Fly-fishing Voices


Photo Credit: Robert L. Ortiz | The Southern Ute Drum

Six years ago, I looked it up, I wrote a column about setting the hook when fly fishing. I need to remind myself every time I’m on the water on how to correctly set a hook, I thought maybe you could use a refresher too. Or, if you are a brand-new fly fisher and are having trouble setting the hook, read on. The hook setting is the last part of landing fish. You can have made the perfect cast, with the correct fly, to a rising or sighted fish, watch the perfect strike, then not set the hook correctly, and miss the fish and maybe lose a bet. The hook set is like having the correct paperwork done to close a business deal. Without it all your efforts are for naught. 

When fly fishing with a guide, especially a saltwater guide, you are likely to hear set- set-set said in such a very excited and rapid succession that it sounds like one word (see column title). There are two ways to successfully do what your guide is excitingly telling you to do and finish the process of hooking a fish. 

Set 1. Smoothly lift your rod tip when a fish strikes. 

Set 2. Pull the line back towards your belly button when the fish eats your fly holding the rod tip low. It’s called a strip set. 

A set lifting your rod tip is usually done in fresh water. It is accomplished by smoothly lifting the tip of the rod when you see your dry fly eaten, your strike indicator (bobber) move in any direction other than drifting downstream when your nymph is eaten, or your line move when fly fishing with a streamer. While doing the set smoothly is very important, getting excited and raising your rod tip high and fast is usually the norm. To get the smooth and patient lift you will need to dedicate lots of time to practicing. 

A strip set is usually done when fly fishing in salt water. This set is made because your fly is most often stripped along the bottom. As you do this retrieve, the fish goes tail up and nose down to eat your fly. If you lift your rod tip you will pull the fly away from the fish before he can take it. This scenario usually happens with red and bone fish. For fish feeding close to the surface, say tarpon or permit, the strip set gives a much better hook set. Lifting your rod tip in this situation allows the fish to just shake his head, throw the fly, and swim away. 

The theatrics and amazing vocabulary I have witnessed when the wrong hook set is used, and the fish of a lifetime is missed are worth recording for a T.V. special. In fact, I have seen fly fishing shows that go into great detail showing those exact antics. When you miss a fish due to an incorrect hook set, don’t despair. It happens to all of us. Just take a breath, recast, and set the hook correctly when the fish comes back for your perfect cast. 

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