Unhang My Fly You Villain Stump!

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One of the unavoidable happenings in fly fishing is the oh-so-wonderful snag.

Overhead limbs, rocks, submerged timber, rhodo, your net man… you name it, it’s out there just waiting to snatch your fly from the air. A lot of the time it’s game over for your rig. You just have to break it off and move on after a short grieving period. There are, however, certain scenarios where one simple trick can save your flie(s) from being lost to the Water Nymphs. It’s by no means 100% effective, but it’s easy and worth a few tries before snapping your tippet.

First thing, if you’ve discerned that your fly is hung up on something solid on the bottom, or you’ve laid your flies across a log, or any other obstacle, sit tight for a second. Don’t set the hook into it any further! Before you going tugging on your rod like you’re Magnus Ver Magnusson, do this….

Strip in the majority of your line, leaving it just taught enough to lift your fly line above the water. Once the fly line is ABOVE the water, bring your fly rod tip to 12 o’clock like you would to make a roll cast. You may need to slip a little more line as you position your rod correctly. Once you’ve gotten everything situated, execute a firm roll cast straight at your fly. The loop created by the cast will transfer momentum past the fly, opposite of the direction that it was snagged, potentially releasing the hook from the snag. Didn’t work the first time? Try again, but this time be more abrupt and forceful with your roll cast. I typically give it three or four attempts before I either 1) wade across the water to get my flies (if it’s possible and safe to do and I don’t plan on fishing that run any longer) or 2) pull on my tippet to either free the flies, or break them off.

Like I said, it doesn’t always work, but it’s simple and doesn’t require you to disturb the run you’re trying to fish. It’s at least worth a shot before progressing to the drastic measures that we sometimes embark on in order to save our precious flies!


Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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10 thoughts on “Unhang My Fly You Villain Stump!

  1. When I first started fishing it was on the Housatonic River where back casting near tall overhanging trees robbed me of many flies. Fish in the pm and go back in the a.m. with a ladder to climb up and retrieve not only my own lost flies but also quite a few left by other anglers. It was a net gain. Eventually I learned to roll cast and leave the ladder home.

  2. If the roll cast isn’t enough to get my flies free I’ll lay a big loop of fly line in the water upstream of the snag. I then pull the fly line hard to the side the loop is laying which creates the drag from the water to pull my leader, tippet, and flies upstream. Repeat as necessary.

  3. My Dad showed Me this trick in about 1956, and though I cannot fly fish much anymore due to shoulder and elbow injuries, I still use this method and I have shared it many times. Thank You.

  4. If you’re in a boat, floating unanchored, what’s your rule of thumb/max effort your willing to put in for retrieving hung up flies?

    • That all depends on the fly Roger! A #16 Adams… Not a whole lot. An articulated sex dungeon that’s killing it…. I’ll go get it!

  5. People are always impressed with the frequency I can unstick previously stuck flies. I learned is lesson early on, and use this, and Erich’s technique whenever necessary. While not 100%, it’s damn close when you get good at it. Great post, very useful.

  6. This is only anecdotal experience, but I have noticed that since I switched to barbless competition-style hooks for most of my flies, my above-water hangups have decreased dramatically. Not sure if its the barbless part, or the longer, inward curving hook point, but I can wiggle the fly off a branch more frequently, and often casts that look like a sure-fire tangle seem to unwrap and fall off.

  7. Great tip!

    Here is it’s brother: When you cast over a branch, don’t react and pull on your line right away. Be cool. If the fly didn’t spin around the branch, pull on the line until the fly is just below the branch, stop, and give it a little snap, and the fly will more often than not flip right off. If it did spin around the branch, just keep pulling slowly, and it will often spin right back off.

  8. When working with sinking lines and musk flies a roll cast is near impossible. I often will point rod directly at snag and pull really tight and then release the line quickly. This creates a slingshot affect and works most of the time. When on wood this trick is not as reliable but has still worked.

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