Fish rap: The little things land the biggest fish

I’m a highly competitive person and a big sports fan, so I often compare fishing to playing sports. And, to use some “coach speak,” I find catching big fish requires doing the little things right.

We all dream about landing the big one. The slab. The toad. The line-peeling monster that will put us in the record books — or at least make us the envy of our friends. But when that wall-hanger bites, the fate of the story we’ll tell for decades is likely to have been decided long before the fish takes the bait. Here are five tips for making sure it becomes the fish of a lifetime instead of the one that got away:

1. Knot up: Too many monsters have escaped because of a shoddy knot. Tie it right! If it’s frayed, bunchy or imperfect in any way, cut the line and start over. It only takes 30 seconds and it will save you heartache in the end.

2. Bring the net: Never leave home without it. Don’t count on your buddy to bring his. Don’t leave it in the garage “because we’re only catching bluegill today.” Don’t leave it behind because you don’t feel like carrying it to the river. When The Big One shows up, you’ll be glad to have it within arm’s reach.

3. Maintain your equipment: Change your line at least twice a season. Clean and oil your reels. Store your tackle in a cool, dry place (not the trunk). Winter is a great time to take care of your gear so it can take care of you when The Big One strikes.

4. Hammer time: I never want to lose a big fish because of a bad hook set, so I treat every bite like it’s a big fish. The guys in the nearest boat might snicker at you for rearing back on an six-incher, but you’ll have the last laugh when you bury the hook on a six-pounder.

5. Do what you do: Athletes have routines that lead to success, and fishermen can do the same. The more comfortable you are with your gear, lures, target species and location, the better your chances. If you’re doing what you do best when the big one hits, odds are you’ll get it in the boat.

Tight lines!