I was asked several weeks ago about how to safely bring a fish in and over the railing when fishing from a bridge or pier. There are several ways to accomplish this retrieval depending on the size of your catch and your intention on harvesting or releasing the fish.
The most common way is to use hand over hand method. With this method, after the fish is caught and just below you in the water, you just raise the fish up by grapping the line with one hand then continuing to alternate hands as you bring the fish up to your level. This method can sometimes be difficult do to the size of your line and strength of your hands. Also, the line can either break or cut your hands if the fish is too large or the line is too small. This method can allow larger fish to break off the hook during the retrieve. This method is very successful for smaller fish. But I would recommend using a pair of sturdy gloves or combination of two rags when holding the line and raising the fish.
The next and probably the easiest way is the use a pier net. Pier nets are a series of metal rings, one larger on the top and second ring on the bottom both connected by cotton or nylon netting. The net looks like a large basketball net open on the top and tied closed on the bottom to the smaller ring to make a complete enclosure. The entire net is then tied to a long rope. When retrieving a fish, the net is lowered just below the water line and the fish still connected to the fishing line is drifted over the net. Once the fish is over the net opening, the net is raised up and over the railing. This can sometimes difficult with a fast current.
The final way is to use a pier gaff. A pier gaff is a series of large hooks connected to a metal central brace with an eye hook on top. A retrieval rope is attached to the eye hook. When fish is just under you and still in the water, drift the gaff near the fish and when the fish is close, quickly raise the gaff to penetrate the fish. Once hooked to the gaff, you simply raise the fish over the railing.
The most common methods of hand-to-hand and pier net methods allow for you to bring the fish over the railing to evaluate whether you can harvest the fish or release them. This method increases the chance for a successful release and survivability. The pier gaff method sustains a mortal injury to the fish.
So when fishing from a bridge or pier, pick the best method of retrieval that works by first deciding whether you plan to harvest the fish or release them. Only keep fish that you plan to use, within the legal bag and size limits and then safely return all others to be caught again.
For more information on the various types of retrieval devices, stop by one of our local tackle shops.
Until next time – Tightlines. Capt. Tony