How to Play and Land a Fish

Posted by nick under Fishing Beginners Guide

The first time I had a fish on my line, my heart was pounding so hard I could hear it in my ears. When its you and your fish, the important thing is to breath and keep your cool. Many things can go wrong at this point, but if you do everything right, you might just bring that fish to hand or net.

1. Set the Hook

As soon as you feel you have a fish on the line, reel in the slack and set the hook.

“Setting the Hook” means successfully hooking the fish in the mouth. You set the hook by quickly and firmly lifting the rod tip. The action is in your wrist and your elbow; don’t bring your rod arm over your head, just give it a quick snap.

 Warnings

  • If you set the hook too soon: you will pull the lure or bait out of the fishes mouth.
  • If you set the hook too late: you will “gut hook” the fish, meaning the fish will swallow the hook. Generally this is bad, especially if you plan to release the fish.
  • If your hook set is too light: you won’t penetrate the fish’s mouth and you’ll lose the fish.
  • If your hook set is too hard: you will tear the hook right out of the fish’s mouth or tear the area around the hook and probably lose the fish.
  • If you use circle hooks, your hookset should be slow and deliberate or not at all.

2. Play the Fish

The actions and reactions you take to tire out a fish so that you can bring it in, are collectively called “playing” the fish.

As a beginner, you are going to be tempted to haul in the fish by cranking on your reel. But, that’s a good way to lose a fish fast.

The idea is let the fish tire itself out without snapping the line or tearing out the hook. This is what you can do to play your fish right:

  • Set your drag properly, before you have a fish on.
  • Keep your rod tip up. Your rod should be vertical or near vertical, but not over your head:

    hold fishing rod vertical

  • Do not allow slack in the line- keep the line tight.
  • Keep the fish away from anything that will tangle your line. You can steer the fish’s head by moving the rod (not turning the handle.)
  • If the fish runs towards you, reel in the slack:

    reeling in fish

  • If the fish swims away from you, DO NOT REEL IN; allow the drag to do its job:

    letting fish make a run

  • As soon as the fish stops running, reel in the slack.
  • As long is the fish is not pulling line out, pump the fish in.

     

How to Pump the Fish

  1. Lift the rod tip. This pulls the fish toward you.

    first lift the rod

  2. Lower the rod tip. This creates slack in the line.

    lower rod the fishing rod

  3. Quickly reel in. This takes in the slack, its important to do this fast.

    reel in the slack

  4. Repeat. Pump the fish until it’s close enough to land.

    lift the rod again

    3. Land the Fish

“Landing” a fish means getting it out of the water. Most fish should be landed with a net. There is a right way and a wrong way to net a fish.

How to Net a Fish

  1. The fish should be “played” or tired. If it is still making runs, let it.
  2. Bring the fish in close to your feet.
  3. Put the net in the water carefully, away from the fish.
  4. Pull the fish over the net, head first, by steering it with the rod:

    correct way to net a fish

  5. Quickly lift the net up and out of the water, netting the fish.

*If you chase a fish around with the net, it will spook and probably make another run. The adrenaline rush will over-tire your fish and can really lower its chance of survival if you plan to release it.

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10 Responses to “How to Play and Land a Fish”

  1. Ken Says:

    Thank you. Your article is very informative.

    During the weekend, I lost 2 big fishes. In both instances my Berkley Trilene 30lbs mono leader line was cut. Either I set the drag too tight or the fish passed through several rocks during the fight which weakened my leader line. My question is this, will it increase my chances of catching these fishes (my estimate is 8-12 lbs) if after the first run of the fish, as soon as the fish first stops running, can I just close the drag and try to forcefully pump-in the fish? In that case I’ll avoid any chance of my leader line getting weakened through abrasions from rocks.

    Will appreciate your input. Thank you.

  2. Ken Says:

    Thank you. Your article is very informative.

    During the weekend, I lost 2 big fishes. In both instances my Berkley Trilene 30lbs mono leader line was cut. Either I set the drag too tight or the fish passed through several rocks during the fight which weakened my leader line. My question is this, will it increase my chances of catching these fishes (my estimate is 8-12 lbs) if after the first run of the fish, as soon as the fish first stops running, can I just close the drag and try to forcefully pump-in the fish? In that case I’ll avoid any chance of my leader line getting weakened through abrasions from rocks. The rod I use is a 9ft Lemax with a 50lbs strength test.

    Will appreciate your input. Thank you.

  3. nick Says:

    Hi Ken,

    As soon as the fish stops its run, close the bail and start pumping the fish in. If when you say “close the drag” you mean, tighten the drag down all the way down; then that’s generally not such a great idea. The fish will likely break off its a big one.

    However, it sounds like the fish you are catching are way below your test. So, you should be able to tighten your drag and muscle those fish away from the rocks.

    But, you would be better off tightening the drag before you start casting, not after you hooked up. Tighten it, but not all the way. Hope the helps, Ken.

  4. Eden Says:

    Im new at fishing and im going on Sunday! This will help!

  5. steven Says:

    thank you it was very helpful. my god bless you

  6. steven Says:

    it was very helpful for fishing .thankd

  7. Andrew Says:

    If your lure is “weedless” (jig or hollow bodied frog) you will need to set the hook surprisingly hard. I like to set the hook upward with a frog for two reasons. 1) more likely to get both hooks in the upper lip this way. 2) puts your arms in a position to protect your face if the bass spits it out as you set the hook & send your frog hurtling right at you at a ridiculous speed. ALWAYS wear protective glasses when fishing. If it’s too dark for sunglasses, go to your local hardware store & get some safety glasses. I have been hit in the eye by a frog before. I was lucky but it was still terrifying.

    Another thing, if it is a “non-toothy” fish (bass & bluegill primarily) and the mouth is big enough for your thumb, don’t use a net. It can scrape off their protective slime coat. Bend down to the water, stick your thumb in their mouth, and pinch their bottom jaw. If they are too floppy, pinch them behind their gills being careful not to get a dorsal spine in your hand (it doesn’t feel good and can get infected if it breaks the skin)

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I have 10lb Fire line on my Quantum reel now. I’ve lost so many fish trying to bring them in. Very frustrating for a noobie. Yesterdays (river) fish took left then right so many times it cut the river rig line above the hook (monofilament) quickly. Any suggestions? Still learning how to set drag and ‘play’ the fish w/out loosing him in the trees.
    -Wisconsin Wolfe River fishing

  9. Anonymous Says:

    If your line test is way over the pounds requirement for the fish in your lake why not just muscle it in without the drag to prevent a long run where it can get around logs?

  10. Anonymous Says:

    HI MY NAME IS RYAN I CANT CATCH ANY FISH

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