Often, when watching some of the fine fishing shows on cable television, most of which I enjoy immensely, I watch in total dismay, when many of these “avid” professional anglers break off fish on a regular basis. I don’t get it!

First let me say, having been raised on the waters of South Florida and the Bahamas for over 60 years, my fishing experiences are numerous and span across most fishing venues in those locales. I have caught hundreds of species, and hundreds of thousands of fish in my career as an angler. My experience includes small fresh water pan fish, bass, catfish etc, on cane poles, spinning rods, fly rods, and bait casting rods. I have fished back country, bay flats, piers, jetties, and off shore for big game fish. When I was professional tournament sport fishing we caught big game fish to 600 blue marlin and giant blue fin tunas on 130 lb. curved butt tuna sticks, which we tied to the fighting chairs to keep them in the boat.

My fishing endeavors include years of light tackle fishing, as well as the big game offshore tournament fishing circuits as a professional crewman, both mate and captain. My professional career began at 11 years of age, as a mate on a local head boats, with a rail of up to 104 people per trip, with sometimes two and three trips a day. Enough about me!

I guess my “Pet Peeve” comes from many years of fishing, mating on boats, and educating others how to fish and many levels.

“In my book”- there is usually no excuse for breaking a fish off, unless you are running totally out of line, or the fish is headed towards snags, or other obstructions that will allow him to break you off. Otherwise, “shame on you”

Today, unlike years gone by, we have sophisticated drag systems on reels. These drags include preset strike drags, override drags, and automatic free spools with preset tension. We have lever drags, star drags, and dial up drags. All of which are designed to allow line to spool off the reel when the fish pulls enough to override the amount of drag set on the reel.

Provided the drags are set properly, prior to putting out your baits, there is seldom a reason to ever touch the drag, thumb the spool, or to manually increase the drag. My recommendation; the drags on your reels are there for a purpose. Leave your thumb, your fingers, or hands off the spool. Don’t tighten the drag in the midst of a fight!

Often, beginners become afraid when they see line screaming off a reel. Their first instinct is to tighten the drag, or thumb the spool to try to stop the fish from running. That will break them off almost every time.

Sometimes even the pros think that they can gauge the pull at the hook, by spooling the reel with their hands, fingers or thumb. That’s a mistake and they too break off fish, just watch it on TV.

As a rule of “thumb”, (pardon the pun) a set strike drag should preset at around 30% – 33% of the lb. test breaking strength of the fishing line being used. An example: if you are using 50lb. test line, you can scale a drag at 15lbs. to 18lbs. of drag. If your reel has an override, that drag is used to put more pressure on the fish, usually when he gets tired and closer to the boat. That drag can be as much as 65% to even 70% of the lb. test of the line, depending on the species of fish and their ability to make hot runs after a long battle.

In tournament fishing, we use scales to determine the amount of pull it takes to pull line off the tip of the rod at preset positions. That pull needs to be steady and smooth. A jerking drag is a sign of a drag that needs work.

You must also remember, that all the line a fish pulls off the reel, and then drags through the water behind him, at what ever speed he swims, is increasing the pull at the hook all the time. A set drag at 15lbs of pull off the tip of the rod may increase to 20lbs. or even 30lbs. with a fast running fish and 150 or 200 yards of line being pulled through the water.

I have seen smoker king fish break 12lb. mono on their first run, with our Penn international reel in total free spool.

We estimated a giant blue fin, screaming off 600 yards of line at 40 knots, pulling 45 lbs. of strike drag and all that line through the water, would have at least 100 lbs. of pull or more at the hook.

I once caught a 34lb. Barracuda in the Bahamas on light tackle spinning gear. I only had four wraps of lie left on the reel, when I did “finally” thumb the spool and stopped him. There was less that a foot of line left on the reel.

My counsel to most Anglers, learn to use the drag systems on your reels properly. They are there to let more line go out under pre determined tensions, and that prevents the fish from breaking the line. As long as you have line on your reel, very seldom does the drag need your outside intervention. Just hold your rod upright, and turn the handle when able. Let the fish fight the rod, and let him drag that line through the water. That’s what tires him out so you can eventually catch him!

Maybe, it’s just my pet peeve, but I can honestly say, I rarely break off a fish.

Tight lines and good fishing!

Capt. Mickey Oliphant



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