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Reducing your billfish losses, Part III

By Staff | Apr 21, 2011

Leadering and Gaffing

Because anything you do with the leader when taking a fish can be applied to releasing one, we will confine this section to leadering a big fish with the intention of gaffing it. We will have to assume that you know the basics of taking (and dumping) wraps. We will also assume you know that the majority of big fish lost are at the boat.

Having those wraps in your hands and a big marlin on the other end can be the most rewarding aspect of fishing; however, any mistake you make has the potential to cost your boat the fish. If you are not aggressive, you might as well stay on the dock.

Likewise, if you are overly aggressive in the wrong situation, you can run the risk of either breaking the leader, pulling the hook or getting yourself hauled over the side. The trick is knowing when to pull, when to hold and when to give ground.

The old rule was if you had wraps, and a big fish was coming to the boat with its dorsal out of the water and its pecs flopping, then the fish was worn out. This is still usually the case, but plenty of fish in this condition have miraculously come back to life with unwanted results, such as jumping into the cockpit, injuring the leaderman or simply scaring the pants off everyone involved. It always pays to be careful and to look for any change in the marlin’s body language.

With a big fish that is obviously a little frisky on the leader, the leaderman needs to keep a good eye on the angles. With the fish coming to you, you pull. With the fish sideways, you will want to pull unless it is making a strong move.

With a fish darting under the boat toward the props, and the captain throttling the boat forward, hold on to keep the line off the stern and the fish out of the running gear. The situation may be to let go of the leader as the fish clears the stern and the boat moves forward. If so, let the backed off drag setting do its job and start over once the fish has settled down — or risk pulling hooks or breaking leader and losing the fish.

You do not want to over-stress your gear — particularly if the fish is hooked on a lure — but you do not want the fish to get its head pointed away from the boat. If this should happen, be aware that a couple of strong tail kicks and body lunge could put you on your backside as the leader parts or the hooks pull. Here, it’s up to the leaderman to decide whether the move is part of a slow topple or an aggressive departure with afterburners lit.

In any case, whether to pull or hold fast becomes a judgment call. Every fish and situation will be different, depending on size of fish, leader test, size of hooks and how the fish is hooked. Unfortunately, nothing you will read can help you make the decision; however, if you do make the call to dump your wraps, make sure to enlighten the captain and angler first. (To be continued.)