One day, it happens.
You set the hook, you feel snagged on something really heavy, but, then, the heaviness moves. You then realize: “This is it–The Big One is on.”
I get the same feeling everytime I hook a big fish: excitement and fear. When I first hooked what ended up being a 21″ holdover brown, I did my best to be calm and focus on landing the fish.
I cannot describe the utter joy and relief I felt when I was able to net the trout. It was absolutely huge. The knots held. The tippet didn’t break. My 3 wt. was able to handle everything. The trout was caught on a fly I had tied.
A great feeling.
I have a particular way of landing big fish (when fishing the Swift with its gentle current, I do this method here and loosen the drag; when fishing a river with strong current, I tighten the reel’s drag, so that current isn’t pulling off so much line). Regardless of the current, I try to keep the rod parallel to the water, and I’m pulling the fish to the side vs. pulling it up. Sometimes, the rod tip is in the water.
A key technique is to use the rod’s leverage and to break a fish mentally before it is physically depleted (more below). I use fluorocarbon tippet, which is super-strong. My 3 wt. rod can land a big fish, without any trouble. And, I can land 15″ trout on my 1 wt. pretty quickly, too.
I’m aggressively playing fish these days, as part of an experiment to push my fly rod and tippet to the max. I’m finding the hardware can handle much more pressure than I had thought. I’ve yet to have 6x tippet break in the middle of playing a good-sized fish in fast current.
A very helpful technique is to use the rod’s butt and to visualize that you’re “pulling the trout’s tail,” as mentioned in the video below from Orvis. This “pulling” breaks the fish’s will to fight. It exerts max pressure per second during a fight with a fish. The trout will then give up.
The video is super-helpful, IMO. The part about landing big fish starts at 2:05 in the video.
I love these Orvis videos.