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How To Set A Hook While Fly Fishing For Salmon

November 16th, 2012 by Jock Monteith 3 comments

It still amazes me that the most important part of salmon fly fishing is not openly discussed. The books and many in our industry still talk about letting a salmon take line off the reel then lifting into it. This is a recipe for disaster and logic should tell you that a slack clutch and the soft action of a salmon fly rod is not usually enough to set a hook properly (after working hard for the golden moment when a salmon comes to the fly).

How many times have you seen salmon fly fishers hook a fish which shakes the hook out after 30 seconds or so or lift into nothing after a lovely draw has taken 10 feet of line off their reel?

Here's the procedure to follow to increase effective hooking:

Cold Water Fishing. (January February March April May October November)

With the water being colder 'the take' is usually a much slower one therefor let the take develop until a steady draw of line is coming off the slack clutch of your fly reel. Ignore the initial nudges and wait for the steady draw of line from the reel. This can take between 8 and 15 seconds after the first nudges and include several seconds of steady draw before before you set the hook. To set the hook place your hand right around the face of the fly reel and squeeze tightly so that the fish is stopped dead in the water with the rod tip pointing at the fish and not raising the rod in the slightest. You need to feel the weight of the salmon in this position for a slow 3/4 seconds to ensure a proper hook set before ever considering lifting the rod. Normally bigger hooks are used in colder water therefor it is essential that this hooking procedure is followed. It works for me 95% of the time as Spring fish especially are decisive and will take, turn and swim back to the lie they came from most of the time which allows you to tighten when their heads are pointing away from you ensuring the temp hook hold becomes a permanent one.

Warm Water Fishing (June July August)

The warm water take is normally a bit quicker than the cold water take and the steady draw off the reel by a turning fish usually occurs at between 4 and 8 seconds after the initial contact nudges. The actual hooking procedure should be carried out exactly the same way by clamping the reel face tightly with the rod pointing at the salmon until its weight is felt for 3/4 seconds before lifting.

Exceptions To The Above:

Sometimes in heavily fished rivers where there's a lot of rod pressure and big numbers of older 'stale' salmon are in residence that will not turn on a fly and getting tiny flies down on to them or tweaking a pot bellied pig past their noses is the only chance of getting one to snap at the fly momentarily. The best thing to do here is make sure you're using needle sharp hooks and clamp immediately the initial nudge is felt. These little hooks should stick with a spilt second contact if the salmon has snapped at the fly even if it hasn't turned on the fly or had to follow the fly from its lie. It can be tricky to hook salmon like this and I'll only ever change my hooking tactics to this method when conditions are as described. 

The other difficult fish to hook is the one that takes the salmon fly just at the same moment you are committing to the lift (going into a cast). All of a sudden you feel the weight of the fish and the rod is almost fully lifted. There is nothing you can do here other than clamp hard and continue with the upward pressure on the temp hook hold. Some will stick and others will not.

If a salmon comes to the fly as you're drawing line back in before committing to the lift the pull you are giving the line as the salmon mouths the fly will usually exert enough pressure on the hook to set it properly.

These are the ways I hook salmon on the fly and teach others to implement often resulting in clients hooking and landing salmon on the fly on day one of their salmon fishing careers. Have the composure not to react too quickly which I know is difficult for anyone who comes from a trout fishing background. Make sure you feel the line tighten with the rod tip down while clamping the reel face tight. Hold this position and let the salmon's forward momentum after it has turned pull the hook home effectively.

I hope you'll implement the above tactics and enjoy more landing more properly hooked salmon in the 2013 fishing season.

Tight Lines

Jock Monteith


Jock Monteith is a professional salmon fishing guide and his Salmon Fishing Services business offers bespoke corporate salmon fishing events to the salmon fishing hospitality market. Jock Monteith also offers a renowned branded range of top quality Spey casting rods & salmon Spey lines and through his many years of salmon fishing marketing he is also proud to offer his expertise as a salmon fishing fishery consultant to private salmon fishing beat owners throughout the UK.

Comments (3)

On 19-11-2012, Peter Huntington commented...
I think that setting the hook has been discussed ad infinitum. I`ve never seen this method used before. I fish off the reel and hardly ever lose a fish. My pal fishes a loop and hardly ever loses a fish.
There is 1 further comment on this comment...
On 05-02-2014, michael troy commented...
I CANNOT EVER RECALL ANY SALMON I HAVE HOOKED DOING ANYTHING OTHER THAN TRYING TO PULL THE ROD OUT OF MY HAND AND HEADING BACK TO THE ESTUARY, LAST YEAR ON THE TWEED, IF I HAD WAITED 8 SECONDS BEFORE STRIKING ON THE 2 SALMON I COUGHT, THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN
On 20-11-2012, John kennedy commented...
As already mentioned, this will have been discussed to death. For a competent salmon angler I don't think there is a right way and a wrong way. I'd imagine most people do it different.

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