kept the boat in gear after they had fought the fish as long as they felt necessary. Big dolphin are a classic example. When a big bull gets tired and turns that huge, flat head against the pull of the boat, it's so tempting to kick the boat in neutral or even worse start backing down. Smooth, steady pressure, edging him closer is far more apt to put him in the boat.

Never bring a fish you hope to put in the boat to the transom for gaffing. First off, the water is turbulent there, causing uneven pressure on the fish. Second, the gaff man can't see through the prop wash to get a clear shot, and last but not least if you miss your gaff shot, once he approaches the transom, the props will actually suck him under the boat, and you'll never see him again. It is far better to bring the fish alongside. He's being steadily pulled by the boat's forward motion, so his chances of swapping ends and taking off are almost nil. One man steadily leaders him alongside while the gaff man comes in behind him, and the leader, and buries the gaff in the fish's shoulder.

And here's a parting thought: How many years have we Florida anglers watched northern guides netting big muskies and salmon without realizing it's often an easier way to go?

Size limits on such fish as snapper, grouper, mahi and cobia have brought oversized landing nets to many Florida boats. Many captains report improved temperament out of both mahi and cobia when they are netted, as opposed to being gaffed. Obviously, if any species is questionable for the size limit, netting it is better for the health of the fish. FS

First published Florida Sportsman July 2016

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