October 28th, 2002

Why You Lose Fish
By James Castwell


It occurred to me the other day why new fly fishers lose fish. Most of us come to fly fishing from the spinning rod game. A fact that is sometimes conveniently forgotten by some of us. There are those too who still use both, but for they do not seem to be in the majority, especially if considered for the same size and specie of fish. It seems that once a person decides to go after, for instance, brook trout with a fly rod, he will not use a spinning rod on them again.

Here is what may be happening. When you use a spinning rod and spinning line and get a 'take,' you 'set the hook.' Heck, you have to, spinning line is about like fishing with a skinny rubber-band. Some fly-fishers hate long leaders (nine to 12 feet) because they stretch too much, and that's only a few yards of monofilament. A spin-fisher uses a whole line of the stuff. If you don't rear back and 'drive the hook home,' you don't get your fish.

How often have you seen those new to fly-fishing rip the rod back in a big hoop, to 'set the hook'? I sure have. The result is predictable. Broken tippets, broken leaders, broken rods and sometimes flying fish, all because the fly line did not stretch. It is one of the things we need to learn, (or is that, unlearn) about fly-fishing. We spend a few years honing our reflexes to set the hook on fish, then have to fight to try not to rip their lips off.

So, try to remember, you are not fishing with a rubber-band now, it's almost a solid connection to the fly. With a fly rod I try to just 'pick them up.' Not jerk the teeth out of them.

The second reason you may be losing fish is a simple one. You may be trying to land them, don't feel bad about that, we all feel like that. We want to get the fish in so we can get back out there and get another one! I wonder at that feeling but I have to admit it is universally true.

"What, I shouldn't try to land my fish?" No, that is not the point, of course you should land your fish, but, it is in the 'trying' the problems exist. I had a case in point only recently. My buddy and his friend were fishing for salmon with me and as we were leaving his friend mentioned he would be back on the beach the next morning for another try. As this was his first time with a fly rod and we couldn't be with him the next morning, when he asked if there were any tips I might give him, I said something like this.

When (if) you get a strike, do not try to land the salmon, just stay attached to it. Take your time, don't horse it in, you have got all the time in the world. Enjoy the event. It is a bit like tennis in that you can win any tennis match, don't go for any winners, just keep getting the ball back. Pure and simple. Very often way too many guys are in such a hurry to land their fish they actually cause it to get off or rip the hooks out. Keep cool, keep calm and keep attached.

Now, I don't want any email from you guys accusing me of not landing a fish in a minimal amount of time. I am suggesting here the optimum time, not the maximum and mostly, not the minimum. In years past I would show how fish will not get off a barbless hook even if you do not keep great pressure on them. I would hook a fair sized brown trout and after a few gentle moments, slowly relax all pressure on the fish. It would drop to the bottom and rest, there being no pull from me. I would then take out my pipe, tamp it out, fill it, light it, and pick up the rod and land the trout. Seems a bit drastic, but it did get the point over.

So, don't jerk their teeth out on the take. Just stay connected with the fish. You will both be happier and enjoy the event a lot more. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but they are few, like when bonefishing and a shark is after your fish or in certain fast moving stream conditions. ~ James Castwell

Till next week, remember . . .

Keepest Thynne Baakast Upeth

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