When a fish feels the hook, it struggles to get free. This might involve jumping, making a long run, swimming back against the line or swimming around obstacles. Each species of fish reacts differently. Fish hooked in shallow water are more likely to jump and behave more frantically than those hooked in deep water. Deep-water fish often seek the bottom. At this point, no matter how the fish reacts, you will need to know how to reel in a fish in order to get it back to the boat.  

If you are a beginner angler, try learning how to play a fish on a small pond or a lake for such species as panfish or bluegill. Many small fish can be landed simply by reeling them in. Hold the tip of your fishing rod at a 45 degree angle and reel. If you're catch and release fishing, don't play the fish too long or the fish can die from exhaustion before or after you release it.

Fighting Bigger Fish 

Bigger fish pull harder, and can be more challenging to reel in. You will know it is a big fish if it starts to take line off of your fishing while you are holding it tightly. You’ll know this is happening by the sound the reel makes when it goes into reverse. It’s a ‘buzz’ sound that many experienced anglers love to hear.

An important part of learning how to play a fish is knowing not to reel while the fish is swimming away (and taking line off the reel). Relax and let the drag and rod do the work. Just keep the fishing rod up at about a 45-degree angle to the water, aim it straight towards the fish, and be ready to reel when the drag stops moving and buzzing.


When the fish slows down and stops taking line off your reel, it's time to go to work. When learning how to reel in a fish of greater size, a great technique to try is the pump and reel.

  • Without reeling the fish in, lift the tip of the rod up like you’re trying to point it skyward to about 90 degrees. A stronger, or heavier fish will often put a major bend in your fishing rod, but don’t worry this is normal
  • Then reel as you lower the rod tip back down to about 45 degrees, keeping even pressure on the fish
  • Repeat this process

Tip: Use the pump and reel technique in small, smooth strokes rather than large abrupt sweeps because it will help keep both the line tight and the fish much calmer.

If the fish runs (or swims away) again, let it go and you will probably notice that each run is shorter and slower. But don't let the fish rest. If you can't see the line moving or hear your drag buzzing, you should be reeling.

Tip: Don't be anxious when first learning how to reel in a fish. Even if you get the fish close to the boat, that doesn't mean it's ready to come in. If it turns and runs, let it go. Your line is pretty short at this point, and the pump and reel action could break it.

Once you have learned how to play a fish and have reeled in your big catch you will need to land it using either your hands or a net. Visit here to learn how to land a fish.