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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Relax and Lose Fewer Fish

If you want to increase your odds of landing a good fish, stop thinking you might lose it. Relax, it’s only a fish.

The hard part is done, fooling the fish. Sure, everyone wants to get the fish to hand, and maybe get a quick photo and hopefully a quick release. To do that requires the right mindset. Forget about “playing” the fish. We played with the fish when we were presenting our fly, now you want to land it.

The fish gave us our fun. Now we owe our fish the respect of safe handling so he can be set free with minimal harm, if any. Though we might have felt some stress in the frustration of getting a fish to take our fly, and the nervousness that could come with landing a nice fish, we need to reduce the stress on the fish. Of paramount importance is keeping hands free of the gills and keeping the fish in the water. 

For starters, use the right rod, not too light for the strength or size of what you’re fishing for. Also use the heaviest tippet you can get away with. With these in place you need to use them to their potential. Use the mid section of the rod. The mid section will let you put more pressure on the fish. Sometimes I see anglers using just the tip of the rod. That softer, flexible section gives fish the advantage. The tip alone doesn't have enough resistance to quickly land a good fish.

A safe enough to do at home experiment is to string up your rod, tie a 5x or 6x tippet to a six or eight ounce weight then with your rod, lift the weight. The result will surprise you. Use heavier weights and see what happens. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to break off a fly caught in something like a branch by just using your rod. It’s easier to break the line by pulling on it, or giving a sudden jerk to the line. It’s the same with a fish on the line. Keep the pressure steady by slowly lifting the rod and reeling down toward the fish, always ready to let go of the reel handle when there’s a sudden surge. This will tire the fish quickly. Don’t use the reel to winch the fish in. You'll end up using too much of the rod tip and not land him quick enough.

Use a rubber or rubber-coated landing net.  They're easier on the fish’s scales and skin coating. Avoid knotted nets. The knots in those inexpensive or older style nets can damage a fish's eyes. They also damage the protective slime coating on the fish's skin.. A good net is good for the fish. It allows you to land the fish without having to tire it out too much, resulting in better recovery on release. Rubber nets can be used as an aquarium of sorts too, holding the fish in the current until its recovered and swims from the net on its own.

Being in control of your fish by not letting it zip all over and spook other fish also increases the odds for additional hookups. If there are other anglers nearby it’s just common courtesy not to spook the whole pool. Sometimes, an angler with a decent fish hooked walks down river trying to “keep up” with the fish. If others are fishing downstream it’s just plain rude since it will disturb the water they’re fishing, unless it’s truly a gigantic fish, one the size seldom seen in the water you’re fishing. Walking a fish also takes the pressure off the fish. With no pressure, the fish is resting and you lessen your chances of landing it. Lose the fear of losing fish and you’ll find you’ll do less fish walking.

So we got some of the quirks out of the way, the fish is reasonably beat, but not beat to death, and now it’s in the net. Keep the fish in the net and in the water while you remove the fly. Barbless hooks make that easier and put less stress on an already stressed fish. Hold the fish into the current, that keeps the water flowing over its gills for a quicker recovery. Keep the fish in the water until it’s recovered enough to swim away on its own. If it needs a little “push” its not ready yet.

If you want a picture and you’re alone, take the picture with the fish in the water. Bank shots in the grass are the kiss of death. If you’re with someone else, keep the fish in the water while your buddy gets ready, focused, and framed. Then on the count of two, quickly lift the fish, supporting it by the tail and under the pectoral fins, take the shot and put the fish back in the water. This process should take no more than two or three seconds. The shot you get is the shot you get. With some luck, the picture came out fine. With time and experience, the pictures come out fine more and more often.

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