Landing Fish - A Tale of Heroism and Tippet Size

Yeah... fought him for like 30 minutes.

Curtis battling a beast rainbow trout

Jay and I were on the way to the river with a more accomplished angler than we were.  We had been fishing for two whole years now and it was paying off because we could readily catch fish on our home river.  We got out of the car and started rigging up our heavy nymph rigs with appropriate bobbers when the more experienced fella sees us and exclaims "It's Summer time you guys!"  "Throw dry flies!" We were ridiculed for wanting to nymph and for fishing anything but 6x tippet.  I had never really thrown anything less than 4x, but I guess I needed to get to my local shop to get some lighter cable.  I was sure that I was going to break off on 6x, but hey - that's what the cool kids were using.

This was the first time that I started paying attention to tippet sizes because now I had a complex about it.  Would lighter tippet really help me catch more fish?  Would I be able to land fish on this lighter tippet?  Will lighter tippet help me make friends and influence people?  I was intrigued. This is also about the same time that I started to pay attention to comments like, "Yeah, all I use is 7x and a 3 weight." "I like to really feel the fish that I catch."   A few months later I was wading up the river and there was a middle aged gentleman hooting and hollering like he had just caught a Rattlebass.  He was looking around to make sure everyone saw that he had a fish on, and he took his sweet time landing it too.  A few dramatic false runs of the fish, and the hurried footwork of a guy landing what was sure to be the next world record led me to believe that this guy was on the river to put on a show!  I watched.  I was entertained.  After he netted and unhooked his 13" trophy, he held it up so all could see and then went right back to fishing.  I had met a hero folks.  But - that hero likely killed that fish.

Land your fish people!!! I'm writing this because there really is no point in using lighter tippet than necessary, and there surely isn't any reason to fight a fish longer than you need to.  Here are a few things that might help you save the life of a fish.

  • Use the largest tippet you can get away with.  One of my fishing mentors, Mickey Anderson
    3x cable strapped to this hopper
    uses 4x tippet for most of his trout fishing.  It's plenty strong to make a quick fight and release the fish before it's too worn out and full of lactic acid.  I'll Euro nymph a lot with 2 or 3x tippet, but there are also times that I need to drop down to a lighter tipper in order to get proper drift with smaller flies.  6x is the smallest I have on my tippet system, and I really only use it when I'm fishing very small dry flies.
  •  Use a net.  Yes, I get it that nets are made for sissies, but if you hook even a 16" fish that is full of red bull n' skittles, he won't be keen to lay down and relax while you get the hook out.  Instead of tiring out the fish until he plays nice, get a good net with a rubber bag so you can capture him while he still has some spunk.  That spunk will be needed to recover from the fight.  
  • Like Johnny in Karate Kid, "FINISH HIM."  Get your fish to the net as quickly as the situation allows.  I get it - if you catch a huge fish on a dry fly and light tippet it might take you more time to seal the deal, but in most cases you should be able to quickly fight your fish so you can let them go.  The longer you fight your fish, the faster you should focus on getting your fish back to freedom.
  • Keep them wet as much as possible.  I have no problem with a good fish picture, but you
    A sissy net and a beastly brookie
    should really try to only lift the fish out of the water for a few seconds at a time.  Curtis and I have a system - I'm the hand model, and he's the photographer (It's not because of his mad skills with the camera.  I just have very good looking hands.) He has the camera dialed in to the settings we need to use for the current lighting so he can take out the camera and take a few shots in a matter of seconds.  Remember that the fish is more important than your picture...

To sum it up...  Don't fight a fish longer than you have to just to prove a point.  Rope those suckers with cable, give them a proper fight, and then turn them loose. Unless you are catching your fish to eat them.  If so, ignore all of the above.

~ Cheech