Wrapping, snapping, rubbing, busting. Fighting fish around structure is difficult. You have to do all the other things correct, PLUS apply the tactics that will keep your fish from breaking off. The logs and branches, boulders and rocks add a whole new dimension to landing fish, and a big trout that’s been around the block knows these obstacles, and will use them to frustrate your endeavors to net them. My new home waters have forced some serious reflection on how to minimize the heartache of a lost fish (especially those nice ones) when that line finds something besides water to slice against. I’ve landed on four techniques that help me when fighting trout around structure. Fight fish fast. Fight fish close. Move your body. Move your rod. We’ll cover each…
My Bermuda Triangle
The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration describes the Bermuda Triangle as:
“…a region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean in which ships, planes, and people are alleged to have mysteriously vanished. (Note 1.)The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration
I found my own Bermuda Triangle on a section of my home river last summer.
Flows were down. The trees I was used to seeing in a particularly good spot were unfamiliarly exposed. Dead and water logged, they lay just below the surface and patches of green, mossy grass weaved in the current along their broken branches.
That part of the river deepens and slows at the end of a long riffle, and bends to a larger, slower piece of water sitting like a pond before the next bend. Cottonwoods line the smooth stones along the bank. Beyond that, hay fields, green hills and rocky mountains. It’s a beautiful piece of water.
The logs form a triangle. About ten yards wide and twenty yards tall. It points downstream and the river flows through the gap from long skinny water. The river drops off at the mouth of the triangle and a stretch of nervous water shows the bucket I typically target.
My first mistake came before I even began wading out to it. I knew the logs would be a problem, but my focus was on presentation. I should have considered what might happen after even one big, surly, old brown took my fly.
Post three angry, acrobatic fish that broke me off on the logs, and I should have been ready. Each fish fought me deep into the triangle. Although I played them with all my knowledge and strength, all three fish slipped into the abyss. I did manage to bring the fourth to hand. I’ll throw that in for my pride.
Fight Them Fast
When I am fighting fish around structure, I push things a little harder. I fight the fish a little more aggressively, and I look for the opportunity to land that fish a little sooner.
Fishing a slightly thicker leader and tippet, when it makes sense for presentation, helps me be more aggressive. Although the tippets these days are pretty strong, I like the confidence from fishing with a “bigger rope.”
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Fly Fishing with Confidence. Part 1. Why Confidence Catches Fish.
Fighting fish fast is almost always a good idea, but when you see your line dancing among rocks and logs, it’s even more important.
Fight Them Close
The more line you have out, the more opportunity that fish has to find some of it to rub against nearby structure. Keeping the fish close to your body while fighting it, minimizes that line out and keeps you more in control.
Of course big fish are going to make runs. There’s not much we can do about that when it’s happening. Around structure it’s even more important to be quick to reel in as soon as you can and not give up any line for free.
The other thing you can do to fight big fish close is to move your body…
Move Your Body
At first I thought being mobile while fighting fish meant being ready to follow a fish on big runs downriver. A trout that gets downstream of you is in the driver seat and your odds of landing it are dramatically decreasing the longer you allow that situation to exist. This was a huge discovery and tool for me in my fish fighting education.
But there is much more to mobility when fighting trout when structure is around. Fish don’t always run downstream. When you are in water with lots of structure a run in any direction could threaten to break you off.
When a fish makes any run, and you run after it, you are keeping it close. This keeps you in that driver seat and helps you maintain power and leverage. It also helps you with the angle and rod movement that keeps your line from rubbing on structure.
More on that…
Move Your Rod
When you fight a big, smart trout around structure, it’s often going to where it feels safe. An experienced fish also knows that structure is where it’s freed itself before.
The vulnerable part of the equation when fighting fish around structure is the tippet. The fish controls one end of the tippet, but the angler controls the other. Maneuvering our rod can offset where that trout takes our tippet.
How? You have two choices: rod high or rod low… it’s all about angles.
The lower your rod tip the more parallel it is to the river and this gives the trout the ability to drag more of your line across and around things. Raising your rod gets the line more perpendicular to the water. This reduces the vulnerable footprint of what line is in the water. Keeping your rod high helps you maneuver your line up and around boulders and rocks that a trout may be heading for.
Imagine a trout runs out into the middle of the river just upstream of a boulder. Maybe its the boulder you found him feeding in on the upstream side. When that fish runs downstream, if you don’t raise your rod, the fish might pull the line across that rock. Rod high prevents that.
If you could fight a fish from straight above the river, like a marionette puppet master, the line would be completely perpendicular to the water. A hooked fish could never rub your line against anything laterally, unless it swam underneath structure or overhangs.
Some structure can’t be fished around. You need to avoid it completely. Keeping the rod low gives you leverage to pull the fish away from structure, by tapping into the power of the butt section of the rod.
Keeping the rod low also keeps the fish from getting up to the top of the water column where the water is faster. Trout are uncomfortable in this type of water. This is where they splash and thrash and often break off. Keep them out of this danger zone with a low rod.
Combining it All
Fishing with a friend in Colorado several years back, I saw the importance of moving your rod and body, while fighting fish in some bouldery water with healthy rainbows, that knew what they were doing. Fortunately, so did Chris…
What I learned from watching Chris fight in and around these boulders is that it’s not as simple as just one or two things, once in a while. Chris was intentional in how he fought fish and was always ready to move out into the water to maneuver around rocks or dig in and turn a fish heading for logs. Every fish he caught was the result of simultaneously applying all four tactics.
Fast. Close. Move your rod. Move your body.
It was never just one thing that got the job done. It rarely is. We need to be ready to combine these tactics to find success.
The Fish That Broke You Off
A fish doesn’t need to break you off immediately to score a win for team trout. If a fish wraps up on structure it could cause damage to your tippet that breaks off the next fish. A bigger fish. Losing a fish down the road because of frayed tippet is no fun. Always check your rig when you suspect you’ve been tangled up in structure.
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Replace Worn Tippet Before It’s Too Late
It’s a Difficult Game
Fighting big fish is the last step in the angling experience in my opinion. It’s rewarding when it all comes together, but difficult to master. We usually don’t get as many reps with big fish, especially starting out. So practice is an issue. And of course, these fish have a vote. The more experienced the fish, the more your experience counts. Four Tactics for Fighting Fish Around Structure is my latest article on the subject of fighting fish. Here’s a few others:
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Dig In On a Big Trout
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | What to Do When a Big Fish Runs Downstream
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Hookset and Assess. Don’t Rush the Reel
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | What Now? How to Land Trout Before the Hookset
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Tips for Fighting Big Trout From a Drift Boat
READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Patterns in How Trout Fight. Understanding the “Program”
Embrace the Structure
Fighting fish around structure is the ultimate battle. You have your rod, reel and experience. The trout has the current, surrounding structure and its experience. The structure gives a big trout extra tools to fight back and if you’re not ready to combat those tools, it usually doesn’t end well for the angler. Remember… fight them fast, fight them close, move your rod, move your body. And always, always – WadeOutThere.
What am I missing? Questions, comments, and additional techniques are welcome. Scroll down and leave a comment.
Paul HallbergMarch 21, 2023 at 3:35 pm
Great article Jason! You really touched on some key points to keep in mind when fishing for those trophy trout in difficult situations.
Jason ShemchukMarch 21, 2023 at 4:59 pm
Thanks Paul. And thanks for the comment.