Stepping up

Fishing for big fish requires different techniques to more normal fishing in lots of respects. As we’ve already discussed in Part 1, you need to pay attention to every small detail, as if you have any weakness in your setup these fish will find it. Knots need to be tested and 100% reliable, line needs to be immaculate, hooks sharp, gear serviced and the boat set up for fighting big fish. I fish alone a lot so fundamentals such as a pilot house configuration are out for me, as I can’t move the boat whilst fighting a big fish. This limits me in the configuration of boat I can use. All these things need to be taken into consideration if you’re starting from scratch. 

Ease of launching is a major consideration for me so I have my trailer set up with a remote control winch, floatem poles and I take care to ensure the weight of my boats are easily manageable by one person. The engine must be serviced as well as the trailer bearings and brakes, I take a toolkit with me to ensure anything simple is readily resolved and I can generally get home in the event of a breakdown.


One thing we haven’t covered so far is attitude and fighting technique – both can make all the difference in the battle with a big fish. Your attitude setting out has to be totally single-minded in regards to getting you what you’re after. After all, research starts months and often years before success. Planning will get you a long way in this department, it’s important to consider all the variables before you hook your target. Start simple:

  • Where does that target species already occur?
  •  What environment does the species you’re targeting prefer?
  • What does it feed on?
  • Can you alter this and convince it to take something a bit different?
  • How are you going to build your rig?

Then come more technical considerations and elements of boatcraft:

  • Where will you launch to get to the right grounds? 
  • What are the tide considerations for that area?
  • Will you be fishing at anchor?  
  • If so, will you be able to buoy off readily?  
  • If not, are there any hazards involved such as potting gear? 
  • How will you be setting out your equipment?
  • What will you do if a fish takes a certain rod and in what order will you clear the remaining gear?

All these elements (and more) need considering well before a fish takes the bait.  Before a take you need your harness set up correctly, measuring equipment out and cutters and disgorger ready. During the fight you need to consider which side of the boat you’d rather bring the fish to and this will likely be affected by the side of the boat the wheel is on. If you have crew it may well be the opposite side to give you more room to work, if you’re on your own it might be the same side as the wheel to enable you to move the boat at the last minute to recover the fish. Do you have a camera set up to record either the fight or the fish? If so, work out the angle you want to show things from before a hookup as you won’t have time to consider much other than hanging onto the fish once you’re into one. 

How are you going to fight the fish you’ve hooked up? If it’s a blue shark or a skate, you can take your time a bit and go slow and steady, keeping the pressure on until you get them boatside. With some other species, it will be less within your control. It may seem obvious but the best piece of advice I can give can take major effort to achieve: keep tight to the fish no matter what.  

If your fish takes a run just let it go as you can be confident in your drag settings, every inch taken is tiring the fish. Make the most of this time to have a breather and relax, get some water if it’s a long run. Many people get downhearted when they see all that hard-won line leaving the reel, I don’t mind at all as it means the fish is giving me a break whilst it’s tiring itself out. Keeping tight can involve backing the boat down as you reel in simultaneously or simply reeling as fast as you can. If a fish is running at you, never give up even though the line might feel slack, keep reeling and if you can reel fast enough you’ll often come tight again. Several species will run out, turn round then come straight back at you so be ready for this.

Another thing to beware of is fish running under the boat on you. If you’re in a harness you must be able to disconnect quickly and get the tip below the hull to stop the taught line cutting through on the hull. Once the fish is clear, you can reverse around it and carry on the fight. Personally, I pick a quarter of the boat and try to keep the fish off that as long as possible which helps me to get it to the boat quicker. If you allow the fish to fight you off both sides, it will take longer to get to the boat. As you’re reeling you should remember to spread the line evenly across the spool (if you’re using a multiplier) as it often ends up going back out again and the smoother you can lay it on, the less it lurches on the way out. I’ve fought fish single handed for hours in this manner and the most important thing is to stay mentally positive and let the rod, reel and boat do their work. If you try to rush things you’ll end up with a lost fish or, even worse, trying to wire a green fish which can be very dangerous.  

A technique I’ve yet to see used in the UK is to avoid the harness altogether and fish an extremely heavy drag, often 40lbs plus. This can be very useful at the initial hookup if you’re on your own and you don’t have the opportunity to put the harness on. The idea is to fight the fish at sunset for the initial fight – this isn’t possible to sustain for more than about 30 minutes but can subdue a very big fish in a short time if you get it right. After striking, put the rod between your legs and pull the foregrip against your left thigh with your left hand, then twist your body at 45 degrees with your left knee pointing at the direction of the fish. This enables you to sit comfortably on the butt section of the rod and use your weight against the fish directly whilst still having the freedom to let a fish move around the boat as it wants. It places very little stress on the arms and you can gain line by squatting down and cranking as you stand up. This technique won’t work on many charter boats due to the height of the gunwales. 

Using this method, I’ve had big skate up to the boat from depths of over 100m in just over 10 minutes and big spring porbeagles to the boat in around 20. Some really fast species won’t stand for it and you’re better off resigning yourself to the harness from the off if you’re into one of those. A word on harnesses here, it’s well worth fitting them to yourself if possible before you get into a fight and make sure they’re comfortable and that the release works from the lugs on the reel. I never like the mechanical release mechanisms due to the corrosive effects of saltwater and rust on them, so I opt for a simple hook that disengages with any pressure from the outside (where my hands sit naturally). If you have your own harness, wear it as soon as you get a bait in the water – it’s one thing less to do when you get that take. Again, it’s worth keeping pliers on a bungee to help you should you get pulled over by a tip wrap, cutch failure or wiring a fish before it’s ready.

Disgorgers are widely available but I have designed my own for sharks that enables the unhooking of most fish. It’s a pigtail design that slides down the wire but has a loop at the end that allows it to twist even the biggest of hooks out. If you know an engineer it would be well worth having one made up as they work really well. I also used to have real trouble measuring big sharks due to their girth but more recently I’ve stolen a measuring device idea that I saw on Facebook that enables easy calculation of girth to add to the length/girth formula. 

The honest truth is I’ve never weighed a truly big fish. I’m perfectly happy if a weight formula gives me a decent percentage over the ton, as since I measure fish to a formula, I know what my biggest individual is: a PB is a PB. I’m happy enough to give the dimensions of a fish or an approximate weight calculated by a formula along with dimensions but at the end of the day this is all a personal quest for me. As long as it’s over 100lb I don’t mind either way. The only species I haven’t seen a formula for is conger eel. At the moment I have a huge set of scales and a massive sling to make sure I’m the right side of the ton if it happens.

I know there are as many questions as answers here but I suppose what I’m trying to get across is that you need to consider things in detail if your approach to big fish hunting is going to be successful. You might luck into the odd fish but to be consistent, you should consider every scenario before the panic of hooking up happens and think about what will work best for you in your own situation. If you do choose to chase these fish then I hope my advice helps in some way and you enjoy it as much as I have over the years. I wish you every success!

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