Gaffing a big fish isn’t about the simple bruteness of a Neanderthal sinking a hook to claim his meat. It’s much more of a precision science, for a few reasons.
Captain Robert Trosset, simply known as RT all around the world, is a living legend in Key West Florida. He currently holds 207 IGFA World Records, so who better to ask on how to gaff a big fish for the icebox? I recently ran into him at Hawk’s Cay resort in—where else—the Florida Keys, and he enlightened me with these three top techniques to gaff large fish.
1. Don’t gaff toothy fish in the tail
“Go for the head on fish that have teeth that could harm you,” he says. “If you gaff a wahoo in the tail, they have a notorious penchant for writhing back on you with those slashing teeth. You don’t want to be on the receiving end.”
2. Gaff fish in front of the dorsal fin
“On any large fish, the head controls where the rest of the body is going. The best spot to hit is right in front of the dorsal in the fat of the back meat. By gaffing in front of the dorsal, you effectively take both the head and the tail out of the equation for the fish to power out of the situation.”
3. Control the fish at boatside
“Large fish will have a lot of fight left in them, especially when you sink the gaff. Don’t horse him in over the gunnel right off the bat. Hold him over the side and let him thrash at side of boat before you bring him in. He’ll expend the rest of his energy doing that and when its safe, pull him over and onto deck.”
I’ll add a few other notable big-fish gaffing techniques. Always sink the gaff in the head or under the bottom lip of a tuna to protect the good-eatin’ meat. You don’t want to waste valuable steaks by punching a huge hole in the fish and letting blood run through, ruining the meat.
When gaffing mahi, sink the gaff and lift the fish over the gunnel and straight into the already open icebox, all in one fluid motion. Don’t let the fish touch the deck. Mahi are notorious for slapping ferociously around the boat, leaving huge red welts on legs or worse. I recall one 25-pound mahi that left a tail mark bruise on my leg that lasted for weeks.
Big fish shouldn’t be a big problem when putting a gaff in ’em, and now, they won’t be for you. Got any good gaff stories? Do tell.