Fly Rescue 101 | How to Rescue your Flies from a Snag

Rescue your flies

Fly Rescue 101

Poof! Your bobber is under the water.  What do you do? SET IT! Immediately your line goes tight to a lifeless snag. The moment when you realize you have “caught” bottom is a sad one. Having no life at the other end of your fly fishing line can be disheartening. But this is when you must become a problem solver. Isn’t that what fly fishing is?

Here are a couple tips that will help you rescue your flies from a snag while WADING:

The roll cast Technique

The water in the river acts as a constant downstream force; it’s holding your flies pinned up against an object. So you must do exactly the opposite and create a direct upstream force.  A roll cast is done by pulling some line from your reel and then raising your rod tip nice and high. The second motion is quickly coming down pointing straight toward your snag. This will create energy in the rod that will travel into the line creating a loop that will feed out in front of you. If executed properly the roll cast will throw your line above the lodged fly or on the other side. At that point, you can lift with your rod tip as if you were setting the hook. Quick-ness with the rescue set is key.  You want your indicator rig to be pulled up directly upstream or towards the opposing bank.

Get above your flies

You need to get above the location where you are hung up. Keep in mind you want to avoid scaring any fish. Some people tend to panic and start to slap the line all over the water with an up and down motion. You have to keep your cool.  All that yanking towards you can lodge your fly deeper into the snag.  So as you are slowly wading upstream to get above your fly, keep your rod tip low while pulling and popping upstream.

Cross over

Sometimes just getting upstream won’t do the trick. If you can safely cross the river to the opposing bank this will give you the chance to pull the flies at a different angle. This technique usually helps when the river allows. It is important to keep your distance so you don’t spook any fish.

Rescue with your foot

If you are not worried about spooking the fish try walking toward your snag. In the winter the last thing you want to do is reach down and wet your jacket along with the vital layers underneath. Try to use your foot to lift the snag. Careful, it’s easy to snap off flies with one step.  Once you kick loose what rock or stick the flies were stuck on, check your tippet. Make sure it has not been weakened.

The endless drift

Sometimes as a last resort I will take a bunch of line from my reel and let the current take it downstream. Usually works best if in slower deeper water. Once I have about 30 or so feet out I will take my rod tip low and then lift and reel in the line at a fast pace.  This can pull the flies a different angle and free them.

Casting Obstacles


Generally, same rules apply when fishing from a raft or drift boat. The key to rescuing your flies (getting un-snagged) while float fishing has a lot to do with the speed of your reaction. Typically favor the roll cast rescue technique when fishing out of a boat.

Fish downstream

As a rule of thumb, I try to keep my flies farther downstream or directly to the side of the boat (as opposed to behind or upstream of the boat). If the flies get behind me and I set the hook and its on a rock I have no leverage to pull the line back upstream. Keeping my flies in front of me allows me time to set the rig and also allows me ample time to rescue it.  If hooked on the bottom, I take rod tip low and pull back directly upstream. So if you see your indicator rig go down and you are upstream of it, you have more time to react. Not to mention everything happens quicker on a boat.

Trees, branches, bushes, RELAX

Yes, we are always playing the mental game of how close we can come to landing the fly to the bank. Trout love undercut banks and that’s a fact. But the times will come when you will catch a branch and there are two ways to rescue your flies.  First, you can pull your flies backs towards you as quickly as you can, hoping that you saved them from ever touching the branch in the first place.  Second, you can slowly lift and pull your fly away from the branch.

In fly fishing a quick reaction is key but for this situation – RELAX. IF you pull too quickly, it creates a wrapping motion with the weighted flies. Always immediately tell your guide (or rower) that you are hung up. Then they can either back-row upstream to retrieve the fly or they can quickly eddy out below to allow for a quick walk up along the bank. If you do happen to shake the fly loose always let the captain know you are free. If you are fishing off the front of the boat you must let the person on the back know you are hung up. Or else they can cast and get snagged on your line.

Point and pull

Sometimes you have tried everything to get your flies back and you have no other option but to gamble with the point and pull.  The key to this is not to break your rod.  It is important to point your rod tip toward where you are hung up, grab the line, and pull. You end up usually retrieving your fly with a branch or no fly at all. It’s important to not point and pull immediately. Try other methods first. It’s a lot faster to pull over and walk up ten feet than to snap off and have to re-tie. Always make sure you do not have bent hooks after a snag.

Another rigging technique that can help you lose less flies is to gradually downsize your tippet. Start with 4x then go to 5x for the last fly. So if you do have to point and pull, you will most likely only lose one fly instead of two.

With the water nice and low here in the Vail Valley, getting hung up is always possible. Make sure and stop by Vail Valley Anglers and stock up on the successful flies for the Colorado and Eagle Rivers. Losing flies is part of the game and so is getting snagged. So ABS! (Always Be Setting)