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Six Ways to Lose a Fish

An angry sailfish may surge under the boat at any time, be ready to keep the line from rubbing on the hull.

As hard as you work to find fish and convince them to bite, you're only partway to a successful catch. A lot can go wrong between the hookup and the ice box or the tag stick. Let's look at six common “lost-fish” scenarios.

1 Give Them Slack.

All too frequently, this lets the fish shake the hook free. To avoid this, focus on staying “tight to the fish.” If there is sudden slack in the line, don't immediately assume the fish has gotten away. Instead, reel as fast as you can—if the fish is swimming toward you, you may be able to quickly reestablish a tight line. This will help not only keep the hook engaged, but can also persuade the fish to swim opposite your pull, helping fend of those sudden, under-the-boat runs. Helmsman needs to be aware of this dynamic, too. When fighting an especially large, active fsh, he may need to use the engine(s) to move the boat in order to stay tight.

2 Tighten the Drag.

You think you're going to be spooled, but tightening the drag during a long, blistering run may lead to further problems. That line in the water creates its own friction; if you originally set the drag at 5 pounds on 20-pound-test line (you did set the drag before fishing, right?), for instance, you'll end up with considerably more than 5 pounds of pressure with 200 yards of line out there. Better, if you can, to direct the helmsman to move the boat to help pick up line. On the spooling subject, many newer reels are equipped with line gauge grooves in the spool so that you can tell when you're down to half or one third capacity.

Familiarize yourself with the capacities so you aren't needlessly frightened into messing with the drag. If you need extra drag to recover line at the end of a run, use your thumb on the spool of the reel (revolving spool) or your fore- and middle fnger on the spool of a spinning reel. One case in which drag adjustment may be warranted is toward the end of the fight: With a fish circling the boat, you may want to back of a little to mitigate sudden shock on any compromised gear or hookset.

3 Rig a Large, Fixed Weight Close to the Hook.

This gives the fish a convenient lever to help further erode the point of hook penetration. Better to keep your weight far from the bait, or rig it so that it breaks away or falls of. Lure-makers are beginning to address this dynamic. The new SpoolTek swimbaits, for instance, have a releasable, retractable hook on a length of 80-pound-test stainless cable. The cable winds up around an ABS plastic spool integrated inside the head. When a fsh strikes, 6 or 7 pounds of pressure pulls the leader out of the head. The lure is now positioned 12 inches from the hook, in the case of the 6-inch SpoolTek, or 18 inches with the 9-inch model. An obvious further benefit to this unique arrangement: The heavy cable helps minimize bite-offs, but is hidden until it's needed.

4 Take the Game into Extra Innings.

The mark of an expert angler is the ability to maximize pressure on a big fsh without compromising the tackle. This isn't just a stunt—you'll actually land more fish if you learn to finish the fight more quickly. Novice anglers frequently obsess over line breakage, but experience will tell you that pulled hooks, abraded and contact with structure (including other fish!) contribute to just as many, if not more, losses.

5 About That Structure:

The boat and especially the running gear will release alot of fish for you,if you let them. If a fish swims under the boat, put your rodtip in the water to keep the line from contacting the hull. If it goes around the engines, you'll likely need to go that way, too, keeping the rodtip as far outside the boat as possible. Just be safe.

6 About Those Other Fish:

If you are building trolling rigs with skirts or other lures which slide on the leader, it is a very good idea to keep the complete length of the terminal leader—including the swivel— shorter than the body length of the fish you are targeting. Wahoo rigs, for example, shouldn't be any longer than about 4 feet. If the lure is free to slide farther up (which commonly happens when a hooked fish is swimming away), it may end up trailing behind the fish, and may appear to others nearby as a forage item. Remember, there is nothing like the frantic tailbeat of a hooked fish to excite the predatory nature of others.

Biteoffs can occur because of this. If you think you need a long “shock” leader—and for high-speed trolling or billfsh action, you probably do—you can make up the length with a 10-to 20-foot monofilament “wind-on” leader connected to the mainline with a knot (up to 80-pound test), splice, or Bimini twist-to-cat's paw connection to a Dacron loop (a common confguration for store-bought big-game leaders). FS

First published Florida Sportsman November 2014

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