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Why the Big Ones Get Away

Resist the urge to tighten the drag, and you might just come away with a story to tell.

By Larry Bozka

Fishing stories are usually all about the "Big One that Got Away." Aside from the fact that big fish make much better fish stories, there are plenty of reasons why larger specimens are so often escapees. Almost inevitably, it boils down to angler error.

Fishermen love to blame their fishing gear for line-busting calamities, which makes about as much sense as blaming a golf club for a ball sliced into the rough. Unlike fishermen, quality fishing tackle rarely cracks under pressure.

When tackle does indeed fail, improper or even nonexistent maintenance is the culprit. A soft cloth and a spray can of corrosion-resistant lube works wonders to keep rods and reels in reliable working condition. Aside from that, everything else revolves around the tactical aspects of the big-fish battle.

The rules are simple but unforgiving. Essentially, most fishermen fail in not allowing their fishing gear to do the job it's designed to do.

Arguably foremost, wallhanger-fighting fishermen always should remember that fishing reels, regardless of style, are designed not so much to "reel in" line as they are to release it. At first, it's perplexing to watch line peel from a spool as a freshly hooked fish exerts itself. The immediate impulse is to tighten the drag.

That adrenaline-fueled urge accounts for the vast majority of lost fish.

Challenging as it may be, resist the temptation to crank down hard on the star drag of a baitcasting reel or forward pressure plate of a spinning reel. A fish has to be allowed to run, and ultimately, tire to the point that it can be turned around. A high-held fishing rod, backed up by a properly set drag, can conquer even the biggest of trophies.

Smooth-operating drags are the gears in the fish-fighting equation. Rods are the levers.

Most modern fishing rods sport fast tapers, the percentage of the blank that bends under pressure. A high-held fishing rod maximizes leverage. It also increases the upward angle of the line.

Presented at a steep angle, fishing line and leader material is much less likely to be dragged over sharp and abrasive structures such as oyster reefs and sand bars. High-line presentation is particularly critical when an angler is wade fishing or casting from a kayak.

Stout leader material is another big-fish essential. Abrasion- and shock-resistant fluorocarbon leaders are virtually undetectable to predator fish. They are also amazingly rugged. Though some fishermen still use heavy-duty monofilament "gut" leader material, fluorocarbon gets the nod from those who prefer not to take chances and don't mind spending a little extra money.

Unless the angler is casting a line-twisting lure like a spoon, it's advisable to tie the mainline directly to the leader (most commonly with a double surgeon's knot). A direct line-to-leader connection eliminates the need for a barrel swivel, and with it, the ever-present possibility that the swivel will break a ceramic line guide when the lure or bait is fired from the rig.

A line-to-leader knot connection also allows the angler to use an extra-long leader. If desired, the leader can span the length of the rod. Five feet or so of fluorocarbon makes it very difficult for big fish to cut the line, as opposed to the scant foot to 18 inches that traditionally trails the end of a barrel swivel.

Knots are the weakest links in a terminal rig. They should be tightly snugged, and contain enough "tag end" to compensate for the pressurized knot-squeezing a big, hard-running gamefish exacts. A curly remnant "pigtail" of twisted line after the loss of a potential trophy is the unmistakable give-away of angler error via knot failure.

Patience is essential to fishing success, not only when awaiting a bite but especially after the strike has occurred. Anglers sometimes cast for hours to get one big-fish bite, so it only makes sense to take all the time necessary to subdue the fish.

Fighting big fish is the essence of angling's appeal.

The only thing better is landing big fish.

With a cool head and methodical fish-fighting strategies, any fisherman, on waters fresh or salt, can successfully thrill in the exhilaration of both.

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