Tips for Fighting a Fish in a Fighting Chair

Whether you’re going for a big marlin in Kona or a giant bluefin tuna in Nova Scotia, a fighting chair is about to become your new best friend. Correct form is not second nature and can be mildly awkward at first, so it doesn’t hurt to be mentally prepared. Here are tips for fighting a fish in a fighting chair with a bucket harness.

  1. Fit yourself properly in the chair before you start fishing.

If you’re with any reputable captain, they will put you in the seat and adjust the harness straps and footrest according to your height and comfort before fishing. Once you’re strapped in, if you’re pulled up by the rod strait-legged, the rod should be about an inch above the covering board, and you should feel like you have maximum leverage without feeling like you’re going to faceplant.

2. Fight the fish with the rod, not the reel.

The reel is there to retrieve slack, not to fight the fish. You will wear yourself out if you try to crank a big fish in with your arms. Instead, let the rod bear the weight of the fish by pulling you up out of the chair straight-legged. When you feel it give, you can lean back into the chair, which will give you slack to reel in, which in turn should pull you back out of the chair again. One crank or even ½ crank is all that’s needed at a time.

3. Left hand on the reel.

Your left hand should always be between you and the reel with your arm straight. Guiding the line back and forth is one thing, but it also protects you from a broken nose if the line snaps for any reason and the rod rebounds towards your face. That would not be a good day!

4. Maintain good form.

If you have to, remind yourself of these three things throughout the fight: Legs Straight, Tits Out, Left Arm Straight. Don’t bend your knees when you’re pulled out of the chair, keep your “Tits Out” (chest out, shoulders back), and keep your left arm straight, but relaxed, in front of you.

5. Use your legs, not your arms.

Before my first time in the chair, I worked out my arms thinking I’d be death-cranking to get a big fish in, almost like wahoo trolling in the Bahamas. I was totally wrong. If you’re using correct form in a chair, you will be using your legs and butt to rock up and down in the chair, while your right arm simply retrieves slack you created with your legs. This goes back to fighting with the rod, not the reel. Keep your legs straight as the rod pulls you up out of the chair, lean back to bring the fish up, then reel up the slack when you’re back in the chair. Repeat until you’ve got leader and you shouldn’t have any arm soreness. If you want to do something to prepare in the gym, do lots of squats and deadlifts!

6. Stay tight if Capt decides to put some heat on her.

If the captain circles around to put some heat on the fish, don’t let belly in the line last long. This is the only time you may need to use your arm to retrieve line fast. To conserve energy and be more effective than your puny little bicep, stand up and position your should over the reel, locking your elbow at a fixed angle. Now use your upper torso to “throw” your shoulder in circles, pushing your arm along with it. It helps if you also up the drag a little.

When in doubt, listen closely to instruction from the captain. He/She wants you to catch that fish more than anyone else on the boat, and also (usually) happens to be the most knowledgeable. Best of luck on your next giant!