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Fighting Big Pelagics on Kayaks- Part Two

Fighting Big Pelagics on Kayaks- Part Two

The Fight

After part one, hopefully you've managed to get your fish hooked and your other line out of the way!

Now comes your chance to relax a bit, take it easy and enjoy the fight. For any clean fighting fish like marlin, mackerel, mahi-mahi or wahoo, or other pelagics in areas without any structure worth worrying about, this means using a fairly light drag and letting the fish tow you around a bit before coming up over the top of them, then pulling them up vertically for a little while before they’re beside your yak.

A couple of these fish (marlin and dollies namely) are also prone to jumping when hooked which can make life a bit difficult not only from an 'ahhhhh there's a big fast scary fish with a big pointy sharp thing on it's face jumping in close proximity to me ahhhhhhh' perspective, but also because they can throw the hooks far more easily whilst in mid air. Try to keep your rod tip low to discourage this and keep the pressure on as best as you can if they do decide to go flying.  

Tommie Strydom hoooooked up!


A couple of things to have in mind at all times with these clean fighting fish fish are to let them run when they want to (upping the drag is more likely to bust you off than stop them in their tracks or do anything productive) and to not lift your rod at too high an angle– especially in the later stages of the fight or if it’s a high carbon blank– as this doesn’t give you any extra power and can result in some rather impressive and expensive breakages.

Take your time here— if a fight lasts for an hour and a half, it is what it is! There’s little use in putting a heap of pressure on the fish and straining yourself and your tackle, so staying calm and consistent is usually the best way to deal with a long fight against a big fish.

 Getting towed along is all part of the fun!


On the other hand, probably one of the most distinctive pelagic fish to fight are the various species of tuna, which tend to have a fairly quick (not blistering, but powerful) initial run before getting straight down to business by doing circles underneath your kayak making it a very, very, very vertical fight. They also can be quite difficult to budge once they start this circling and don’t tire quickly so the ‘let the fish run’ approach is often less suitable here as keeping pressure on these sharp angles for extended periods of time can put a lot of strain on your back, knots and terminal tackle and leaves the fish very vulnerable to sharkings in some areas.

Half a tuna < a whole tuna. Unless the whole tuna is a mack tuna. Yuck.


There are, fortunately, a couple of solutions to this. If you’re using heavy gear (I would say 30lb mainline and 40-50lb leader are a minimum if targeting longtails with this approach), this is one time where bumping up your drag a bit and just pulling hard can actually pay off as this can break the fish’s circling and turn their head towards you which gets them up to the surface in no time. It's really, really, really important here to watch your rod angles and make sure that you don't lift too high. If using lighter gear though, often the best option (using a fairly light drag) is to put your rod in the holder and start paddling away from the fish. This helps to plane the fish up to the surface by pulling from a shallower angle and is a really handy technique if you’re stuck in a bit of a stalemate.

That being said, they will tire eventually if you do take the softer approach so if you genuinely think that it's the best course of action for the gear you're using and the location in which you're fishing then feel free to fight them as you would other fish. It just takes a really long time! 


 One of the finest moments in kayak fishing ever caught on camera, courtesy of Chris Cooper, a highsticked graphite rod and a sizeable longtail tuna. Chris assures me that this has never happened again.


The other main kind of big fish fight is the most brutal and will usually happen when you hook a solid kingfish, cobe or some other dirty fighting reef-dweller in close to hard structure. If chasing these fish in rough areas you will need heavy gear and your wits about you as the name of the game really is putting the brakes on. Try and get on top of them, crank up the drag as much as you dare and just do your best to stop them from getting back down to the bottom and hope for the best! Sometimes it’s possible to coax fish up gently with light gear in these areas, but expect a few reefings and bust offs before landing any if trying this.

Also worth noting is that while in the middle of fighting any fish, you should be planning ahead for how you will land it based on what you think it is and what kind of size it feels like. If your fish is going for any nice long runs and you get a chance to breathe, take that opportunity to open up your hatch and clear any tackle, rods or bait out of the way so that your fish will slide in unrestricted. That being said, if conditions are rough and you feel unsteady at any point it can be worth closing your hatch after it's clear until you land the fish just in case you flip, but more on preventing that in part 3. Get your gaff in an easy-to-reach spot such as straight in the middle of the hatch or in a rod holder if you have one free and this will save time, slack lines and lost fish when whatever you've hooked does eventually hit the surface next to you.


Try and aim to be in a position like this— well balanced with your paddle in the holder and gaff at the ready. That's about as high as a rod should be lifted too.


In short though, for most fishy fights– even really big ones– on paddle-powered things, take a page from the Hitchiker's Guide and DON'T PANIC. Knowing where your towel is may help too. 

Come back next week for another thingo on how to put them in your hatch! 


Owen Gray

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