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Reducing your billfish losses, Part II

By Staff | Oct 6, 2016

Boat handling is important when trying to land a billfish.

Boat Handling

One of billfishing’s most glamorous moments is a boat in hot pursuit of an even hotter fish. There’s spray flying, engines howling and water coming in the cockpit with each new blast of a wave over the transom.

Captains live for it, and anglers relish it, but other than the most basic “follow the line and not the fish” rule, more than a few of these folks screaming around in reverse are getting it wrong.??

No one doubts the need to stay as close to the fish as possible, and backing is a great way to do it. However, there are also situations where constant backing makes a fight last longer than necessary, allowing room for more things to go wrong in the area of sharks, tail-wrapping, angler fatigue, etc. It’s exactly why you don’t blindly follow a runaway fish in reverse all day.

You get on the fish as quickly as possible, which often dictates turning and running with the angler swiveled forward in the chair and the rod under the outrigger. With the first, freight-train run controlled, the boat is maneuvered at an angle that will gain the most possible line; again, this may mean turning and running as opposed to following in reverse.

If you can’t get in position to cut this initial run, you’re in bad shape but not without hope. There are many things you can do to keep out of trouble, but if you get in a bad situation and are overmatched on a big fish, you start by finding the exact direction the fish is swimming in, which means getting straight up and down on the fish. Then you head off 180 degrees – accepting the line loss – until you start to get leverage as the angle between the fish and boat increases. In most cases, the fish will come to the top when the angle gets right.

When light tackle is used, a lot of line in the water spells disaster, and the captain, angler and crew have to be faster than fast. The problem posed by having a mid-figure marlin (300-600 pounds) on 30- or even 50-pound test gear is that these fish tend to leave in a hurry and then go deep with all of the line you have gained on the first run.

What’s left is a straight up and down stalemate while you wait for your tackle to blow out. If you’re straight up and down on a big fish with light gear, you can’t hurt the fish, and sooner or later either your line or leader will break. If the fish is alive, get an angle on the fish so you can get line back by either backing or spinning and running after it.

Quick Fixes

Long fights often result in lost fish or fish that die down deep and cannot be retrieved. If you’re in this position too often, your problem may be boat handling.

A fish that takes a lot of line is a hard fish to handle. Get on the fish quickly and don’t be afraid to turn and chase.

Try to get in front of a fish that is sulking and not working hard. Don’t follow incessantly. At times, you want the fish to work against the drag to tire itself out.

If your fish becomes tail-wrapped and dies, you can try to get it up by pulling away and then backing quickly while the angler reels, hopefully planing the fish to the surface. Hand-lining becomes another option.

Angler Technique

In this day of plastic lure fishing, many feel the role of the angler in heavy-tackle billfishing is relegated to simply being a winder. That’s a shame, because a good angler can do a lot that a winder can’t do, dramatically reducing fight time and the number of lost fish.

The step between winder and angler requires experience and attention to detail, not just cranking while people yell at you. The mistake anglers make most often is they quit reeling when the line goes slack, thinking it’s a lost fish. In many cases, this is just a case of the fish turning and coming to the boat.

They are also not generally aware of the amount of extra pressure on the line when a lot of it is out and the spool is narrow. It’s a lot better to give line than to break it.

You have to have a fast response to what the fish does. If the fish makes a move and you have a lot of drag on it, you have to know when to come off the drag as well as when to add it.