Striking, reeling in and landing fish are all vitally important aspects of fishing – after all, there is little point in getting the best bait, rigs and equipment if fish that are hooked cannot be successfully landed. However, a surprising number of anglers pay little attention to the practicalities of landing fish and only consider this important aspect of sea fishing when they have a fish on the end of their line.
This page looks at the different issues which need to be considered when landing fish, including the methods and techniques which help anglers securely hook fish and the various items of equipment such as drop nets and landing nets that help anglers successfully land fish.
Striking is the process of sweeping the fishing rod backwards when a bite is detected in order to securely set the hook in the mouth of a fish. Sometimes fish will hit the bait so hard they will hook themselves but fish can also cautiously and carefully take a bait into their mouth meaning that the angler will need to strike to set the hook. Striking is always a matter of judgement. Strike too soon and the bait and hook will be pulled away from the fish – this is known as ‘missing the bite’, but strike too late and the fish may have taken the bait all the way down into its stomach and be gut hooked.
Little aggressive fish, such as small pollock, or whiting, can snap at baits and give strong bites which require quick strikes, whereas large predators, such as conger eel, can give very shy and slow bites, meaning that learning how and when to strike to achieve a set hook is a matter of skill, judgement and – to a certain extent – luck.
Difference Between Using Braid and Monofilament Line
There is a large amount of stretch inherent in monofilament line. This means when fishing at long range only a proportion of the power of the strike will transfer to the fish, as much of the power will be absorbed by the stretch in the line. Conversely, when fishing at close range anglers need to remember that a great deal of the power of the strike will transfer through to the fish, an overenthusiastic strike could rip the hook straight from the mouth of the fish. With experience, anglers learn how much force to strike with to give the best chance of setting the hook properly. Braided line is almost entirely stretch free, meaning that even a light strike will send practically all of its power to the fish and potentially pull the hook out of the mouth of the fish. Most anglers using braid adapt the strike to be much less powerful, or simply reel in fast to set the hook. Using a monofilament shockleader will also add a small amount of stretch and therefore a small margin of safety when using braided line.
Circle Hooks and Striking
Circle hooks are a design of hook which has a short shank and turned in point. When using circle hooks there is no need to strike as these hooks are designed to slide to the edge of the mouth of the fish it swims away with the baited hook in its mouth, meaning the fish hooks itself with no additional work needed by the angler. Circle hooks are growing in popularity throughout the UK, and it appears that they do result in lip hooked fish more often than traditional J-hooks, meaning fish can be quickly unhooked and returned to the sea in top condition – a good thing for anglers fishing on a catch and release basis. Koike High Carbon Circle Hooks are available in packets of ten in sizes 1 – 5/0 from Sea Angling Shop by clicking here, while a ready-made two hook Circle Hook Rig can be purchased for just £1.89 by clicking here.
Striking Helps Avoid Snags
Many anglers strike just before reeling in, even if they are only changing bait and there has been no indication that a fish is on the end of the line. Why? The main reason for this is to get the weight and rig up off the seabed and away from snags. This strike, followed by a fast retrieval, helps cut down on getting snagged when fishing in rocky and broken ground.
The vast majority of fish caught across the British Isles can be reeled in fairly easily. Species such as whiting, pouting, flounder, dab, dogfish and smaller bass, cod, pollock and coalfish will put a decent bend in the rod but an angler will simply need to raise their rod and reel in quickly and steadily to get their catch to the shore. However, larger species such as conger eel, rays, smoothound and the largest cod, pollock and bass will put up much more of a fight and more effort and thought will be necessary to reel these fish in. Often the only way to reel these fish in is to ‘pump’ them in by pulling the rod backwards (just like striking) to create some slack line and then getting several turns of the reel in before sweeping the rod backwards again and reeling again. This process needs to be repeated until the fish is safely reeled in. Many anglers lose good fish because they are only used to reeling in small species and do not react fast enough when a large fish is on the end of their line. If species such as conger eel are given time and slack line they will bolt to their hole or crevice on the seabed and prove impossible to shift.
Anglers should always consider how they will land any fish they hook before they begin fishing. While fishing on a beach may not present many problems in terms of getting a fish out of the sea, rock marks and elevated fishing positions on piers and breakwaters can be more problematic. Indeed, when cliff fishing anglers will always have to give a great deal of thought to how they will land anything which they hook.
An important and yet little acknowledged fact in sea fishing is that a fishing rod cannot be used like a crane. Winching a modestly sized fish of 2lb up a pier wall will put a surprising amount of strain on the average beachcaster, and even a strong pier/rock fishing rod combined with a powerful reel will struggle with a fish around the 3 – 4lb mark. Similarly, an angler casting out a string of six mackerel feathers or daylights using a light spinning rod may find it very difficult to reel in multiple mackerel if they cast into a shoal. Fishing rods are simply not designed to winch large fish directly upwards and anglers trying to do this run the risk of snapping the line, causing damage to the gearings of their reel or even snapping the fishing rod. Using even more powerful gear, such as boat rods, will not help as the hook hold in the fish’s mouth is supported when the fish is in water, but once the fish is being winched upwards the full pressure of gravity will act on the hook, and it is likely to give way.
So what options do anglers have to land larger fish from elevated positions such as these? Sometimes anglers in this situation will ‘handline’ up a fish by setting their rod to one side and pulling the fish up by hand. This is hard work (strong monofilament line with a decent weight on the end will also cut into unprotected hands) and although it solves the problem of the rod snapping it does not avoid the problem of the hook hold giving way. The best way of getting a fish up from the sea to a pier is to use a drop net. These are large circular nets that are lowered down to the surface of the water. The hooked fish can be guided into them and then pulled up in the net – view a range of drop nets available on Amazon by clicking here. It is much, much easier to operate a drop net with two people as the angler can guide the fish into the net and the second person pull the net up as the angler reels in.
Related article: Pier Fishing
Additional safety can be built in by using a reel with an extra-long shock leader. This will mean that when a fish is being reeled in the leader will be on the reel sooner and the fish will be getting pulled out of the water with the much stronger leader line (although this does not solve the problem of the hook hold in the mouth of the fish giving way). Landing nets generally tend to be associated with freshwater fishing, but they do have a place in sea fishing. In many rock marks which allow the angler to reach the water they can be used to scoop up the hooked fish eliminate the risk of the hook pulling free when the fish is lifted out of the water. A selection of landing nets is available to view on Amazon by clicking here.
While gaffs (metal or wooden poles with a large hook on the end) were once a popular method of landing fish they are rarely used these days due to the damage they do to fish. Beaches provide fewer problems when landing fish but it still pays to put some thought into how a fish will be landed. If the waves and breakers are strong then pulling a hooked fish through these will present a risk of losing the fish as the force of the waves could pull the hook from its mouth. Try to bring the fish in with, and not against, the waves to reduce the chance of it breaking free at the last minute.
Anglers should always be careful when landing fish. Never lean over piers or breakwater walls to try and guide a fish into a drop net, nor should rocks be climbed on to get a fish into a landing net if a wave or big swell could wash the angler into the sea. No fish is worth falling into the sea for and putting an angler’s life at risk!