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Bonefishing: Setting The Hook

Posted on July 23 2009

This is what happens when you set the hook properly.
Photo: Vilma Sisler

“Don’t trout set, mon.”

Over the years countless bonefish anglers have heard this phrase from their Bahamian guides. OK, we know not to trout set, but what are we supposed to do?

Let’s start with a little bit of background. As trout anglers we’ve been trained to raise the rod when a fish eats. Raising a fly rod turns it into a shock absorber – it gives a smooth, steady pull on the fly that protects a light trout tippet and does just fine pinning your barbless #18 hook into a trout’s lip.

Bonefish have hard mouths, and when they eat your fly, you need a quick, sharp pull to bury the hook. If you raise your rod tip when a critter like a bonefish eats, the end result will be that the fly gets smoothly pulled out of the fish’s mouth, not jabbed in there like you want it.If you’ve never had the shock absorbtion of a fly rod demonstrated to you, get a buddy and try this fun little exercise.
  1. String up a fly rod with a line and a leader but with no fly.
  2. Grab onto the end of the leader (with a light leader you can wrap it around your hand if you like).
  3. Have your buddy grab the fly rod and walk back about 20 feet.
  4. Have your buddy do a ‘trout set’ – just raise the rod tip. Pretty smooth pull, huh?
  5. Now have your buddy point the rod straight at you, slowly pull in the excess line, and after the line is tight, give it another quick strip. OK, point made?

If you don’t have a buddy (nearby, at least) to try this with, just trust us – the classic trout set results in a very smooth gradual pull – excellent for protecting 7x tippets but terrible for burying 1/0 saltwater hooks into the mouth of a bonefish. Stripping the fly with the rod pointed straight results in a much sharper, stronger jab.

Here’s how to present and then set the hook when a bonefish eats.

  1. Make your cast.
  2. Keep your rod tip in the water, pointed straight at the fish. Strip out the excess slack.
  3. When the fish sees the fly, give it a few quick trips.
  4. Once he follows, keep moving the fly, pausing only to let him keep up with it.
  5. Keep your rod pointed straight at the fish.
  6. When you see the fish tip down to eat, or you feel resistance when stripping the fly line, keep your rod pointed straight at the fish.
  7. Now give the line one more firm, long strip. It’ll generally stop dead, or the fish will take off. In either case, the hook is now set and you can raise the rod tip and have some fun fighting that bonefish.

It’s really hard at first to not raise your rod. For us the idea that finally got it through our thick skulls was “keeping stripping until the line is tight”. If you keep stripping until the line is tight and you don’t raise your rod tip, chances are you’ve buried the hook into that fish’s mouth and you’re good to go.

For some practice on setting the hook properly, drop us a line about a trip to Andros South.

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