Tips for Fighting Fish on a Fly Rod

In the beginning, it seems like nothing is easy in fly fishing. Every step from rigging rods to reading water comes with it’s own set of challenges, and the process of fighting and landing wild trout is no different. Many times, the biggest fish are hooked with the smallest flies and lightest tippet available, which only augments the challenge. Add in the elements of heavy currents, fallen trees, and underwater boulders, and anyone can easily see why landing a wild, eighteen inch rainbow is so difficult. There are very specific dos and don’ts that beginner anglers need to think about when they have a trophy on the line. Too many times as a guide, I have found myself teaching new clients these simple steps when it is too late, after the fish of the day has made it’s escape.

Hook Set

Timing and speed are everything when it comes to setting the hook. Set the hook too soon and the fish will not have had enough time to fully take the fly. Set too late and the fly can be spit from it’s mouth. A lot of anglers get excited and either break their fly off in the fish’s mouth, or miss it all together by striking too hard, too fast. The most effective hook sets happen smoothly, when the fisherman is calm and prepared. Watch the fish take your fly, lift the rod tip up, and draw line through your trigger finger at the same time.

Keep a Tight Line

Whether the beast is running hard downstream or charging back at your feet, it is crucial to keep a tight line. The smallest amount of slack can lead to disaster. With no pressure to hold it in place, a barbless hook can fall out very easily. Large arbor reels with advanced disk drag systems are designed to help fly fishermen keep steady, even pressure on all kinds and sizes of fish.

Keep the Rod Bent

Big trout can not be forced into the net. They almost always run a few times before the fight is over,
and this catches a lot of new fly fishermen off guard. Rather than allowing the rod tip to sink down to
the surface of the water, keep the tip high and let the fish take line out. This does two things. First, the flex of the rod prevents the tippet from breaking. Second, it keeps the fish closer to the surface of the water, away from obstacles like logs and rocks. Once the rod tip starts to drop, the fighting fish has the advantage.

Land Fish Quickly

Remember that as anglers, it is our job to properly care for each fish we encounter. The worst thing you can do for a trophy trout’s health is to overplay it. Good fly fishermen land the big ones as quickly as possible. Also, it is always helpful to have a good net with a rubber bag and a camera handy for the end of the fight, should you manage to land that trophy trout.

If you want to practice these tips, you are going to need to start hooking some big fish. Schedule a day with one of the guides at Vail Valley Anglers for your best chance at a monster trout.

Andy “Otter” Smith, Guide and Content Writer