Should I set it?
Blog by VVA Guide & Content Writer Andy Jackson
Oftentimes I get the question: When should I set the hook? My answer, normally, is whenever you think it’s a fish. It takes a lot of experience and time on the water to be able to detect subtle strikes. Most guides and accomplished anglers have developed a keen eye for this. Here are a couple tips to help you know when the right time to set the hook is.
What’s the worst that could happen?
When guiding, I really try to emphasize the importance of getting a good hook set. It could be the difference between landing a lot of fish, or not landing any fish. I always say in my spiel, “If you set the hook and there’s nothing there, you’re halfway to making another cast.” Another possible outcome is that you get snagged on the bottom. Here are some tips and tricks from VVA Pro Guide, Keegan Axtell, on how to rescue snagged flies: https://www.vailvalleyanglers.com/blog/keegana/fly-rescue-101-how-to-rescue-your-flies-from-a-snag
Was it A Rock?
No, it wasn’t a rock. It was a twenty-inch brown trout that had your flies in it’s mouth for four seconds, pleading with you to set the hook. Sometimes, as a beginning angler, it can be hard to tell if it was the bottom or a fish. When in doubt, SET THE HOOK! You will never know if it was a fish if you don’t set it. Even when I have drifted the same drift multiple times and have caught the bottom, I still set the hook. I sometimes cringe when clients or friends don’t set the hook on what appears to be a fish. Countless times I’ve seen the indicator underwater, and the fish jumping 5 feet upstream saying, “SET THE HOOK”.
Notice The Little Things
When I’m fishing an indicator or dry-dropper rig, I always try to pick up on it’s subtle changes. If it’s either of these rigs, I will set the hook anytime something is visually different with my indicator. Differences can be anything from inconsistencies in the speed of the indicator to changes in its motion. Sometimes, when I’m fishing “dead water”, or water that is not necessarily moving in a consistent direction, I will look for hesitation with the indicator that is not normal. Really, just pay attention to anything that doesn’t seem right.
Proper Hook Sets
Trout spend the majority of their lives faced up stream. When you are drifting nymphs suspended under an indicator, you are most likely casting at a 45 degree angle upstream, trying to achieve a drag-free drift as the flies drift downstream. Normally, your takes are going to be directly in front of, or downstream of, your position, simply because it takes time for the flies to get down in the water column to where the fish are suspended. When attempting to set the hook, in this instance, you are going to raise your rod straight up or downstream of you. If you set the hook upstream, then you are essentially pulling the flies out of the fish’s mouth. This is not true if you are fishing a dry fly to a fish feeding directly downstream of you. In this case, when the fish takes the dry fly, there is a moment after the fish eats the dry that he will turn his head to go back underwater. You must wait and set the hook directly upstream if this is the only position you can cast from.
Hopefully, I have emphasized that you should be setting the hook more often than you think you should. When I’m fishing on my own, there are not many times when I say to myself, “Should I have set it?” If you have ever watched experienced anglers, they set the hook almost every drift if the conditions are right. If you think that you have not been setting the hook as much as you need, or maybe you need help identifying a take, let one of our experienced guides at Vail Valley Anglers help you out.