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Big Fish on Light Tackle: Lessons Learned

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On a recent fishing trip, all the reds were pushed up next to the bank and in the marsh grass. All that was needed to locate the fish was a watchful eye for those dorsal fins protruding the surface of the water. However, on one occasion I received a surprise. I sight cast what I thought was an upper slot redfish but ended up hooking into an over 30lb black drum. I say over 30 because all I know is he bottomed out my 30lb model of Lucid Fish Grips. When I set the hook, it was like I set the hook on a log. The fish started off like a slow moving freight train and threw a wake like a small boat. I knew at that moment I was about to be tested as an angler and more so my tackle. You see I was using the lightest setup I have. I was using a super sensitive Duce Rod with a Shimano Stradic 2500. If that wasn’t concern enough, I hooked him with a Vortex Shad mounted on a very small 1/8 Golden Eye Jighead. When the drum would make his runs, he peeled drag as if my reel was free spooling. There was no horsing this fish and the only way to recover line was to pedal my Mirage drive closer to him when he slowed down. I did have a brief thought cross my mind to cut my line, as I was worried about snapping my very expensive rod. I decided I did not want to miss the opportunity to land the monster, so I tossed that idea as soon as it entered. I figured there were three options: he would snap my line, straighten the hook, or he would end up in my kayak. My plan was simply to persevere longer than him until he had no fight left. Well, after a very long battle and a few situations that can only be described as a cluster… I prevailed and he ended up in the kayak!

I thought I would share some lessons learned from this experience and maybe it will help someone else.

Be Patient And Don’t Get Anxious
We as anglers get excited, especially when we hook a nice one. Sometimes this excitement can cause us to make decisions that may ultimately result in losing what we are so anxious about getting in the boat. I remember multiple times during the fight that I wondered if the beast would ever get tired. I thought about trying to horse him in and cranking down on my drag even more aggressively. This probably would have had bad results. In the end, it was best to be patient.

The Drag Is Your Friend
Knowing how to work your drag is a bit of an art form, especially with large species. If it’s too loose, you may get spooled. If it’s too tight, you may snap your line. When I hooked the drum, as I mentioned earlier, he was like a slow moving freight train and just pulled line nonchalantly. However when he made his runs, it was nothing for him to put 50 yards of distance between us in a matter of seconds. Again, I tried to be patient and didn’t crank down on the drag to early, so as to keep him from popping my line. As time went on, I would periodically tighten the drag as he began to wear out. To sum it up, I wanted to put pressure on him and increase it but not too much. This is something you have to learn to feel and it is important to know your tackle.

The Kayak Is A Form Of Drag
We as kayak anglers have the advantage that our kayak becomes a drag mechanism of sorts. Everyone always takes great pride in “sleigh” rides. It is important to use it to our advantage. If you are anchored, it is probably best to let it off. In this way the fish will pull you, which will tire him out, will keep some tension off your line, and assist in line recovery. With that said, I always attempt to keep the bow of the kayak facing the fish if at all possible. Obviously it is easier to keep that forward momentum if you achieve this. I was not anchored when I hooked that beast but I did have another issue come up, which brings me to my next point.

Be Ready For The Unexpected
During the fight, he made a circle around the kayak and then took off running straight in front of me. I noticed my kayak wasn’t moving. This concerned me because as I said, pedaling toward him was one way I was able to recover line. I attempted to pedal but the kayak still didn’t move. It was then I started to look around to find out what was going on. Low and behold my rudder had hung on a float from a crab trap. Panic… now calm down… lift and stow the rudder. Luckily it released and I was back in the action. Now for you Hobie users, the Mirage drive was a huge advantage. As I have said, too many times, it was THE way in which I was able to recover line after he would make his runs but I also learned they can get you in a bind if you aren’t paying attention. I was in shallow water and the fish made a run under the kayak. The flippers were straight down… you can probably see the problem. Yep, my line was briefly hung up on the drive. Again there was a moment of panic but I then quickly stowed them against the bottom hull. Yes, I saved the day!

Handling Large Fish
With some smart angling and a little luck, you now have the fish next to the kayak… now what? The problems don’t stop here. Whatever way in which you plan to bring him in the kayak, it is important to remember that pulling in a heavy fish on the side of the kayak equals uneven weight distribution. Any kayaker knows this is a receipt for ending up in the water with the fish. When I was bringing in that beast over the side I quickly had a flash back to an offshore trip I did a couple of years ago and one of two times I have fallen out of a kayak. Yes I admit it! I had a soft cooler stuffed with two large king mackerel that would no longer fit in the front hatch. I then, not so gracefully, turned with the bag to put it in the rear tankwell. Needless to say, I went too far off to the side of the kayak with the soft cooler, which resulted in me taking a swim. I managed to hold onto the bag of bleeding fish but rather quickly made re-entry as the sound of the Jaws theme song began to play in my head. Luckily, with this huge drum I did not have any issue because of my previous unfortunate experience. It is important to remember you may have to lean to the opposite side from that which you are pulling the fish. Either way, you will have to be cautious of the unequal weight distribution.

Well, there you have it! These are some lessons I have learned from unfortunate or near unfortunate experiences. Hopefully there is something others can take from it so they can avoid the learning curve. The next time you set that hook, be ready. You never know when it might be a beast! 

If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch the video of the action, here it is! Well, a brief part of it. My GoPro battery died about 6 minutes into the fight. If you like the video, give it a thumbs up and feel free to share. Please remember to hit that subscribe button too! Thanks…

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Shane has been kayak fishing since 2009 and is passionate about it. Inshore saltwater kayak fishing is his addiction of choice, however, he enjoys the occasional offshore and freshwater trip as well. He mainly fishes the inshore lakes, bayous, and marshes of Southwest Louisiana but does venture into other territories. Shane is a member of the Hobie Fishing Team and holds Pro Staff positions with YakAngler, Lucid Fishing, and Ship To Shore Co. He was also the founding president of the Lake Charles Kayak Fishing Club. "My simple goal for this blog is to promote kayak fishing as it is something I love. I will post articles, reviews, videos, photos, and basically all things kayak fishing." ~Shane [Shane Coleman] (