Setting the hook
Think you know how to strike? Master these tips and techniques for wily fish and tricky situations
Don Staziker offers tips and advanced techniques
ATROUT TAKES, YOU strike and don’t make contact, you break off, you spook the fish and you put your fly into a tree. Did you strike too fast, too slow, too hard, should you strike at all? Then follows the blame game – this leader material is rubbish, these small hooks don’t take a good hold, I never had this problem with my old rod, the fish are coming short… There is no single method of setting the hook that works for every taking fish. By matching our hook set to the fishing situation we can dramatically increase our success rate. A few examples of my fallibility will serve to make the point: I was fishing a size 8 nymph tied on a heavy wire hook with a huge barb (it was the 1980s). I used a short four-weight rod because I thought that the light line would land gently and not spook the fish.
“The guide was holding my arm to prevent me striking prematurely”
The line did land lightly, it didn’t spook the fish, and more than a dozen took the nymph. My light rod just wasn’t strong enough to set the heavy hook with its large barb, and every fish threw the hook. I had caught a succession of small wild rainbows from fast runs on the Derbyshire Wye. I was not really paying attention, with the result that my vigorous strikes brought the small fish bouncing over the surface towards me. I paid the penalty when I rose another fish and set the hook strongly without thinking. The 2lb wild rainbow dived for cover, taking my fly with it, an embarrassing result of not matching hook set to fish size and tippet strength. The first time I fished for Yellowstone cutthroat trout I was totally unprepared for the leisurely way in which they take a dry-fly. Seeing big fish rise to a large terrestrial pattern floating down a fast run and take it with an incredibly slow, lazy rise was too much for my hair-trigger reactions. After missing four good fish the guide was holding my arm to prevent me from striking prematurely. The willpower required to delay the strike has since served me well, particularly when presenting dry-flies downstream. You must let the fish turn down with the fly. This spring, while filming a nymphing rainbow trout, I captured the moment when the artificial nymph was taken. The sequence of mouth opening to accept the fly – mouth closed – mouth opening to eject the fly took less than 0.25 seconds. Another 0.25 seconds later I shouted to the angler to set the hook! There are times, often when fishing nymphs, when you cannot strike too quickly.
A fish can take in and then eject a fly in one quarter of a second.