On some waters it is almost impossible not to lose some fish, as the weed becomes so thick that it is often easier to retrieve a rig with a fish on the end than it is without one!
These days, I will tend to fish some places early in the year before the weed takes a firm hold. This way, I can minimise the number of fish snagged, but still, you will suffer from the occasional mishap and it is just as well to know what to do when the inevitable does happen.
Are you up for it?
The most common mistake I see angler's making, is not fishing with tackle that is adequate for the job. I can see no point in hooking fish only to lose them. The aim, after all, is to get the buggers on the bank! When deciding what gear you are going to use try to evaluate the conditions that face you. How dangerous are the snags / weed beds? How big are the fish? Are you alone? Are the fish particularly hard fighting? With experience you will learn when and what balanced tackle you will need to get the fish out.
Don't be afraid to fish heavy if you need to. Whilst my standard barbel tackle on most rivers is generally a pound and a half Avon rod with eight pound line, on small rivers containing monster barbel I have no hesitation in stepping up to twelve pound line and two pound test curve rods, should the conditions demand it. This might sound heavy handed, but as long as the rods have a through action you will not damage the fish and you will also get them out much quicker than on lighter tackle, so they go back in better condition.
Don't imagine though that just because you are fishing with relatively heavy tackle you have to pull the fish's head off in the rush to land it in record time. Fishing heavier means you can dictate the fight more and stand a better chance of getting the fish out should it become snagged. Remember, play then firmly, but don't panic!
Getting them out
Inevitably, even when using the right gear, the odd fish will still cause you some problems, so you will have to develop a plan for dealing with these rogues. Get yourself organised. On the lake I am rudd fishing at present the first thing I do is to run ten yards up the bank getting an extra fifteen feet above the water. This probably looks quite insane from the other bank, but it allows me to get the fish up in the water quickly before they hit a dense weed bed half way out. By thinking about what I am doing I can keep them away from the weed and out of trouble.
There are four main ways that you are going to lose fish when they hit a snag. Firstly, the line will be cut or abraded to such an extent that it snaps. Secondly, the fish will become stuck so you have to pull for a break. Thirdly, the line will become partially snagged, so that it puts an additional strain on the tackle. Finally, the line will slacken and the fish will fall off.
The first problem is at least partially overcome by choosing the correct tackle. Snags come in many different types. Rooted plants will not normally cause line breakage, whereas roots, mussel beds and gravel bars will. If you think you are dealing with sharp objects then choose a line with superior abrasion resistance, or go for a relatively thick line, such as Maxima. With the thicker lines you can afford the line to get slightly damaged without loosing too much strength. Alternatively, you could try one of the armoured tubes, or kevlar braids that are available. Personally, I am not a great fan of these lines, but if you have a lot of zebra mussels they may be your only option.
Stopping fish from getting stuck fast involves quite a bit of positive thinking. I go into the situation thinking that it is much better to stop the fish reaching the snags and get broken in the first place than it is to let the fish get into the snags and then leave it tethered to a snag. So when the fish heads for submerged branches and the like, I lock up and give the fish everything I can to turn it before it gets into trouble.
With softer stuff, like Canadian pond weed, I employ a slightly different technique. Stopping the fish dead is not quite as important, so I will put on maximum pressure as soon as I feel the line starting to pick up weed. If the fish does go to ground then I will put the rod down and leave the line quite slack until the fish finds it's own way out. Although I don't have a lot of patience, with big fish, such as carp and pike, it can take them as much as a couple of hours to dig themselves out. Alternatively, it is worth alternating between maximum pressure and dead slack, as this can sometimes get them moving.
The third scenario tends to happen without the angler even knowing about it. At best, you will feel the line start to grate before it breaks. The best answer is to keep the fish on a tight line, but slacken right off and try to get a different angle on the fish. Generally, this works a treat and the line will simply ping free.
The final scenario is a particular problem with chub, but can affect all coarse fish. There is no doubt that barbed hooks will stay in much better when the fish go doggo. This is why I still use barbed hooks unless the fishery rules state otherwise. I have also found the Mustard long point hooks stay in really well under these conditions and land me more fish.
Although we all lose fish from time to time, there are generally ways and means of retrieving even the worst situations. If you can, avoid the fish getting stuck in the first place, but with a little bit of luck and a smidgen of patience, even the worst scenario can have a happy ending.