Regulations for Battle Stations
or
How Not to Lose Fish Due to Gross Stupidity!

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Proper Rodsmanship!

This article is about the art form of proper "rodsmanship" plain and simple.  Correct handling of you rod and reel will help prevent unnecessary lose of your quarry, Mr. Fish.  Style points are not awarded for the "big C" and violent Roland Martin hook-sets, which are completely ineffectual in our Great Lakes Sport Trolling Fishery.  

To earn a masters degree in rodsmanship, sharp hooks are a absolute prerequisite. 
Click here for an article on hook sharpening.  Paying attention to your adversaries tricks will reap heavy boxes of fish.  Panic and freaking-out from over excitement is your largest enemy.  So, you'd better learn how to keep emotions in-check before going any further. 

When panic comes calling, just breath deeply and think.  Don't let poor judgment from your part, become Mr. Panic's ally.  Let me put it to you like this; you've been setting in the boat for the last 2 hours and nothing has even sniffed at a rod.  Then, a screaming hog adult Kings starts squealing the drag towards the Wisconsin shoreline at 20 mph.  Now, use your common sense.  You control the situation ...do not let the situation control you!

What does this mean? ...the first thing is to be aware of the direction the fish is headed.  Second, make sure the fish not cutting under your divers, or drop weight setups.  Possibly cross-coursing underneath another rigger. 

If rods need to be pulled, or moved?  Do it immediately.  Get your crew involved and don't let them stand there like a bunch of zombies.  Even the most inexperienced anglers can take directions and are more than willing to become part of the team.  Please use them accordingly.  Be sure to keep excitement in check and watch for tangles and unstitch them as necessary.  Once a clear path is determined, meaning direct straight-line drive to the fish, then concentrate efforts on gaining line.   

Seldom do you have to pounce on a rod that's peeling drag off the spool.  That fish is already on a "tight" line and driving the hook home is on autopilot.  It's the borderline fish that are only semi-hooked where speed is essential.  Not all fish will attack a lure and run directly away from you.  Some will choose the line of least resistance.  Which is actually directly back towards the boat.  The remedy for that is to turbo-reel until that rascal has felt the hook being drove decisively into it's mug.

The angle that you hold the rod in is extremely important, because your rod is the shock absorber that cushions the slash, surge, and yanking from Mr. Fish.  If the rod is pointed too low, or straight at your prey, you've flunked rodsmanship.  In that case your moniker should be changed to Mr. Stu Pidd!

To watch someone properly using a fishing rod an art form onto itself.  Superb to view, much akin to a good golf swing, or Babe Ruth full contact homerun swing.

Hands On Rod Handling

Hand Above the Reel on the Fore-grip

Before you get on the highway of an accomplished Salmon Slayer a very simple thing called, correct rod handling comes into play.  In my many seasons as a charter operator I'm amazed at the fact many don't know squat about how to properly operate a fishing rod.

Mistake number one, and this one's a killer to success, the left hand goes above the reel.  This achieves two things by adding more leverage to the rod and it keeps the anglers thumb off the spool.  Great Lakes trolling rods are not casting rods for bass and should not be treated as such.  Plus, that's why the manufacturer installed the fore-grip in the first place.  So, be wise and use it!

The right hand of course goes on the reel handle, turning or spinning the handle fast enough to keep constant tension on the fish.  Now, when I say fast enough ...I mean not all fish react the same and some on them will actually charge towards the boat.  When this happens take the handle cranking speed to the next level by entering the turbo winding zone.

The rod should be held at no less than a 45 degree angle at all times.  Lowering it takes tension of the rod guides and negates the modern day drag systems. 

Don't be a "Jerk" with rod in hand. Jolting the fishing rod does nothing, but help loosen and tear the hook out.  Boating the marginally hooked fish can be realized, if you don't play the game called, ripped lips.  Potentially good fishermen have been ruined by exposure to the multitude of Bass fishing television shows, which have absolutely nothing to do with our Great lakes fishery.

Important Tip:  When the fish is violently hammering the rod, that's the time for patience.  Let the fish get over it's fit before trying to gain line, but maintain a tight line.  Your advisory will soon calm down, as rod pressure takes it's toll.  When it does, go back to gaining line. 

Proper Drag Settings

Essential to reaping the rewards of a heavy fish box is; synchronizing that marvelous piece of modern technology called, the drag.  All savvy big water fisherman use an American invention.  That being the level wind reel.  Level wind signifies the line is automatically rolled on across the spool in a fairly flat fashion.  Most big game saltwater reels do not have this option and the line has to be manually fed across the reel spool to lay flat.  I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that, the style of reel we use  ...was at least conceived in the US.  Enough though foreign imports have completely devastated the American reel manufacturing business.

The "drag" is your best
collaborator on your warfare with fish.  The star drag is your unsurpassed partner in the ultimate defeat of your most malevolent antagonist, Mr. Sal M. Noid.  His job to run away ...after discovering that tasty tidbit bites back, with hooks pulling him on a route he wants no part of.  Consequently the battle is on between you and him.  Please remember the fish has the supreme motivation of survival.  That drives your foe.  So, be prepared for all the unscrupulous and unexpected tricks he can muster.

Now, here's where the drag slows that bad-boy down after his first terror stricken run.  The constant pull against the fish, will soon exhaust the energy from him.  Summer's warmer water can help wear that tuna out too!  All species will sooner, or later succumb and reach the surface.  70 some degree summer bath water is a strength sapper.

A correctly adjusted drag is the attrition dynamic that aids in using lighter sporting tackle.  Under most circumstances the drag should be able to slip line and not be cranked down super snug.  Reason? ...the drag can't react as fast ...as a fish can.  A thumbnail parameter to use is about 20 to 30 per cent break range of the line pound test.  The lighter setting will enable line to flow off the spool at smooth flow.  The only time a stout locked up drag is on harbor patrol.   When 20 to 30 pound Kings are migrating through.  Harbor Kings can not be allowed to take a bunch of line.  That's time when a direct drive, locked up, and non-slipping drag is used.  It's a stop 'em, turn 'em, or break them off mentality that comes into play on harbor patrol.

The Arc Of Doom

The arc of doom works in both directions, get it right and you're writing out your victim's epitaph.  Get it wrong? ...and you're doomed to a lot of effort for zilch!  Constant, even pressure applied is the winning ingredient.  If you let up on the fish, the battle will begin anew from the fish getting it's second wind.  Meaning, doing battle with a revitalized adversary, rather than a tired out chunk of semi-dead fish flesh.

Holding the rod at a 45 to 90 degree angle is what I prefer to see.  With perfect being some where in the middle.  The 90 degree arc will put into operation more of a load on the rod guides.  Increasing the reel's drag apparatus, bringing a hard earned "whoa boy" into being.  Less than 45 degrees the rod becomes useless, and more like hand lining.

Relax and let your rod do the work.  Maintain a firm grip and let the arc of doom wear the fish down.  Often, panic stricken neophytes squeeze the rod with the force of "Conan the Barbarian" and lose arm strength from over exertion.  Then, ...when it comes time to apply force, their muscles are totally useless. 

Line can be gained in a couple of ways.  Firmly pulling a rod to the 2 o'clock position then lowering it to 10 o'clock as you wind will gain you a couple of feet on each "pump."  The pump thing only works ...if the stretch of the monofilament has time to ease.  The lowering part has to be a smooth controlled motion, coordinated with ability to turn the reel handle.

Now, if your boat is large enough, slowly take a step or two backwards, then walk towards the transom, turning the handle and while keeping constant tension on the rod.

Treating a fishing rod in the right manner honors the foe you're out the vanquish.  Remember he's fighting for survival and sometimes more than deserves to win.  Please never take more than your limit and leave some for seed.

Arm Cranking or Wrist Winding?

Raw recruits to Great Lakes sport fishing tend to do what they've watched on TV.  Which in all authenticity has very little to do with battling a huge, tuna-sized King Salmon.  Most TV shows portray Bass tournament scenarios, where a 5 pound bucket mouth is a "big deal."  Not so with our inland fresh water oceans known as the Great Lakes of Ontario, Huron, Superior and  Michigan.  The fish that inhabit these lakes have a stamina level many times that of the sporting Bass.

Arm cranking is akin to a rock and roll tune done by Little Eva in the early 60's called, "The Locomotion."  That tune was about lame dance came along with the song where the dancers would move their arms like the tie-bar on the drive wheels of a steam locomotive.  Maybe a better analogy would be a 3 year old imitating a choo-choo train with his arms.

The arm can never turn as fast as the wrist can spin the handle.  So, forget the arm cranking deal entirely.  Arm cranking can cause a sloppy side-to-side rocking of the reel and some of the control of the rod is lost.  This happens from not grasping the fore-grip tight enough.

Never over match a fish to a person.  Many times I had dads taking their younger sons aboard my boat so their son can experience the thrill of landing a 20 some pound King.  In most cases the father does not even have the conception of what a job pulling in a 25 pounder.  Let alone a "much too" young angler.  Kids are a lot smarter than given credit for. The business of someone else holding the rod for them?  ...while they struggle to turn the reel handle, doesn't give them the feeling of personal accomplishment.  I'd rather see them whip a 10 fish with their own hands, mostly unassisted. 

Here's great tip: just leave the rod in the rod holder and have the younger angler turn the reel handle with his hand on the fore-grip.  When the fish is getting close to netting range
remove the rod from the rod holder and let the youngster feel the weight of the fish.  While an adult helps and acts like a safety as not to lose a rod.  This rod holder method works with anyone who does not have a lot of strength in their wrists. 

The Spiral of Death

This fish has not rolled over yet!

When your quarry enters into view behind the back of your boat ...watch that rascal closely! The tip off that he's ready to be netted, is a belly-up slow spin.  This indicates an extremely tired out spent fish.  The slow spiral of death is caused by the fish being whipped.  His system has lost complete orientation to his environment and don't know which way is up.

A healthy, strong fish never swims upside down.  If you haven't seen it do a complete rollover job?  That's what's called a "green fish."  Green fish are nasty critters just waiting to cause you troubles.  Problems waiting for you are the mass of downrigger cables and lines still left in the water.  Not to mention swim platforms, trolling motors, trim tabs and a outdrive with a turning propeller.  Take time to assess the fish when you first see him, and pay close attention.   Unless you've seen a couple of full body rolls?  ...use tremendous care at the "moment of truth."  Meaning, when you're ready to slide the net underneath your
prize.

Book of Regulations

(1.)  Have extra rod holders and be ready to move the entire spread to the other side of the boat.

(2.)  Super lines that have no stretch and taking extra precautions to cushion the rod appropriately will pay extra dividends in the long run

(3.)  Some fish just are not meant to be landed, if luck isn't on your side

(4.)  Common sense doesn't cost you a dime.  Please use it!

(5.)  Use appropriate tackle, light line testing below 20 pound test while sporting, will cost you both trophy fish and lots of money spent on expensive tackle in the long run.

(6.)  Foul hooked fish have what I refer to, as no steering and dragging in a 20 some pound King sideways and creates stories about a fish so big he just kept taking line and got away.

(7.)  Maintain constant pressure on the fish, if you let up? ...this allows your victim to regain strength and the fight begins anew

(8.)  Well into the fight and close to the boat? ...snug up the drag a bit

(9.)  When tournament fishing always have two persons stationed at close proximity to the port and starboard downrigger rods at the rear of the vessel

(10.)  A non-functioning angler suffering from a major brain fart needs coaching.  Especially, if you're dealing with a reel-greenhorn ...he's relying on you for assistance.  So, give it!

(11.)  NEVER point your rod directly at the fish.

(12.)  Never turn the reel handle if the fish is taking line.

(13.)  The stretch factor of mono? ...the constant rubber band pull of line stretch will soon fatigue any fish.

(14.)  Taint thought of this one yet.........  

5/8/2002
MichiganSportsman Copyrightę2002