There are many styles of fish-fighting belts and harnesses on the market today. Choosing the correct type for the fishing you will be doing is vital to successfully landing large fish and avoiding undue strain and possibly injury during prolonged fights with big game species.
Buying and Setting Up the Right Combination of Belts and Harnesses for Stand-Up Gear Fishing
In this guide I will differentiate between fish-fighting techniques using a harness between chair and stand-up. Chair harnesses tend to be set-up and integrated with the boat’s fighting chair and most big game boats will already have this in place. In some parts of the world, most if not all the fishing is done using a chair. This is usually because the size of the target species, typically large blue and black marlin, dictates the use of heavy specialist tackle.
In other parts of the world and for other species such as tuna, the use of stand-up gear to fight fish is a practical and sporting way of fighting big-game fish.
A properly set-up rod, belt and harness combination will enable an angler to apply and maintain a considerable amount of pressure when fighting a fish, much more than if the angler was simply standing and fighting holding the rod.
Prolonging a fight increases the risk of losing a fish through angler fatigue, tackle failure or even predation by sharks so it’s vital that the gear is set up to maximise efficiency, reduce physical strain and time spent fighting the fish.
How It Works
Stand-up tackle is designed to give the angler a mechanical advantage when lifting a heavy load. The load is the fish, the rod is your lever and the point where the rod is attached to our body is the fulcrum. Our body weight is the force that we use to move the load through the fulcrum and lever. There are several other factors to take into account - such as the flex of the rod and the drag setting of the reel, but these are designed to provide a buffer or controlled release of pressure to prevent the fish breaking the line or tearing free through sudden movement or runs. Set-up properly the angler should be able to use his own weight to balance the weight on the other side of the fulcrum by expending little energy. This applies to putting force on a running fish or putting load on the line to retrieve.
The Fighting Belt
Is the means by which we secure the base of the rod and spread the load or weight across our thighs. The belt consists of a pad which houses a cup into which we place the rod’s gimbal. The gimbal will have a slot that sits over the pin in the cup. The size of the pad will vary depending upon the class of the rod used. Lighter line classes e.g. 30lbs class will mean a smaller pad. The forces will be much higher when using heavy 80-130lbs class gear and the pad will be larger to spread the load evenly across your thighs. The pad is supported either using a belt around your waist or ideally, suspended from drop-straps attached to your harness. In either case, the set-up must be adjusted with the belt and harness in position and the angler holding the rod - we will discuss how to set this up later.
The Fighting Harness
Secures the reel to the body to spread the weight being applied to the rod. Harnesses typically attach to the lugs on the top of the reel with clips. There are various types of harness designed to offer the angler different ways to spread the load. The two main types are ‘kidney’ and ‘shoulder’. Some kidney harnesses also feature sit-in pads which allow you to really use your weight to exert maximum leverage while still being comfortable.
Generally, shoulder harnesses are considered a better option for lighter class gear, say 20-50lbs class, whilst kidney and sit-in styles are better suited for 50-130lbs class outfits, but it is really down to the anglers own preference and setting the everything up properly.
Setting Up Your Belt and Harness
Let’s look at the three line classes we are likely to be using.
30-50lbs class gear
With all stand-up set-ups there will be a pivot point. Where this point is located will determine how we set the harness and belt combination up. For 30-50lbs class gear, our pivot point will be our knees. To exert pressure against the fish we bend at the knees and lean back.
To set this up - step into your harness and put the rods gimbal in position in the belt. Then adjust the length of the straps to the reel so that the rod tip is at around 15 degrees above horizontal. The rod gimbal should be level with the top of your thighs, so adjust the height until you are comfortable with your hands on the reel. Now, preferably with the help of a friend to provide a force to the rod, bend at the knees and lean back to bring the rod to a position 45-60 degrees above the horizontal, but no further. This is your pressure position, or the position where you are exerting the maximum force. Take a couple of turns on the reel to recover line as you lower the rod tip, by rising from your position, using your knees as the pivot point. Your harness straps should be adjusted evenly, so there is no uneven sideways strain, and you should be comfortable and well balanced with your feet a shoulders width apart.
The drag on your reel is also important so try and set this up at the same time if you have not done so already, as it will help you to gauge and apply pressure correctly when using your harness & belt set-up.
As a guide, full drag should be 50 to 55% of the line’s breaking strength. Strike should be 35 to 40% while pre-strike should be set to around 25%.
You can set the drag using a spring scale. Generally, in the early stages of the fight, a large fish should be allowed to run on a relatively light drag pressure. Long fast runs under moderate pressure will ensure the fish burns most energy. As the fish tires the drag pressure can be cautiously increased but bear in mind the drag pressure will increase anyway as the reel’s spool empties so rely on the crew’s guidance if you are not experienced in playing fish on this tackle. Many big fish have been lost by inappropriate movements of the drag lever at crucial stages of battle.
50-80lbs class gear
With 50-80lbs class gear, the pivot point remains at the knees, but you’ll lean back further to compensate for the increased resistance of the drag.
Adjust the straps so that the rod is moving in the same plane as the lighter class gear, but lowering the pad and gimbal position will offer more leverage. Remember to ensure that your hands are in a comfortable position to wind the reel handle and to level the line on retrieve. Pump the rod by squatting slightly and leaning back to raise the tip, and then raise your body as you turn the reel handle.
80-130lbs class gear
With 80-130lbs classes of gear, the pivot point is your ankles. Keep your knees straight, and lean well back against the drag. The reel should be behind the vertical plane of your feet, and the gimbal and reel straps will be lower. The rods for this class tackle are short in order to maximise leverage.
Grip the reel with both hands and use all your body weight to pump the rod. Gain 1 or 2 turns of the reel by moving back towards the vertical plane.
Those of you with a bit of forethought or perhaps even a bad experience will now realise you are fully committed by putting your weight into this. You must have faith in your tackle and components as failure will result in a painful fall against rod holders, chairs or gunwale. For this reason, many crews will stand behind an angler fighting stand-up with heavy gear to try and assist if the worst happens.
The other reason for having someone standing behind the angler is to restrain them should they overbalance or be dragged forwards into an obstruction or even overboard. Some harnesses have release clips but it’s essential to have a knife or other tool handy to cut the line to prevent a serious accident.
Some anglers or crews will use a safety line. This is a sensible precaution, but make sure the line is attached from the boat to the reel and not the angler. The angler is already attached to the rod (and now the fish) by the harness and attaching him or her to the boat will mean, should they lose control, that they are now part of a link between boat and fish that is under considerable pressure. This will make it more difficult to release themselves.
Regardless of strength of the tackle you are using line should be either coming off the reel as the fish runs or back on to the reel as you retrieve. You can relax when the fish is taking line but try to avoid letting the fish rest. This may be slightly different when playing large sharks in deep water where it will be more of a tug of war and you need to maintain a constant pressure to tire the shark.
Finally, when you have your harness and belt combination set-up as you like it, if you have a 2-speed reel, experiment with the gears on your reel under load to feel the difference. With the drag set the lower gear will assist you enormously, but be prepared to switch back to high speed to pick up line if you need to. Familiarity will pay dividends in the heat of battle.
Here at Rok Max we carry a wide range of fishing belts and harnesses from the world’s best known and most trusted manufacturers - including AFTCO, Alutecnos, Black Magic and Braid. Whilst we are always happy to discuss the best option for you by phone, we would always encourage our customers to try several set-up combinations to ensure they are choosing the most comfortable style for their fishing. You are most welcome to visit by appointment for a personal fitting session.
Tight lines. Duncan.
Guide by Duncan Goldsmith, former Rok Max Director