In this tip I’m not going to talk about how to get fish to bite, but what to do after they’ve hit your bait. If you’ve ever watched any of the TV tournament shows, especially the Bassmasters, you’ve probably seen the pros flipping big bass into the boat. It definitely looks cool, but you have to realize that these guys do it for a living. In Bassmaster tournaments the anglers are not allowed to use nets so it’s very common to see them boat hoisting fish over the gunnels of the boat.
In a lot of cases these pros are using medium-heavy to heavy action baitcasting rods and 40, 50 or even 65-pound test braided fishing line. When they set the hook on a four-pound bass they’ll instantly pull it out of the cover, crank it up to the boat and then swing it on board. There isn’t much fighting of the fish going on.
If you watch closely, you’ll notice that the pros keep their rods at a low angle when they flip the fish so that they get the maximum leverage out of their rods and they avoid getting “high-sticked”. If you try to boat flip a fish and your rod is pointing up past 11 o’clock, (or one o’clock, depending on how you’re looking at it) chances are you could break your rod. I don’t care if it’s a $500 rod or a $50 rod, rods are not meant to be bent straight around. They are meant to be bent parabolically, from the handle to the tip, not in a way where the tip comes around and touches the rod blank.
Case in point: I’m not going to mention any names, but on a recent TV shoot my guest was using a very expensive rod and catching bass on topwaters. When he tried to boat flip about a 2 ½-pound largemouth his rod got to be right at 12 o’clock and all of a sudden we heard, “ping” – and about 18-inches of the tip of his rod snapped off. He got high-sticked. Before trying to lift the fish he should have reeled down closer to it, until his rod was in the 9 or 10 o’clock range, and he could have easily swung the fish over the side of the boat without breaking his rod.
If you’re going to boat flip a fish, be careful about your rod angle and try to lift the fish by sweeping your rod up and to the side rather than directly above your head. Of course the best and safest way to get a fish into the boat is to use a proper sized landing net and the proper technique to get the fish into the net – but that’s a column for another day.
Getting high-sticked isn’t something that only happens when you’re landing a fish – it can happen when you’re setting the hook too. I always get a kick out of seeing people who set the hook and their rod and reel ends up above their heads, or even behind their heads.
Let’s say using your rod to work your bait and, as you bring your rod up into, say, the 11 o’clock position, you feel a “tick”. In a case like that, it’s always best to turn of the reel handle while lowering your rod to the 9 or 10 o’clock position before setting the hook. You’ll get a stronger hookset and you will be in a better position to fight the fish than if you tried to set with your rod too high and ended up with your rod and reel above or behind your head.
You will get a much better hookset if your hands are at belly level and you can use your forearms to snap the rod up when you feel a hit. Trying to set the hook from above the 11 o’clock position is sort of like trying to pull up your anchor by starting with your arms at chest level and lifting from there; you don’t have a lot of power and it’s just not natural. Of course there are times when, if the fish are biting short, you’ll miss a couple, but in the long run you’ll get more solid hookups and land more fish if your rod is in the right position when you feel the bite.
The best piece of advice I can give you on this topic is to pay attention to the position of your fishing rod at all times. Try to keep the tip below 11 o’clock when you’re working a bait, setting the hook or landing a fish. You’ll see your success rate rise, and you’ll probably never break a rod on a fish again.