How to Use a Gaff (And Not Lose Fish)

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Gaffs are used for hooking fish out of the water, which makes them quite dangerous if you don’t know how to use them properly. Luckily, we’re here to teach you everything about how to use a gaff so you can land your fish.

Gaffing Fish: A Mini Step-by-Step Guide

how to use a gaff
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Gaffing a fish is one of the most important aspects of offshore fishing. To do this, anglers use an underwater spear gun that fires out and impales the fish’s head. This way, they can be easily harvested by hand or with proper gaff hook on poles for bait fishing.

Now, if you want to learn how to get that trophy fish, here’s how:

1. Angle the fishing rod

To keep the fish from wriggling off the gaff hook, anglers should make sure they angle their fishing rod correctly. This way, you can direct the head of the large fish towards a gaff man.

He should position himself over his target with one hand holding onto both ends of the gaff hook. The other hand should grip firmly around the fish’s mouth.

2. Start raking

The next important step is to begin taking the water toward your boat. Carefully position the gaff hook so that it meets up with and pierces through the fish’s head. Always aim for the head for more control. This also protects the meat.

Most prefer long gaffs for fishing in tournaments because it allows them to end the battle quickly and efficiently.

3. Lift as you pull

Fish are more likely to jump after being hooked as they try to get away. Captain Dave says it can be hard for an inexperienced angler.

If this happens, quickly bring it up and move back to maintain control of the fish’s body. This way, you can keep the fish on the line while reeling it into shore.

With this technique, you can prevent the gaffed fish from getting off.

4. Continue the pull

The next step to successfully gaffing a fish: grab the line, hold it tight against your chest, and keep pulling. Any hesitation can result in lost time or even an injury from an aggressive species such as tuna. Don’t stop until you feel that tug on the other end of your line!

5. Pull the fish up

Those who know how to gaff a fish will tell you the most important things about catching any trophy fish. You have to pull it up along the gunnel and over your boat.

Doing this minimizes risk and gives you bragging rights for having caught an impressive creature. Once onboard, your trophy awaits!

How to Gaff Fish the Proper Way: Gaffing Tips From the Experts

Gaffing fish is an important skill, as it involves ensuring that you can catch and take care of prey. There are many tips to learn, like how to hold the gaff or what equipment to use.

While everyone has their preference for their desired gaff, here are some tips from expert anglers that you can use on your next trip:

1. Always place the gaff behind the lead to control it as fish make their turn toward your boat

According to AFTCO’s Greg Stotesbury, it’s always best to gaff in that meaty forward shoulder behind the vulnerable leader. Additionally, the fish’s dorsal fin is full of tough bones that make it difficult for gaff hooks to tear out. The thick skin on this part also keeps them from doing so in most cases.

A shoulder-gaffed fish is easier to steer back towards the boat side after it has been caught. Gaffing from under or near the tail never really works. This can cause the fish to jump off and break free.

2. Wait until the fish is ready to gaff

Gamefish from the ocean can be difficult to catch. Fish will swim around and get tired before you’re able to gaff it properly, so wait until they’re tuckered out! If your boat isn’t moving, go to the cockpit and turn on the engine slowly. This way, big fish like dolphin fish are not too threatened by movement and don’t swim free.

The angler fighting the fish should never raise the head out of the water while waiting on grappling.

The person who will use the gaff should be next to the angler where the fish is expected to surface boat side.

3. Find the right size gaff and the right kind

They say a fisherman’s best friend is his gaff. Their poles with ax-like hooks at the end used to snag fish out of their hiding spots. But which type should you buy? Longer gaffs allow competitors to reach out and snatch snook or redfish that might wiggle free.

Matching the size gaff according to your desired prey will help ensure success for whatever fishing trip awaits! 

Lastly, use flying gaff if you’re targeting large fish like marlins, redfish, or sharks. A long rope tied at the end of the flying gaff ensures it can be thrown easily and then pulled back in.

Have at least four to five flying gaffs ready. Things might not always go according to plan.

4. Use the right hook (A landing net could also be helpful)

According to Capt. Dave Hansen of Your Saltwater Guide, your gaff should be lightweight but strong. Make sure that it has no rust. He further emphasized that it’s easier gaffing a fish using small hooks, especially when they’re around 40 to 50 lbs. He added that using a 6-inch hook is the best with big bluefin tuna.

Another tip to keep in mind: if there’s any way to do it, use a net. The snook, redfish, or grouper that seems close to size limits needs the net. This way, you can release them if they’re too small or large.

5. Safety first

According to yoursaltwaterguide.com, the best way to gaff more fish is to stay calm. 

Gently gaff the fish. Hold the gaff pole strong. Do this in one fluid motion for a clean shot so that the fish doesn’t get away. Another safety tip from Dave is to put the gaff down. After gaffing a fish, put the gaff down and keep it somewhere safe where people won’t get hurt by it. 

You can also use a safety spring, cork, or a tennis ball to cover it.

6. When in doubt, don’t gaff a fish

If you are not 100% sure that you want to keep your fish, do not gaff them for any reason.

A good rule of thumb when fishing: always set anything under 10 pounds free and take only what’re over ten pounds home. Doing this ensures that there will be more fish left for next time. Also, remember not to gaff by the tail!

Final Thoughts

Learning how to use gaffs isn’t as easy as it looks, especially if you’ve never tried it. This guide will help you move forward to gaffing like a pro!

Also, don’t hesitate to watch tutorial videos. Sometimes, watching a person do the right thing can be the best learning experience.

So, if you’re looking for a sign, read these tips again and get ready to gaff a fish the right way.

Jon Stenstrom
Founder & Angler
Jon Stenstrom is a fishing enthusiast. He has over 25 years of fishing experience, and 6 years of spearfishing experience, and is currently learning how to boat. Jon has his Open Water PADI Certification and FII Freediver Level 1 Certification. Jon has traveled the world to fish and dive, most notably in the Great Barrier Reef, Baja Mexico, Thailand, and Malaysia. More Articles
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