The following article was forwarded to InTheBite by Frank Murray, of Murray Brothers Originals. An expert in the construction and use of fighting chairs in heavy tackle situations, Murray came across the article which was originally published in New Zealand. As Murray describes the piece, “I came across it a number of years ago and was pretty impressed. For one, it is something that I should have done. Secondly, the breakdown is about 99 percent correct.”
The piece is written by, and republished with courtesy of, Captain Geoff Lamond of New Zealand Gamefishing. New Zealand is a world-class destination for big swordfish, some of the biggest striped marlin in the world, Pacific bluefin and blue and black marlin. The fisheries, combined with sometimes rough conditions, make use of fighting chairs an integral aspect of his operation. Lamond captains the Arenui, a 47’ custom that is available for charter in New Zealand.
The article is a great technical resource describing the proper setup and technique for using the fighting chair. While fighting chairs are an incredibly important tool in the heavy tackle fisheries of the world—Nova Scotia, Ascension Island, Bermuda, and the Great Barrier Reef, among others— instruction on the proper use, installation and technique is often overlooked.
While Lamond writes the piece with a New Zealand audience in mind, we believe it will be useful for your operation—wherever in the world you may be fishing.
By Captain Geoff Lamond, New Zealand Gamefishing
Any time I have a new angler or guest on board I always have them measured up and made familiar with correct chair fishing techniques. Setting up and using game or fighting chairs correctly can make a huge difference to the angler’s comfort, efficiency and overall enjoyment when tackling larger gamefish.
I find many anglers seem to become a little intimidated by game chairs, especially when the heavier 130-pound tackle is introduced for the more serious New Zealand gamefish such as swordfish and the west coast bluefin. In my view, a game chair is an essential tool if you’re serious about catching these bigger fish. Sure, stand-up fishing has its place amongst good anglers and it can also be a lot of fun, but if you’re serious about taking on these bigger fish, a decent game chair is a must—especially at night or in rough sea conditions.
I’ve seen a few chairs around the New Zealand game fishing scene that certainly don’t look to functional and I can only begin to imagine what an uncomfortable and unenjoyable experience it would be for any angler fighting a decent fish. A game chair’s positioning, variation in settings and overall strength will obviously have a major influence on fish fishing effectiveness. Faults in the game chair setup can cause anything from prolonged fighting times, unnecessarily wearing out anglers or worse still losing a fish of a lifetime.
The major advantage of well set up game chairs over standup techniques is that it allows better use of all major muscle groups in fishing a fish, especially the strongest muscle group—the leg muscles. Also, with a well-balanced technique and good bucket harness, there will be less fatigue on the angler during prolonged fights. It is important, however, to understand that your chair needs to be set up and used correctly from the start.
Adjusting the Chair to the Angler
Having the ability to alter the gimbal height and the footrest height and length is vitally important to the overall effectiveness of your chair. Anglers have different proportions, rods have differing butt lengths and of course settings will alter depending on the size of the tackle you prefer. It’s important to be able to alter the settings to suit tackle ranging 50 to 130 pound and to suit anglers from a child through to a front-row forward (offensive tackle). If your chair is set up correctly, all anglers should feel balanced and comfortable with any sized tackle they choose.
In my opinion, many of the New Zealand-constructed chairs don’t have enough variance in the height of the footrest. The footrest is the most important part of the whole chair system, as this is where anglers gain their strength. The height or angle of the footrest will depend on size of the tackle used, angling technique preferred and the overall fitness of the angler.
I generally like to teach people to ‘stand up’ with straight legs in the chair while fishing fish. It’s important to be able drop the footrest right down, making it easier for the angler to stand-up. Obviously, this may alter with the heavier tackle you use, as there’s more leverage from 130-pound tackle than 50 pound. It’s important to find a height where the angler feels most comfortable and balanced—and no this doesn’t mean sitting flat on their backside.
If the footrest height is too high the angler will never ‘stand up’ in the chair in a hundred years: basically wearing themselves out twice as quickly. If it’s too low the angler may feel like they’re over balancing and getting pulled out of the boat. It’s important to find the happy medium. Generally, I like to keep the footrest as low as comfortably possible and have the anglers ‘stand up’ and remain balanced. This way they can use their body weight to exert ‘pull’ through the rod tip. This technique is much better than sitting on their backsides, pulling
with their arms while wasting valuable energy.
As far as the footrest length is concerned, it’s pretty straightforward and the same rule is generally used for all anglers and all tackle sizes. Generally, I like to have the top of the angler’s calf resting on the chairs leading edge. It doesn’t matter how big or small the angler is, this length generally provides a good pivoting length.
Some chairs seem to have sharp leading edges that can at times dig into the angler’s calf muscles, especially during prolonged fights. Ideally, chairs with rounded edges are preferred for this reason. If discomfort occurs during a long fight, sometimes a towel or some sort of padding can help the situation, but generally the better chairs on the market will have their leading edges smoothed or rounded off.
As far as the gimbal height is concerned, this is basically dependent on size of tackle and length of the rod butt. Obviously, the reel and handle needs to clear the angler’s thighs, but not so high that is compromises any leverage and the ability for the angler to ‘stand up’ on the footrest. When the angler is in the standing position and the reel handle is at the bottom of the turn, the angler should never feel like they are reaching or dipping every time they rotate the handle. Obviously, this will once again waste precious energy during long fights. The correct gimbal height is where the angler can rotate the handle comfortably, without reaching or dipping while ‘standing up’ on the footrest.
There are plenty of differing harnesses around the New Zealand game fishing scene—some good and some not so good for chair fishing. Harnesses from the old classic over the shoulder trick through to kidney belts and even stand-up harnesses seem to get used on occasions. Generally, none of these are that suitable for using a chair effectively, and anglers certainly struggle with standing up on the footrest.
The most suitable harness for chair fishing is the bucket harness. The bucket harness sits under the angler’s backside and gives them the opportunity to stand in the chair and use their own body weight and leg muscles to pull back on the rod tip. This is obviously more energy efficient rather than pulling on the rod and rest with your arms and upper body. Purchasing a decent bucket harness is maybe something fishermen should consider if they’re serious about fishing fish from a chair.
A big no-no many anglers seem to consistently do is have their left hand on the rod’s fore grip. Correct chair fishing technique is having your left hand resting on top of the reel. Having the angler rest their hand on top of the reel keeps their shoulders square and body weight more balanced rather than reaching too far forward, especially while in the ‘standing’ position. Placing your left hand on top of the reel also lets the angler guide the line back onto the reel and on the rare occasions when the main line breaks under stress, the reel won’t come back and hit the angler in the chest. This is especially important on heavy tackle such as 130-pound when drag settings are much higher.
Another chair fishing technique is the ‘sliding’ technique that differs slightly from the ‘standing’ technique. Basically, rather than standing and gathering line and using your body wait to pull back on the rod tip, the angler bends his knees and slides forward in the chair to gather line and then pushes back with their legs to pull back on the rod tip. Sometimes liquid soap can help the angler slide easier and make the whole process smoother.
As I’ve already mentioned, I generally prefer anglers to use the standing technique, but good anglers will integrate the two as both techniques have advantages at different stages of a long fight, i.e. gathering line quickly or putting plenty of weight over the rod tip. Whatever technique you prefer, it’s important to remain balanced, comfortable and use your legs rather than your upper body to fight the fish.
The positioning of the angler’s feet on the footrest is something that is very subtle but probably the most important aspect for increasing pull or weight through the rod tip. The angler should also have his feet spread on the footrest to provide a good base. If the angler can raise or lower his feet on the footrest it can make a huge difference in the amount of leverage through the rod tip. Subtle changes of a couple of inches can make all the differences at times. Good anglers will be constantly raising or lowering their feet positioning to compensate the angle of pull.
Basically, if the angler feels as if they’re over-balancing they should lift their feet up a touch and if they feel as if they can’t stand in the chair they should drop their feet positioning slightly. Remembering subtle movements are all that is required but the angler should always be trying to find the right pivot or balance point.
There are currently a wide variety of game chairs available on the market today. As with a lot of products you certainly get what you pay for. Some of the cheaper options available seem to become more of a hindrance rather than aide for catching bigger fish. More expensive overseas designed options such as Murray Brothers and Reelax chairs certainly spring to mind as popular options used in many of the world’s fishing hotspots.
As long as a good quality chair is set up correctly and good technique is used, your game chair can become an essential, enjoyable and useful tool. This is especially true for the larger New Zealand species of blues, blacks, swordfish and the west coast bluefin tuna. Anyone and everyone should be able to fish 80 to 130 pound effectively from a chair if it’s set up right from the start.