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Setting the Hook, Fighting and Landing - Fishing Basics

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As a new angler you might have many moments where you hooked the fish but lost it almost immediately. You realize that either the bait has been taken before you knew it, or you are too early to set the hook or you are not sure what to do when the fish is running or fighting. As a result, you end up returning home without a fish. You keep trying and one day you almost get one, but then either the rod breaks, or the line snaps and your prey escapes. In order to help you out, this article discusses setting the hook and fishing techniques necessary to catch a fish.

Fishing For Beginners – Setting the Hook, Fighting, and Landing

Here are the basics of how to set the hook, and reel in fish.

Setting the Hook

As easy as it may sound, setting the hook is probably one of the most crucial steps involved in fishing. If you manage to get it right, then you can brag about ‘how you caught that big fish’. However, if you somehow get it wrong, then you will have to remember your own ‘how you lost the big fish’ story. So, to get it right, here are a few tips that you can follow.

The All-Important ‘Feel the Tug’ Part

It usually starts with the fish tugging the bait gently and in excitement you end up setting the hook even before the bait is taken. As a result, the fish ends up being in your ‘the one that got away’ list. So, what can you do? After the fish tugs at your bait, you will have to wait till it actually takes it in its mouth and starts to move away and that’s when you should be setting the hook. Tell tale signs to know when the fish has caught the bait are the bobber being pulled under the water, or a thumping on your fishing line.

It is All About Timing

As much you have to wait till you feel the tug, you must also be aware of the type of fish you might be encountering. For the aggressive ones, you have to be quick to set the hook, while for the ones that will hit the bait lightly, you will have to be patient. As the saying goes, timing is everything. It is applicable in fishing as well, especially while using a live bait. Unlike the artificial counterpart, a live bait is food that the fish will devour if given enough time. So waiting for too long will make the hook go inside its stomach and then it is too late, a fish hooked in the gut will most likely die, so, you will need to have good timing to be able to react to any movement – “not too soon, however not too late either”.

hookset action
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Because ‘Slacking’ is Not An Option

So, you tried to hook a fish with a slack-line and you returned home empty-handed. What’s worse? The fish ate the bait and you didn’t even feel any movement. To feel the weight of the fish and to time setting the hook, you need to ensure that the line is tight and not slack. A tight line is more sensitive and enables you to feel the movements of a fish better, as well as increases the power of your hookset. Hence, you should reel in any slack line after casting the bait to ensure you get the best hookset. Sometimes the water current or the wind will move the bait towards you making the line slack, so it’s important to keep reeling in any slack line and keep it tight at all times for the perfect hookset.

Fighting the Fish and Drag Control

You go fishing, cast the bait and ensure the there is no slack, and wait till you feel the tug. You time the hook set well, and manage to hook a fish. However, after being hooked, the fish has now started to run and struggle. This is where the art of fighting or playing the fish becomes important. If you don’t do it well, you will lose the fish and if you overdo it, you will still lose it. Here are a few tips and fishing techniques to keep in mind for fish fighting.

Hand Placements and Positions

You will need to hold the rod at about 45 degrees with your strong hand well above the fore-grip. The higher you position your left arm, the more leverage you will get. However, your other arm should be free to be able to wind the reel handle. In addition to that, if it is a really big fish then the fights may take longer. So you have to ensure that you are comfortable with your position. Otherwise, too much stress may cause fatigue and you may end up losing your grip on the fishing rod.

‘Pumping’ Action – The right way to pull in the fish

After a successful hookset, the first instinct of the fish will be to run while trying to shake off the hook. While fighting the fish, you may find it difficult to keep the rod steady because of the pressure exerted by the fish’s struggle. However, don’t force it or yank it because it may cause the line to snap; instead, let the fish run and slowly increase the drag to tire the fish.

Drag setting
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When the fish slows down, reel in the slack line and hold the fore grip of the rod in front of the reel and slowly pull it backwards as much as possible without bending the rod tip too much and then bring it all the way down while reeling in the slack line quickly. This action is called ‘Pumping’.

Remember, the reeling has to happen when the rod is on the way down and not when you are pulling it up. Reeling on the way down has minimum resistance and you won’t end up damaging the internals of the reel. Keep repeating the pumping action till you feel the fish trying to run again or till it comes near you. Whenever you see the fish trying to run, stop the pumping action and let it run. That way, you will be able to keep the rod steady and gain control over the fish without much effort.

Pumping action of the fishing Rod
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The Crucial Bending Part

Apart from having a tight line, one of the other factors is keeping the rod tip bent. This is especially when the fish is on the run. Raise the rod to a 50 degree angle so that the tip bends this will cause the line to tighten. This will apply more pressure to the fish. It will also act as a shock absorber against the sudden movements of the fish providing you with more control. This will enable you to tire off the fish sooner in order to capture it.

Make sure the fish is to the side of the boat or swimming away from it. The worst scenario would be if the fish were under the boat, as it could snap the line and get away. If it happens to go under the boat, bend your rod tip into the water to follow it, to avoid a snapped line. Then wait until the fish tires, you will be able to feel the pull lessen. If you can see the fish, it will turn to its side ready to be reeled in.

Fighting the fish near boat
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Landing the Fish – Master the End Game

One of the most critical part of the entire fish fight is when you are pulling it up near your feet to seal the deal. If not done right, all your efforts will be in vain and you will end up losing the fish. Most fish are lost at this crucial moment.

For a successful landing, avoid keeping the rod too high (80-90 degrees) while pulling it up. Sudden force may end up breaking it or snapping the line. Keep it at a low angle and use a landing net to scoop up the fish from the water. If using a landing net, you will have to place it near the fish, making sure it enters the net head first. Now lift the net, and once out of the water, quickly remove the hook to take a few pictures and to be released in time.

Using the Landing net
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In case you don’t have a landing net then you will have to hold the leader and grab its tail if possible and pull out the fish. Be careful not to hurt the fish while doing this. After landing keep a close watch on their thrashing, esp. for toothy fish which can bite anything nearby and lead to medical emergency for you or the people nearby.

Now that you know the basics of setting the hook and fighting a fish, the landing part should be easier. Don’t get disheartened if you lose much fishes in the beginning, just keep the above information in mind and your landing ratio will get better.

For more tips and tricks on how to fish, you can refer to our article Fishing 101: Tips for New Anglers.

Happy Fishing!

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