Playing and landing fish

When you have learned to read the water and present your bait properly there are further skills to acquire. Playing and landing a hooked fish are vital elements in successful angling

Despite thousands of words of sound advice from fishing writers on the subject of playing and landing, many fish are neverthless lost by anglers who lack this basic skill. The most common weak spots are: little or no understanding of the slipping clutch on the frequently used fixed-spool reel, and not knowing how to coax out a fish that has run into weed (which can happen to the most experienced angler). First, then, the slipping clutch.

Before making the first cast, hold the rod in one hand and place one finger lightly on the edge of the spool. With the other hand take hold of the end of the line and pull as hard as possible. The clutch should not slip. If it does so before reaching maximum pressure the clutch is set too loose, while if the line breaks the clutch is too tight. With the spool set correctly it is impossible for a running fish to break the line, providing, that is, that everything else is done properly.

When a fish is hooked, immediately apply one finger of the rod hand to the rim of the spool. In this way, when the rod is held at an angle of between 15 and 30° to the vertical, maximum pressure is brought to bear on the running fish. The line will be almost at breaking point but, if the slipping clutch is correctly set, will not actually break.

Pumping and netting

When the fish stops its run, line is recovered by the pocess known as ‘pumping’. For this, assuming the fish is stationary or nearly so, turn the reel handle, at the same time lowering the rod until the tip is at waist level. Then increase finger pressure on the spool rim and bring up the rod to its former position. Repeat the process until the fish runs again or is ready for the net.

It is now – at the point of netting – that most mistakes occur. When the fish is played out, the net is placed in the water, ready for use. With the fish wallowing or lying on the surface, bring the rod tip down to waist level once more, and, with the other hand holding the net, draw the rod back over the shoulder, maintaining strong pressure on the spool all the time. Steady the net about 12in below the surface and draw the fish towards and over it. Do not lift until it is over the net.

Two rules of netting

Sometimes, as the fish is drawn to the net, it will suddenly find new strength and either swim off or change direction. Let it do so for it is unlikely to take line. Keep the finger on the spool and allow the rod to take the strain. Two important points must be remembered: first, as the fish comes over the net make sure that the rod is no farther back than 30° to the vertical. If it is, you will not have complete control over the fish. Secondly, never move the net towards the fish but keep it still and pull the fish over it.

The problem of the fish that runs into weed is one that requires swift action. Some fish, especially roach and chub, however quick one’s reflexes are, will manage to transfer the hook to the weed and escape. Other species, barbel and tench in particular, are not so clever and must be extracted from the weed by ‘pumping’. As soon as the fish reaches the weed, use the technique described earlier, repeating the process without stopping and keeping the finger down hard on the spool. Once the fish starts to move, keep control of the situation with continual pumping, as this will, in the majority of cases, get the fish out of the weed. This technique relies on knowing how much pressure your line will take – something that only comes with experience, and not normally before the loss of a fish.

Coaxing a fish through weed

When a fish runs into streamer weed (Ranunculus), you must get downstream of it in order to extract it. Trying to coax a fish through this weed from upstream only worsens the situation. Although fish of all sorts can be forced out of ‘cabbages’ (underwater lilies) or various types of weedy growth, it is extremely difficult to move a fish from a lily patch by ‘pumping’ and many battles have been lost here.

Playing a fish on a centrepin reel is much easier than on a fixed-spool. Immediately the fish is hooked, turn the handle slowly, keeping the line tight. If the fish runs let it take line, but rest the palm of the hand lightly against the rim of the reel, facing upwards. In this way, by applying a light but insistent pressure, the fish has to fight for every inch of line but will not break it.

To sum up, when playing a big fish the important thing is not to allow the fish to take control. If this happens then it is likely to be lost. Do not hurry the playing – a sure way of losing the fish – yet do not drag it out longer than necessary, for the object, it must be remembered, is to get the catch on the bank. Maintain a steady pressure and give line only when you have to.

Normally, one holds the rod pointing upwards, as described but remember that fish do turn sideways and, when they do, sideways pressure must be applied. Bring the rod down to the horizontal position and keep it there while playing the fish running to the side.