Don’t Let Go of the Fly Line in Your Rod Hand During the Hook Set

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Always maintain a grip of the fly line in your rod hand when setting the hook. Photo Louis Cahill

Have you ever set the hook on a fish, and the next thing you know, you’ve got your arms spread apart in the shape of a giant slice of pizza, leaving you unable to reach the fly line with your rod hand?

Do not be ashamed if this happens to you every now and then on the water. You’re not alone, I promise. Many fly anglers do this regularly, and the reason they get themselves in this situation is because they’re letting go of the fly line in their rod hand when they set the hook. You can completely eliminate this problem on the water if you make sure you keep a solid grip on the fly line with your rod hand during and after every hook set. Doing so, it will allow you to maintain tension and control of the fish while you’re stripping in fly line or getting that excess fly line on the reel.

I know some of you that have found yourself in this situation have probably used your mouth to hold onto the fly line until you can get your hands back into the correct position. God, I know I have plenty of times. Sometimes this works, other times it doesn’t. One thing I can assure everyone on is that proper fish fighting technique with a fly rod doesn’t call for our mouth to be involved. Next time you find yourself in this predicament on the water, forget about using your mouth, and immediately bring your hand that’s holding the fly line back to your rod hand so you can resume fighting the fish effectively. As mentioned before, you shouldn’t have to worry about doing this if you always make a point to not let go of the fly line in your rod hand during and after the hook set.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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11 thoughts on “Don’t Let Go of the Fly Line in Your Rod Hand During the Hook Set

  1. Somehow I just can’t picture why, or even how, one wouldn’t keep a tight line while setting the hook. What do they think is going to happen to the line when the rod tip is moved through 90 degrees? Heck, I even had a Keys guide yell at me once when, on a long tarpon hook set, I wrapped the line around my hand a couple of times on the first three or so sets because even a tight line was so stretchy and slippery. Then I discovered mono core lines.

  2. I would say this is really aimed at the beginning angler. Anyone that’s been on more than one guided trip, or been at it on their own for a while, will likely have this figured out. It happens a lot to first timers though. I see it all the time. They’re having a bunch of new info thrown at them and a lot of that info seems to be immediately forgotten as soon as they see an eat, or hook up with a fish. The excitement overwhelms them and all they want to do is catch that fish so they just react. Thanks for the comment Fred!

    • Maybe overthinking this a bit, but before going out, stick the fly into a stout, but a little giving branch, and let them “set” the hook a few times to get the feel. It might even help in too hard a set and breaking the tippet. Although, after 70 years of flyfishing, I must admit to popping off the first couple of fish each year…but I always blame it on faulty tippet, never adrenaline. Best to all and Merry Christmas.

  3. It can also be helpful if using light tippet and also if you are in a crowch to be Ready to let some of the line slide through your hands as you lift the rod to set. This prevents you snapping off the light tippet on late trout who run right after the set. I have found his tactic very helpful at the infamous Dream Stream of Colorado. Don’t let it all through or let it through fast, is should be one fluid motion in sync with the hook set.

  4. Louis, Kent,
    I tried to open this article via the email post, but was blocked by Foxfire saying it was an “insecure” connection… you guys might want to check this out and fix…I usually access full articles via my email post of that article…

    Will check here for a few days if you found out anything and did a fix…thanks…

    Scappoose, OR

  5. My first and only two Tarpon hook sets popped out immediately when the fish turned. I attributed this to having a “death grip” on the rod hand fly line during the set. One of the sets resulted in a bent hook. Correct me if I’m wrong but should I have set the hook more with my non rod hand, keeping a grip on the rod hand fly line but allowing it to play through my hand rather than “death gripping” the line?

    • Man, if you bent the hook on the set to an adult fish, I applaud you. If that didn’t bury the point, nothing would have. I find that the rod, parallel to the water, usually moves about 90 degrees from pointing at the fish. Meanwhile the off hand makes 4-5 jabs at setting the hook. If I still feel that more set is needed (too much line stretch or whatever), I pinch the line with my rod hand, re-grasp the line further up, and rip back a few more times. But, since this all happens in a few seconds, not much planning takes place. As I mentioned above, non- or low stretch lines make the set easier….but I don’t think they would be good for a 6X tippet, at least not for me.

    • Carson: if you see this I would suggest that you tie, or insist on, flies tied on Owner hooks. You will not straighten one of these. And, Owner makes a lightweight hook that will straighten on a fish if held tight. The idea came around about 10 years ago that, after the first set of tarpon jumps, the rest is a 45 minute dogfight. Not much fun and the fish just gets played out for an hour. After releasing the very tired fish, if there is a bull shark or hammerhead around, the tarpon is toast. Guides didn’t go for it at first (real men land the fish), but now this seems accepted, just get the wonderful series of jumps over, grab the line, and pull the hook out. You will love the jumps, and you start casting again much sooner, and the fish is fresh. Everyone wins.

      Happy New Year all.

  6. My problem is, I’ve got short and stubby fingers. When I set the hook, the line slips out between them and the cork and end up playing “air guitar.” Any ideas out there to fix this?

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