We’ve written a lot of posts on our blog over the years on properly setting the hook on everything from bonefish and permit to king salmon, steelhead, and trout. That’s because the brief moment following the instant a fish grabs a fly is arguably the most critical to eventually bringing the fish to hand.
Depending on the species you’re pursuing, along with you’re preferred method of choice, different rules can apply for properly setting the hook. For example, when swinging flies for king salmon we recommend waiting until feeling the full weight of the fish before delivering a deep sharp set to the downstream side. In contrast, when swinging flies for steelhead (which have softer mouths than kings), we recommend also waiting to feel the full weight of the fish, but then setting the hook with a slow but firm lift of the rod, once again to the downstream side. On the other hand, when dead drifting flies for trout (i.e. dries, nymphs, flesh, eggs, etc.), most of the time we find its best to set the hook (again, downstream) the moment the fish grabs the fly. In other words, depending on what you’re fishing for, and how you’re fishing for them, the rules for setting the hook can vary… Except for one:
Regardless of what you’re fishing for, one mistake we see anglers make on a regular basis upon feeling (or watching) a fish grab their fly is winding up in anticipation of making a big haymaker-sized hook set. Allow us to explain.
Much like a pitcher winding up to deliver a 95 mph fastball down the pipe (sorry, its playoff season after all), many anglers ‘windup’ by thrusting the rod forward and/or down towards the fish before driving the hook home. When swinging flies, this looks like pushing the rod towards the fish before setting the hook. When dead drifting flies, this looks like dropping the rod tip towards the surface of the water before lifting it to set the hook. Often times its a subtle motion, and we find most anglers don’t even realize they’re doing it.
The problem? Winding up introduces slack at the worst moment possible, giving the fish an opportunity to let go, more often than not resulting in a thrown hook.
Instead, whether you’re swinging, drifting, or stripping flies when it comes time to set the hook, you’re rod tip (or fly line if strip-setting) should only ever move in one direction; against the fish. Remember, when you ‘feel’ a fish grab your fly, that means you are completely tight to the fish’s mouth. Don’t lose that advantage by throwing him slack. Don’t windup. Set Direct.