Winning The End Game

November 16, 2018

Tips For Handling Big Fish at The Boat

The annals of big game fishing are filled with heartbreak tales where giant fish are lost after exhausting battles. Most often those fish are lost right near the boat, when the fight is tantalizingly close to over and the crew can just taste success. If you’re tournament fishing, this sort of defeat is doubly crushing and can really make for a long ride home.

There are several good reasons why fish often say “sayonara” right near the boat. For one, the angler and crew can be mentally and physically exhausted at this point, which leads to shortcuts and/or mistakes. The longer the fight goes on, the greater the chance hooks can pull out or that weak knots, frayed line and other equipment failures can come back to bite you. And you, your tackle and your crew are under the greatest strain when a big fish is connected by only a few yards of line.

Here are some handy tips to improve your chances of winning the all-important end game when tackling billfish, tuna, sharks and other big game:

  • Don’t “freeze up.” Many anglers “freak out” when they get a first glimpse of a huge fish. They instinctively back off the drag and reduce pressure on the fish to avoid a breakoff.  This can result in long stand-offs with the fish right in sight.  Keep up the same pressure you used to get the fish to that point.  The longer the end game portion of the fight goes on, the greater chance it will end badly.
  • Keep the boat moving. Whether you’re going to gaff or release a large fish, keep the boat moving slowly ahead as you grab the leader and draw the fish to the boat. Keeping a fish swimming keeps it calmer and gives you more control.
  • Be properly equipped to finish the job. You wouldn’t hunt buffalo with a BB gun, so don’t expect to handle offshore big game with inshore equipment. Depending on your target species, this could mean a large flying gaff (1/2-inch diameter hook with a six-inch gap), rigged with plenty of 5/8-inch rope, as well as a tail rope.  Those involved with handling the fish should be prepared with gloves and wire cutters. 
  • Plan ahead. Discuss with your crew who will handle what duties, so that when the time comes, you can go right into action — knowing who will drive the boat, who will leader the fish, who will gaff the fish, who will stand by with a second gaff, etc. Have all your equipment out and readily accessible before you put lines in the water. 
  • Act decisively. To sink the flying gaff, place the gaff across the center of the fish’s body with the point down. This makes gravity your ally. Bring the hook towards your body and hit the fish in the “hump” – the meaty part near the dorsal fin. A second fixed-head gaff can then be used near the tail to subdue the fish and tail rope it. 
  • Release ‘em right. If catch and release is your goal — as it is with more marlin and shark anglers these days — you need to be prepared. To release a billfish, have a partner grab the leader while you grab the bill and extract the hook (if the fish is hooked deeply, cut the leader close). Wear protective gloves and always place your palm on top of the bill with your fingers above and thumb below. This keeps your arm between the sharp, abrasive bill and your face.  With sharks, put your rod in freespool with the clicker on and assist the leader man in clipping the wire as close to possible to the shark’s mouth. Remember to keep the boat slowly moving ahead.
  • Revive tired fish. Before releasing your grip on a billfish, revive it by motoring forward and running fresh water over its gills. You’ll feel the fish “kick” when it’s ready to go — and you’ll feel great when it swims away towards the depths.

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