Are you tired of catching small fish? Does it envy you how many pictures of trophy sports fish your friends have on their Instagram? We’re here to help.
In this article, we’ll cover time-tested techniques that will help you catch bigger fish. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of changing your technique slightly to hook a big one.
We’ll walk you through where to find the bigger fish, what bait to use for bigger fish, as well as tips on how to land bigger fish. If you’ve been wondering how to catch bigger fish, you’ve come to the right place.
Before we dive in, I think it’s worth mentioning that a lot of what goes into catching a big fish is sheer luck. We’ve had days where the least experienced person in the boat hooks a monster while the other veteran fishermen are skunked.
The only thing you have control over is setting yourself up for success by being prepared, and the rest is up to the fish gods to pick you.
Use the Proper Gear
First things first – you need to make sure the gear you’re using can handle bigger fish.
Depending on the type of fish you’re going for, you’ll need to pair your equipment appropriately.
See those weight ratings on your rod, reel, and line? They matter! Make sure the size of trophy fish is within their range.
If you’re fishing for trophy bass, we’ve got an excellent buying guide for appropriate reels. If you’re fishing for grouper (like in the above video), check out our bottom fishing reel guide. Some more general tips about picking out and setting up your gear for bigger fish:
1. If you can, use braided line or fluorocarbon over monofilament.
Author Note: Braided line/fluorocarbon has a much stronger tensile strength for its diameter/weight than monofilament. This means your line will be stronger and have more length for long runs. Many large fish run when hooked and will easily pull off +100 yards of line.
2. If you’re using braided line, use a thick monofilament leader.
As we mentioned above, braided line is much thinner and stronger than monofilament. This will ensure if you hook a big one, you’ll have the line capacity to let it run hundreds of yards.
The drawback of using braided line, however, is that the fish can see it! This is avoided by using a thick monofilament leader that you tie your lure onto.
We recommend using 4 to 5 feet of +80 lb test monofilament. This will be enough so even the most eagle-eyed fish won’t see your mainline.
3. For fish with strong mouths or sharp teeth, use saltwater fishing pliers for unhooking.
Bluefish and shark fishermen know what we’re talking about. Both of these species have jaws that will easily take a finger off if you get too close. This means unhooking can be quite the challenge without a pair of good saltwater fishing pliers.
4. Use high-carbon hardened steel hooks.
This might seem obvious, but make sure your hooks are rated high enough to handle a trophy fish. Sometimes people forget that hooks can break/bend too, especially if you’re fighting a monster-sized fish.
Pro tip: We like using circle/octopus hooks the most as they’ve proven to give us the most hook-ups.
5. Consider using a steel leader.
For sharks and other fish with sharp teeth (barracuda, alligator gar, etc.), this is a must. These types of fish often don’t care if they can see the leader, and will bite straight through any other type of line you use.
Where to Find Bigger Fish
One of the most common reasons why you’re not catching bigger fish is that you haven’t found them! The first step to catching a trophy size fish is to get your lure in front of them. So, where do big fish like to hang out?
Authors Note: Generally, in deeper water. If you’re fishing from land, look for parts of the river or lake that have a steep shoreline. This steepness often continues underwater, which means deep water close to shore.
You can also look at the color of the water to help estimate where it’s deep; the darker the color, the deeper the water.
If you’re lucky enough to have a boat, a fish finder can be your best friend for finding deeper water and bigger fish.
Pay attention to the depth meter and fish the transition zones: where the water goes from relatively shallow to deep. This is a prime spot to catch bigger fish because it’s close to where their prey hangs out. Large Gag Grouper love these spots.
Author Note: Smaller fish like the shallower water, and bigger fish hand out where it’s deeper. They keep an eye out for small fish that venture too far into their territory.
You should also try and cover as much water as possible. With deep-sea fish like yellowfin tuna, they can cover miles of water in a single day.
What Lures to Use for Bigger Fish
Now that you have the right gear and a location picked out to catch your trophy fish, what lures should you use? The hard answer is obvious – it depends! Different fish obviously like different lures, but there are some general rules of thumb you can follow.
- If you’re allowed to use live bait, use it. Big predatory fish love love bait. It’s as close to what they’re used to eating and is irresistible if they’re feeding. Minnows, baitfish, worms – think about what the type of fish you’re going for eats, then find some live bait to feed it. You can even set up your own bait fish traps if you’ve got the time.
- Big fish like big lures. It’s really often as simple as that. You’re most likely going to have to give up catching a smaller fish to go for big ones. Use a big spoon, the largest size spinner you can find, or a massive candlefish jig. We know this is a controversial subject, but in our experience size matters. Go big or go home.
How to Present Your Lure to Big Fish
Author Note: You’ve picked out your lure – awesome. But what kind of action should you use? Again, it really depends on the kind of fish you’re going for, but we’ve learned some general trends that hold true for many types of large fish.
- Start with a slow retrieval speed. Large fish have gotten large by being cautious. They can surprisingly be easily spooked if you present your lure to aggressively. Start out fishing a location slowly and carefully. If nothing happens you can always present your lure at faster speed later.
- Consider trolling. This goes back to the first point we made about finding bigger fish: you have to actually find them in order to catch them! This means that if you have a boat, trolling can be one of the most effective methods. Trolling allows you to cover more area in the body of water you’re fishing, and you’ll have a higher chance of presenting your lure to a large fish.
- Let the fish eat your bait/lure. Many fishermen make the mistake of trying to set the hook immediately if they think it’s a bigger fish. Often times this just rips the lure right out of the fishes mouth. Give the fish time to “eat” the lure, then apply pressure once you’re sure it’s got it.
How to Catch Bigger Fish: Landing Them
The hook is set, and you can tell you snagged a big one. The pressure is on! How do you make sure you have the highest chance of landing the monster? Here are some general tips on how to fight and land a big fish.
Make sure your drag is set appropriately
If the fish is taking line too quickly, apply more drag. Vice versa applies too; if your rod is bending significantly under the pull of the fish, lighten up your drag and let it take more line. If you have the line capacity (as you should if you used braided line), it shouldn’t matter.
It’s a good idea to keep your drag set very heavy when fishing so you can get a rock-solid hook set, once you know the fish is big, you can quickly adjust your drag throughout the fight.
Consider the water you’re fighting in
If you know there are underwater structures close to where the fish is, try and fight them away from those areas. If it’s an open water situation, prepare for the fish to dive and make sure you adjust for other boats in the area.
In very shallow water areas the fish only have one direction to go, up.
Fish will try jumping frequently in shallow water so be prepared.
Keep your rod tip high and pointed towards the fish
Don’t pull your rod against where the fish is running. Let the fish tire itself out and keep your rod high in the air to apply pressure.
You should keep your rod tip high in most cases, but if the fish is jumping out of the water in an attempt to throw the hook you will want to point your rod tip down.
Pointing your rod tip down and applying pressure and a tight line lessens the chance of a fish going airborne and throwing your lure.
Make sure you have a big net/gaff
Be prepared to land that big fish you’ve always wanted! Get a fishing net that is the proper size. The last thing you want is to get it to the boat with no way of bringing it in or unhooking your lure.
Not having the proper tools like a net can cause you to lose the fish, or worst I can cause serious injury by getting hooked if the fish still has a lure in its’ mouth.
Kill it in a safe way
If you’re planning on keeping your trophy fish, make sure to kill it in a safe human way. This means having an appropriately sized billy club or spike to kill the fish.
If you plan on eating any of the fish you catch, be sure to bleed the fish after you catch it.
You can bleed a fish by taking a knife and cutting the portion below its gills in what can best be described as the “throat”.
Things Not to Do!
Don’t reel and jerk your rod against the fish. This will only put unnecessary stress on your line and most likely break it.
You should also avoid letting the line go slack under any circumstance.
If the fish runs towards the boat, reel in quickly to apply pressure to the line. You should also be prepared to move around the boat depending on which way the fish swims.
While there may not be a fix-all for catching bigger fish, hopefully now your chances of landing a big one will have increased.
We know how frustrating it can be to sit out on the water for hours on end with no action. Sometimes the biggest trick to catching bigger fish is simply having more patience and putting more time into it than other people are willing to. So get your equipment, take a day off, and go catch that trophy-sized fish!
Oh, and feel free to share any big fish stories with us in the comments.