The rod tip goes round, the reel sings and your adrenaline soars. These are the moments we anglers live for, but at this stage you’re still a long way away from breathing a sigh of relief as the fish slips into the net.
The battle is where these chances are converted into new personal bests. Fighting a fish properly is an often-overlooked part of the sport. Sure, a good hook-hold will forgive most mistakes you make but, as we all know, not every fish is hooked perfectly.
Here are the fundamentals of bringing your prize to the bank. With practice you’ll learn the composure needed to succeed more often than you fail.
Set the hook
Many of today’s leger rigs – whether they’re lead clip set-ups designed for big carp or Method feeder rigs for match carp – are essentially bolt rigs that are designed to hook the fish without the need to strike. When you get a run, stay calm and ‘lift’ into the fish rather than yank the rod over your shoulder. If you’re floatfishing or using a running rig, however, then you’ll obviously need to strike, but don’t go over the top or you’ll end up snapping off. Simply sweep the rod firmly to the side or above you to set the hook.
Keeping the rod low
The theory is that this keeps the line to the fish as flat as possible, causing the fish to rise up in the water. In effect the fish can now only use its prowess to go away from you or towards you, not to rise or fall in the water. This is a tactic favoured mainly by match anglers, but it also works with big carp and other specimen-sized fish, provided there are no snags around!
This can be both friend and foe. The stretch in line absorbs a fish’s surges, but it also disconnects you from the fish, especially at long range, as a typical monofilament can stretch by a considerable distance. At medium to long-range, a great deal of the pressure you think you’re exerting on the fish is soaked up by the line’s elasticity. Fluorocarbon has far less stretch than mono, while braided lines have next to zero, so are a better choice when fishing close to snags, or when targeting shy-biting species such as bream, where the lack of stretch will help set the hook.
Keeping the rod high
It’s difficult to exert maximum pressure when the rod is held low, so holding the rod high can be an advantage. This makes it easier to reel in large amounts of line if you have hooked a fish at long range or in deep water. It’s also easier to react to a fish’s lunges by quickly changing your angle of pull. If space allows, a weeded fish can also be moved in this fashion by walking backwards on a tight line.
Clutch or backwind?
A tight reel drag can subdue a fish’s first run and put you on the front foot, but whether you continue to play it on the clutch or by backwinding (allowing the reel handle to work in reverse) is a matter of personal choice. Unlike in the old days, most modern clutches are silky smooth and hard-wearing, and by making micro-adjustments during the fight you can stay fully in control. So, unless you’re ‘old school’ and have always backwound instead, we would highly reccommend relying on the clutch to beat your prize safely to the bank.