When we’re teaching others to fish (especially kids), we spend plenty of time going over how to make the cast, how to pick a lure or bait, what to look for in terms of where to cast, and all that. But we often forget to “practice” what it feels like to fight a fish. When they actually have a fish on, their eyes usually get this glazed look of “now what?” desperation (along with the obvious positive excitement of having hooked a fish).
I like to take time before I tie any hooks or lures to the line to “play fish” and give them a little feeling of what successful fishing feels like. They keep the rod in their hands, and I grab the end of the line then go over some basics:
What does a take feel like? Well, it can feel any number of ways, but if you feel your line go taut like this (demonstrate) set the hook! How hard should I set the hook? I show them that too by having them lift the rod tip high, or jerk it to the side (depending on the type of fishing we’re doing).
Maintain the arc. The most important thing people of any age can learn about fighting fish is to maintain pressure. That’s a visual thing that’s easier seen than explained. Grab the line and bend it for them (like a fish), then explain that the rod should remain bent (in the shape of a rainbow). Any more than that, and the fish might break your line. Any less than that (when the rod has no bend) and the fish can spit your hook. Kids especially understand when you show them what the arc looks like and say, “make sure your rod looks like this when you have a fish on.” It’s simple.
From there, you can get into a little of steering fish during the fight. Fish goes left (you pull left) angler pulls right, and so on.
Granted, you don’t want to overcomplicate things. But by taking just a little time to simulate a fight, and going over the basics in a visual way can help build confidence and understanding out of the gate. And that can lead to a higher success ratio when it comes to hooking and landing fish, which is good for the newbie angler, as well as the fish themselves.
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and an editor-at-large for Field & Stream.