Reducing your billfish losses
Kneeling down with one hand on the chair’s footrest, you steer the angler toward the starboard corner as line hisses off the reel just over your right ear. The fish stops and the angler pumps. After almost three hours, the purple and electric blue shape is showing about 50 feet down and is big enough to put a lump in your throat.
Pulling your gloves on tighter, you stand to take the leader. The wake pushing from the giant blue dorsal and the whine of shifting transmissions go unnoticed. All you see is the leader coming steadily to you. The crimp on the 400-pound mono is only four feet away from your outstretched hand when all hell breaks loose.
The fish suddenly thrashes toward the boat, its huge head and shoulders out of the water. There’s a mountainous splash, frantic reeling and the roar of high-performance engines. The lure comes back quickly, and you duck as it ricochets off the cabin window.
Whatever you were fishing for – a six-figure tournament prize, a ten-to-one record or simply the satisfaction of catching the biggest fish of your life – just disappeared into a fountain of whitewater and a cloud of black diesel smoke. Just like that.
It’s true that a lot of time, effort and dollars go into offshore fishing, and tempers are bound to get frayed over the long days of watching baits swim and lures bubble. When fish get away for no apparent reason, all that’s left other than hurt feelings, sore arms and a good story is the chance to examine what went wrong and how to fix it next time.
Reasons for losing a fish usually break down into the following categories: boat handling, leader/gaffing, and angling or tackle maintenance. Every now and then, the mistake is so obvious that “a fifth-grader” can detect it. At other times, fish are lost through very subtle errors in strategy that may not even be apparent.
The most important thing a fisherman can do to even the odds is to keep his gear right. This entails more time than anybody wants to spend cleaning drag washers, crimping mono, re-rigging lures and re-filling spools, but it has to be done.
You can accept what are called uncontrollable losses, like pulled hooks or jumped-off-fish, but not a controlled loss, a loss that can be prevented, a loss that is usually in the form of faulty tackle maintenance. Checking the line for fraying is number one on the list.
If you are breaking line, there are several places to look:
Line that is nicked or frayed will break. You can count on it. Check your line every time you reel it in. Likewise, line that is too old, or damaged by heat or sun (cloudy and brittle), or stretched and milky from a tough fight, is not at full strength and should be changed.
Having too much drag on the fish when the spool is low is a prescription for line failure. Back it off when the spool is narrow. Watch those cigarettes. There is nothing like a live ash to create havoc with monofilament.
Pulled hooks: Pulling the hooks on a fish is going to happen, and many times, it is just part of fishing. If you are pulling hooks often enough to worry about it, look for the following problems:
Too much drag serves to pull hooks, especially hooks that are too small for the line test used.
Dull hooks will obviously not set as well as sharp ones, and they are more susceptible to pulling.
Fish hooked on lures tend to be much easier to lose than those hooked on bait. Use as little drag as necessary to keep the fish under control when fishing with lures.
An angler that allows enough slack in the line for a fish to put a bow in the leader gives the fish the chance to use water pressure on the leader as a de-hooker. Keep it tight at all times.
After that, you want your roller guides to roll. WD-40 is available all over the world, so there’s no excuse in not having your guides clean and working when you leave the dock.
Reel maintenance is also important, and it doesn’t always mean new drag washers. Clean your reel drags regularly. You can clean washers with alcohol and add Teflon grease to them.
You should do everything you can think of, maintenance wise, to stop controlled losses.