Landing Salmon/Steelhead solo

CreekScrambler

Active Member
Hi All,

I've finally started hooking fish on a 13' 7wt, and this weekend I had my first encounter with a nice wild coho. Landing it was about what I expected. Close to shore, I'll generally wedge the handle of the rod on the bank, grab the blank at the ~50% mark, and get a hold of the sink tip/leader to draw the fish in for release. On this weekend's coho, I was perhaps 80' from shore in knee-deep water. The right answer seemed to be releasing a longish loop of line held by the cork to grab the sink tip once the fish was within 3-6' of me. The fish was still pretty hot but he managed to unhook himself with a bit of slack given. An attempt at tailing didn't seem to solve my problem in freeing a hand to unhook the fish.

My question is, how do you guys handle landing bigger game on your own when fishing longer, say >11.5', rods in the two-handed realm? I fish by myself a solid 95% of the time, and 98% is at hike-in locations up to a few miles round-trip. 9' rods are no big deal, never have been and I've landed/unhooked fish oversized for my 9' 5wt without issue.

Wrong answers to be excluded from consideration are not limited to rough handling of the fish resulting in exhaustion or injury to the quarry. If I'm C&R, I bring them in quickly. If I'm fishing for meat, I'll bring them in even faster for mo'betta table fare.

Looking forward to replies here! Search didn't give up anything super relevant and I haven't seen much discussion. I know some folks are running some nice gear and fishing for hard-to-come by species. Landing methods seem worthy of consideration, no?
 

Creatch'r

Unhinged Member
Pinch the running line against the cork, strip a few feet of line off your reel with the fish upstream of you if you can manage it, not really important if you are in slack water. When you get the fish close with the rod at a low angle and hopefully the fishes head up and on it’s side, start lifting the rod straight up and release the line at about 90° and let the rod drop behind you in one motion , this brings the now slack sink tip right to you, grab the leader and tail the fish. Takes practice to figure out the timing and how much slack you need but works perfectly well without needing to beach your fish with a long rod. Do this every time you land a bull trout or similar and it becomes second nature with the real thing on the end of your line. Be wary of overhead branches, and be wary of letting the sink tip wrap around your rod tip in case the fish wants to take off one last time. I’ve broken rods both ways.
 

GOTY

8x Puget Sound Steelhead Guide of the Year
It is important to note that this is naturally difficult regardless of method, and if you practice good fish handling and keep them in the water the entire time as you should, then you're going to lose fish when landing them solo. It's just part of the deal. Tailing fish is tough, especially small fish with skinny tails. Tailing large fish seems easier as you have more to grab onto.

The best way I've found is when you're about to seal the deal just pinch the line against the cork and pull off a few feet of line between your pinch and the reel, almost like holding a loop during the swing. Try to get the fish as relaxed as possible (head up, on its side, etc) and slightly upstream of you. Drop the loop and pull the rod back so you can grab the leader and then tail the fish. It is almost impossible to do this without introducing some slack into the line, so if you lose the fish it is what it is. Make sure you do this in water with some depth because if you lose the fish you want it to be able to swim back out instead of beaching itself and bashing it's head on the rocks. Your surroundings matter for this, and sometimes tailing a fish just isn't meant to be. It's better to have them shake off near you than it is to give them a gravel bath.

The way you are describing landing fish seems like a decent way to break a rod. So is the loop drop and grab leader method if you get tip wrap, but you should be able to control for that if you just pay attention.

Also, once you tail them, don't be one of those clowns that lifts the fish tail out of the water and drags them around. That's a great way to kill the fish. Get one hand on the tail and the other below the head. Letting the fish live upon release is more important than getting a small scratch on your rod/reel from dropping it to free up a hand.
 
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wetswinger

Active Member
I've also had problems landing large Coho on the shore with my 11ft. rod. I don't want to beach them if they're wild or wanting to release. I've been looking for a net with a long telescopic handle, if such a thing exist. Any recommendations?
 

CreekScrambler

Active Member
Thanks for taking the time, guys!

As far as minimizing handling, I'm generally happy with a nice look at the fish from maybe arm's length plus a bit. Watching them unhook themselves and swim off is a great sight once they're 'close enough'. Tailing doesn't have that big of a draw for me since I don't have a scorching social media profile to feed with sweet pics.

I agree that the grande two-handers are inherently ungainly. It's pretty easy to understand how this type of fishing evolved around the ghillie/guide/buddy system. Grenading equipment in the process of safely releasing fish is all I'm trying to avoid.

I will note that I managed to find a 'splainer video of a dude with a bamboo spey rod setting his rig down in his hat on the bank and following the rod to the leader to hand-line the fish in for release. The fish appeared to be similar to a large summer-run in size and vigor. My attempts at replicating that effort have been clunky and it seems like my gear is at risk. Friday's mid-river coho encounter made the loop-slip my only feasible choice at the time. I ended up leading the fish around by the leader for a moment until a bit of slack freed it.

Hooboy, a telescopic big-game net sounds spendy. If one was clever, a good net could be built similarly to a cable-tensioned wading staff. Or made from a modified staff.
 

Bobb3rdown

Member
Bring them into shallow gravel so the fish is forced onto its side. If you keep the line tight they will not flop around.. all you have to do is unhook them and let them swim off, rarely even need to touch them..

By shallow gravel, I mean shallow water over gravel...
I've noticed fish struggle less on their side. When I fish my 13ft centerpin rod I do just that. Get em into the shallows. Tail it and roll it on its side. Pop the hook and put it back on its belly and it scurries off.
 
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skyrise

CCA, Hatchery Wild Coexist
+1 for Rob’s suggestion. Getting fish to turn on their side is a big help. Tougher I think with silvers more than other fish since they like to do that twisty turning thing.
 

g_smolt

Recreational User
I don't like forcing them on their side, even in shallow water. I've seen far too many fish end up on the short-bus side of life by braining themselves as they desperately flop around in the shallows.
My technique is semi-similar to those described above by goatboy and creature, with a few twists...
1- I fish #20 tippet in most situations (if it ain't 20, it's #16), for the express purpose of being able to grab the tippet and control fish in deeper water, and
2- I don't slack off the line for the final grab.

When I get the fish close, I make sure I have a few feel of the head and all the tip/tippet out of the guides and I am holding a bit of slack Then I push the rod away from me (still holding the handle) in what I describe as "the iron cross"...much like the gymnastics manuever on the rings, it can occasionally make a fella's arm shake a bit. With the non-fishpole-holding hand, reach out until you are semi-close to the line, then "steer" the rod hand in such a way as to pull the fish closer yet not go into the 180°+ territory that makes rod dealers cringe. When you get ahold of the tippet or tip, just tilt the rod back into your fish hand to create slack and Bob's yer uncle. When done correctly it's super easy, and as a bonus you can get friends to take yer pic when you go full-superhero landing your 3rd steelhead from the run.

steelie Mike D's pic of me rockin' the iron cross landing technique in a good 16" of water...a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. 53179_10150094065620928_8106598_o.jpg
 

Cruik

WFF Supporter
I hate playing the awkward dance for 5 minutes with a wild fish so bad I roll and velcro a folding triangle net to the sidestraps of my backpack. Also, I have surprisingly small hands. Good for making fish look big, bad for tailing fish that are actually big.
 

Rob Allen

Active Member
I don't like forcing them on their side, even in shallow water. I've seen far too many fish end up on the short-bus side of life by braining themselves as they desperately flop around in the shallows.
My technique is semi-similar to those described above by goatboy and creature, with a few twists...
1- I fish #20 tippet in most situations (if it ain't 20, it's #16), for the express purpose of being able to grab the tippet and control fish in deeper water, and
2- I don't slack off the line for the final grab.

When I get the fish close, I make sure I have a few feel of the head and all the tip/tippet out of the guides and I am holding a bit of slack Then I push the rod away from me (still holding the handle) in what I describe as "the iron cross"...much like the gymnastics manuever on the rings, it can occasionally make a fella's arm shake a bit. With the non-fishpole-holding hand, reach out until you are semi-close to the line, then "steer" the rod hand in such a way as to pull the fish closer yet not go into the 180°+ territory that makes rod dealers cringe. When you get ahold of the tippet or tip, just tilt the rod back into your fish hand to create slack and Bob's yer uncle. When done correctly it's super easy, and as a bonus you can get friends to take yer pic when you go full-superhero landing your 3rd steelhead from the run.

steelie Mike D's pic of me rockin' the iron cross landing technique in a good 16" of water...a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. View attachment 264259



If you keep tension on the line they will not flop, in 40 years of steelhead fishing I have seen zero steelhead " end up on the short bus"
 

Yadwick

Active Member
what i do that i find usually successful:

play fish to getting it to come up sideways in slack water (even if just for a moment)

on the next run or whatever when you get it in close pull slack off the reel while keeping the line pinched and angled overhead behind you to enable you to grab the leader

while holding leader with the fish sideways release rod in hopefully safe way, grab tail

keep fish sidways, let them know you mean no harm and are here to release them vocally

pop out barbless hook, enjoy the magnificent beast before you, then watch swim away

most important part would to enjoy a beer immediatly afterward, rinse repeat.
 

CreekScrambler

Active Member
Really appreciate the experiences shared here. g-smolt's method appears to be a scaled-up version of the 9-footer technique with some concessions made for handling bigger game. The polygon between the rod tip, the leader, and the lander's arms has to close down just right.

I'm definitely onboard with stout tippet/leaders and typically use 15# when I'm fishing that rod. Having a cooperative fish goes a long ways from the sounds of it. I'll have to gather some more interactions before I give fish enough run time to come in peacefully and not exhausted. When this one started peeling line, I considered the possibility that it was an early steelhead (my first) and didn't want to risk losing it.
 

herkileez

WFF Supporter
Bring them into shallow gravel so the fish is forced onto its side. If you keep the line tight they will not flop around.. all you have to do is unhook them and let them swim off, rarely even need to touch them..

By shallow gravel, I mean shallow water over gravel...
Same here...I'm also careful to not have the rod pointing the wrong way JIC they decide to make another run.
 

Clarkman

Huge Fly Guy
WFF Supporter
As much as I hate carrying my net (happens to be a relatively cheap Frabill knotless, rubber coated), every time I catch a steelhead, I'm glad for the net. A quick net job calms them down surprisingly quickly...much quicker than any time I've landed them solo sans net. Maybe because I don't have to play them as long, I dunno...










whoops, just noticed this was the Spay Clave ;)

I don't have a spay rod any more so I don't know why I posted in here...

carry on....
 

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