Gaffing a fish is something that I don’t often do. On the open party boats here in Southern California, gaffing is left to the crew. I only pick up a gaff if it’s really crazy on deck, or if I’m riding a private boat. At this point, the crews trust me, but it’s a liability issue to have a sharp object in the hands of a non-crewmember. Since I usually don’t have the gaff in hand, I try to do what I can to help the gaffer get a good shot on my fish  Some things to remember are to leave the fish’s head in the water. Another is to “lay out,” or get the fish horizontal for the gaffer in order to maximize the surface area to gaff.

That said, it’s good to know how to gaff. You never know when you may need to gaff your own fish or help out a buddy get that big catch in the boat. This article from Fishtrack reviews the basics of successful gaffing.

IMG_3330Success with the gaff starts before the metal meets flesh. Good technique begins at the bridge with proper boat handling, but it also pays to consider the species and size of the fish and choose the right gear accordingly. All of the preparation in the world means nothing if the final gaff shot misses the mark.

North Carolina captain Jimmy Hillsman learned that lesson the hard way on a marlin trip earlier this year. “We hadn’t caught anything all day,” he says, “until we hooked a big dolphin.” As the angler brought the fish close to the boat, Hillsman squared up for the end move. “Everything was perfect, but I hit the fish too far back.”

As Hillsman heaved the 50-pounder over the gunnel, the fish struck the side of the boat. “It freaked out,” he says, “popped off the gaff and the hook came out.” The dolphin flopped into the ocean and disappeared. “It was the worst ever.”

A successful end game starts with a controlled set-up. Both Hillsman and fellow Outer Banks captain Tim Hagerich insist that the boat is moving forward as they bring the fish within gaff range.

Photos: Excel Sportfishing (top); SoCal Salty (above)