Playing and Handling Fish

It’s personal choice. Some anglers takes photographs of their fish. Others do not.

I take photos of the exceptional ones in order to show my children, have stuff for the blog and, most important, to remember these amazing experiences of being on the water many years later. As a result, some of the fish I catch still make me smile years later.

It’s personal choice. I try and play fish very quickly, using a lot of side pressure (more here). It is amazing how strong tippet is if your knots are true. You really can apply max pressure to a fish.

As someone online wrote, you apply side pressure at an angle whereby you imagine that you are pulling back the fish by the tail. As the fish changes angles, you also change your side-pressure angles.

Eventually, to relieve the pressure in its jaw, a trout will turn its head towards you. That helps you control the fish’s movements. By not pointing the rod up, you’re also alleviating stress on the fish, as they hate being pulled up towards the surface.

Side pressure also has produced fewer hook pop-offs, particularly when the fish is below you. In my opinion, the classic Orvis logo that shows an angler with the fly rod pointed up has led to this: many big fish popping off or getting overplayed.

That’s also important in fast current. You want to keep the trout away from the faster current up top, if possible, and I often have my rod tip actually in the water to do so. Otherwise, a fish will quickly go downstream of you, and that usually spells disaster.

It also is personal choice, but I minimize handling of the fish. It is something I learned from competition angler Alec Baker (interview here).

My net has a 13″ x 18″ opening. It is big enough to hold a good-sized fish. After landing it, I keep the trout in the water and in the net. I position the fish slightly for the photo opp. I then wedge the net among some rocks and just let the fish recover at its own pace.

Alec clips off his flies and reties them, as a big fish often can weaken knots. So, I do the same. Sometimes, I eat a snack while keeping an eye on the fish to make sure it is breathing and has its bearings.

Then, once it looks ready, I let it go. And, they usually sprint away. That’s a good sign. It means the trout has recovered its oxygen levels.

I say this as I think about the trout I caught yesterday. What a true blessing to be out in nature. I knew I had a different fish on, at one point, when it made its initial surge. I saw a shadow take a slightly-submerged Elk Hair Caddis. I strip set and then lifted the rod. And, it was off. It went a long, long distance and just pulled and pulled.

OK, I thought, this is the fish I’ve been waiting for.

Football. 12" girth, 17" length. #driesordie #dryfly #flyfishing #orvis

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I was fishing my Orvis H2 #4 for “dries or die.” I had added a long length of 7x tippet to get a better drift. But, I played the fish with confidence as being hesitant will prolong the battle. And, I have a good feel now for how much pressure tippet can handle.

I kept changing side angles to apply max pressure. And, I aggressively reeled in the fish when it paused after each of its four surges. Thankfully, the knots held and the trout came to the net pretty quickly.

The reward? A 17″ fish with a 12″ girth that sprinted away, vigorous and healthy, upon release. Here it is.

 
I’m 100% catch-and-release. It’s very gratifying to see a fish swim away robustly. Again, personal choices, but all this works for me.

4 thoughts on “Playing and Handling Fish

  1. Been trying a GOPRO to capture the fish coming into the net. Good video, but not so good with the still pictures! Barbless hooks are also great for C&R especially for water releases (intentional and non-intentional).

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