With more of my angling friends and acquaintances turning to the lakes as the Vic stream season winds down, I’m hearing two words liberally sprinkled among the tales of success: ‘busted off’. Perhaps the cool summer we’ve experienced, plus relatively healthy lake levels, have contributed to heavier, stronger trout than usual?
Whatever the reason, it seems a shame to put in all that effort to fool a nice big lake trout, only to then bust it off. So maybe it’s time for a recap on how to stay connected.
Fish quality tippet, and fish as heavy as you can get away with. I’m not going to list brands for fear of omission, but if you’re not confident you’re fishing the best, ask at a trusted fly shop, or ask a trusted big fish-catching mate with a strong record of no bust-offs. In my experience, good tippet is expensive, but as with many things, you get what you pay for. I’m happy to spend a couple of extra bucks for each day of fishing, knowing I’m giving myself the best chance of success if I hook a biggun. In the brands I use, my default lake tippet is 3X, which equates to 8-9lb. If conditions and fly size permit, I’ll use 2X (12lb), and if I have to go light, I’ll go down to 4X (about 7lb).
It’s so simple: test each knot – leader to fly-line, tippet to leader, or tippet to fly – with a couple of good strong pulls. Make this a habit; second nature. To state the bleeding obvious, the time you want a bad knot to fail is while you’re testing it on dry land, not when there’s a six pounder on the end.
Knots are a subject in themselves, and so long as you can tie them quickly and well and they’re within 10% or so of actual tippet breaking strain, I’m not concerned what knots you use. For what it’s worth, at the pointy end, I use a three-turn Surgeon’s Knot for joining tippet, while to attach the fly, either an 8 or 10 turn half Blood Knot OR a Lefty’s Loop.
(It doesn’t hurt to regularly check you tippet for nicks, wind knots and abrasions.)
Saltwater flyfishers using heavy tippet and strong hooks, often work on applying great pressure through the rod butt to subdue big, strong fish. This is suicide with big lake trout, where the primary focus should be protecting the tippet with an upright or vertical rod, so the rod tip can act as a cushion to lunges and sudden runs.
The biggest single reason I see for bust-offs (and almost on a daily basis when guiding) is anglers allowing their rod angle to be dragged down from vertical to horizontal when a big lake trout pulls hard. And here’s the thing: this only needs to happen for a moment for the fish to bust off. The excruciating part is, anglers usually don’t actually realise or accept that they’ve allowed this to happen. So be your own harshest critic and keep that rod vertical. Push the rod butt against your chest or tummy if you can’t keep the rod vertical using your arm and wrist alone.
By the way, the reason I’m not advocating the often-equally effective side strain for lake situations, is that we want the secondary benefit of a good line angle weed and snag-wise; i.e. where possible, pulling the fish up from these obstacles, not through them.
Let it run
It can be disconcerting to watch a once-a-year trout powering away against the drag and onto the backing, but it sure beats applying the death grip and snapping it off. While the fish is still on your line, albeit 50 metres away, there’s hope. When it has snapped off, there’s none. Need I say more?
Reel beats hands
For all sorts of reasons, you may have no choice but to play a big trout by hand initially, but once you’re on the reel, celebrate that moment. With no dangerous loops of slack line flying around and waiting to catch on reel seats/ boots/ belts/ sticks/ rocks/ fingers, etc., on the reel is a good place to be. And buy a reel with a wide arbour and decent drag. Even if you only need these two features occasionally, I guarantee you won’t regret the purchase price.
Carry a decent-sized net
Carry a wide, deep landing net that you can deploy quickly and easily. “I wish my net was smaller,” said no lake fisher, ever.
It’s not over until it’s over
Lastly, when your nerves are in tatters ten minutes in to the fight, and that bloody fish still won’t come close enough for a net shot, take comfort in the fact that you have no choice but to take as long as it takes. Bring the trout to the net, not the net to the trout: net swipes always end badly with big trout, and so does locking up because you just can’t stand the thought of your trophy powering off yet again.