As a guide, I see many fishing bad habits that ultimately lead to anglers landing fewer fish. One of the most common fishing flaws is forgetting to maintain constant tension when fighting a fish. This holds especially true for soft-mouthed fish like speckled trout. Many a trophy trout has been lost when the principle of maintaining constant tension is not used.
Failure to maintain constant tension usually happens when an angler introduces slack in the line.
Fly anglers are some of the worst offenders when they attempt to put a fish “on the reel” after hooking up. While an angler winds up extra fly line on the deck of the boat, the fish will often swim at them and tension is lost resulting in the hook falling out of the fish’s mouth. I’m of the opinion that fly anglers should never attempt to wind up excess line while a fish is on the hook. I tell my anglers that if a fish wants to get on the reel, it will get there on its own. Fighting a fish with the fly reel’s drag is ideal if a large fish “puts itself on the reel” by making a long run; otherwise, use hand stripping to land a fish that hasn’t put itself on the reel to ensure you are maintaining constant tension. Remember that when hand stripping to retrieve line, you must use your fingers as a drag. If a fish makes a hard run, you need to let some line slip through your fingers.
Among light tackle anglers, the most common way of introducing slack is pumping the rod up and down too quickly while fighting a fish. An angler will raise their rod and lower it faster than they are winding up line. This period of slack in the line almost guarantees a premature release of the fish on the other end. If an angler raises their rod and then lowers it, they must maintain constant tension during the process.
Maintaining constant tension also equates to maintaining the same amount of pressure on a fish at all times. Pulling hard against a fish that makes a sudden run will result in a quick increase in line tension. This often leads to broken line; or in the case of speckled trout, a pulled hook from their soft mouth. I like to think of my arms as shock absorbers. When a fish quickly runs at me, I raise to rod to maintain constant tension. When a fish runs from me, I lower the rod to lessen the shock of increased line tension.
Remember that the maintaining a bent rod provides great shock absorption. Keeping your rod constantly pointed directly at the fish you are fighting will not take advantage of the shock absorbing properties of the rod and can lead to uneven tension and lost fish. Conversely, keeping a deep bend in the butt section of your rod and pulling in a direction opposite the fish is the quickest way to land that fish.
Have the principles of maintaining constant tension in mind the next time you’re hooked up with that gator speck. You’ll be able to bring that trophy safely in the net instead of the fish becoming another story of the one that go away!