The Right-Handed Strip Set

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Captain Dickey, Ready For The Set. Photo by Louis Cahill

Captain Dickey, Ready For The Set. Photo by Louis Cahill

I’ve talked before about the importance of the strip set in saltwater fly fishing.

I think every angler who’s tried their hand in the salt knows that you aren’t going to catch a fish without mastering this simple technique. Simple as it may be, reprogramming your muscle memory for the strip set can be a challenge and has sent many anglers into fits on the bow.

Today, I’m going to talk about taking your strip set to the next level with your rod hand. It was my friend Joel Dickey who first introduced me to this idea. We were tarpon fishing in the Keys and I fed a big fish that followed my fly for a good ways before eating it. As tarpon will often do in this scenario, the fish ate the fly and, rather than turning, kept cruising toward the boat. I gave a hardy strip set but, even with my six and a half foot reach, I was never able to put enough pressure on him to bury the hook. The fish jumped and was gone.

“What the hell are you supposed to do with that?” I asked Joel.

“There’s not a lot you can do,” he shrugged and told me, “about your only shot is to clamp down on the line with your right hand and pull.”

A good friend of mine always says, “Knowledge is information plus experience.” Joel had given me information but I still needed the experience to have this tool in my bag. The first couple of times I tried it I moved my rod tip, trying to put pressure on the fish with the rod. I was basically back to trout setting and the results were what you’d expect. Lost fish. After a couple of tries it came together in my mind, and my hand.

Here’s the proper way to pull off the right handed strip set.

As you are stripping the fly, your right hand (or rod hand, lefties please excuse me) should be held well out in front of you. This gives you the full span of your arms for the strip set, when the fish eats your fly. So, when you apply your maximum strip set, your right hand (rod hand) is fully out in front of you and your left hand (line hand) is stretched fully out behind.

If at this point you are still not tight on the fish, clamp down on the line, (which should run under the index and middle fingers of your rod hand), and pointing the rod at the fish, reverse the position of your hands. That is to say, pull straight back with your rod hand until it is stretched full out behind you. For the average six foot tall angler, that’s a total of twelve feet of line taken up without moving the rod tip off axis. That’s a right-handed strip set and it’s a powerful tool.

This method is great for that frustrating moment when a fish eats your fly right at the end of your strip. At this point your strip set is seriously compromised. Often the time it takes for you to move your line hand back to the rod and grab some fresh line is all it takes for the fish to spit your fly and go. A quick right-handed strip set can save you. This happened to me on my last trip to the Bahamas. Kent saw it play out and saluted my hook up with a hearty, “NICE!” We caught a lot of fish that day but I’ve seen plenty of days flats fishing when one shot was all I got. There is no greater difference in number of fish caught than zero to one.

Now you have the information. Keep this in the back of your mind and next time you get in trouble, give it a try. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out the first time. Just like when you first learned to strip set, it’s a matter of training muscle memory. With experience you’ll get the hang of it.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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7 thoughts on “The Right-Handed Strip Set

  1. Pingback: Six Tips for Better Bonefish Hook Sets | Fly Fishing | Gink and Gasoline | How to Fly Fish | Trout Fishing | Fly Tying | Fly Fishing Blog

  2. I don’t understand are you saying switch hand holding the rod or just clamp down line with rod hand and raise rod while pulling back striphand further???

  3. Great tip, Lou. I have missed more than one fish because my left hand was already behind my back when the eat came. No guide has ever explained to me how to strip set in that situation. Now if I can just get back to the salt water this year.

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