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Fighting fit for your GT trip

Flat on his back – JC was well prepared but well worked over
So you have bought all your lures, expensive rods are packed, Stella or Dogfight is freshly spooled and you are off on the trip of a lifetime to arm wrestle with one of the most powerful fish in the ocean – the mighty giant trevally.  Everything is set, the weather looks great every contingency is taken care of, but have you planned for everything?  What about a crucial link in this man v’s fish contest?? – you! If you have cast all day for GT’s and wrestled on a tight drag with even modest fish you will understand what we are talking about – too often the unconditioned end up sitting it out in the tropical heat, taking extended breaks because the body is not up to the extreme rigours – what a shame, on a dream trip you should be fishing not watching others fish. There are quite a few factors that make GT fishing physically taxing.  Without getting too technical, here are a few of the issues working against you performing optimally:
  • High end top water gear designed for GT popping despite the technology is still relatively heavy.  A maximum / sub maximum cast with a 140 to 200 gram lure repeated 200 / 350 times a day will leave you pretty well sapped of energy even if you are reasonably fit.  As well as the fatigue, there are overuse injury considerations depending on your individual casting style  

  • Each cast will require sustained physical effort to retrieve and ‘work’ the lure (this effort will vary on lure type and your own approach), again fatigue and repetitive rotational movements come into play
  •  When hooked up to a rampaging GT, the long rod + or – 8 foot (vital to cast) then acts as a large fulcrum against the angler.  Combined with the heavy drag pressures necessary to keep your prize off the reef, this effectively pulls the rod down and away from you (bad leverage and uncomfortable), placing massive strain on your spinal erectors (lower back), hamstrings (back of your upper legs), glutes (butt), latisimus dorsi (the large muscular ‘wings’ on your upper back) and the parts that hang on, hands, arms, shoulders.  On a decent fish with good technique the legs can be the prime mover and make the whole event more comfortable and strain can be reduced.  With poor technique and inadequate conditioning you are going to be pulled forward out of your ‘seat’ and hurt – not in a good way, almost to the point you can be pulled forward on to your nose on the deck – not the desired result
  • Unless you are fortunate to live close to good GT action, it will usually mean you have flown in and may be jet lagged, dehydrated, not acclimatised to the tropics and humidity and dare I say it, potentially hung over
  • and finally – heavy ‘popping’
    is a movement that utilities that WHOLE BODY.  Using just your arms alone
    is a sure fire way to cut you day short, just as ONLY popping to you
    dominant side is likely to end in overuse injury.  Fatigue can be
    managed  to an extent by casting both sides and popping both ways, (left
    and right).  Continually casting and or popping to
    one side is asking for extreme tightness and potentially spasms.
It is no secret, that the more long powerful casts you can make and stay alert to making your popper or stick bait come alive, the better chance you have of hooking that trophy fish.
Our friends at No Boundaries Oman know about as much as anyone around about catching these giants and preparing your body for it – Ed Nicholas (No Boundaries skipper), Ben Thomson (Sports and Conditioning Coach and PT) from Brisbane along with John from Ebb Tide Adventures – (a physical training instructor and GT junky with 20 years in the fitness industry) have combined their thoughts along with input from others.  We collectively believe that the three biggest challenges you will face – repetitive casting heavy popping gear, really working the lure especially chuggers, and fish fighting can all be prepared for and your GT popping experience can be more enjoyable and productive.

The whole purpose of this blog is not to show anyone how good we are (or not) but to help you prepare for your trip, enjoy it and get the most from it.  In accepting this philosophy that you should condition and train for a GT top water trip of a life time, correct fighting techniques must be mentioned so that the conditioning exercises make some degree of sense to you if you are not from a training background.  Take a look at Ed Nicholas locked in battle with an Oman monster GT ~

Perfect to prepare for GT battle
Notice how Ed used his upper back
and legs to fight the fish, keeps his arms relatively straight for large parts
of the fight to reduce fatigue on what are small muscle groups and he really gets
down low, bending his legs and almost sitting down when the fish plays up? 
It gives him some comfort (and helped him not fall over forwards) – this is a
great demonstration, and an idea of the conditioning exercises you might concentrate on
to achieve this degree of control.  Technique is paramount, use your whole
body to fight the fish not just your arms, so train the whole body!   

Add a few hundred long casts in the tropical sun
The training ~ to prescribe a one size fits all fitness regimes for GT
fishing is actually not possible.  The intricacies of our our age,
demographic, genetics, previous conditioning, athleticism, previous or
susceptibility to injury and medical conditioning make this impossible to
do.  Our training needs are likely to be
as individual as we are.  For example a
less physically strong or lighter angler will require plenty of strength training, and
conversely many overweight and larger anglers require cardio because they are ‘naturally strong’ anyway.  Of course the ideal is to combine a good dose
of both, it’s impossible however to prescribe specifically over a blog.  What
we can do however is offer you some broader concepts that we will dissect and
explain why you might consider them necessary to add to your own program.  Armed with this information, you may choose
to ‘take away’ and refine your own program or better still work with a trainer to achieve your goals. If you are coming off a low base to
begin with, regardless of age we all need some general conditioning before
training specifically, and if you are sedentary and have been so for some time
you really have some work to do but it will be worth it.  This general
conditioning should be part of your regular training program leading right up
to your trip as well as the specific conditioning we discuss as well.

Swell adds to the casting challenge
General Conditioning (GC) – Overall
as a philosophy we favour compound exercises – those that recruit / engage
multiple joints and muscle groups with an emphasis on mobility and ‘functional
fitness’.  Many GT fisherman firmly believe that some specific isolation
exercises are warranted as well, we don’t necessarily prescribe too strongly to
that theory, but specific injuries may dictate that this is necessary for you
individually.  Cardio training should
always be part of any conditioning program.  It warms up the muscles and builds
an aerobic base – this will assist with your endurance both in training and whilst
fishing.  Try any combination of jogging, cycling, rowing, stair climbing
or skipping, a block of at least 20 minutes or a combined total of at least 20
minutes is a great start.  Our personal tip is running and rowing.  

Olympic lifts – worth considering
Specific Conditioning (SC) – If you have been GT fishing for a while and have been
engaged in a general conditioning program you may be after a more challenging
program, here are a few thoughts.  The overall training program will
change to an extent however the approach to training should change
significantly.  Employing the philosophies and general methodologies
behind Cross Fit or circuit training of perpetually changing the workout
between aerobic exercise, gymnastics (body weight exercises), and Olympic
weight lifting will get you very well-conditioned and strong.  These workouts
are a challenge when you work against the clock.  Add or substitute
exercises involving kettle bells, a balance board or a TRX suspension trainer
and you will soon tame any monster. 

Onto the exercises – Leg
strengthening ~
the legs and gluteus are prime
movers when it comes to GT fighting and need to be strong and able to endure a
static squat to relieve pressure on the lower back when a fish lunges under the
boat.  Legs also help power off cast after cast as the weight transfers
across to the front foot.  Front squats, lunges, and dead
lifts are the best leg general conditioning exercises by far.  Romanian Dead lifts
and any form of single leg work is an excellent idea for advanced practitioners. 
Rarely do we get a chance to stand on a boat that is still, and singling out each
leg with exercises that also require stabilising muscles to provide balance can
help unleash new found power.  Single leg s
and lunges with or without the use of a wobble board will exponentially
increase your ability to transfer and apply power on a rocky boat deck. 
Overall reduce any temptation to use isolation exercises such as leg extensions
that do not significantly aid the functional conditioning you should be seeking. 

Time for a strong back
Back strengthening ~ in fish fighting the aim is largely to maintain pressure on the fish whilst reducing pressure on the lower
back.  Despite this goal, in the GT world this is not completely avoidable especially with vertical fights so
the back must be strong to protect it especially if we end up in a bad position
with a fish right under the boat.  Chin ups, seated and bent over rows and hyper
extensions are very good as well as dead lifts (which recruit the lower and middle back muscles
as well as the legs are a must include exercise).  The deep stabilising
muscles can again be recruited by adding in exercises that allow pulling
movements across the natural pulling plane similar to those that occur in a GT
fight – one arm cable rows or one arm TRX rows are good examples of specific
advanced exercises.

TRX suspension trainers – perfect for the time poor

Core conditioning ~ an enormous aspect of protecting the spine and preparing
for the rotational forces in casting and working a lure for sustained periods
are the deep abdominal exercises: traditional sit ups, medicine ball twists, twisting
crunches and planks are excellent for general conditioning but when moving into
functional training that mimics the rotational forces of GT popping and power
transmission required, standing exercises are superior.  The oblique’s and transverse abdominal have
a massive role to play and standing rotational work like roll-outs, landmines and
wood-chops are incorporated not only for their ability to target the right
muscle groups with an increase in muscular co-ordination directly related to popping technique.

The frontal upper body ~ this area has a reduced role in this sport fishing
application however it is not a complete passenger.  As part of injury
prevention it must as a minimum be conditioned to balance out the other
development occurring: push-ups or bench press, upright rows and military press
are applicable exercises.

Dead lifts are one of the most fundamental lifts
Whole body exercises ~ these exercises are really the focus of our GT training
philosophy.  We are big fans of the
Olympic lifts, in fact we love them.  Dead lifts have already been
mentioned, however the clean and press and snatch are amazing exercises that
recruit almost every muscle in the body and bare strong resemblance to the
casting and fighting movements.  Master these and you will be plenty
strong enough.  These lifts should all be
learnt under the guidance of a fitness professional and performed strictly to
avoid the chance of injury.  There is no
need to let the ego make you lift heavy, lift right and the weight increases
will come in good time.  If you can’t see
yourself doing Olympic lifts, at least add burpees into your program with a medicine
ball or sand bag. As part of a general conditioning
program any additional work that includes yoga or Pilates and specific rotator
cuff strengthening using physio bands is highly recommended.  A training
program that combines the above exercises with the cardio is a great
beginning.  As always, we recommend ‘lift light to lift right’ to avoid
bad practise and injuries, make certain you are lifting with good technique (consider
employing a trainer), it will pay off and your posture will improve in the
process.  Aside from actual physical
conditioning, take your gear to a waterway and get used to casting it, even if it’s
in a freshwater lake.  

Even if you don’t train (and if you do) remember
these points:

  • get to your destination ahead of time to acclimatize
  • rest up, get some sleep – a minimum of 8 hours per night otherwise the accumulated fatigue is
    banked (decreases physical repair) up which results in watching the
  •  hydrate, remember electrolytes and
    take a drink every thirty minutes while fishing
  • a magnesium supplement
    is recommended not only for its muscular relaxing / building / sleep
    improving / performance enhancing qualities but because magnesium plays a vital
    role your daily physical / fishing activity and it’s in a scaled ratio.  The more you train / fish- the more you need!
    Its benefits are almost too good for the fisherman to ignore
  • consume high calorie meals and don’t
    deprive yourself sugar when on the boat – its instant energy
  • take steps to avoid sunburn, use
    zinc, high protection factor sunscreens, hats and long sleeved 50 plus clothing
  • remember some anti-inflammatory /
    pain killing nonprescription drugs.  If
    you are susceptible to sea sickness remember your medication and adhere to the
    directions to avoid disappointment
  • trigger point tools like a tennis
    ball / spikey-ball / or spine roller (small one) are vital for fisherman
    athlete maintenance. I have never been on a trip where everyone wasn’t tight from
    muscular overuse. Triggering main areas can have you fishing more, fishing with
    more movement and less aches and pains. I highly recommend this item for thoracic
    mobility and believe it’s a must for any serious fisherman
The final word
~ It is no secret, that the more long powerful casts you can make, and stay
alert to making your popper or stick bait come alive, the better chance you
have of catching that trophy fish.  Dare
we be so bold and suggest, that all things being equal, a fit angler will out
fish an unfit one – period

Thanks to:

Ed Nicholas – skipper No Boundaries Oman

Ben Thomson, Sports and Conditioning Coach and Personal Trainer – located in  Brisbane, ([email protected])

To keep abreast of our training programs and suggestions, check out the Facebook page for more training ideas and tips – give it a ‘Like’ at Fishing Fit

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