Science Behind The Fight Part 1: The Fishing Rod
By: Phil Foo
What is the best part of fishing? I am sure you’ll agree that the best part of fishing is getting into the ring with a fish and fighting like a gladiator. Everything else may be fun like playing with lures, bouncing about waves, riding for hours in a car head banging to rock music with your fishing buddies, etc. but none shoots out more adrenaline that fighting a fish.
I have seen anglers cry, freeze up, and even had to be calmed down when in a fight with a big fish. The most memorable to me will be on this sailfish trip in Rompin, Pahang, Malaysia; many years ago. This friend of mine was one huge guy who has spent years sitting in front of computers and is not into any physical workout. After listening to us talk about fishing he decided to give it a try. He also wasn’t interested in going small first. So I called up my favourite boatman and a trip was set.
[ Halfway through the fight he handed me the rod, sat down, and said that his heart is beating very fast and he felt dizzy… ]
The fastest fish in our seas is certainly thrilling to fight. Who needs the gym when one can workout with a sailfish.
The day came and we made out trip to Rompin. The night before the trip I gave him a crash course on fishing and fighting a sailfish; of which was our target fish. Out at sea the next day his learning ability was tested. He certainly learned fast and fought considerably well with me by his side giving additional instructions. Halfway through the fight he handed me the rod, sat down, and said that his heart is beating very fast and he felt dizzy.
Worried, I took over the fight and told him to relax, and calm down by taking deep breathes. Lucky he calmed down and was back to normal. Not a heart attack as what he thought he was experiencing. He went on to fight a few sailfishes before the end of our fishing day and was super happy. I have not fished with him since but he has mentioned that he wants to go fishing again just that time has not been on his side. Indeed, the best part of fishing trips are the fights.
Having fun with a fish.
Let us look at the science of the fight. First let us take a look at the fishing rod before going into the lines, reels, and then the angler. The objective of this series is to help you fight more efficiently. Of course it is not all the time that we would want to fight efficiently. Well, at least not for me. Sometimes I just want to have fun and allow the fish a lot more leeway. So, if you are like me then this series will help you make informed decisions when fighting a fish; meaning, you get to choose to be efficient or not to be.
Engaging a powerful fighter. Notice where the bend starts.
Fishing Rod As A Fighting Weapon
A fishing rod is not just a pole or a piece of tube. A fishing rod is a tool to get your lures and baits out. Apart from that it is also a weapon to help you fight your fish. Of course you can also go beat-up someone with it but we do not condone doing so, nor should you unless you have got no other choice. So, how does your fishing rod function as a fish fighting weapon?
At which section of his rod is the angler engaging the fish with?
While most anglers know that a fishing rod is made up of two sections being the tip section and the butt section; there is another section to consider and that is the mid-section. Surprised? If you are wondering what the big deal is when it comes to the mid-section; well, a good deal indeed. When you fight a fish your rod’s power curve starts usually past the tip nearing the start of the mid-section. Anyway, let us break the rod down.
Tip section of a rod; the thinnest section.
The tip is the thinnest end of the fishing rod. That section used for casting. It bends and recoils during the cast, shooting your baits or lures out into the lake (pond, river, sea, etc.). It also offers some shock absorption when a fish hits your lure or bait and makes a run with it, dragging line out of your reel.
This section is not where we fight the fish with. Well, we do sometimes especially when the fish is not powerful enough to bend the rod further. A clearer picture would be fighting a palm size lampam (tinfoil barb) on a medium action rod. The bend ends at the tip section during the fight and before long the fish is landed.
The mid section. This is the start of the power curve and where things start to get serious.
The mid-section is used to cast out heavier baits and lures. It is also the section where we start fighting the fish with as this is where the power-curve starts and it goes all the way to the butt section. Depending on the power of the fish, your fight begins here and goes all the way to the butt section. It is also in this section where sometimes power is loss during the fight; usually with blanks and rods that are not well built.
The butt section; the place where the full power of the blank is unleashed when fighting a gladiator fish.
The butt section is the most efficient section to fight your fish especially if you are on to a big hard fighting fish that runs like a cheetah on steroids. This is the part of the rod where the power level of your rod is at its highest. Hence if you look at a rod’s power rating for example 8lb – 16lb (line weight); what this really means is that the tip section is rated at 8lb and the butt section is rated at 16lb.
Fighting the brute with the help of the butt section.
To help you understand this better; when you are fighting a fish, the amount of pressure that the tip can handle is 8lb. After that it will pass the pressure onto the mid-section until the mid-section says “I cannot take anymore,” and hands the pressure over to the butt section. The butt section accepts the pressure but it can handle all the way up to 16lb before it too gives up. What do you do then? This is where skills and experience come into play.
Fighting at the mid section.
Efficient Battle Technique
Should you pay attention to how anglers fight the fish you will notice that many fight the fish high. This means that the rod is held upwards with the fore grip almost pointing at the skies (close to 90 degrees). Of course the rod is bent with the tip pointing into the water somewhere. This is the least efficient way of fighting the fish.
Fighting a brute at 45 degrees angle with the power curve starting to reach the butt section. Arms straight when fighting big game fishes to conserve energy.
Fighting the fish this way puts more pressure on the angler’s arm and the rod, with less pressure on the fish. It will take more energy to land the fish. In the fishing tackle industry, we call this high stick or high sticking. Many rods are broken this way because of the pressure focused on the mid-section placing the highest pressure on the rod there. Not much of that pressure is transferred to the butt.
Rod pointing up while the fish is closed by and low, pressure is focused on the mid section.
But what if the fish is too powerful? Well, even then the rod should not break unless the rod is damaged prior to the fight. Again it comes down to how well the angler handles his or her tackle. An efficient way to battle the fish is to fight mainly at the butt section. This means that the angler is using the power of butt section to fight the fish with the least pressure on the tip and mid sections.
Maintaining pressure as the fish nears the boat. Noticed that the rod is not pointed high.
To do this; fight the fish with the rod at lower angles. You can also fight them from the side instead of from the top; always maintaining a good angle. A safe level or angle to fight the fish at is 45 degrees and below, to the fish. Not too low until the butt section is bypassed too though. Fighting from the side has added advantages.
Because you are fighting from the side more line is in the water. This means that the fish will have to take on additional pressure from the drag of the line in the water. Line running underwater has more friction than lines running up in the air. I meant friction between line and water. This friction is additional burden on the fish that it will have to carry, yet you do not have to bare any part of it.
When the fish goes low, lower the rod too.
Too Much To Handle
Once in a while we find ourselves fighting fishes that are too powerful for our tackle. In fact, many a time this is done on purpose. But that is because we know that we can handle them and the fish although puts more pressure than what our fishing tackle is rated to take, the pressure is not that much higher. But what to do if the pressure exerted by the fish is way too much?
Managing a fish too powerful for the rod. Fight low to add pressure. Fish (Amazon redtail catfish) was landed with a lot of effort and control.
This happened on one of my sailfish trips where the jig on a medium action rod used for jigging smaller fish was taken by a sailfish. There are two issues here. One, the tackle is too light to handle the fastest swimmer in our seas. Two, I do not want the line to snap and then wrap around the fish; killing it later as it tries to free itself by fighting with the line until it dies of exhaustion.
Well, the fight ensued and I was fighting at the fishing tackle’s limits. Every time I felt the pressure going past the line’s and the rod’s limit I will ease back on the pressure. The boatmen had to follow the fish every now and then since I only had about a hundred odd metres of line, with most of it out in the water. Getting too close to a green (not tired out enough) sailfish is dangerous. To cut a long story short, the sailfish was landed and released, and no tackle was broken.
The fastest fish in our waters.
The rod became softer (action wise) or at least that is what I felt. The reel was really hot (drag). Lucky the drag did not jam up (also thanks to my friend who kept pouring water when I asked for it). But the good thing is that the fish lived. During the fight a lot of attention was placed on the rod and reel to ensure that I did not push them past their limits. Most of the fight took place at the butt section of the rod by fighting the fish lower or at about 45 degrees to it.
A sailfish that was caught and released on one of my trips. When fighting such a beast; efficiency will certainly help a lot especially with the conservation of energy during the fight.
I hope from this article you pick up a few tips on how to fight fishes more efficiently if you choose too. Do stay tuned for part 2 in the next issue of The Angler where we take a look at how to use your fishing lines and your reel when fighting the fish. Meanwhile stay safe, stay healthy, and happy fishing.