Sunday, July 28, 2002

The art and science of landing fish

For The Associated Press

        PADUCAH, Ky. — Murphy's law for fishermen maintains that if something can go wrong while landing a fish, it will — and while battling the biggest fish of the day.

        Tales of “the one that got away” are common among Kentucky anglers because bigger fish put a greater strain on tackle and more stress on the fishermen, revealing flaws in equipment and tactics.

        A fisherman can cut his losses of hooked fish beginning with tackle preparation. Fresh line of an appropriate size for the species sought and the waters worked should be spooled on his reel.

        A secure knot connecting lure or terminal tackle is mandatory. The line should be inspected regularly during the fishing day to detect wear from abrasion.

        The drag on the reel should be adjusted for optimum performance before hooking a fish. The built-in slippage should be set to provide the resistance needed for setting the hook and turning a fish, but it must have enough give to allow a run or sudden burst of power from a fish without snapping the line.

        When a fish strikes a lure or takes a bait, the angler must act to ensure a solid hookup. If fishing bait with an exposed hook for a big Kentucky catfish or striped bass, or an exposed jig hook for a smallmouth or walleye, a firm pull may be adequate.

        If it's driving a hook through plastic worm to get to the jaw of a largemouth bass, however, the angler may need a hard, fast sweep to deliver the point. When using a rig where hook-setting is more difficult, a second or third setting motion may be advisable for a past-the-barb hold.

        The amount of pressure a fisherman puts on his prospective catch depends on the fish and its environment. A whopper largemouth bass that is hooked amid wood cover must be quickly wrestled away from the snaggy stuff to prevent a fish from wrapping up the line.

        With all species, a rule of thumb is to constantly maintain at least some rod pressure, avoiding a slack line that would raise the odds of a loose hook coming “unbuttoned.” On slack line, a hook might simply fall out of the hole.

        In the case of black bass, another challenge for the fisherman is to hang on when a fish goes airborne. Largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky spotted bass all tend to jump clear of the water in attempts to throw the hook.

        To some fishermen, the leap of a good fish is coveted. It may be the biggest thrill of the day, although it may be that fish's best ploy to part with the hook. Some anglers prefer to reduce rod pressure during a jump — “bowing to the fish” — to prevent it from tearing free with a head-shaking motion.

        Others may opt for light pressure during a jump, maintaining the notion that a totally slack line will increase chances of a lure being shaken loose.

        For best results, “play” a hooked whopper as long as is necessary — but only that long. That is, a fish that hasn't tired enough will tend to be too rambunctious at boat-side to be landed. Force one in too quickly and its remaining strength will be multiplied on a short line and increase the chances of it tearing loose or breaking the line at close range.


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