I’ve lost good sized trout and bigger fish including a 20# Mahi Mahi right at the boat because I didn’t have the experience or know how to land them. Small boats require careful planning and organization to successfully land fish.
It is a challenge to land a fish from a kayak or paddleboard. These types of boats will tip easily. Add the weight and pressure of a fish and you will be unbalanced. Know where your weight is during the entire process. You will not be able to lean over and look at a big fish while landing it.
The rod, the fish and the net or gaff are all in play during the landing. Organize your gear so you know where it is and synchronize all three for a succseful outcome.
A medium handled net or gaff of 12 – 16″ is the best size for a small boat. It is easy to store and will not cause the boat to become unbalanced while landing a fish. Long handles make for a lot of leverage but you will need to lean too far against the other side of the boat to catch the fish. Short handles force you to lean to close causing a potential for capsize. Nets are best used for softer finned fish. Anything spiny or with teeth is better landed with a gaff.
It is exciting to get a strike when fishing but the work has just begun. Landing the fish by yourself is a far bigger challenge than hooking it. If you are trolling it is important to keep paddling for 4 or 6 good long strokes to set the hook. The fish will not hook itself it needs the forward momentum of the boat. Keep even pressure on the line. No jerks or slack. Either will loose the fish. Drag is important as well. Leave it loose enough for the fish to take line if it needs to make a run.
Don’t reel too much line in. You want to be able to lift the rod tip to near vertical to manipulate the fish where you want it before it leaves the water. This is usually the leader length or about 6′.
Once the fish is ready to be landed use your left hand for the rod and your right for the net. Lift the rod high so you can move the fish to the waiting net or gaff. Trying to swipe or reach for the fish will cause them to spook and make a run. It is better to move the fish to the waiting net. Patience is a virtue here. Once the fish is in the net or on the gaff bring it into the boat and save the keepers or release the fish.
Tough fighters require submission. A billy club is effective for this. Many species will fight harder once landed than they did in the water. Sharp teeth and fins are a recipe for disaster when you are in close quarters.
Small boats require organization, experience and know how to land fish. Once you have mastered this it is rewarding to start landing fish.