In this instalment on fish handling, I will look at how to bleed your pelagic.
Fig. 1a. The best way to keep the gaff away from the line is to have the gaff pole between the boat and the fish with the gaff hook pointing outwards. Most of the mishaps and lost fish when gaffing are caused when the gaff tangles with the line.
Fig. 1b. The best technique for getting the hook into the fish is to go over the top of the fish with the gaff pole. Ensure that whichever way the fish’s head is pointing the gaff is behind the line, never draw across the line.
When gaffing with the pole over the top of the fish you get resistance from the fish in the water and, more importantly, helps the gaff to go in. If you gaff from underneath you risk lifting the fish too early and the gaff often doesn’t penetrate fully, which means the fish can wriggle off the gaff.
Fig. 2. To brain spike the fish, a knife or spike is inserted above or behind the eye. In this case we have used a stout knife blade.
Some anglers prefer to spike in behind the eye and angle forward; others go in closer to/above the eye. I prefer to reduce the angle as much as possible for better accuracy.
Fig. 3. Insert the knife into and through the flesh under the gill plate and behind the gills to cut the major arteries to/from the heart. This will bleed out the flesh.
Do this on both sides to ensure maximum blood letting.
Fig. 4. Slashing across the tail wrist releases ‘tension’ to let the blood drain out quicker; the slash also lets blood out of the tail, thus it can bleed out of both ends of the fish.
This should be done on both sides of the tail wrist.
Fig. 5. John and Bill Clarke with two Spanish mackerel that have been bled and are now ready for either icing down whole or filleting.
Brain spiking (iki jime)
Spiking, or iki jime, will kill the fish instantly and prevent the stress conditions that occur when the fish is left to die in the normal way and can significantly decrease spoilage when combined with rapid chilling of the flesh. However, it is only effective if the fish is alive when it is carried out.
…the fish in the under belly area. The flesh is very weak and the gaff will tear a huge hole if the fish continues to put up a fight. Even if these fish make it to the boat, most are lost when you try to haul them aboard as they will flip off in mid-air.
…toothy fish, like sharks and barracuda. Generally, these fish aren’t boated anyway, however plenty of foolish anglers try and get their hooks back and end up losing a finger or two, or worse.
…if you are unsure of the size or species. Only gaff fish that you plan on taking home. Most gaffs will leave fatal wounds that will either kill the fish or, at the very least, leave it vulnerable to predators.