There’s an epidemic sweeping the nation’s lakes and rivers, and though it’s not bacterial or viral in nature, the pain from this particular affliction can take root and resonate for days or even weeks in extreme cases.
There’s no telling when the scenario might play out, but the more time an angler spends on the water, the better the chance they will be involved in a fish tale about a fish tail swimming the opposite direction.
Though you can’t die from missing a hook-set on a big fish, many anglers may question their mortality when a lunker snaps up a bait only to be the proverbial one that got away, leaving the rod holder with a slack line, a set of slumping shoulders and a broken heart.
Anglers today have the best tools ever at their disposal in their fishing pursuits, but all that technology won’t do any good unless they can apply it to their angling situation. There remain tried and true concepts pertaining to hook-sets that are easy to remember and practical to use on almost any fishing excursion.
Here’s a rundown of why an angler might come up short in an attempt to hook a fish and ways to overcome obstacles along the way.
Not keeping your line tight: This should be second nature, but a taut line will allow you to feel fish and make your hook-sets effective. Attempting to set the hook with even a little slack won’t do any good and you’ll miss the fish almost every time.
One asset to keeping your line tight is the ability to feel a live bait that is worked into a frenzy. The line will dance and move if a predator is after your decoy and you’ll be ready when your target latches on. Another asset to a taut line is seeing it move if a fish has taken a bait but you don’t yet feel its weight, something that might happen if you’re fishing a jig or some other bait a fish might hit on its way down.
Slack becomes more of an issue when an angler is working a bait using any type of rod movement, such as popping, chugging or dancing a topwater bait, but the easiest remedy to slack are some quick turns of the reel. After all, that’s what it’s there for.
Bad form will hinder your ability: Having a relaxed, stable stance is vital in almost any type of sporting situation, and fishing is no different. By keeping your knees slightly bent and giving yourself a nice base, you won’t lose your balance and will be able to put more force on the rod, line and hook. Losing your balance even slightly and overcompensating could give most fish the little amount of slack they need to spit a hook or play havoc with your line.
There are two general hook-sets and each of them requires that you have at least some balance or they won’t work. The first motion brings the rod back toward your shoulders and head, while the other takes it to the side. The side set technique allows an angler to twist at the waist, adding more power to their set, but the move could throw an angler off balance if they’re not ready and don’t have stable footing.
Taking a step backward also is a good way to increase balance and add leverage to a hook-set, especially when an angler wants to stick a fish hard.
Going wide will decrease your power: Many anglers take a wide sweeping motion with their arms or push their elbows out when a fish hits whether they’re expecting a strike or not but the key to a solid hook-set is keeping your elbows close to your body. This allows you to move the rod more powerfully and cuts down on wasted motion.
The key is getting the line as tight as possible as quickly as possible and when you keep your elbows near your torso when setting the hook, you’ll cut down on motion while increasing leverage, making that slack line, if there is any, almost a non-factor.
Know hook and bait tendencies: Circle hooks work better at keeping from hooking a fish down deep, but they also decrease the catch rate in some instances. Circle hooks also don’t require a standard hook-set. As the fish takes the bait, wait until it swims the other way and simply apply pressure, forcing the hook to take root in the side of a fish’s mouth as the line tightens.
For most other hooks, a hook-set of some kind is required for the most part. If you’re using live bait, most fish will hook themselves regardless of your hook selection, but if you’re not using circle hooks, you mine as well cut the distance with a jerk of the rod when you feel the fish. It’s also good to think about the mouth type of the fish you’re targeting. If you think a fish with a tougher mouth has taken your bait, it’s OK to really slam them with the hook-set. However, if you’re after fish with softer mouths, a big hook-set or more than one could tear the hook from the fish’s mouth.
It’s good to also keep a hook file with you and to not underestimate how the sharpness of a hook plays into landing more fish. A good rule of thumb is to keep a hook sharp enough to grab a bite with almost no force.
Waiting too long or not long enough: I know for a fact that the overriding tendency is to want to give the rod a jerk whenever you feel a fish, but sometimes you’ve got to wait it out a bit longer to make sure you’re not going to pull a hook.
Anglers who regularly fish topwater baits know that fish often will blow up on a bait without getting a mouthful of hooks. In this instance, it’s especially important to wait until you actually feel the weight of the fish on the line before hitting them. Staying relaxed is a good thing to remember in this situation because if you get nervous and try to stick the fish before it’s there, it won’t be.
Though it’s good to wait in many instances, there’s not a set rule on setting the hook. When targeting fish that are more aggressive, you’ll likely want to set the hook much faster than when you’re after more sluggish fish that are biting light. You just have to play it by ear and adjust to whatever the fish are doing in these cases.
Don’t forget about line stretch: At greater depths, almost all lines have a big stretch factor that you must take into account. If you’re fishing in deeper water, this can be a hurdle to a good hook-set. Generally, you must apply more force to get a solid hook-set in deep water, overcoming the stretch in the line with more power.
Keeping the line tight again comes into play in these types of situations.
Experience pays off in the end: It takes time to develop a “feel” for setting the hook, especially in any kind of new endeavor. And sometimes it doesn’t matter what you do – if a fish is swimming toward you when it takes your bait, there’s a good chance you’ll pull the hook from it when you jerk on the rod.
Learning from your misses is the No. 1 rule of fishing. A good way to keep track of what worked or why you might have missed a fish in a particular scenario is to keep a fishing journal. By writing down the basics of how, when, where and why a fish got the better of you, you’ll be able to better analyze patterns if you keep missing fish.
Though missing a fish that blows up strong on a well-placed lure is an inevitability for any angler regardless of their skill set, there are a number of things that even the novice can take to heart and use next time they head out to their honey hole. The most important thing to remember is to not get discouraged and keep pitching. Setting the hook is really a crash course in physics and your local fishing hot spot is the best classroom to learn in.
Oh, and one more thing: If in doubt, set the hook!