By Chris O’Byrne
It is one of the set-apart moments of our sport. In the instant we connect to the fish, we are still anticipating the excitement of the strike and the satisfaction of success. We are using our hunting ability, our quiet patience and our sharpest reflexes. When I teach fly fishing, I emphasize this important portion of the angling process. Here are a few of the tips I share to help them make the hook set a moment of payoff.
Begin With the End in Mind
I love to watch the excitement on the face of a fly fisher as his largemouth bass or snook takes to the air! But a dejected pose (shoulders down, all joy gone from the face) too often follows when a poorly set fly is thrown from the fish’s mouth. A sharp hook on your fly will save you from this spectacular frustration.
Hook hones come in different materials and sizes. If you tie your own flies, there is a steel, rasp sharpener that is sized for fishing hooks. Small whetting stones can be stored with tackle and used on the water. There are even hook hones that stick on nippers. Throughout the day as you inspect your leader and fly, cast your eye on the hook point as well; it might have dulled on rocks, logs or oysters.
The hook should be sharpened in a triangular shape. Draw the hook along the hook hone on three sides of the point. Your hook is “sticky” when the point can scrape your finger nail.
As soon as your cast hits the water you should have control of the system. The line should be held against the grip with the index finger and/or middle finger of your rod hand. The slack line is held in your other hand behind your rod hand. Whether you choose to reel with your dominant hand or not, there will be some shifting of rod and line; this must be practiced until it is instinctive.
Often when I go fishing in groups, I hear other anglers talk constantly about their jobs. You went outdoors to escape from the daily grind so concentrate on your fishing! Watch your fly, your indicator, or the end of the fly line. Depending on the situation you will have only a small amount of time to set the hook when the fish takes your fly… be ready!
The Difference Counts
Fly fishers benefit from learning different hook setting techniques, the way basketball players use different shooting techniques. The fish, the structure and current dictate whether we should strip strike, raise the rod, or some combination. I learned this lesson with sickening swiftness the first time I set the hook on a bonefish.
Believe it or not, reflexes got the best of me and I began to pull him out of the structure. With instant speed my hoped-for-trophy told me that I was not in Florida’s fresh water and he was running for the horizon, not weeds or wood. The Pop! of the leader reminded me I should have practiced a “strip and clear” hook set.
In freshwater, raising the rod will usually set the hook well enough. A trophy-sized largemouth is going to be swimming back to dense cover as soon as you strike, so sweeping the rod to the side and continuing to pull line in is a good way to protect your leader and get him in the boat.
The strip strike is a good technique for Florida anglers to master. Unlike our cold water brothers, salt water fly fishers will generally be stripping the fly towards themselves and there will be little slack in the line. A quick, long strip will do the job without taking the fly from the fish.
A strip strike was just the ticket for my bonefish. But after the hook was set, I should have given him the line, not fought his run. A similar technique works on redfish, while tarpon might require a sweep of the rod and several sharp pulls to get the hook in their boney jaw. Snook near structure will be similar to a largemouth; you must get them away from their safety zone before it shreds your leader.
Success at catching the big sport fish will come with preparation and practice. Happily we don’t need exotic locales to engrain the skill of setting the hook. Grab a rod, tie on a cork popper with sharp hook and head to a pond full of bluegill and bass. You’ll be ready for the big guys in no time! FS
First Published Florida Sportsman September 2013