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Vol 47 | Num 2 | May 11, 2022

The Offshore Report Ocean City Report Delaware Report Virginia Report Chum Lines Ship to Shore The Galley Issue Photos
Chum Lines

Article by Capt. Mark Sampson

I lost it. It got away. It broke off. It busted off. It pulled off. It jumped off. It came unglued. It's gone! So many ways we have to describe what happens when we are suddenly no longer attached to a fish that we worked so hard to get on the line.

Ending our day with a "one that got away" story is just a part of being a fisherman, but it's still a lousy situation and unfortunately one we all come to know too many times in our fishing careers. It happens to all of us - to some more to others.

Although it's not as often written about, learning how not to lose a fish is just as important a skill to have as learning how to hook one in the first place, and since I've lost more than my share over the years and watched my charter clients lose more than just a few of their own, I figured I could come up with a pretty good list of "do's" and "don’ts" on the topic.

First - It's not caught until it's in the boat! I don't know how many times I've watched someone lose a nice flounder, sea bass, or some other fish because, after cranking it up, instead of lifting it out of the water and directly into the boat they let it hang over the side until it drops off the hook and back into the water. If you plan on keeping a fish, it's not really caught until it's IN THE BOAT! So if it's a smaller fish that's not going to be netted or gaffed it should be lifted smoothly and in one motion from the water into the boat.

On a similar note, anglers often lose fish at the boat because they lift its head out of the water before it's in the net. The extra pressure applied to the hook when a fish's head is brought out of the water can be enough to pull the hook, particularly if it causes the fish to freak out and start shaking its head and thrashing around all over again. Done properly, a fish will be brought to the surface of the water (not above it) and smoothly ushered headfirst into the net.

And while we're talking about nets; many fish are lost because of lousy net jobs, and one of the most rookie mistakes is trying to net a fish from behind. Fish are designed to swim forward quickly but are not so good at going backwards. Therefore the net should always be put in front of the fish so that it basically swims into the mesh instead of easily away from it which will happen if you come in from behind. The angler should assist the netter by bringing the fish close to the surface and directing the fish to the net.

Fish often break off because the angler and crew stand idly by and allow the line to get wrapped around something such as the anchor line, propeller, lower unit, chum bucket, another angler's fishing line, a trolling motor, a bridge or dock piling, a buoy or float line.

Such accidents can usually be avoided by acting preemptively and minimizing the threats. Trim an outboard or trolling motor up and out of the water, bring in the chum bucket, get the boat moving so that the fishing line can be maneuvered around stationary objects. And by all means - the angler must be ready to quickly react by putting the rod tip deep into the water if the fish goes under the boat to keep the line from getting fouled on anything on the hull and then be ready to take the rod up and around the bow to clear the anchor line if that's going to be a problem.

Fish are often lost due to angler error during the fight - but not in a way we so often hear about. Often, if a fish throws the hook the angler is blamed for giving it slack because they "stopped cranking the reel" or because they "didn't crank fast enough" and yes it's possible that a hook will come out of a fish for those reasons - particularly when bottom fishing anglers are bringing fish straight up from below the boat. However, when a fish is more "out" than it is "below" the angler, the resistance on the line created by the moving fish and/or the boat provides more than enough pressure on the hook to hold it in place.

So the common practice of blaming an angler for the loss of a tuna or other offshore species because they momentarily "stopped cranking" is hogwash. If the angler is to blame for a fish getting off it's more likely that they were too aggressive in their fighting technique.
Lift up - crank down, lift up - crank down, or "pumping the rod" as it's usually called, can be both a great way to land a fish and a great way to lose a fish. Experienced anglers will know when to gain line by pumping and when to gain line just by holding the rod steady and cranking. Inexperienced anglers will either waste their own energy by cranking when they're not gaining line, or pump like crazy when all they have to do is calmly crank the handle.

Anglers should always strive to keep a steady pressure on a fish and simply direct it towards the boat. If the fish has relented and is easily coming in the constant back and forth surge of pressure on the hook when the rod is pumped only increases the chances that the fish will be able to shake its head and throw the hook. Pumping the rod is usually reserved for when a fish is turned broadside to the angler, but it must be done at a moderate to slow rhythm that keeps a consistent bend in the rod and therefore no slack when the rod is lowered.
Another good way to lose a fish is to set a drag too heavy. Sure, your 50-pound line can handle 40-pounds of drag and your 20-pound line can probably take 15-pounds of drag without breaking, but that much drag applied to a hook in a fish's jaw might not work. When setting drags, anglers must consider the size and strength of all the terminal tackle they'll be using including hooks, leader, and all connecting knots. The size of the fish and the strength of it's jaw must also be taken into consideration. I've seen hooks straightened and fish pull their jaws apart after making a strong run against heavy drags.

My final thought about losing fish is actually a question. Every "one that got away" story seems to be about some monster fish that would have won a tournament, set a record, or filled a freezer. How come no one ever loses a small fish?

Coastal Fisherman Merch
CF Merch



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