One thing I hope those of you that enjoy this website and/or have been on a guided trip with me have noticed, is that the big ones usually don't get away. I'm really proud of our track record when it comes to not only hooking, but landing big fish. Being fortunate enough to boat a 50"+ musky last week prompted me to write this. My buddy Jarrod's Memorial Day Derby Grand Prize Winner earlier this year was another great example of the "big one NOT getting away."
Losing fish hurts. Yes, it does generate some "what if" memories and lots of second guessing, but it hurts. I can still remember some select big ones that got away in my past. I'm sure many of you have some big fish that got away that continue to haunt you.
You can markedly increase your odds of landing the fish of a lifetime by taking a few simple steps and adopting a few philosophies.
The most important general guideline I can give is to match your tackle to the fish your are chasing. Use the proper tackle. Don't go pike fishing with 8lb test and a light spinning rod. I try to use as heavy a line as I can get away with, without sacrificing hits. If I get fewer bites, I downsize. If I find myself breaking off fish, I up the pound test. If you're fishing around heavy cover, like weeds or brush, you'll need to have a heavier rod as well. Or if you're targeting big fish. Keep in mind, that the longer you fight a fish, the better the chances of losing it. And if you want to release big fish, you're also wearing them out and decreasing their chances of survival.
Using braided lines and fused lines (like Berkley Fireline) is a great way to up the strength of your line without upping the line's diameter.
No matter what line you use, change your line frequently and use good quality stuff. Braid is expensive and doesn't need to be changed out as often as mono. I have some braid/fusion setups that I've used for years that are still good. Use good quality hooks and split rings and check them. Replace rusty hooks and split rings. Re-tie frequently.
Checking your line and knots/connections is super important. I check, double-check and then re-check after every single fish. I try to break the line. Most people I see, think that running their fingers down the line does the same thing. It doesn't. You need to yank on the knots and make sure they don't fail. A giant fish doesn't feel your line, it twists, yanks and turns, and you need to do the same to make sure the line will hold up. Don't fool yourself into thinking you have a good connection just so you won't have to re-tie. Laziness is a key culprit when big fish get away. Check your tackle the night before you go fishing, so you won't feel pressured to do it on the water, wasting valuable fishing time.
I enjoy catching a lot of different types of fish, and one thing I like to do for both myself and my clients is to prepare for toothy predators when I'm in waters that have them. If I'm in waters frequented by pike and muskies, I will use about 5 to 7 inches of TyGer Wire in between the lure and mainline. I don't generally do this if I'm working soft plastics for bass or night fishing for walleyes, but when working stickbaits for smallmouths (like around points on Owasco Lake in the fall) and certainly for pike/muskies, I'll always use the TyGer Wire. The 15lb TyGer Wire is good for most situations when bass fishing. I've caught walleyes, landlocked salmon, lake trout and plenty of bass with the TyGer setup. The difference is, when that big pike or musky hits, you won't lose it! Or your lure. When I'm pike or musky fishing, I go to the 30lb TyGer. The stuff isn't cheap, but well worth it.
By attaching a small, high-quality snap to the end of your TyGer Wire (I use a double-uni to attach the wire to my mainline) the action of my lure isn't compromised. Many anglers don't like to use a bulky wire leader on a stickbait; they claim that they don't get many bites. They are correct, but it's not that the fish are necessarily line-shy, it's the triggering characteristics of the lure that get diminished or compromised.
By taking these precautions, you won't do damage to toothy critters that would otherwise have bitten off your stickbait. And you won't lose expensive lures. Lastly, next time you hook that giant pike or musky, you'll have a way better chance of landing it!