We’ve gone on a few diatribes over the years about how to set the hook on a bonefish – here’s our most thorough post on the topic. One of the points that we stress the most (partly because we’re all guilty of screwing it up from time to time) is the importance of keeping your rod pointed straight at the fish, to allow a very sharp, direct hook set when the fish eats.
The most common violation of the ‘point your rod at the fish’ rule comes in the many variations of the ‘trout set’ – anglers often raise their rod tip before they’re tight to the fish, which makes the rod absorb the shock of the hook set, and often results in the hook not being set at all. Bonefish mouths are hard, and without a sharp tug the hook isn’t going to get buried like it should.
Sideways is Just as Bad
There’s another related no-no related to rod direction and saltwater fish, and it’s another situation where what works in fresh water doesn’t work in the salt.
We’re all used to mending line in moving water – big movements of the rod side-to-side can allow us to position line and fly to get the presentation we’re looking for. When we’re fishing a freshwater spot that’s very close to us, sometimes we can even drag the line and fly sideways into position and then raise the rod tip when we need to set the hook.
When a bonefish gets close and then turns, anglers often have the urge to use this technique to reposition the fly. If the fish is swimming towards the boat, say, at 9 o’clock, and then turns towards noon just 15 feet out, why not just drag the line and fly straight towards noon to get the fly in front of the fish?
Because this is the equivalent of raising the rod tip – but in the horizontal plane. When you drag your line sideways with your rod, your rod is now pointing 45 degrees or more away from the fly. The fish might eat it, but when he does – even if you do your best strip set ever – the rod is going to absorb the sharp tug of the hook set, turning it into a nice smooth pull. It’s the sideways equivalent of a trout set, and it’s not going to bury the hook.
When a fish is close and then turns, resist the urge to reposition the fly with your rod. Just pick it up and lay it back down in front of the fish. Your rod will be pointed right at the fish, so when he eats you can bury the fly and listen to that reel sing!