Avoid High Sticking When Fighting Fish
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Proper rod angle during the fight is always important, but it's even more crucial when fighting big fish from a boat.
Not to be confused with the tactic of high-stick nymphing, high-sticking while fighting a fish is something I see pretty often, particularly when trying to lift up on a fish vertically. High-sticking happens when you lift your rod up too far. During the fight, ideally you never want the rod handle to go past about the 90 degree mark from the position of the fish. To clearly put this in perspective, if you're hooked up to a fish that's straight down from the rod tip, that would mean not lifting the rod handle past the horizontal position.
As you lift past 90 degrees, it starts putting strain higher up on the rod blank. At the very least, this is an inefficient way to apply pressure on a fish. At the very worst, the rod will go KERPOWWW and you'll likely be pretty upset. The last thing you want to do is extensively prolong the battle on something like a tarpon or tuna — especially if you're a catch and release angler — and I'm guessing you'd rather not bust your fly rod.
By holding the rod handle no more than about 90 degrees from the direction of the fish, you'll keep the heaviest pressure centered down around the backbone and maintain a nice even flex through the rod. As the strongest part of the rod, the backbone is where you want to generate the most lifting power. When you lift past 90 degrees, the pressure starts moving up the rod blank away from the backbone and into the thinner portions. The further the pressure moves away from the backbone, the less lifting power you'll get and the more risk of rod breakage.
One technique I like to sometimes use when fighting particularly big, strong fish vertically is called "short stroking." Think of fighting a fish the typical way which usually involves reeling down several times then pulling up a fair distance with the rod. With short stroking, you're keeping the rod at or below 90 degrees and using much shorter, quicker pumps of the rod and cranking on the reel handle as little as just once or twice on the way down. It's a great way to maintain heavy tension and break a stalemate when fighting very stubborn fish like tuna or big jacks.
High-sticking with smaller fish is often much less of an issue, but it's still good practice to not do it. Remember that hockey isn't the only place where high-sticking is a no-no. Avoid it altogether and you'll be a more efficient angler!
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