You can usually see the end result if you’re paying attention.
We were fishing a popular river (actually a lake that becomes a river each fall) in a National Park along the road. It was a gorgeous, +25C day with almost no wind, no clouds in late September. Come late afternoon, people began to wander in, fishing their way upstream.
In that setting, there was no way I was going to be selfish. It was too nice a day, too gorgeous. As the 4 anglers came up, I began to chat the usual of how the fishing was, how the day was. The first two were friendly and saw that we were having success and nestled between Amelia & I. It was crowding and on any other water we’d have had a chat, but, we were fishing an 800m long bowl. The young lad and dad that came up hadn’t had a sniff. I had enjoyed a day that was off and on and was able to enjoy myself. Across from me was a pair of rising rainbows and I gave way to him, then helped all 4 with some casting tips and fly selection stuff, sharing how we were catching fish. It was nice.
The younger fellow gave up on the two risers cross river and I told him to go up near the rock where Amelia was as I’d caught a few there earlier, but missed a nice fish. Given it was an hour or so later and these were rainbows, chances were good that it would rise again. Sure enough, he walked up to the rock and began fishing – within a few minutes all hell broke loose as the fish ripped and jumped. It was a good rainbow.
As it jumped repetitively, I realized I was the only one of the 7 or 8 people there with a net. I made my way to where he was and it became obvious he had a great fish on but no idea how to fight or land such a fish. The palming of the reel was more a cupping from the side – and we winced as the reel’s knob banged his fingers a few times. “N-n-n-no, palm underneath” I helped a couple of times. The lesson there is to rely on your reel’s drag once the line is on your reel. Then I had to coax him to put some side pressure on the fish rather than upstream pressure or a lifting pressure as fish always react to being lifted upward and it never goes well if you’re trying to pull a fish upstream. The fish did a few nice runs but we inched it in. He was giddy, having not hooked into such a large fish previously. We kept working it in but he had the drag set quite loose and most gains were quickly lost. It was like watching a tug of war where one side didn’t want to apply more than 4psi.
I coaxed him into applying a little more side pressure, to lay the rod sideways a touch and work down and bring it to shore. This all over 10 minutes. It was far longer than it needed to be, but he really wanted to land the fish. Several more cautions of the sideways palming, tips to apply side pressure, several runs on the loose drag, and we were inching toward success. But, getting the fish close to the net and landing it are two separate animals.
Honestly, for someone like that, beaching the fish might have been the best option. Simply crank, reel sideways, walk backwards and let it come to shore and quickly scoop it up before it flops. It’s the New Zealand way and many fish can be landed far sooner than with a net.
But with a crowd, the net was the only option. I moved into position about a rod length away – usually a great distance when the angler has control. The young fellow lost but gained control and slid the fish sideways. As it came in, I told him to raise the rod so I cold scoop. What I failed to say was “raise the rod and keep sliding it to me”. Instead, he simply raised the rod but stopped the fish’s momentum to me. That pause gave the fish a second to gather itself and just as I was scooping, well, the fish bolted.
I beat myself up. I was feeling incredibly sheepish. I felt so awful when it happened. In fact, I felt horribly for a few days but when we got home I downloaded the photos of the trip and discovered Amelia had managed to take a photo of the exact moment.
Not only had the young lad paused, giving the fish control, he then bowed to the fish and clamped up on his reel, completely flexing out his rod.
It was no surprise that the fish was not held. As my friend who we were fishing with mentioned “He wasn’t landing that fish without you”.
Many guides put it on the client to put the fish in the net. “I’m here, you put your catch in the net”. It’s up to the angler to do so. If you can’t, sorry for your loss. Others try their best to net the fish. I recall guiding AK Best & John Gierach for 5 days nearly 20 years ago and they have a long established rule: “Net your own %&^% fish!”. Neither of them wanted the responsibility nor the risk of losing the other’s catch. The reason is simple: an angler who might lack experience will quickly put the onus on the netter for loss of control of a fish. Clearly, in the photo above it wasn’t my fault, tho I could have been more thorough, clear, and complete with my instruction. But doing so in a split second is a toughie, especially when a young fellow is having a first experience.
In my experience, netting a fish is best done in a sequence. Simply don’t lift nor apply upstream pressure on big fish. Simply play it out and try to lay the rod to the downstream shore at waist to chest height. Keep even pressure as the fish will respond to jerking motion. As the fish tires, keep the pressure on. If someone else is to net your fish, have them stand about a rod length or slightly less from you. Once the fish starts coming in, keep an even pressure and sweep it toward the net. Only the last 2 or 3 feet should you lift. If the fish is tired, it won’t react to the uplifting. If it’s not done, that’s exactly when it will kick. The netter should be cautious, yet firm in a split-second timing. If you pause on the rod, the fish will take over and run again. Any stop on the sweep and you’ll be in trouble, much like the fellow in the photo above. You’ll leave your netter in no man’s land and it almost never ends well.