- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
The origin of stand-up short rod fishing—to the best of my knowledge—lies in the long-range boats out of California, where yellowfin tuna anglers fishing from large stationery platforms demanded rods that would give them enough leverage to quickly bring big fish to the boat. Because there was no way the anchored boats could go to the fish, short, beefy rods were developed to haul the fish boat side.
In 1986 I read an article in a fishing publication about the leverage advantages of short rods. At the time my fishing was confined to South Florida for sailfish in the winter and the Bahamas for Blue Marlin from March through September. I was beginning to get bored with catching these magnificent creatures seated in a fighting chair. I had part of stand-up fishing already figured out since I always hooked the fish standing up and never retired to the fighting chair until the fish sounded. All I really lacked was the short rod part.
Fishing large billfish while standing turns an angler into an athlete.
The article mentioned Hal Chittum who owned a tackle shop in Islamorada, Fla. We took a trip down to the store just so we could meet Hal and discuss stand-up short rods with him. Hal was extremely helpful, to the point of loaning me a set of 80-pound stand-up rods to try out on blue marlin in St. Thomas the following weekend.
I bought a gimbal belt and kidney harness, took my borrowed rods, and set off on a new adventure. Walking down the docks in St. Thomas the comments I heard mostly dealt with my having lost my mind trying to catch a large marlin on those little sticks (comments I became accustomed to over the years as I heard them uttered at various fishing docks around the world). However, at the end of two day's fishing, having managed to catch a couple of good sized marlin in a remarkably short time, these same doubters were asking me if they could buy the rods from me.
That first outing was particularly challenging, as I had never seen short rods used and was learning as I went. When we returned the rods to Hal we suggested what we would like to see changed. Although they weren't mine, Hal just altered them to suit me and let me borrow them again the following month for another trial in St. Thomas. This time the marlin I encountered was larger than the first, and despite difficulties, again was caught in a fairly short time. I was determined to perfect this new challenge. It was an agonizing beginning, but out of it evolved the pelvic tilt, the cornerstone of my technique. The only part of the body that ever seems to hurt a stand-up angler is the back.
Executing a "pelvic tilt" takes pressure off of the back and transfers it to the stronger thigh and buttock muscles.
Stand Up, Be Proud
Why would anyone want to catch a large marlin standing up? Why would anyone want to run faster, climb the highest mountain, swim further? For me the answer is simple: pride of accomplishment. It's the challenge of going one-on-one with the fish, and then, at the end of each fight, the most important reason of all—pride. As I watch the fish swim away, the feeling that I played a major role in bringing that fish to the boat fills me with a sense of accomplishment that I never experienced when fighting fish from a chair where really the fish has no chance as it is outgunned.
Stand-up short rod fishing has taken a pastime that was fairly passive and added a new dimension—athletics requiring technique, stamina and practice. An angler now must be an athlete.
Gear That Stands Out
Like any other sport, equipment selection and fit is paramount to success. If one part of the system isn't right, if one element hurts, it will make the fight as much with equipment as it is with the fish, which all gets magnified when the fish is of large dimensions.
Requirements for successful stand-up billfishing are a well-engineered rod, a quality reel, auxiliary gear that is comfortable and properly fit, and an energy efficient technique. Then neither you nor the fish should suffer for long periods of time.
Stand And Fight
The stand-up short rod technique that I developed begins with stance. You stand with your feet at least shoulder width apart (or slightly wider); knees should be slightly bent and can in most cases be braced against the cockpit coaming. This position will be maintained throughout the fight.
The stand-up method often means bracing the knees against the side of the boat.
To this you add the pelvic tilt—a move recommended by orthopedic experts to stabilize the back. The pelvic tilt is a back-flattening technique used to transfer pressure away from the lower back to the large, powerful muscles of the buttocks and thighs. To accomplish this, you assume a stance with feet spread and knees slightly bent. Normally you would have a slight sway to the back, but to do the pelvic tilt properly, simply take your hips and tuck them under, creating a straight line from hips to shoulder. The back, the most vulnerable part of a stand-up angler's body, should stay straight throughout the fight.
Start by putting on a gimbal belt and positioning it so the gimbal cup rests in front of the groin area. Then, assume the position, feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and hips tucked under. Place the rod butt in the gimbal cup and place your left hand as far up on the foregrip of the rod as is comfortable. To lower the rod, jut your hips out and back, lowering the rod until it is almost parallel to the deck, then tuck your hips under to raise the rod.
Your left arm shouldn't be doing any of the lifting. It is merely a connection between yourself and the rod. All the work should be done in the pelvic/hip area utilizing the largest muscles in the body.
The highest the rod should be lifted is to a 45-degree angle from parallel (the furthest forward extension of the pelvic tilt). If you bring the rod to a high-stick position you have created three problems for yourself. First, you have taken some of the pressure off the fish. Second, you are now using your left arm, and in time it will tire. And, third, you will create long sweeps when you drop the rod, which can result in laying slack line. This will enable the fish to recapture its head and take off on a long run turning what could have been a short fight into a prolonged one. This results in both the angler and fish becoming exhausted. And, unfortunately, the consequences for a fatigued fish can be fatal.
The technique is the same when a kidney or full body harness is added, only now the left hand need no longer be placed on the foregrip. It can instead rest on the face of the reel and be used to guide the line to prevent it bunching up in the center, or used to add additional drag pressure without using the drag lever.
Once you've developed a technique and learned how to pressure a fish, you will find that you are capturing fish in much shorter periods of time on a regular basis than you were with conventional tackle. The quicker you can end the fight—you claiming victory by bringing the fish to wire, and the fish claming victory by virtue of being set free—the better off both of you will be physically.
If you are seeking an unparalleled thrill, the excitement of going one-on-one with a fish, and the chest-swelling pride of a job well done when the fish is released, perhaps stand-up short rod billfishing is just for you.