One late July morning I found myself redfishing on the Mosquito Lagoon south of Ponce Inlet. A close friend of mine and I had fished the nearby grassflats which routinely produce nice sized trout and redfish. With the summer time weather pattern in full swing, we took advantage of the light winds and clear skies and decided to take my flats skiff outside the Inlet. Conditions were absolutely perfect; a slick calm surface and glass minnows being busted all over the place. As we motored up to a pod of baitfish that was being terrorized by a fairly large group of predators, I was able to catch a glimpse of two or three bonito breaking the surface.
Initially, I was overjoyed with the thought of hooking one of these speedsters. Armed only with a six-weight rod that served me well earlier while catching slot redfish, I cast my fly into the froth. Bonito can be fairly indiscriminate about what they eat. That being said, one had no problem inhaling my #2 chartreuse & white Clouser Minnow. I cleared the line and began to hear the drag in my little reel sing like it had never sung before.
I knew I had enough backing on the reel to successfully fight and land the fish, but my concerns grew as the fish began to sound straight underneath the boat. Like I said, I only had a six-weight rod. Needless to say, I was under-gunned for these fish and unable to put the pressure on the fish to end the fight in a reasonable amount of time. The fight with this bruiser fish lasted nearly forty minutes and every second thoughts of exploding graphite raced through my mind.
Perhaps you too have similar experiences with being under-gunned while on the water. It can be fun at times, and extremely scary at others.
Let's take the exact same scenario, and for a moment imagine that there were Bonito on the flats of the Mosquito Lagoon.
The Mosquito Lagoon has an average depth of three feet. Compare that to the twenty-foot plus depths just off the beaches around Ponce Inlet and you may begin to understand why that fight with the Bonito almost certainly would have ended a lot sooner if it occurred on the Mosquito Lagoon flats.
Quickly landing fish promotes a better chance of revival and survival for the fish, especially in the summer months when oxygen levels are depleted on the flats of Mosquito Lagoon. If I was to have any chance of landing the Bonito quickly in the ocean, I should have had a nine-weight or better rod. With a rod of that size, an enormous amount of pressure could have been exerted on the fish. Thus, getting him to the boat quicker and hoping for a good release.
However, if I was fighting that same Bonito in two feet of water and with the six-weight rod, the fight may have ended fairly quickly. Why, you ask? It's all about exerted pressure, and more importantly, the angle of pressure on the fish. I admit that a Bonito on a six-weight rod would be tough no matter where you hooked the bonito-flats or not. The point is shallow water anglers have a tremendous advantage when it comes to the amount of pressure they can exert on light tackle.
How many times have you seen someone fighting a fish while holding the rod straight up in the air? It may look great-the rod is doubled over, the angler is leaning back groaning and moaning. I bet that sounds familiar doesn't it? What the angler in this situation is doing is fighting the fish with the upper third of the fly rod. Fly rods are built in such a manner that a tremendous amount of pressure can be put on a fish, but not while using the upper third of the rod.
Try this. Get one of your friends, go out in the back yard and have him hold the fly rod while you hold the leader end. Let about 50 feet of fly line off the reel and tell your friend to hold the rod straight up as mentioned above. Have him put as much pressure as possible on the leader while holding the rod in a vertical fashion. Would you be surprised if he couldn't pull the leader from your hands? I bet he couldn't.
Now have your friend hold the rod to the side, and slightly downward and apply pressure. By doing this, the upper third of the rod isn't doing much work at all. However, the butt section of the fly rod and the reel itself are exerting most of the pressure. I would bet your friend could pull the leader from your hand in short order.
Let's apply this to the mythical Mosquito Lagoon bonito.
Even with my six-weight rod, the correct angle of pressure exerted on the fish would end the fight rather quickly. Specifically, I would want to apply sideward and downward force in exactly the opposite direction the fish was travelling. When the fish runs to the left, I would apply the correct angle of pressure to the right. This method is very important for tarpon fisherman when the fish is close to the boat. It is often in these stages of the fight with tarpon that someone says, "So near, yet so far!"
This technique is also an important tool when fighting big Mosquito Lagoon redfish in the summer months when the fish can stress quickly.
Its simple physics really. If the angler applies pressure on the fish in any direction other than exactly opposite the fish's path, that angler is not efficiently using the tools at his disposal. Unfortunately, the fight may drag on to the detriment of the fish. Your primary fish fighting ability comes not from brute strength, but from the rod and direction of pressure.
This technique is best suited for shallow water fishing situations. Deep ocean fishing may not afford the angler the opportunity to apply an opposite direction of pressure on sounding fish. Nevertheless, keep this in mind the next time you run across a Bontio on Mosquito Lagoon….
Capt. Scott MacCalla