Monday, 4 March 2013

Fly Fishing, how to hook more fish

Sometimes when I walk the lake banks or stand on the jetty and have a friendly chat with a bank or boat fly fisher who has been stripping lures or fishing nymphs they are despondent. They will say something like “I kept getting takes, but I could not hook up”!  If possible I get them to check there is still a point on the fly then I watch them demonstrate their retrieve.  Usually I find that they are fishing what I call “loose or slack” rather than fishing “tight”. In still water sub-surface fly presentation, because we don’t usually see the fish take, we are really relying on the fish hooking itself.  In order to do that there needs to be some sort of resistance that causes the point of the hook to catch something.  If there isn’t then the fish has time to feel and taste the lure or nymph, register that there is something unreal about it (like a piece of metal stuck in the middle). Then they open their mouth and eject it.  However, if you are fishing “tight” then, provided the fish is not swimming directly towards you, its own movement is enough to cause the hook to at least catch up in the fish’s mouth and pull the line causing you to lift the rod and “hook up” by driving the hook home! 
I would suggest that the three main causes of fishing slack and not hooking up are:-
Not having the rod tip down near the top of the water when retrieving.  If you have a bit of vertical line off of the rod tip when a fish takes they just lift that loose line and there is no hook setting resistance. The top picture exaggerates the problem with the rod high, it is still a problem but less so if the rod tip is a foot (300 mm) above the water.  NB If fishing a dry fly on top of the water where you see the take, holding the rod high and having a bit of slack in the system, can help stop you responding too quickly and pulling the fly out of the fish's mouth before it has a chance to close it or turn away.
In the next picture the rod tip is almost touching the water and the line is tighter to the fly and hopefully a fish.

Not having the fly line as straight as possible to the fly.  This is most noticeable with floating lines.  Cast a straight line on the water and if there is any wind or current movement it soon becomes a curved line.  If a fish pulls it just feels the resistance of the line moving sideways through the water.  It does not feel the resistance from a straight line trapped under your finger at the rod end.  So we try to keep the line as straight as possible by mending the line by lifting the rod tip and flicking it and the line sideways up wind.  Then as we retrieve some line it all straightens out on the surface. Try the video.
Having a loose handed retrieve.
The next video shows a very common fault. The line is pulled and then left loose.  If a fish "takes" during the loose phase of the retrieve there will be little resistance to drive the hook home.

I suggest you will hook more fish if you use the pull and pinch approach.  Your line hand pulls and when it stops pulling the index finger of the rod hand pinches the line against the cork handle.  Whenever the fish takes the fly it meets some hooking resistance.  This is illustrated in the next video.

Alternatively you can use the figure of 8 retrieve. The advantage of the figure of 8 retrieve, and why it is so popular, is that the fingers retrieving the line keep it under tension all the time.  Also it tends to continuously move the fly smoothly through the water as opposed to a jerky retrieve.

Lines that are low stretch are now available and they will provide a more positive hooking action.  Stronger leaders also give less stretch and the fisher more confidence.  In my early days of fly fishing if I wasn’t catching I use to blame the thickness of the leader or tippet and downsize (sometimes with disastrous results).  These days particularly when reservoir trout fishing I tend to think if I am not getting “takes” it is because I am not covering fish and not because the leader diameter is spooking fish.  The competition experts fishing Bewl Water typically use 13.7lb Grand Max Soft Plus, whereas I used to think 8lb was fine (and occasionally I would get broken).
If you have a “take” and don’t hook up it is always worth checking your flies to see if they are still there (not up a tree) and if the hooks are sharp.   We have all heard of someone who has been casting for an hour or more with nothing on the end of the leader.
Now, there are exceptions to everything.  Sometimes fish take the fly so aggressively they will hook themselves even if you have been naughty and left the rod unattended or let the line go slack whilst chatting to a mate!  Many years ago, a poacher confided in me that he caught trout from a famous English trout river on bread using a hand line.  He said he had noticed that where there was a shoal of a few fish they would compete with each other aggressively for the food.  So I think that sometimes when we get a savage take it is because two or more fish have all seen the fly and accelerate to get it first as they compete against each other.
Well off we go to a new season and I will try to remember my own advice.  I hope that if you are new to the sport it might help you to land a few more fish!  The experts will be familiar with all of the above and lots more.


  1. My Dad told me fly-fishing demands for different methods of fishing styles as compared to regular fishing, correct?

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