Back to basics: Play time
  |  First Published: October 2012

Over the past few months we’ve worked our way through spooling up your reel, adjusting the drag and setting the hook. Now, with something finally on the line, the real fun begins!

Hooking a fish is without question one of the most thrilling moments in angling. It’s the ‘high’ that brings us back for more! You lift the rod tip or crank the reel and suddenly the line springs taut and an urgent, electric energy pulses through the previously inanimate outfit in your hands. You’re instantly connected to another life force by a gossamer thread of line and the excitement is palpable — you can taste it! But what happens in the next few seconds or minutes will spell the difference between landing that fish, and collecting another ‘one that got away’ story.

If the fish is relatively small in relation to the tackle you’re using, you can simply raise the rod to about 45º above the horizontal and crank the reel handle to bring it in. However, landing bigger, stronger fish require a little more finesse and artistry.

If you hook a fish that’s heavy and strong in relation to the strength of your tackle, the thickness of your line and size of your hook, attempting to use sheer muscle to haul the beast in is likely to result in disaster. Either the line will break or the hook may tear free or straighten out. In extreme cases, your rod might even snap!

It’s worth noting that more active fish such as tailor, salmon, trout or tuna are all capable of breaking a line with a rated strength significantly greater than their actual weight. Many anglers are surprised to learn that a fish weighing less than 2kg can snap a 4kg line in a direct pull, but they definitely can! This is why larger, more active fish need to be ‘played’.

Playing a fish doesn’t mean we simply muck around with it in order to prolong the encounter for our own entertainment. Instead, the term means taking your time and bringing the fish in slowly and smoothly while using the flex of the rod as a shock absorber to protect the line and hook. It also means, if necessary, allowing the hooked fish to run, or take line against the reel’s pre-set drag, as described in the last couple of columns.

A big, strong fish can easily pull the rod tip down and rip line off against the resistance of the reel’s drag. If that drag has been tightened too much, the line will most likely snap. On the other hand, if the drag is too loose, the fish may be impossible to bring in, or may even strip all the line from your spool. It’s all about finding the right balance, as discussed two issues ago.

As soon as the fish you’ve hooked stops running and pulling line from your reel against the drag, you need to begin recovering lost line and bringing the fish in.

The best way to recover the line is to use a process called ‘pumping and winding’, which means lifting the rod without cranking the reel and then lowering the rod while turning the reel handle. The pump-and-wind routine is efficient, effective and saves your tackle from excessive wear.

To pump and wind, begin by smoothly lifting the rod from just above the horizontal until the butt or lower portion is angled up at least 45º above the horizon. Don’t crank the reel as you perform the lift or pump part of the process, because this action puts unnecessary strain on the rod and the gears of the reel. When the lower portion of the rod reaches the 45º angle, begin turning the reel handle as you smoothly lower the rod back towards the horizontal. Repeat this process of lifting the rod without winding the reel, then cranking the reel as you lower the rod.

Be extremely careful to keep tension on the line during the winding of the reel on the down stroke, because loose line can easily wrap around the rod tip or create slack that allows the fish to shake free of the hook. The best way to avoid slack line is to actually start turning the reel a split second before you begin to lower the rod, and to maintain enough pressure to keep at least a slight bend in the rod, right through the down stroke.

I find that focusing first on winding the reel and second on lowering the rod is helpful in achieving this constant line tension.

Next month: The closing stages of the battle!

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