- - Pull harder than you think - The biggest problem I've found with people fighting trout over 20-22" is as soon as they see how big the fish is, they start to let pressure up on the fish and don't fight it aggressively because they're scared to break it off. Big trout are really strong fish usually, and if you're not going to fight them hard you might as well just break them off. It's amazing how hard you can pull on light tippet, and we've all landed a lot of big fish on 5x and even 6x tippet. The biggest rainbow I've ever caught was on 6x, and I landed it in a couple minutes at most. I cringe when I hear people say they fought a 21" trout for 15 minutes, because the fish probably didn't make it. When you hook a big fish, let them get the first run out of them and then put the wood to 'em. You still have to let them run, but if they give you an inch, you have to take it. Modern tippet materials are incredibly strong for the diameter, and some of the best 6x tippets are rated up to 4 pound test nowadays. You'll land the fish faster, and they'll be in better shape when you let them go. Because you're keeping good tension on the line, you also have less of a chance of the fish throwing the hook.
- - Keep your cool - Quite often when we're fishing for big fish, we see them before we hook them. I've had a lot of people get a little too buck on their hooksets because they're so excited, but that's another issue in itself. Once you have the fish hooked, calm down. I't s just a fish. Is it a really big fish, or possibly the biggest one you've ever caught? Possibly, but for the time being, just think of it as another fish and fight it like it is. If you get all squirrelly and western on it, you're going to break the fish off or pull the hook. The worst thing you can do is get too excited - calm is good. There's lots of time to be excited after you get the fish in the net!
- - Rod in the water - This seems a bit odd to most people and I've had clients look at me like I'm an alien when I tell them to do it, but it flat out works. I have no idea why or how, but I've stopped a lot of big trout in their tracks with this trick. Hans showed it to me a number of years ago. If you get a fish that is running into a bad spot and can't seem to stop it, put your rod in the water. Like several feet under water if you can. I've flipped over 26" fish with this trick several times. I don't know if it's the change of the angle or change in the direction of the pressure, but it flips them end over end. You can seriously put the rod in the water and pull pretty heavily, and the fish will flip 180 degrees and start coming back towards you and you can just keep your rod in the water and keep reeling until they finally get the idea and start pulling away from you. If the fish is going towards a bad spot like a snag or over a bouldery riffle, try putting your rod in the water - it's saved me a number of times!
We've all lost big fish for one reason or another. I've done it a lot, and I've seen clients do it a lot. The first sight of a big fish that's hooked to the end of your fly line can be a rattling moment for many people, and it ultimately ends up in the loss of many big trout. I've done it plenty of times. Sometimes there's forces out of your control and things you can't control that result in losing the fish, but oftentimes you can prevent it. Here's a few tips that we've found to aid in actually getting the fish of your year into the net!