THE END GAME
Over the last few articles, I've written about physically preparing yourself for a season on the river, what things I take into the backcountry with me, safety once you are out there and also some tips on your approach to a feeding fish once you come across one.
Getting your fly in front of a fish and getting it to eat is only the beginning. If you are fishing blind with an indicator and cannot see the fish eat your fly then not only are you watching for it to disappear under the surface but also for any dip, hesitation, pause or increase in speed too. Basically, strike at anything that looks odd or not right as it could all mean a fish. I've lost count of how many times I've struck on a gut feeling that my indicator ‘just didn't look right’ and it resulted in a hook up.
I tend to find that a lot of people strike way too hard. You are not trying to rip the trout’s head off, just move the point of your hook a few millimetres and in most cases, lifting your rod smoothly and firmly is the way to go.
There's a good chance that as soon as the fish realises that eating that tasty looking bug was a mistake, it will go nuts and be out of there! The worst thing you can do when a fish makes a run for it is to clamp down on the line with your fingers and try and stop it. You will do nothing but bust it off, so as long as it is safe to do so, just keep a bend in the rod and let them have line until the run stops.
Obviously, if there are snags in the area you will have to deal with that accordingly.
As soon as you have gained control of the fish, get any loose line back on your reel quickly and then start applying pressure to the fish. I fight a fish as hard as I can and use low rod angles, where I stand and the current to get the fish to the net as quick as I can. A long drawn out fight until the fish is at the point of exhaustion is unnecessary and will reduce the chance of it swimming away strongly and surviving. For this reason too, I fish with as strong a tippet material as I can get away with.
Try and make sure you fight the fish from opposite and slightly downstream of it if you can. This way you have leverage, angles and the current all working against the fish. Work it hard and net it quick and once in the net, keep them upright in the water and submerged while you are sorting everything out.
If you are not bothered about getting a picture then you should just unhook them in the net and release them, all while in the water. That way there is minimal handling and time out of the water. I use barbless hooks and so usually the fly just drops out as soon as the pressure is off the hook but if you feel the need for barbs then a pair of forceps makes the job much quicker and cleaner.
I love getting pictures of fish and I don't see anything wrong with it as long as you do it right. There are a few things you can do to make the whole process of getting a picture as stress free as possible for everyone involved.
The main thing is keeping the fish upright and fully submerged in the water while you or your mate with the camera are messing around sorting things out for taking a shot or two. That fish has been fighting for its life for the last few minutes and will have given everything not to go in that net so keep the oxygen flowing while it recovers. Imagine sprinting as hard as you can until you are done and then having your head shoved underwater. That’s what it's like for your fish when it's not in the water so really make an effort on that.
Talk about the shot between yourselves so you both know what is happening and make sure the photographer is good to go before lifting the fish. Control it by the tail and cradle it with your other hand under the pectoral fin area. Make sure your hands are wet and DON'T squeeze the fish as it will damage their internal organs. Take two or three shots and then get it back in the water so it can have some air. Even think about shots that involve the fish being in the water – they look cool and there is no need to take the fish out at all.
When releasing them, do it in some quiet water where they aren't fighting the current and gently support them until they are ready to swim away under their own power. Don't rush this part and if they need a bit of time to get their strength back, let them have it.
There's nothing better than watching a fish swim off strongly and if you play them hard and get them to the net quickly, handle and keep them out of the water as little as possible and treat them gently and with respect, then there's a good chance that's what will happen.
Lee Wulff said ‘A fish is too valuable to be caught only once’ and I'm with him on that one.