Having a hard time getting a good hook set while nymphing under an indicator? I often see “experienced fly fishermen” on the bow of my drift boat, some have no problem at all setting the hook while others struggle, contorting and flailing like a convulsing symphony conductor. Or try to eat their fly line in an effort at stripping in a fish while in a moving drift boat.

The fly line is not HomeTown Buffet.

I know, I know! As fly anglers, we all struggle at removing slack due to the sometimes diminishing distance between a hooked up steelhead, rainbow and a boat, a drift boat, that your, the angler is in, moving downstream.

I’m just poking fun here. We all struggle with this awkward process that kinda goes unnoticed due to the fact “fish on”. It’s just that, I have to watch it and I have a great way of improving that hook set that hands down makes your fly fishing experience much more fun.

“Watching an angler shove fly line in his/her mouth or struggle with stripping is like going to the ballet and watching the dancers fall, over and over. But hey, the music is awesome.”

Chris Parsons (a former guide on the Lower Sacramento and Trinity Rivers)

The fact does remain no matter how you do it if your landing your fish most of the time don’t change a thing. But if you’re not or you would like to improve your chance of getting a solid hook set on a trophy rainbow here is a little help.

Lower Sacramento River - Rainbow Trout - The Trinity Guide
A classic Rainbow Trout from the glorious Lower Sacramento River.

Your rod is in your right hand and your middle finger has a clamp on your line holding it tight to the foregrip your square to your indicator. Your watching it just waiting for a hungry rainbow to engulf your fly. Keeping your rod tip low to the water so you have plenty of upward motion. In the moment your indicator sinks you raise your arm in the air with hast. Up and back, pulling tight to the fish, feeling the tug. At the moment your rod is lifted to a full extension of your arm you feel that fish, head shaking and the distance between the boat and fish closing. Now is the time you are thankful you have been fishing with your middle finger holding your line tight to the cork. Because your line is tight from your finger to the indicator, you don’t need to struggle to capture your slackline. This means no awkward convulsions or holding your line in your mouth like a crazy person. Why? Because you set the hook with one hand. One hand hold the rod and that rod hand pinches the fly line tight to the cork. The other hand? Well, you use it to drink a beer, pick your nose, adjust your cap or put it in your pocket. But DO NOT ever hold the line with your other hand!

Simply use your free hand which would be my left (I am right-handed) to strip one long strip of line after the hook set is complete. Maybe three. Nice and calm, pulling enough line to tighten the bend in the fly rod. Think like you’re pulling the cord to lift the blinds. Not in a hurry. If the hook set was good, then the stripping can be calm and professional. So many crazy things happen during this process I am never shocked at some of the techniques I have witnessed as a guide on the Lower Sacramento in the heat of a hot bite under the Sundial Bridge. I was taught this technique by a fellow guide out of Redding CA as I was learning the ropes. It has served me well as a simple how-to for new fishermen or even a little brush up on your seasoned pro who is just struggling to connect that day. I hope it serves you well. Maybe I will catch you on the Lower Sacramento River hooking a pig of a rainbow!

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