Merwin: What Fish Pulls the Hardest?

One of our readers last week had a good question: How hard can a fish pull? Or, as a corollary, what's the hardest pulling fish for its size?

The short answer is that ... I don't know. That's just because like most anglers I usually use a reel's drag to slow a fighting fish rather than stopping it cold, which would potentially result in a broken line.

A charter-captain friend routinely uses 28 pounds of drag in fishing for bluefin tuna with heavy, offshore spinning tackle. A freshly-hooked 100- to 150-pound bluefin will readily pull line against that much drag, although it will also quickly tire out. But that's as much or more drag than most anglers can easily handle, so the fisherman in this case dictates the upper limit of usable force and not the fish.

When I occasionally hook a big largemouth--say 7 or 8 pounds--while bass fishing, I'd guess that fish's initial force in diving for cover to be around 5 or 6 pounds. That's just from recollection, not something I've measured, although that is a case in which I'm trying to stop the fish entirely before it can surge into a weed bed.

I think fish with lunate tail fins (meaning crescent or sickle-shaped) such as tuna, various jacks, and marlin can exert more proportionately more force than those with broad tails such as bass or trout. That's because lunate fins evolved as a means for attaining high speeds while broad tails are generally for maneuverability.

That said, I also know that a hot steelhead when newly hooked and off on a blistering run pulls with amazing force. So maybe there's more to it than just tail shape.

And maybe your favorite fish--whatever that might be--has more pulling power than any other. Any ideas?