by Marc Malkin, Reprinted with permission from Ritz Interactive, Inc.
There are plenty of ways to lose a fish. Even if you do everything exactly by the book, you can still end up losing a tough battle. Most of the time, however, game fish end up "getting off the hook" due to careless, preventable mistakes on the part of the fisherman. The first step in preventing these kind of blunders is awareness. The following are ten of the most commonly committed angling errors. Avoiding missteps like these will help you significantly increase your catch ratio:
Perhaps the most common reason for lost fish is using old or worn line. If you plan on challenging a hard-fighting game fish, you better use fresh, high quality monofilament or braid that's up to the task. If you attempt to land a spirited predator using line that's old, dry, brittle or frayed, the result will almost certainly be a "long release." You'll also want to make sure the "pound-test" of the line on your spool is adequate for the job. If you are undergunned when it comes to line strength, you're bound to come out on the losing end of the battle.
Are You Playing with a Full Deck?
Another common angling error is not putting enough line on your reel. If you don't fill your reel to near capacity, you're asking for trouble. You are handicapping yourself before the battle even starts. Any game fish capable of making powerful, sustained runs is likely to spool you in a hurry, ending the battle prematurely. There's nothing worse than watching a trophy-size gamefish pull the last few inches of line off your reel and hearing that loud "snap." Avoid this situation by putting the proper amount of line on your reel, following the manufacturer's specifications for the pound test you are using.
You wouldn't try to take on a bear with a sling shot, so don't attempt to catch a tough, oversized saltwater game fish with a rod and reel that's made for catching freshwater trout. Many anglers lose fish simply because they are using tackle that's simply not up to the task. Make sure the rod and reel you select is appropriate for the angling assignment. You'll need to arm yourself with a reel that holds enough line for the type of fishing you will be doing. The drag should be powerful enough to put the brakes on your adversary, and allow you to gain back line quickly and efficiently. If you are dealing with speedy predators, make sure your reel has a fast enough gear ratio to keep up with a fish running toward the boat. As for the rod, select one that's matched and balanced for the reel you are using. If your rod is too light for the job or poorly constructed, it's likely to snap under the strain of a big, powerful fish. If it lacks sufficient backbone, you won't be able to gain on your fish and work it to the boat.
Many anglers simply miss opportunities to catch fish because they use hooks that are dull, rusted or improperly sized for the assignment. You need a sharp hook to drive home the point when you set the hook. If your hook doesn't penetrate quickly and solidly, you'll end up swinging a lot with nothing to show for it. In addition to ensuring that your hooks are sufficiently sharp, make sure they are the right size. If you use too small a hook, it is likely to pull out under the pressure during the fight. On the otherhand, if you use a hook that's much too big, it will be easily detected by wary gamefish. Always tie on a hook that's appropriately sized for the size of the fish you are catching and the line you are using. Also remember that hooks can bend. Don't attempt to catch a 30-pound tuna on a hook that's made for landing freshwater bass. You'll end up reeling in nothing but a badly twisted piece of metal.
Knot the Way to Go
Factors like line quality and hook sharpness are moot issues if the connection between your line and the hook is bad. A poorly-tied knot will fail quickly when it's tested by a serious game fish. Many anglers lose fish because they don't know how to properly tie an effective fishing knot, or they tie on a hook in a hurry, making costly errors in the process. Use time-proven knots, such as the Palomar knot, the Uni Knot or the Improved Fisherman's Cinch knot. If you don't know how to tie these knots, there are plenty of guides and booklets available on the subject, complete with step-by-step diagrams. If you do have the knowledge, be sure not to rush the tying process so much that you make a mistake - even during a hot bite. Remember, the quality of your knot is crucial. If you tie one that lacks strength and holding power, it's not going to get the job done.
Cement in Your Boots
If you are stand-up fishing and you hook a big fish that runs, not following your adversary is likely to end in disaster. If you don't move along parallel with a large, hooked game fish that's swimming up or down the side of the boat, two bad things can happen: 1) The fish can take your line under the boat and saw you off, or 2) Your fish and line will become entangled with those of other anglers onboard. Either of these situations can easily result in lost fish. Conversely, following your fish around the boat, properly, when necessary, will greatly increase your chances of landing it.
What a Drag!
A drag that's set too tightly or too loosely is bound to cost you some fish. If your drag is buckled down, too much pressure will be put on your line, causing it to break. Of course, excessive drag pressure can also result in rod breakage. Either way, something's bound to bust, and you'll come out the loser. Believe it or not, an insufficient amount of drag pressure can also result in lost fish. Not enough pressure on the fish, can produce dangerous slack in the line, allowing a fish to shake a hook loose. Insufficient drag pressure can also prevent you from gaining on a fish in a timely manner. Generally speaking, the longer the duration of the fight, the greater the chance of the fish either breaking the line or throwing the hook. Of course, even if your drag is set correctly (25 percent of the breaking strength of the line is the general rule), if the mechanism isn't smooth and consistent, you may lose fish. A low-quality or poorly - maintained drag will stick and perform erratically, often giving a powerful predator the extra edge it needs to get away.
Failure to Communicate
If you don't listen to the skipper or deckhands while you are fighting a big game fish, you're destined to lose the battle. These guys know what they're doing, so be sure to heed their advice quickly. Likewise, it's important for you, the angler, to communicate effectively with the skipper, the crew and other anglers onboard. Talk to each other out there, and you'll work better together as an angling team. If you ignore each other or fail to share important information as the fight ensues, problem scenarios are sure to occur.
When it comes to fishing, slack line is the enemy. An angler that doesn't maintain a tight line and a bend in the rod at all times is likely to lose a hooked fish. Allowing slack in the line gives a game fish the time and opportunity to shake its head and throw a hook or lure. Slack line also means that you are out of touch with what a hooked fish may be doing on the other end, which can lead to tangles, break-offs and other unpleasant outcomes.. If you keep your line tight, however, you'll increase your chances of landing a fish.
Blowing it at the Buzzer
Many fish are lost during the final stages of battle, just as they are nearing the boat. The problem is, anglers tend to think things are over at this point, when this is definitely not the case. At the end of an extended fight, your line will be typically stretched out and possibly frayed as well. There will also be increased pressure on everything from the line to the rod and reel, due to the close proximity of the fish. If an angler doesn't play his or her cards right during this crucial portion of the contest, it's likely that the line will break and the fish will get away. Once you have a big fish boatside, don't panic or attempt to pull it onboard. Keep the fish flat in the water, and wait for someone with a gaff or net to assist you with the landing process. It's also important to be prepared for the fight to continue in the event the fish isn't successfully netted or gaffed on the first attempt. Often, this gives a fish the opportunity to make an unexpected last-minute run.
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