by George Poveromo

Pick the best gaff and stick it to them every time.
George Poveromo
POLE CONTROL: These anglers had the right gaff aboard to finish this heavy wahoo.

If you've followed the kingfish tournament circuit, you've probably seen the 12-foot-long gaffs the top teams wield. The extra length allows them to take swipes at fish that might still have another run left in them-and another chance to escape. With thousands of dollars riding on a green king, it's no wonder the top anglers have tailored a gaff to their needs. But try sticking one of those gaffs in a big yellowfin tuna and you'll end up with an aluminum pretzel and no sashimi.


I've seen way too many fish lost at boatside because of inadequate or overpowered gaffs. The trick is to match your gaff to your style of fishing. Here are some guidelines to make sure you stick the fish with the proper tool for the job.


Get the Point
When choosing a gaff, the first thing you need to consider is the size and kind of fish you typically keep. No, this isn't a time for soul-searching or a hard self-evaluation of your fishing skills. It's a question of meat: How much is on the fish you generally bring aboard, and how is the meat distributed on its carcass? A large snapper carries its weight differently than a beefy cobia.


The gap or "throat"-the distance between the shank and point-of the gaff hook needs to be long enough to put the point into a thick-enough part of the fish that it won't tear free. A gaff that's too big for the task will be about as useful as one that's too small. And a gaff that's wrong either way will also be less forgiving when the fish surges at the last second, and you hit it somewhere you didn't expect. And trust me, that will happen.


There's another measurement to consider on a gaff-the diameter of the wire used to make the hook. If the gaff hook is not thick enough, it could straighten out or pull through the flesh-both situations will result in a loss of control. If the diameter of the hook is too thick, it can be hard to set and will probably damage the meat and make a mess of the fish.


Select a gaff hook with a throat that, when placed across the back of the fish, positions the point to embed in the thick shoulder, just behind the head and right up to the bend in the gaff hook. This is where the gaff is strongest. Standard hooks have throats from two to five inches. For large fish such as cobia, tuna and big dolphin, opt for a hook with a three- to five-inch gap, and one with a thick diameter wire, such as a 3⁄8- or even a 1⁄2-inch. For smaller game, such as school kings, dolphin and tunas less than 20 pounds, a two- or three-inch throat and smaller-diameter hook, say 1⁄4- or 5⁄16-inch, will work better.


Great Lengths
Once you iron out the hook, you'll need to match it to a handle. For that decision, take a look at your boat. Your gaff needs to be long enough to reach into the water and take a fish without putting you in a bad position. You shouldn't need to stretch most of your body over the gunwale or transom, which could upset your balance. When gaffing a fish, you want to focus on leverage and lifting, not keeping yourself aboard. Generally, smaller boats call for shorter gaffs, but the body position that makes you most comfortable should be the deciding factor.

Longer gaffs present the opportunity to take fish before they are brought right alongside the boat. Six-foot and longer gaffs reach those trophy-class offshore fish that always seem to put up a dogged fight just out of reach of a four- or five-footer. I stow an eight-foot gaff on my 28-foot center console for when we hook into a big yellowfin, wahoo or 30-plus-pound dolphin.

Buying Time
Over the years, I've bent a few gaff handles, straightened some gaff hooks and even had a hook separate from its pole. The common thread on all those horror stories was a cheap gaff. Trust me, at this point in the fish fight, there is no room to economize. Spend a few bucks and buy a good one.

The hook should be forged stainless steel and the handle crafted from either aluminum or a composite material. Foam or rubber grips give you control in wet conditions.


If you're an equal-opportunity angler like me, you'll want to cover your bases and carry a few gaffs in different sizes.

HEAD FIRST: Keep the gaff away from the fillets.
Photo: Gerry Bethge
That way, when you do decide to bring home that big tuna, dolphin or wahoo to meet the family, you'll be able to lay your hands on the right tool for the job.


Sharp Points
Follow these five tips to be a better gaffman.


1. Mind the Gap: Wait until the fish is in range. Taking a shot at a fish that's barely within reach of the gaff can leave you with poor footing and leverage that could cost you a fish or worse. And it's harder to place the shot from the stretch.


2. Follow the Leader: Get in position to gaff behind the fishing line, to avoid fouling it-if you miss, that line is the only connection to the fish.


3. Cold Shoulder: Plant the gaff in the shoulder of the fish, behind the head but in front of the dorsal fin. You get the leverage to control the fish and will damage less meat.


4. Point Taken: Simply lift up on the gaff to sink it in a fish-don't strike with all your fury. Smoothness counts.


5. Up and Over: Strike with the gaff, lift the fish from the water and deposit it directly into the fishbox in one continuous motion. If the fish is green, lift its head from the water and hold it boatside until it settles enough to be taken.

- G.P.