How to Gaff a Fish

How to Gaff a Fish

When you gaff a fish, you are using a long pole with a sharp hook on the end. The hook is used to stab a large fish and lift it into the boat. They are used when the weight of the fish exceeds the breaking point of the fishing pole or line. To gaff a fish, you need to try to put the hook under the backbone but sometimes that is not possible when the fish is trying to get away. If you are planning to release the fish after you capture it, bring it onboard for a picture with it, you should not use the gaff. When you gaff a fish, it will eventually die so you cannot release it back to the water.

How to Gaff a Fish

As the fish is slowly swimming on the surface, put the gaff over the back of the fish, and align the hook over the Dorsal fin. Patience and accuracy is an important thing to remember when gaffing a fish. One thing that you should not do is pull the gaff extremely fast and hard. If you do this, you could rip the gaff through the fish or miss the fish entirely. On a larger fish, it is more about accuracy and letting the fish’s weight help the gaff pierce through. 

Once you have the fish on the gaff, it is time to lift the fish into the boat. The longer you wait and leave the fish in the water, the more chance the fish has to come off the gaff. Hold the poll strong to make sure that you keep control of the fish. Use both hands to pull the fish toward the boat. After you have the fish on the side of the boat vertically pull the gaff up and over the railing. Do not try to pull it horizontally over the rail because the fish could slide off the hook. After fighting to get the fish to expend all their energy, you do not want it slipping off the hook, losing the fish.

It is also important that you position the angler and the gaff right. Whoever is handling the gaff should be next to the angler where the fish is going to surface the side of the boat. When using the gaff, make sure that the person using it is clear of the fishing line as one hit of the gaff will cause the fishing line to break.

When Not to Gaff a Fish

You should make sure that you do not gaff a fish that you are not going to keep. It would be very inhumane to gaff a fish and then throw it back into the water. If you are not sure that the fish you are fighting to get in the boat is of legal size and in season, do not gaff it. You also should not try to gaff a fish when it is full of energy as the fish can jump off the gaff or pull the gaff out of your hands. The best thing to do with a fighting fish is to let the angler fight it until the fish becomes exhausted. You can tell when it is getting exhausted because it will generally come to the surface but not try to swim away. 

Tips on How to Gaff a Fish

When you are trying to gaff a fish use these tips.

  • Never gaff the fish in the stomach, tail, or head as this can cause the fish to jump off the gaff and get away. You should try to gaff it behind the head underneath the Dorsal fin, or under the backbone, although this may be hard to do.
  • Make sure that you do not aim for the tail or stab the fish.
  • Do not rush to gaff a fish but wait until the fish is close by and you have a clean shot.
  • When gaffing a fish, reach over it to gaff it and in one fluid motion gaff it into the boat, which is swinging it in. Make sure that you sweep it toward the boat.
  • The one that is fighting the fish should not be the one trying to gaff the fish. The angler should also keep the fish right below the surface of the water and never lift its head out.
  • Always make sure that you are using the right size gaff for that particular fish.

Choosing the Best Gaff

This is an important part of gaffing a fish. If the gaff hook is too small or light it could break off in the heavy fish. When you are choosing one make sure that it is durable. Check the size of the gaff. One that is generally picked is the one that is for fish from 30 to 100 pounds. That is big enough for tuna, amberjack, rays, and more. It should have at least a five-inch gap hook and be at least six feet in length.

My personal favorite fishing gaff can be found here on Amazon.


When you use a gaff, make sure that you clean it after every use, and when storing it, cover it with plastic and put something protective on the hook like a giant cork or tennis ball. If there are children on board, be careful using the gaff around them. 

After fighting the fish and it has started to wear itself out, bring it close enough to the boat so you can make sure that it is the species you want to keep and that it is the right size. Yes, it would be awful to have to catch-and-release a fish you have been fighting for some time but you can still bring it on board and have your picture taken with it so it is not a total loss. Now you know how to gaff a fish, when not to gaff a fish, the right gaff equipment, and tips on gaffing, go enjoy your deep sea fishing trip for that bluefin tuna, barracuda, or whatever big game fish you want to fish for.

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