I had just finished lunch in a small, local restaurant when a man whom I had seen in there a few times before walked over and pushed a cell phone in front of me with a photo of him holding a 50-pound wahoo. This tall, strong, muscular man told me the battle lasted over an hour and his arms, shoulders, and back were in constant pain holding the rod at arm’s length until he landed the fish. In fact, he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to go through that battle with another big fish.
Those words coupled with his description of how difficult it was to keep the rod tip high brought back memories of the Young Turks who pioneered light tackle fishing more than a half-century ago. They taught me way back then how to modify standard tackle so the angler gained an advantage and how to pressure a fish so the battle didn’t last half a day.
If you looked at my assortment of rods from casting gear to stand-up offshore tackle, you would think somebody didn’t know how to build the basic outfit. All of mine have considerably shorter butts (measured from the reel seat) than any rod you would see in a tackle store. The reason is simple. With the shorter butt shoved against my belly or stuck in a rod belt, I can keep my elbows locked at my side and still hold the rod properly. This allows me to put my hands just forward of the reel seat and battle a fish by pumping with my whole body rather than with my arms and my shoulders. Believe me when I tell you it takes a lot longer to tire your body than outstretched arms and straining shoulders.
By struggling to keep the rod tip high during the encounter, this angler was minimizing the pressure on the fish. The rod tip should never be lifted higher than a 45-degree angle with the surface of the water. There is nothing wrong with the tip of the rod pointing at the water and then using short pumps above to work the fish. Once you lift the rod tip above a 45-degree angle you are defeating the design and construction of the rod blank. Power in the blank starts at the tip and transfers to the butt as more pressure is added.
Battling a powerful fish is very much like a boxing match. There is going to be give and take. At times, the fish will take line, but when it stops, it’s the moment you go to work by pumping and drawing the fish closer to you. When the fish is at a reasonable distance, you can begin to use side pressure by lowering the rod parallel to the water and pumping sideways instead of up and down. If the fish is moving from right to left, you’re going to put pressure with the rod to the right. This will draw the fish closer. If it changes direction and swims from left to right, you’re going to pull to the left.
The more you practice these techniques, the easier the battle will be and the faster you will land your quarry. There are some additional techniques, but we’ll leave those for another time.