It never fails to amaze me how many anglers hesitate to set the hook. Often while guiding I’ll yell “Set!” and an angler will turn around without setting and say “I think that was bottom”, or “I’m not sure that was a fish”. I will immediately reply, “Well you could be right, but the only way to make sure is if you set the hook”.
I understand that there are times when getting a strike is not as obvious as usual. Really though, what does it hurt to set the hook and find out? The only way to ever catch a fish is to set the hook (I realize that sometimes other acts of luck happen, however, I am referring to an anglers own doing). Why not be aggressive about setting the hook? The more aggressive an angler is by setting the hook without hesitation, even when they aren’t exactly sure if it was a strike, the more hook ups an angler will have. I am aware that not everyone has quite the same level of a “trained eye” for detecting strikes. Part of this could be from not getting to spend as much time on the water, but another reason could be because an angler is just not sure what to look for. Not only will setting the hook at every little inclination allow an angler to catch more fish, it will also help “train” his eye towards what subtle strikes look like. I’ll admit, sometimes I set the hook just because I refuse to believe that a fish did not eat my fly while drifting in a particular spot. You would be surprised how many times you will be rewarded with a fish for setting when you just think you have to. I also understand that sometimes a strike can be mistaken for catching the bottom. Getting hooked on the bottom is a huge part of nymph fishing. For some reason anglers perceive getting hooked on the bottom as a bad thing, I think it is just the opposite (within reason). If you are not hooking the bottom odds are you are not getting your flies deep enough. In my mind hooking the bottom once or twice every ten casts is a good thing. It tells you that you are achieving depth and therefore fishing your flies in front of the fish. To maximize catch rates an angler needs to overcome these doubts by setting the hook without hesitation.
I realize that while setting the hook more frequently there will times you are not rewarded with a fish, there will be times you catch the bottom, there will be times you end up in the tree that is above you, BUT there will also be times you catch fish that otherwise you wouldn’t have. There’s nothing wrong with “striking out” or setting the hook when the result is not a fish. I am here to inform you that fly fishing is in no way related to being in the batters box of a baseball game. Unlike baseball, as anglers we have an unlimited amount of strikes. Anglers who set the hook aggressively without hesitation catch more fish. The next time you are on the water, “SET THE HOOK!”.
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