Letting Go

The Art of Catch and Release Fly Fishing
By Todd Hosman
  |  Gorp.com
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Rainbow trout
Rainbow trout swimming free.

The trout takes the fly and the angler stands by oblivious. I've seen it happen hundreds of times. For beginner or expert, with dry fly or nymph, the sport is by nature extraordinarily visual. If you don't see where the fly is, you can't catch anything with it. You won't see the fly unless you watch it, and you won't watch it unless you concentrate. Concentrate, watch, and see. Too simple a lesson? Think of pro tennis players who hit the ball into the net on an easy volley, or an outfielder who never gets a glove on a routine pop-up. And think of all those trout we've missed. With the myriad distractions in and around fishing waters, staying focused isn't easy. But once a fly's in the water, your objective is to see, watch, and concentrate on its drift.

One of the more common"invisible fly" incidents occurs at the end of a cast: you just can't see the fly. Correct this problem by developing and consistently applying a casting discipline. Watch the fly both in the air and as it alights on the water. During a drift, taking your eyes off the fly for even a moment often results in its disappearance. When this happens, you have a couple of options. The most practical is to finish the drift as you search for the fly. Or, like me, you can take an optimistic approach whenever a fly disappears set the hook. Whatever you do, don't pick up and recast; the fly may be over a prime spot that you wouldn't want to disturb.

A Hook Set

Setting a hook requires coordination of three elements: attentive vision, good line control, and quick response. Neglect one element and you'll lose a fish. Experienced eastern fly anglers have commented on the phenomenal speed with which western wild trout take and reject a fly. From the moment you see a take, you have less than a second to set the hook, and three problems commonly occur in that brief time. First, anglers become over anxious and actually pull the fly from the trout's mouth. Or, second, they wait too long, and the trout gives up the fly voluntarily. If the timing troubles you, say aloud the word "one" when you see the take then set the hook. This is not a rigid rule, just a way of enforcing about a one-half second wait between take and set.

The third problem tends to plague anglers who are used to fishing for much larger species like northerns and stripers. They set the hook with power sufficient to propel a little fish out into the trees or to break off their leader on a big trout. The force used to set a hook is about equal to that which goes into a firm handshake. Quickly raise the rod tip about a foot; a tight line and sharp hook will do the rest. Use the same degree of force whenever you set the hook. Though the take of a larger trout is often more subtle than that of a smaller one, you never know what's on until you see it.

Playing a Trout

A good hook-set works commensurately well on a six-inch brookie or a twenty-inch cutt, and any hooked fish merits your total attention. Don't begin to speculate on its size or species. Nonchalance and distraction are unaffordable luxuries. You need to land a trout. Get control of the line! An overly tight line leads to breakoffs, a slack one to lost fish. Strip in line until it's taut; as necessary, let it out in the same condition. The angle of rod to water will vary, from near upright initially to pointing downward when a trout jumps. But any rod angle has the same purpose: to help keep the hook in. Even with a small trout on, excess fly line is a nuisance. It can easily foul in water or brush and interfere with a successful landing. Spool up the line as soon as you can and play the fish from the reel. Maintain light contact with the line using two fingers of your rod hand; you may still need to apply extra resistance to outgoing line. A reel's drag should be at its lightest setting short of allowing line overrun.

© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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