Hook up a big fish, hand the rod to an angler and it will only take a few seconds to reveal their true level of fishing experience — no matter what they told you at the dock.

When a fish is screaming line off the reel, I have seen novice fishermen do everything you can image with a reel … except actually put line back on the spool. In fact, once in the heat of the moment I had one panicked “fisherman” reel a spinning reel handle backwards so hard and fast that he unscrewed the reel handle completely and then somehow launched it out into the ocean! I tried not to curse as I took a handle off a similar reel and installed it on his reel so he could reel in his fish, but of course by then the fish had gotten off the hook.

Of course, there are those just one step further up the evolutionary continuum who compensate for their spinning reel “not working” by flipping the reel up on top of the rod so they can begin reeling backwards with their dominant right hand. I no longer curse when this happens; instead now I just try to not laugh out loud.

While reeling is an important aspect of fishing, I have discovered the way a fisherman handles their rod can make an even bigger impact on the outcome of the battle, especially during a prolonged fight with a powerful fish. I always tell my fishermen “the key is keeping the rod tip up and never let any slack get in the line.” Experience has shown that if you consistently keep tension on the line with the rod pointed up at the sky, the rod will act as a shock absorber, which reduces the strain on the line. This can also prevent failure of the knots tied to the terminal tackle … especially when the fish decides to make a powerful run.

Typically, there is always one guy on board who never listens to good advice and as soon as the reel starts screaming, he immediately jumps out of his seat and runs to grab the rod out of the holder. Then, for some strange reason, he starts chaotically whipping the rod back and forth, pumping it like he is auditioning for a TV fishing show. Unfortunately, most of these guys are unable to effectively coordinate reeling in the line with the pumping action of the rod, so they inevitably allow slack to get in the line, which is when most fish take the opportunity to shake their head and slip off the hook! An even worst case scenario can occur if the slack line is allowed to get wrapped around the tip of the rod. This is like slamming the drag full hilt and is typically immediately followed by a loud “pop” as the line snaps and the fish swims away, never to be seen again.

For some reason, in my observations, female anglers are more willing to follow instructions on how to use a trolling rod and reel and therefore they often catch more fish.

Capt. Pete Peterson welcomes comments and suggestions sent to petersonventures@aol.com.