Playing and Landing Fish
The last tip focused on hooking fish effectively. This one hopefully helps you to play and land fish once they're on the line.
Don't allow any slack & don't pull too hard - Seems simple enough, but especially when using small barbless hooks, a fish can come off the hook with even just a split second of slack. Once the line is tightened to set the hook a steady and constant pressure must be maintained throughout the fight. Too much pressure can pull the hook through the soft mouth of some fish and not enough pressure can allow for slack, which allows the hook to back out. A general rule is to maintain a moderate bend on the rod no matter what the fish does. This ensures that the rod is exerting some pressure but not too much pressure. Give line if the bend gets too severe and pull line if the bend on the rod begins to straighten. Getting the fish on the reel to take in and to allow line to be taken out against the drag helps to minimize human error.
Keep the rod perpendicular to the fish - With the exception of very large fish on heavy line that you fight with the butt section of the rod, fish are best played with the rod at a right angle to the fish. This maximizes the shock absorbing capabilities of the rod and helps you to minimize the formation of slack. Pointing the rod at the fish is always bad because it means that only the leader and line absorb the shock of the fighting fish and so it is an almost sure way to break off or pull the hook out of fish.
Use a softer rod - Many people assume that a stiffer rod will fight fish better. This isn't always true. You certainly need enough backbone to be able to direct the fish where you need it to go but a little softer rod absorbs more shock and helps you to maintain steady pressure on the fish. A stiff rod will often "bounce" fish by pulling a bit too hard and then allowing a little slack to form as shock waves bounce the rod.
Keep the fish off balance - Especially in heavy currents, I've seen fish and fisher come to a stalemate situation where the fish just stays in one place and the angler can't exert enough force to move the fish without risking a breakoff. The key to solving these situations is to change the angle that you're using to pull on the fish. Every time you change the angle you put the fish off balance and can move it your way a little. I like to change the angle of pull anytime the fish seems to make a hard steady run or seems to find a current it can use in its favor. If you do this constantly throughout the fight, especially when the fish seems to take the upper hand, you're likely to be able to land the fish much sooner.
Hurry the fight; Don't hurry the landing - For the benefit of the fish and to minimize the chances for problems, try to land all fish as quickly as possible, however, don't rush the last few seconds when you have the fish on a short line. I like to use a net with a large opening and to prepare the fish for one last smooth and steady pull towards the net. If the fish just isn't ready, however, let it run and try it again. When the line is short the problem's of absorbing shock or pulling too hard are magnified so be careful and don't rush it at this point.
Handle the fish correctly - Once the fish is landed take care to keep it wet and to return it to the water with as little stress as possible. I like to take photos of fish but I'd rather release a fish than to cause it severe trauma just to get the shot. If you are taking pictures it is always best to use a net with a large rubber, rubberized, or soft netting material. Keep the fish in the water until you are ready for the shot and always get your hands wet before taking the picture. When it is time to release the fish always place the fish in the water gently and make sure not to allow the fish to swim off until it is ready to do so on its own. You may need to move the fish gently forward and back to get water through the gills and oxygen back into the fish's system. Many fish won't survive if they are just tossed back in the water. Take care of the fish and they will take care of you the next time you're on the water.