Landing the catch
  |  First Published: October 2004

LANDING your catch is a big priority, even if you plan to release it. Sure – a few fish will always get away, but losing fish isn’t always fun and you can’t photograph a trophy specimen or win a tournament with a lost fish.

In this article I’ll take you through a few key points that will reduce the chances of your fish prematurely releasing themselves. The main areas to focus on include tackle, human error and understanding the nature of the species and environment you’re fishing.

Line call

It pays to focus on your line above everything else, because the best rods and reels in the world don’t mean a thing if you don’t have good line. By this, I don’t mean buying the most expensive line on the market. You just need to give a bit of thought towards using an appropriate line for a given situation and making sure the line is in good condition.

Schneider mono and Berkley Fireline are my lines of choice. As most of my fishing is from the rocks or beach, abrasion resistance is important. Other priorities are knot strength, low elasticity and reasonable castability – and the Schneider and Berkley lines have both served me well over the years. Although I know that these lines are also popular with other fishos, there are plenty of good brands available that are appropriate for a wide variety of applications.

Obviously price comes into the equation, but fishing line isn’t all that expensive.

Regardless of the type of line you use, there is always a chance that at somewhere along its length, some form of damage or wear will occur. It will usually appear down at the business end of things and will be caused by abrasive rocks, reef or similar underwater structure. Nicks or worn sections may also be caused by fish with hard, toothy mouths or after a hard, drawn-out battle.

A good habit to get into is to check your line several times during a fishing session. If you fish from the rocks or other harsh environments, regular line checks will certainly help you to land more fish in the long run.

Of course, things above water can also have detrimental effects on line. Cracked, abrasive or even incorrectly spaced rod guides can easily wear line down. The same goes for defects on reels such as bail arm rollers that don’t roll, nicks or sharp spots on spools and defective drag systems. Continual exposure to the sun and salt is also quite harsh, so a light rinse in fresh water after each trip will help keep your line in good condition.

Rods and reels

There are a few factors to consider when it comes to rod or reel failure. The first is that you can ask too much of cheap gear. A $30 reel may be fine for catching bait or the odd flathead or whiting in the estuary, but it won’t perform the hard tasks that a $200 reel can handle. If you spend $600, the performance level will be greater still (although it’s unlikely to be three times greater).

Another factor to consider is the size, type and general construction of the reel. An ultra-light threadline that costs over $1000 won’t be able to deal with a big, beastly kingfish or monster jewies the way a big, robust threadline can, even if the bigger reel is worth a quarter of the money. That’s quite an extreme example, but it shows that the amount you spend is actually less important than correctly matching the gear to a given task.


Dealing with drags can be a bit of a grey area in fishing. There have long been theories such as setting the drag so it starts to slip at a third of the line’s breaking strain. That’s not a bad starting point, but few things in fishing are that clear cut.

Each line class, location or species may require different fighting styles and therefore different drag settings. Take flathead, for example. In most cases, lizards don’t put up much of a fight until they near the bank, boat or landing net and then they’ll start to lunge, zoom off or perform those rapid head shakes that shred your line to pieces. At this crucial stage, a drag setting that doesn’t yield line could result in line breakage or the hooks pulling. For this reason I prefer to use slightly lighter drag settings when flathead are the target species. Then, if a big lizard does carry on at the last minute, line will give, rather than break.

I prefer a light drag setting on blackfish too. A heavy-handed approach to these striped wonders will often result in the small hook pulling or the knot at the hook parting. It makes more sense to just patiently play them out and casually slip a net under them at the end. For flathead and blackfish my preferred drag setting is generally just under a quarter of the line’s breaking strain. So if it’s 4kg line, the drag will give at around 900g of pressure.

At the opposite end of the scale, when fishing for drummer I usually screw the drag knob right up so no line will slip out. Drummer are just one of those fish you can’t muck around with and expect to win the fight. Sure – there are cases when a decent-sized drummer will be landed on ‘stunt’ tackle, but mostly drummer have a good old laugh at any weakness in your set-up. These days I prefer low-stretch Fireline for drummer. With no stretch in the line and no slip of the drag you minimise the chances of the average drummer turning its head and lunging into rocks or kelp. If you can keep them moving towards you, the chances of winning the fight are reasonable.

There are some situations where varying the drag pressure during the fight is preferable. This is really the domain of lever drag reels, but with experience it’s not too difficult to make quick adjustments to threadline drag settings while the fight is in progress.

Fishing for jewfish from beaches, rocks or breakwalls is a prime example of when varying the drag pressure can be useful. Generally, during the main part of the fight steady drag pressure is used to wear the fish down. Too much pressure on an average jewie will only mean when the fish comes in close it will still have too much energy left and can easily make a powerful lunge for freedom. If the jewie nears rocks or reef out wide, it’s time to fully apply the breaks and allow the length of line to absorb the shock. Once the big fish has thrown in the towel at the final stages, it’s time to back off the drag a little. This is when strong wave action in the surf can very easily bust the line or make the hooks pull, so trying to fight the wave action can be a one-way trip to disaster. A little patience and lighter approach at the end is well worth it.

So regardless of exactly what type of fishing you do, there is no hard and fast rule about drag settings. Obviously some anglers will prefer different settings to others. Really though, it all comes down to a bit of common sense.

The business end

As we move toward the business end of the line, the chance of any weak points showing up increases. There are numerous ways of rigging for various species or types of fishing. Your personal choice may also dictate what sort of leader, trace, hooks or knots you employ. I’m certainly no knot expert and I generally keep things pretty simple when it comes to rigs. It is very important that your knots are tied properly and that they suit the type of line you are using. Lubricate knots with a bit of saliva before pulling them tight so they snug up well, and then give the line a tug to check that everything’s all right before casting out.

There are plenty of different hooks on today’s market and most are quite good. I think it’s wise to stick with known brand names, and if tough critters like drummer, groper, kings or big jewies are your target, it’s also worth considering double- or triple-strength hooks. Names like Mustad and Gamakatsu have a proven track record, but as long as your hooks are sharp and don’t easily bend or break, they should be OK.

Swivels, split rings and lure attachment points are pretty much in the same category as hooks. Look for ‘name’ brands, check them before you fish and re-check them during the fishing session. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Be prepared

To ensure you land more fish, make sure you’re prepared and everything is ready to go. Tie your knots as though the next hook up will be the biggest for the day, and make sure all your gear is in good working order and you too will be taking happy snaps of your biggest jew, whiting, bream, snapper, luderick or flathead.


1. Successfully landing fish is a combination of angler thought and effort and good quality tackle.

2. Big lizards are often lost during the final stages of the fight. That’s the time to remain calm and not to bully the fish.

3. There’s pretty much only one way to deal with groper – heavy gear and heavy-handed fighting tactics. If you pussyfoot around the fish will be gone in no time.

4. A soft and patient approach works well on blackfish, particularly when using light line. A landing net is certainly handy when it comes to blackfish.

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