“Don’t trout set, mon.”
Over the years countless bonefish anglers have heard this phrase from their Bahamian guides. OK, we know not to trout set, but what are we supposed to do?
Let’s start with a little bit of background. As trout anglers we’ve been trained to raise the rod when a fish eats. Raising a fly rod turns it into a shock absorber – it gives a smooth, steady pull on the fly that protects a light trout tippet and does just fine pinning your barbless #18 hook into a trout’s lip.
- String up a fly rod with a line and a leader but with no fly.
- Grab onto the end of the leader (with a light leader you can wrap it around your hand if you like).
- Have your buddy grab the fly rod and walk back about 20 feet.
- Have your buddy do a ‘trout set’ – just raise the rod tip. Pretty smooth pull, huh?
- Now have your buddy point the rod straight at you, slowly pull in the excess line, and after the line is tight, give it another quick strip. OK, point made?
If you don’t have a buddy (nearby, at least) to try this with, just trust us – the classic trout set results in a very smooth gradual pull – excellent for protecting 7x tippets but terrible for burying 1/0 saltwater hooks into the mouth of a bonefish. Stripping the fly with the rod pointed straight results in a much sharper, stronger jab.
Here’s how to present and then set the hook when a bonefish eats.
- Make your cast.
- Keep your rod tip in the water, pointed straight at the fish. Strip out the excess slack.
- When the fish sees the fly, give it a few quick trips.
- Once he follows, keep moving the fly, pausing only to let him keep up with it.
- Keep your rod pointed straight at the fish.
- When you see the fish tip down to eat, or you feel resistance when stripping the fly line, keep your rod pointed straight at the fish.
- Now give the line one more firm, long strip. It’ll generally stop dead, or the fish will take off. In either case, the hook is now set and you can raise the rod tip and have some fun fighting that bonefish.
It’s really hard at first to not raise your rod. For us the idea that finally got it through our thick skulls was “keeping stripping until the line is tight”. If you keep stripping until the line is tight and you don’t raise your rod tip, chances are you’ve buried the hook into that fish’s mouth and you’re good to go.
For some practice on setting the hook properly, drop us a line about a trip to Andros South.
Davin Ebanks says
Sweet. This is such good stuff here. Really.
There is one other reason a trout set doesn’t work on bonefish and it’s to do with the WAY a bonefish eats, as apposed to a trout, or bass, or even jacks or tarpon. That is, a bonefish does NOT eat and turn. Also, a bonefish doesn’t actually close his mouth around his food. He sucks it in, crushes it with his crushers, and expels any excess dirt or debris. That means he needs water flowing through his mouth the whole time, so his MOUTH STAYS OPEN. When you raise the rod on a bonefish the hook is simply traveling too fast to catch in the fish’s mouth. It works on trout, since his mouth is actually closed and he’s (probably) heading away from you already, but on a bonefish it just pulls the hook right back out.
Think about this, most bonefish eat the fly while heading directly toward the angler and if the angler does a proper strip strike the fish should be hooked while coming directly at the angler too. Now think about how many landed bonefish have that fly right in the corner of the mouth. What do you think, 90%? At least. How is that possible if the fish was facing you when you hooked it?
Here’s what I think might be happening. You strip when the fish is on the fly and keep stripping until you feel resistance. Good. This basically means your just keeping the fish from putting slack in the line and spitting the fly. Also, by stripping a bit faster than the fish is swimming your taking the stretch out of the fly line. These combine to allow the hook tip to catch somewhere in the fish’s mouth, but it’s not actually hooked yet… not until the fish turns and blasts off at WarpFactor 3 AWAY FROM YOU. That’s when the hook tip pulls free and then hooks the bone in the corner of it’s now closed mouth.
Of course, I’ve never used a “Critter Cam” or have anything to prove it, but that’s what years of observation have led me to think.
PS Another time to keep the rod pointed at the fish is if the guide is still telling you to strip even though you’ve run out of flyline. DO not, do NOT swing the rod. Just keep stripping w/ the rod still pointed at the fish. If the guide thinks the bonefish will eat the fly and it hasn’t spooked yet, it might still eat but if you swing the rod then it’s game over. Redo from start. Record for me w/ a guest so far is about 1-foot (yup, 12 inches) of leader (yup, tippet) out the rod tip when the fish ate. Just because you run out of fly line doesn’t mean that you should start spin-fishing.