I have just arrived back in New Zealand after guiding a trip to Oman, targeting yellowfin tuna. The trip was based around top-water casting for these hard-fighting torpedos.
A typical daily scenario on this trip was to motor hard and fast to a school of surface-feeding yellowfin in the 40-80kg size range, cast a popper or stick-bait in the direction the school is moving and (all going to plan) get an aggressive surface bite from these feeding tuna – the kind of bite that will stay in your memory bank forever.
Getting the bite is one thing, but successfully fighting and landing one of these black, blue and gold freight trains is another, especially in 35 degree heat. It comes down to a balance of strength and stamina.
This year we had some anglers that were new to this style of fishing so we were looking forward to getting these guys into the Omani yellowfin action. Pete (a fisherman who travels regularly with me) and I have been to Oman many times and have a good understanding of what is in store once you hook up to large fish on top-water gear. For the other two anglers, however, fighting these larger class fish on 8ft plus casting rods was going to be a new experience.
We had a good team briefing before lines even hit the water, talking about tackle, leaders, lures, gimbal belts, lure action, what a yellowfin typically does after the hook-up and how to keep the line tight during the erratic surface runs that a yellowfin tuna can make before they settle down. But the one thing we never really discussed was how the fight would pan out and what would be involved when lifting a 50+ kilo fish to boat side.
The first fish for both Graeme and Jamal would be a huge learning curve and to be fair, it’s hard to explain to someone how much pressure to put on the fish from the start and to know if they can maintain the pressure to the end when every ounce of strength is required to lift the fish in the dying stages of the fight.
The moment when you see colour is when you get the last adrenaline blast to help finish off the fish.
When you first experience a bite from a large fish like a yellowfin, the adrenalin kicks in big time, and generally, one of two things can happen:
1) Not enough pressure is exerted on the fish and it runs too far and gets down under the thermocline, making for an ugly lifting/tug of war battle and a drawn-out fight.
2) Too much pressure is exerted from the start and the angler wears out and will not physically be able to finish the fight. When the latter happens, it usually results in a failure of the lower core of the body (hunched back) and cramping arms. Under this much strain, the angler will soon lose lift on the fish resulting in a drawn-out fight or the angler having to pass the rod over to another angler. I know this feeling and have been in this situation when on a fish we could not lift. It leaves you with an empty feeling in your stomach knowing that might have been the fish of your dreams.
The first big fish is always going to be the hardest and a huge learning curve, and it is really hard to explain to someone exactly how the fight is going to pan out. After many years of experience with successes and failures, here are five main techniques that can be used to successfully fight big fish on top-water gear, remembering that an 8ft rod can exert a lot of pressure on the fish but also at the same time put a huge amount of pressure/pain back on the angler.
Keep the pressure on and do not give the fish the time or chance to turn its head. You physically have to know how much drag pressure you can handle that will,
a) be able to stop and start lifting a fish, and
b) not cause you to fatigue too fast during the fight.
If you give that fish a rest and the chance to turn its head, you’ll be back to square one with a lot less fuel in the tank.
Keep the pressure on right from rod going up to rod going down!
Your legs are the strongest part of your body so use them to tire the fish out. Space your feet apart so you have a stable stance and keep your legs bent with your body and stance always at 90 degrees to the rod. When you bend your legs it keeps your straight back working and stops you hunching over the rod and losing control of your core strength.
Pushing your hips forward enables your lower core to fire up and keeps your back straight and strong. By combining this movement with the previous one, you now have the strongest parts of your body doing the work (legs working with a strong lower core/back). Keeping your arms straight and locked forces you to use your legs to lift the rod/fish. You have now just turned your body into a mechanical crane!
This is one of the best pieces of advice you could give someone when they start tiring during a tough fight. Dropping your shoulders does many things including reducing tension and stress. It also allows your back to straighten, which at the same time opens your chest, letting you breathe deeper, smoother and stronger. Over the years, when fighting big fish Pete would say to me, “drop your shoulders.” It sure helped me when I needed the encouragement most and often gave me the strength to finish off the fight.
Resting the arms does not mean applying less pressure to the fish, having a cup of tea or taking a lunch break. Keep the pressure on but while lifting the fish it’s a good idea to now and then swap hands and let your main lifting arm have a short rest. While resting an arm, let it drop back and go loose and relaxed, and shake your hand to get the blood circulating. It may only be for a few seconds, but you will be amazed how much it helps.
Your legs, arms, hips and lower core all need to work together. When working in sync they make a much stronger unit and failure of just one of these will ultimately lead to total failure and a painful, messy fight. Get all this right and you will be amazed how quickly you can tire out a 70kg plus tuna.
The smiles in the photo don't show the pain and effort it takes to land a fish like this.
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