Learn to Fish Soft Plastics - Landing your fish.
How many times have you set off for an impromptu session (which are often the best) only to realise after you hook the fish of a lifetime that you are not as prepared as you thought you were?
Yeah, happens more than you think, huh.
Getting your fish back to your feet after an epic life and death struggle with frayed leaders and time running dangerously out, but with no way to collect your prize from the water?
Yep it happens to all of us, we get so wrapped up in going, we forget the what if’s. Sometimes this can have disastrous consequences, to our ego’s anyway.
One such example that almost ended in tragedy was a trip to Fiji a few years ago where (on a family tourist day out at and island) we were offered an hour or two of fishing from a dingy in the reef lagoon. Sounded like a bargain. So loaded up with an Okuma 2500 reel and a Shimano Travel Raider rod, I threw on a $5 BCF special diving rattler and off we toddled on the troll. 20mims later the rod was almost yanked from my hands. Line began to rapidly leave the spool (thank god for braid and the extra line on the spool), between a mixture of hand signals and excited gesturing, we gave chase with about 1/4 of the spool left and I gradually worked some line back onto the spool. As we neared the reef, the fish did a 180 and headed back the other way at speed, this time faster than ever, line began to peel off again rapidly, we gave chase again but I kept losing line, not game to crank up the drag on the 10lb braid, I was down to 1/2 dozen wraps on the spool when it finally relented. Still chasing, we went round in circles until I gained slowly on what I was sure was a decent GT.
As we got to close quarter combat a large pelagic missile showed himself on the surface. I had little rod authority on him and we went round and round getting closer to the reef. Our driver said that we had to get it on board soon or the sharks would get him at the reef, I looked around...no net... no gaff... then there was that revelation that I was going to loose a fish of a lifetime due to not being able to land it.
Our heroic driver was at the ready and after 7 or 8 attempts to tail the fish with a T-shirt wrapped around his hand, about 20kgs of solid King Mackerel came over the side and as it hit the deck, my mighty $5 savage gear bargain fell onto the floor. The extended fight had torn the hook holes into his mouth and the lure just fell out when the slack line allowed it.
It made my day, holiday and was an angling milestone for me. Moral of the story? Was I lucky, yep, was I prepared, hell no, but I was supported somewhat by our fearless driver ( at least when he finished his smoke sitting on the fuel tank). The moral is, always take a way to land your fish or lose a trophy, mind you it would have needed to be a big net, gaff may have been more appropriate at the time.
These days dropping any fish at my feet (either land-based / kayak or boat) is regarded as a dismal failure. A net, even a small portable one is what is required. Big enough to take a solid fish but portable enough to be able to carry it with you is essential. Theory is, a small net is better than not carrying one at all.
Using it however, is another thing. We all have that special mate, who try’s to knock off your fish with the net when it gets close, or so it seems. There is nothing more disappointing when you are that ‘special mate’ and you loose your mates good fish after 5 swipes at it with the net and it departs the scene. Awkward... ok give him some space. Minimum distance 20m, not so easy in a boat huh and sure to test friendships.
So let’s go through a little about technique. This applies equally to the angler as well as the net person.
Its important that the angler plays the fish out until it is exhausted, as a half done fish in the net can be a recipe for disaster. However, I remember losing a 1m+ flathead at my feet and countless other large specimens when the landing net is less than 20m away in the boat while wading, why did I not carry it? Portability for one and ease of use another. Most nets are bulky, hard to carry and not particularly designed to be portable. Not carrying one however, is something I have come to regret more times than I care to remember. This of course is easier in a boat, as long as you remember to bing the net.
Tip 1 is always carry your landing net, which is better than dropping your prize at your feet while trying to drag it up the sand or rocks. I have been seen countless times dropping everything and pouncing on a fish in ankle deep water in the vain attempt to stop it’s well earned escape, mostly adding injury to insult. Please carry a net. It will look after the health and well being of those fish you intend to release and not require everyone to apply the 20m rule.
Use of the net
Bringing your fish to the net is the most intense time, notice I said ‘bringing your fish to the net’ not the other way around. Swiping at a fish underwater with a net full of water is not going to work, yet most people do it. Swimming the fish gently into the net is much more optimal. This might mean risking playing them out a little longer, at least that is controlled. If the fish is too ‘green’ meaning not exhausted enough. Putting them in the net prematurely can be a very bad idea. You can end up with a snappy, angry fish bouncing out of your net and if you are lucky, into the boat with you, or perhaps ripping through the net and back into the water. I have seen this happen and you end up with a whole bunch more problems with a landing net threaded around your line. Most often it ends in tears.
Tip 2, hold your net in the water, relatively flat and shallow, about 10-20cms under the water, guide your fish head fist into the net. As the head passes over the leading lip of the net simply tilt it back or lift it up and your fish is not going anywhere. Their reaction is to dive and they can’t do it with the net under them. This keeps your line clear of touching anything during the fight also.
Tip 3, avoid any sharp movements or swiping at the fish with the net, this will panic them and they will power away, sometimes permanently.
Do not attempt to hold the net vertical and swim them in head first. Fish are perfectly adaptable in the water and even big fish can turn on a dime, or power through your net.
Tip 4, the secret is to get them on the top, into that half/half area of the water surface where they have only half their body in the water and are unable to get any power down with their tail or body. If you play out your fish well they will come to you on the top, ready for the net. For most deep sided fish like bream, snapper, trevally etc, this will mean they are on their side on the surface as you lead them to the net. This makes life so much easier and they will not be damaged by the net from thrashing around. Flathead will normally headshake as you lead them in, so hopefully your leader holds.
It is important also to ensure that you take good care of the fish to ensure their best chance of survival on release, or optimal taste in the plate if you are chasing a feed.
So to wrap up
Invest in a good quality net and make sure where your rod goes so does it. I particularly recommend getting s small, strong, portable version. Again, the net is only good if you carry it and I prefer one I can carry either on my back or in a quiver if I am wading for easy access and use, like the Sidearm.
Designed to be ultra portable, strong enough to carry a 5 kilo fish and easy to use from the water wading or kayaking, they are the goods. With variable carriage options, check them out in the link above.
So regardless of what type, do yourself a favourite and carry a light, portable and strong landing net, I can assure you that you will be glad that you did when that once in a lifetime fish comes along.
Till next time, have fun, fish responsibly and remember take only what you need and post the rest to social media.