I will be the first to admit that there are times where the gaff is the only option. Although netting is my preferred method of securing a hooked fish, there are times when netting a fish is simply not a possibility.
There are two main types of gaff that we use here in Western Australia, the Cliff gaff, also known as the line or rope gaff, and the pole gaff. The pole gaff is mainly used when fishing off the beach to land large fish, Rays and Sharks, while the cliff gaff is used on cliffs and ledges above 4-5 meters where using a net or long pole gaff is out of the question.
There are also two main types of landing nets that most anglers will be familiar with, Traditional mesh net and the Enviro net. The latter having gained a lot of popularity recently due to conscientious anglers realizing the benefits of the finer mesh. Not only does it mean that sinkers and hooks don’t become tangled in the net but it also means that the slimy membrane that covers the fish is not broken if the fish is to be returned. It will also help to stop fins, eyes, scales, tail and gills from being damaged by the coarse mesh of traditional nets during landing.
There are a lot of benefits of using nets over gaff’s and as anglers become more focused on sustainable fishing, environmentally sound capture techniques and humane releases more and more fisherman will turn to nets. There is also a lot to be said for the capture rates of nets over gaff’s when dealing with heavily scaled fish like snapper and Mulloway.
I have experienced firsthand the heart wrenching loss of a good fish at the bottom of a cliff while the gaff man tried in vain to sink the gaff home while the fish dangled precariously half in and half out of the water. I firmly believe that the fish in question would have been a successful capture using the type of net that I now use virtually exclusively.
During Snapper season I hear numerous stories of quality Snapper and Mulloway being lost at the bottom of marina walls while the angler’s friends tried in vain to land the gaff unfortunately the only thing they succeeded in doing was knocking them further down into the depths of the limestone boulder dungeons that form our marina walls.
So do I ever gaff fish? The answer is yes. I very rarely gaff fish on the beach as I prefer to use the natural wash of the ocean to gently beach my quarry. Many a time has a beaten fish given one last effort and shaken the hooks when confronted with an excited fisherman charging headlong into the water, sporting a shiny gaff ready to strike.
I do however use a line gaff or flying gaff when fishing the cliffs on our northern coastline. When there is simply no other option than to gaff the fish then I will employ the “chrome claw”, especially when looking to keep a few fish for the plate, but if there is no other option than to use the gaff then try and observe these simple guidelines.
According to many competition guidelines the best place to gaff sharks is in the Dorsal fin region. Sharks have amazingly tough skin so there is no need to gaff deep into the flesh.
Rays should never be gaffed in the wings or back. The wings can easily tear when being dragged by a gaff in the wing and rays internal organs are located not too far under the surface of the back. The best place to gaff a Ray is in the front of the mouth as Rays mouths are made up of very hard plates and tissues.
Whatever your decision, gaff or net, the most important thing is to treat the fish with respect and cause the least amount of harm possible. If you intend to release the fish, then the focus should be on speed and care. Land the fish, take your measurements and photos and release as quickly as possible.