By Lee Kuepper
Congrats, you are elbow deep into the biggest fish of your life. The set was good, the first run did not completely spool you, and his head is turned back upriver. It's now time for the battle. A dirty, one-on-one, fist vs. fin fight, that will test your stamina both physically and mentally. Akin to any epic battle throughout history, the most prepared will generally prevail.
Here are my top 4 tips that will put more tails in your hands than tears.
1. Know your gear. Understanding the amount of pressure you can put on a fish, and the amount of power that is applied by each click for your drag knob, is critical in getting more big fish to hand. Worry not, there is a quick shortcut to knowing your gear and it can be done anywhere. Start by rigging your rod exactly as it would be on the water, except for the fly. Lash the tippet onto something sturdy (ball hitches are perfect) and back up about 30 feet. Slowly start increasing your drag while pulling on the rod. The goal here is to find the point at which your drag tension will cause the leader to break. Mastering this variable will allow you to know exactly how much pressure you can put into the fish. It is always surprising how tight you can keep your drag without breaking the leader. I can't stress enough how important this is when battling leviathans such as king salmon.
2. Use your butt. Don't work harder than the fish. Just because you are sweating, it doesn't mean the fish is. The take home message here kids is that the higher your rod tip goes in the air, the less pressure the fish feels. Really winching down on a big fish is best done with the rod bent at an angle less than 45 degrees from the butt of the rod. The moment the rod passes 45 degrees, you start working harder and accomplishing less. So when a heavy hand is needed, buckle down, drop your tip low and to the side, and start using the powerful butt section of your rod.
3. Know his moves before he does. A big fish will almost always take some major head-shaking runs downstream. This big surge is usually accompanied by a state of panic, leaving the angler rushed to try and stop him.
Remember that stuff underneath your fly line, and how much of it you put on? That's what it is there for. Let that fish run a bit. Regardless of how brawny and chrome the fish is, it still needs to turn up river to breathe. In my experience, reducing the amount of pressure you are putting on a fish during a big run will most often result in the fish turning around in a more expeditious fashion. He needs to breathe, so slow your roll, ease up, and encourage him turn around.
4. Be prepared to throw your tip in the water. When that fish finally turns around and starts surging back in your direction faster than you can recover, throw your tip in the water and keep reeling. The current will pull your fly line taught against the fish, while you try and recover the slack. Do not stop reeling or stripping until you come tight with the fish, or at least pick up enough line to hook up your rod and proceed to cry in the back of the boat.
Be sure to check back with us in future posts, where we will go further in detail on each one of these tips. As always, If you enjoyed this article please share it.
Lee Kuepper is professional guide now calling the Kenai River home. He is a co-owner of Alaska's Angling Addiction, chasing the Kenai's monster kings and fabled trout on a regular basis. He is also a member of Loop USA's prostaff and a Certified Fly Casting Instructor through the FFF.