I really like seeing how different anglers around the world play or fight "their" fish when they hook them - whatever they are using. Bait, fly or lure, it makes no difference to me - fishing is just fishing. But ever since I began to travel for my work and thus saw how different anglers would behave with their hooked fish, I have come to the conclusion that we tend to play our fish here in the UK somewhat on the "light side".
Granted, we do not really have lots of big powerful fish that are going to make us learn early on how to fight fish really hard, but on the other hand, I reckon lots of us could push our fishing gear a hell of a lot harder on some of the fish we hook (and sometimes lose). It is the nature of fishing though - we are not going to land everything we ever hook, but a lot of time I see anglers over here who simply do not know how far they can push their gear on a fish. This is in no way a criticism, merely an observation. Why do I want to fight my fish so hard ? Firstly because I do not want them doing me on a snag, and secondly, because I believe that a "green" fish can be released far more easily. A tired fish that has fought for ages take a lot of reviving, whereas a still very lively ("green") fish that has come in (relatively) quickly tends to swim off far stronger. And how about doing all you can to keep those hooks in ? Remember that I am always crushing the barbs on the treble hooks on my lures.
Check out how much a rod can bend for starters - look at the casting shot above, of my mate Graham whacking out a lure on a very powerful and fast action Tenryu Red Dragon Express. These are strong rods, but they will bend, indeed they are meant to !! How about putting a whole load of that bend (or pressure) onto a hooked fish ?
Now look at the photo above - this is an angler using a powerful carp rod on a bass that I reckon went around 12lbs. Nothing was wrong, he landed the (awesome) fish, but I would bet Mick thought he was really piling the pressure on the fish. The bass went back fine, but all I wanted to illustrate here was that a whole load more grief could have been given to the fish as it ran in the tide. The rod will bend a load more, and it will also easily cushion the light line against the lunges of the bass. OK, so it would be wise to slacken off a tightish drag when the fish gets in close, but rest assured that rods bend a whole lot more than we think they do. There were no snags we knew of that the bass could have run into, but what if there had been ?
Note how Pat is putting a lot of pressure on a nice bass that he hooked fairly close in - the rod (a Tenryu Rod Bar 270) is bending nicely, but Pat knows exactly what he is doing and is what I call going with the fish slightly as it tries to run. He is allowing the rod to come down from high up and provide extra cushioning to the hook hold. But the rod is still bent hard into the fish.
I am lucky enough to know and fish with some awesome anglers from all over the world. Some of the south west, Irish and Channel Island anglers I am lucky enough to call my friends for the most part do not know how much I respect what they do in fishing. A lot of these guys have caught more awesome fish than I am ever going to catch in a million years.
I still believe though that in general, the people who fight their fish the hardest are the South Africans (and I include Namibia in this). Yes, this has to be because they have lots of far larger fish than we are ever going to see over here, and they either learn to fight them hard or lose them all. I remember being completely stunned the first time I saw a good local angler fighting a big shark off the Skeleton Coast beaches. I could not believe how hard a fish could be played, and it was like a light bulb going off in my head. There was me thinking I was giving my shark a bucket load of hell, and I wasn't even close. The shark must have thought he had mere toothache when he picked up my bait !! But I began to learn........
I want to enjoy the playing of my fish, but ultimately I want to get them in. I remember filming a cod fishing programme up on the Bristol Channel a few days after a Namibia trip, and the first few unfortunate codling I hooked were water skiing almost the moment I struck into them !! Not ideal, but I want to get my fish up and away from snags. Losing fish when you are filming is not good news. Losing fish winds us all up, and it's always the true monsters that get away is it not ?
Check out the photo above - that is a South African friend of mine called John Crabb giving a pretty big catfish a load of stick on a very light spinning rod. Was he ever going to lose the fish because he was playing it too hard ? No. You should have seen this guy fighting a big ragged tooth shark off the beach at Kosi Bay - my jaw hit the floor !! John has had no choice but to learn how far he can push his gear on fish.
But all things being equal, I reckon we do pretty well over here. I would never say that one set of anglers are better than the others. This is not the case at all. Some guys have to really learn how to play fish on their drags because their fish run hard, whereas some have to develop techniques to drag fish out of horribly rough ground etc. It just depends on where you fish and what you are fishing for. Sometimes you have to protect a very light leader being used on shy fish (mullet anyone ?) But there is no doubt that a lot of us over here could push our tackle a lot harder and get more fish in.
The photo above is what I would call "horsing a fish" !! Not a very technical term I know, but it works for me. "Giving it the gears" is another expression. This is a fly fisherman pushing a powerful 12 weight fly rod to the max on a rampaging giant trevally (GT) that has nailed his fly. Play a fish like this too light and you would be there all day. "Our" bass are mighty fine fish that occupy a lot my time (and dreams), but we need a sense of perspective on them. It is often where you are fishing that provides more of a challenge in the fight than the actual power or weight of the fish - put a 6lb bass on a light spinning rod over clean ground with no tide and you'll love every second of it. Now put the same fish in amongst rough as hell terrain or in a rampaging tide, and you'll love it a whole lot more. Has the fish suddenly gained weight ? No, of course not, but the fish will naturally try to use the conditions to do you. That's fishing. We love it so much because it is never the same.