Fishing 101: Getting out of trouble when things go wrong

Things can and often do go wrong when fishing, a potentially prized catch can easily be lost. Sometimes the escape is inexplicable, however the majority of fish that get away, big and small, can always be attributed to one cause or another. Attention to detail can reverse trends and lessen the chance of an angler going from hero to zero in the blink of an eye.

1. From the Bite to the Boat

Rod Harrison

Author and Aussie fishing legend Rod Harrison.

Condition – Strike or bite – and no hookup

Causes – Blunt hooks or hooks too heavy in gauge to penetrate.  Striking with the rod. Fish fussy, picky or uncommitted.

Condition – Angler connects but things come adrift during fight.

Causes –  Too much pressure causes hooks to pull. Tackle failure – especially bad knots. Lifting the fish’s head out of the water with rod. Failure to create slack line when a fish leaps. Fish not fully played out, attempting to land while it’s still green.


Anglers have little or no control over the security of a hook-up once a hard-fighting fish has taken a bait or lure. The hook may anchor in firm tissue or a soft spot that might tear. Each case needs to be assessed on its merits. Good observation and full awareness of each particular situation are priceless assets put into play by experienced anglers. Hook choice and the degree of sharpness are controls firmly in the hands of the angler and need judicious attention.


Attention to these details will see a higher proportion of fish landed. Keep the rod pointed towards the lure as often as possible during the retrieve. When using the rod to work the lure (for example when sinking and drawing with a vibe or blade) lower the rod at the sink rate of the lure. Avoid slack line in all circumstances. Always avoid striking a bite by raising the rod as the primary means of setting the hook. As the rod tip lifts, the bend moves closer to the tip and pressure on the hook actually reduces for a nano-second. This provides enough time enough for implosion feeders such as barramundi to eject the offering – well before the hooks have even been set.

2. Spin Vs Baitcast Reels


A spin reel spooled with braided line.


And a baitcaster type reel similarly filled with braid and ready for action.

Vast technical improvements such as locomotive gears and formula drags have seen fixed spool reels close the gap on revolving spool types.

However a fundamental difference remains – the lure initially leaves the tip of a spin rod faster than it will from the tip of a baitcaster. For this reason the angler needs a superior skill level and coordination to remain in full control throughout the cast.

Spin reels have a wider window when it comes to casting the full-range of lure weights. Below 7grams, baitcast reels are impractical.

A hidden advantage of spin reels lays in the fact they hang below the rod whereas baitcaster (and bigger overhead types) sit on top. Spin reels act like a pendulum and take less energy to use, especially on drawn-out, heavy-duty sessions.

3. Fighting Fish

fish 6Deepwater

By keeping the boat upwind, big, strong oceanic fish will rise in the water column where more effective rod angles and tactics can be employed. On long fights boat drivers should position the vessel several times to maintain this relationship. Conversely, when the boat drifts downwind of the fish, it will swim deeply under the boat where a slugfest will soon develop. This is due to line angles that have a lesser effect in preventing the fish from swimming forward, allowing more water through the gills.

Shallow water

These fights should be a constantly shifting dynamic. The technique to use is based on the angle between the line and the fish’s tail. Keep this at a minimum. The most telling pressure on fish is from directly behind, not from the side. The idea is to restrain forward motion which leads to a quicker fight.

Rod angles

Maximum rod pressure is generated when the blank is flexed through its entire length. This cannot be accomplished when the rod tip is above chest height. The most efficient way to maintain this strain is to use your bigger muscles. Brace the butt under the short ribs and then turn your body to generate a short horizontal pump and wind. The technique, pioneered on Florida tarpon, works brilliantly for getting the head of a strong fish in shallow water but needs the quick-thinking work of a boatman on the ball.

4. What do fish see?

fish eyesThere is no one single answer to this complex question. Firstly, fish vision is primarily determined by light penetration, the deeper the dimmer. The light spectrum breaks down as depth increases, reds becoming greys and so on. Optical enhancements such as lures finished with fluorescent paints, particularly yellows and blues, remain the exception but not indefinitely. As for flashy lures with metallic finishes, silvers are the last to fade in deep water.

Another factor is the amount of suspended matter. Those particles block the passage of light. They have an impact in tidal barramundi waters as well as the cod and yellowbelly strongholds of turbid inland rivers.

Active hunters such as barramundi have an eye structure similar to that of a cat. A reflective membrane at the rear of the eye provides a ‘double dip’ thus allowing the light sensitive rods and cones to further discriminate potential prey. Anglers may note the barramundi red eye which is an associated condition.

Native fish don’t have the same sophistication when it comes to eyesight. They do have highly developed sensitivity to the slightest movement. This allows them to successfully hunt in water that’s a mite too thin to plough.

  • Freshwater fish are able to discriminate between certain colours. Browns, blues, yellows and greens are within their vision register.
  • Oceanic nomads such as marlin, tuna and the like see the colours of their own world – blues ranging from indigo through to cobalt.
  • Deeper dwellers like broadbill swordfish and bigeye tuna have larger eyes to compensate for lesser light.
  • Down in the abyss, marine life manufacture their own artificial light and luminescence as a means of signalling and attracting prey.

The fact that fish change colour when excited, stressed or as a means of signalling others of their kind, confirms the basic question. Yes, fish do indeed see colour.

5. Dealing with leaping Fish

fish 2Leaping fish present anglers with a set of problems that don’t always finish with the desired outcome. When a fish leaves the water it loses the natural support of that element. It weighs more and tends to be moving at speed, a factor that doesn’t help.

In the case of barramundi, blade-like cutting instruments enter the equation – that species’ razor-sharp gill covers. The next angler to be cut-off mid-air won’t be the last.

The fundamental reason hooked fish leap is to shake loose the foreign object. This invariably leads to head shakes and gyrations. The kinetics of those gymnastics often succeed, moreso when the hook-hold is poor.

Anglers can do their bit when a fish leaves the water by immediately lowering the rod and pointing it at the fish. This creates slack line and removes stress on hooks, mouth tissue and knots. Failures to react tend to be the hallmark of less experienced anglers and compound the original issue by providing tension that allows fish like barramundi, angling’s greatest escape artists, to wrench free of the lure.

6. Free spooling out of trouble

fish snagThis tactic doesn’t always work but nevertheless is worth a try when a hooked fish is amongst snags and can’t be dislodged with rod pressure.
Remove tension from the line and wait. Sometimes the fish frees the obstruction of its own accord thus allowing the angler to resume the fight.
As for the time, well that’s indeterminable. Once, when I supported the tobacco industry, a coral trout hung me up. I rolled my own and when checking the handline had the pleasant surprise of discovering the fish had freed itself.




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