In past blogs we’ve covered How To Read a River, Top Flies For Summer and How to Set Up Your Nymph Rig, among other topics, but what happens when you find yourself battling that trophy trout you’ve always dreamt of landing? Here will we lay the groundwork for you to effectively set the hook, fight and land that hog on the other end of the line.
Setting the Hook
This is arguably the most important part of the process and if done right it will make your life a heck of a lot easier as you are fighting a big fish and preparing to land it. There are a number of things to keep in mind when setting the hook and while it will take time and practice, making this step second nature is imperative to your success down the line.
Always be prepared to hook up: It is easy to get caught up in our thoughts and the scenery, but if you are not prepared to set the hook, odds are you will lose the fight. As such, if you find that you are distracted, stop and take a minute to recoup. Treat every cast as if you are going to hook into that fish of a lifetime. As a safeguard, always keep your index finger pinched against your line and rod handle in order to effectively set the hook.
Set the hook downstream: Before we talk about the various tricks to setting the hook, it is important to understand the direction you should set the hook. Healthy trout are generally facing upstream, so if you get them to eat, set the hook downstream and toward the bank you are fishing from. This will ensure a strong hook set and limit the possibility of losing the fish during the fight.
Don’t Slack Off: Line control is imperative to setting the hook. Whether you are making a short or long cast, casting upstream or to the opposing bank, always make sure you’ve limited the amount of slack line on the water. Ensuring minimal slack will allow you to react faster. If your casts are short, a moderately aggressive hook set should suffice. However, if you are casting at a distance, you are going to need to be much more aggressive.
Water Velocity: While our instinct is to be overly aggressive when it comes to setting the hook, water speed will play a big role in how you set the hook. If the water is slow, trout will take their time inspecting the fly and will be less aggressive when eating your fly. As such, match their intensity and give it a modest hook set. The opposite is true in faster water. Takes will be quicker and more aggressive, so be sure to give it a little more oomph. Streamers are a totally different story. When fishing streamers, keep your rod tip close to the water and instead of raising your rod to set the hook, point directly toward the fish and strip set the hook in an aggressive manner.
The Battle Begins
Remain Calm: Fighting a big fish on the other end of the line is arguably the most exhilarating part of fly fishing. You have matched the hatch and set the hook effectively, but what now? At this stage, it is in our nature to get flustered and start panicking. However, that is the worst thing you can do. Now more than ever, it is important to remain calm and have a plan. Ideally, you will already have a plan for landing the trout before you hook up, but that isn’t always practical.
Keep Tension and Reel Her In: Maintain tension by keeping your rod tip up (at about 45 degrees), but not too high. With bigger fish, you are going to want to make sure to keep the drag on your reel at a relatively high setting, but again not too much. While the goal is to reel in the trout in a timely manner, don’t rush it. If the trout wants to run and you have space, let it! In this case, point your rod tip in the opposite direction that the trout wants to go. By doing so, you will disorient it making for an easier fight. The trout will generally fight hard for several seconds and take a breather. This is when it is time to start thinking about reeling him in. When the fight eases up, lift your rod tip to bring the trout closer to you and start reeling in while lowering your rod back to the previous position. Continue this process until you’ve reached the end of your line or beginning of your leader.
By now, you know where you are going to land the trout, you’ve tired him out and you’ve reached the end of your line. Now it is time to net the fish. Again, remain calm and don’t get anxious to net the fish. I can’t tell you how many times I have prepared my net prematurely just for the fish to run off again. That said, when you are ready, lift your rod tip up bringing the trout’s head out of the water and guide it to your net. Instinct would have you scoop vigorously. However, it is in your best interest to lower the net into the water and lead the fish to you. Scooping can spook it and cause it to run and lead to a lost fish. Additionally, you could harm the fish by whacking it across the head with your net.
Trophy Shot and it’s Back to the Water: Awwww sweet relief! You’ve landed that trophy. Now it’s time for a quick hero shot and back to the water she goes. Do your best to keep the trout submerged when prepping your camera and be quick about the shot. When you are ready to release the trout back into the water, use a loose grip and face it upstream. When it is ready, it will dart off.