The difference between success and failure
All too often many anglers miss the hookset when the fish eats their fly. Whether fishing dries, nymphs, streamers, soft hackles, etc there is a fine line between driving the hook home and pulling the fly out of the fish's mouth. Which direction you swing the rod in relation to the fish and at what intensity all plays a roll in success.
Let's discuss a few key points that are critical.
Set the hook opposite of the fishes head direction. If you are upstream of a trout and he eats your fly and you lift your your rod straight up, the odds of you pulling the fly out are super high. Now in the same scenario, you are upstream of the trout, he eats your fly, and instead of lifting straight up, you swing your rod up and too the side. Setting the hook at an angle into his mouth, not pulling the fly straight out. Always think about the position of the fish in the current (or even in stillwater) and imagine setting the hook opposite of his head position. The single biggest thing you can do to ensure a good hookup.
What side of the river are you standing on? This is an ongoing discussion of the first point we just discussed. If you are on the right bank, meaning the river is flowing TO the right side of your body you set the hook to the right. Whether the fish is upstream of you, straight across from your, or downstream of you... swing the rod up and to the RIGHT! Right bank, right hook set. I'm gunna give you a guess as to what happens on the left bank... ;)
Match the hookset to the take. This is one we have mentioned on the blog and in video before, it came from one of our longtime guides Britten Jay. Britten always instructs clients to match the hookset to the take. If the fish takes your nymph, streamer, or dry violently and quickly, your hookset is as equally as quick. If trout are rhythmically slurping mayflies on a slow moving spring creek, your hook set will be smooth and steady as to not rip the fly out the fish's mouth.
Strip set when streamer fish. Fishing sinking lines, sink-tips, or saltwater? The hook set is often best when done with a strip set. Rather than just lift the rod high to set the hook, try giving the line a quick and powerful strip to drive the hook home, then lift the rod. Sometimes when streamer fishing a low sweep of the rod rather than a high lift will do the trick as well.
Fishing dries in clear water. On rivers like the St. Joe and NF Coeur d'Alene patience is a virtue. You often can watch the fish swim to the surface to eat your fly, a great site. Wait for that fish to turn it's head down before setting. That one second pause is a difference maker. In New Zealand they say when the fish eats you must say "God save the Queen" before setting the hook... we don't live in New Zealand, but a lot can be learned from that sentence of self control.
Manage slack when nymphing. Too much slack on the water can translate to poor hook penetration. Learn the fine line between not enough, and enough.
Fishing out of drift boat. Often the flies are presented ahead of the boat. Be conscious of what direction you will need to set the hook at an angle to the fish as to not pull the fly out of it's mouth. A lot of people get frustrated boat fishing because of this. If you are fishing the right bank as you drift down, you will often need to swing the rod up and to the left to set the hook. The left bank, you will be setting the hook to the right. Typically. There are always variables.
I'm sure I missed some key points, but these are the topics that stuck out in my head as the ones that most people struggle with the most. Remember, always envision driving the hook opposite of the head at an angle and you will greatly increase your odds.