We think today’s post is pretty timely – a lot of our guests at BC West have been getting spooled lately! When you hook up on the Dean and your fish takes off towards the ocean, it definitely takes some luck to get that fish to the beach. That being said, certain tactics can help.
We’ve written a bit about fighting fish in the past, but today Scott Baker-McGarva, BC West Head Guide, offers some advice on this very specific scenario. Calling it ‘fighting’ might be a bit presumptuous…but what do you do when that fish takes off downriver?
Sometimes hooked fish, regardless of enormous size, just sit and shake their heads. Others may wallow around…but some simply leave, and to borrow a classic O’Keefe phrase from many moons ago, “things go banjo string tight” in a big hurry. [Editor’s note: “some simply leave” is Scott’s very understated way of describing a giant anadromous fish tearing off downriver.]
I’m not sure there is a sure way to stop these runaways, and some simply are not stoppable, but there are several things you can do to put the odds strongly in your favour.
- DON’T PANIC! Seriously, panic is the most counter-productive thing you can do, along with screaming unintelligibly into your radio. R-E-L-A-X…first, obviously clear your line, and since a hot fish often does this for you anyway, take a quick look at the reel and line for any issues, issues like loose clothing, camera straps or those silly lanyard things getting dangerously close to a wildly spinning reel handle, knots of loose line in the reel, line wrapped around the butt of the rod, etc. Stuff like that usually ends badly.
- Don’t go clockwise on the drag just yet. I make sure my drag is set before I expect a fish. This light-drag-letting-them-turn-the-reel-handle may work for mamby-pamby fish with light rods and click pawl reels, but brutes need a heavier hand. A diminishing line, and related shrinking reel arbor diameter, already increases the drag on the fish, as does as the drag of the flyline belly. Simply going from medieval drag to kill-me-now drag usually means opened hooks and busted leaders. Use rod pressure and a bit of extra palm first, and then step 3.
- Get out of the water, or at least to somewhere shallower and where the bottom is visible – walking sideways or slightly downstream, yet still holding your ground until everything is figured out. Walking backwards usually means somebody put a boulder behind you when you weren’t looking and you’re on your rear right away, with all your friends laughing and a pair of wet underwear. Note: promptly doing a Carl Lewis and sprinting downriver after the fish just means it goes around two bends instead of one (call it a Ben Johnson for us Canadjun types).
- Get some rod pressure on the fish. Maximum rod pressure is when the rod butt is LESS than 45 degrees to the fish, and although a heavy drag will keep it that way, some still manage to get the rod vertical. Vertical rod butts may keep line off the coral on the flats, but when a river is involved, keeping the rod low and to the side exerts more pressure on the fish. Do Billy Pate proud – get down and dirty.
- Try to work your way to a suitable landing area. On some rivers these may be plentiful, on others they are not. Landing a fish in a waist deep & tight space, with your back to the willows is foolish when some slack water and a nice little bay is only a short distance away – provided the fish hasn’t left the pool.
- When the fish is near shore, try to get him upstream of you and get up the beach if you can. This keeps the line 90 degrees to its mouth; further, if the rod is already low and tight, getting up the beach is the final pressure you can apply to the fish. If the leader and sink-tip is in the rod, don’t panic either – if the fish bolts simply point the rod in its direction and let it go….doing a death clutch on a short line generally is very bad as well. You’ve come this far – it’s all finger groping and grip and grins very soon!