The sun crests the horizon and the nine rod spread dances your favorite lures down the face of the wakes. Birds circle above, slicks float on the surface and the fish-finder is lit up. Out of nowhere the two flat lines get crushed… “Fish on!” the crew yells. You strap on the gimbal and get settled into a fight with a volkswagon of a tuna trying to pull you over.
Slowly you gain line, arms burning, legs aching. The fish makes another run as you pray it stops. Only 10 minutes into the fight you want to give up. Two minutes later, it seems like an eternity, your knees start shaking. Your buddy fighting the other tuna (who is 150lbs sopping wet) has his to the boat already. The wireman takes the leader. Two gaffs are sunk, and 200 lbs of bigeye rolls over the gunnel. High fives all over as you realize half the spool is still empty. Finally, in a state of exhaustion, you give up and pass the rod off. How did the other guy land that fish so quickly? Why didn’t his muscles turn to jello?
This article will show you the proper techniques in order to stand up and fight the big boys on the edge.
The first step to successfully fighting big tuna and marlin stand up is to start in the off season. Winter leaves the offshore angler preparing gear and daydreaming for that first day in the canyon. The snow and cold weather also makes most of us lazy, and we slack off on exercise. Programs such as P90X and the Insanity workout are the best way to get into shape fast. Strength, however, is not the key to successfully fighting big fish – endurance and technique are.
You can’t reasonably expect to hold onto a stick with a big fish pulling upwards of 40lbs of drag for any length of time without having the proper technique. The first step is to purchase a comfortable gimble belt. Popular are the Braid tuna belt and the Alutecnos belt. You want the belt to lie across your thighs, not up along the belt line. The reel should be at the level of your waist when held at an arm’s length away. Make sure the belt is set to your waist size prior to hooking up. There’s nothing worse than having to tinker with the belt loops while line is disappearing and adrenaline is pumping.
Harnesses come in as variety of styles and shapes. Most popular on our boat is the Braid Kidney harness. Again, you want the kidney harness to be centered at your waist line. The reel straps should be perpendicular to your hips when the rod is at a 30 degree angle when in the gimble, without your legs bent.
Now comes the important part. The strongest muscles you can use for fighting big fish are your legs. Arm muscles weaken quickly, and our back muscles are not designed to pull; they are posture muscles. Repetitive motions are not what posture muscles are designed for. In order to raise the rod, use your body weight; it is just a matter of squatting by bending your knees (like you are going to sit in a chair). It is very important to keep your back straight as you bend your knees, like sitting against a wall. By keeping the abdominal muscles tense, every body structure above the waist will be in good position.
After you squat and the rod is raised, slowly stand up by straightening your knees, and reel as the rod tip lowers. In rough seas you may have to brace your knees against the gunnel. You’ll appreciate gunnel padding in this situation.
So what do you do with your arms? If you are right handed (lefties will do a mirror image) -- your right hand cranks the handle and your left hand serves several functions.
The first function is safety. Rest your left hand on top of the reel in case the hook pulls or line breaks. This will prevent the rod from hitting you between the eyes.
Second, your left hand guides the line on the reel to prevent it from bunching up in the center. If the fish is close and takes off when it sees the boat, the line piled in the center can come off unevenly and dig into itself.
Third, your left hand can add additional drag by cupping the reel. Always keep your fingers in front of the reel’s crossbar. If they are behind the crossbar your fingers can get caught between the spool and frame if line is being pulled off.
Also important to remember, are a few other techniques to prevent injury. When the leaderman has grabbed a hold, back off the drag a bit in case the leaderman has to let go. This prevents a sudden strain on the gear and pulled hooks. Also remember to pay attention. Although this sounds obvious, remember that a fish is caught only when it’s in the cooler. While strapped into a rod, don’t lean forward over the gunnel to check out the action. Stay ready in the fighting stance until the fish hits the deck.
Always wear some sort of foot protection. Fiberglass decks get very slippery. Wear comfortable clothing and stay hydrated.
If you choose not to use a harness, your left arm becomes the lever. Just keep your elbow straight, but not locked. Still use your legs to raise and lower the rod. Do not use your left arm since your biceps won’t last very long.
With the popularity of jigging and popping with spinning rods increasing along the east coast, anglers are realizing that this is a very fun and effective technique to catch tuna. Just the same with conventional gear, keep your right arm straight and crank with the left. Again use your legs and keep your back straight. Without a harness it is imperative to have perfect form in order to prevent tiring easily.
With proper form and a little bit of luck, you too can land the fish of a lifetime.
Dr. John Gavencak is a musculoskeletal specialist practicing in Center Moriches, NY. When not in the office he can be found chasing stripers on the rocks and tuna on the edge. Visit www.drjohngavencak.com for more info.