Fifty Tips

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #9 — Fight Fish Fast

September 24, 2017
The longer a trout tugs, turns and flips at the end of your line, the greater the chance you’ll lose it. We don’t need a study in probability theory to know this is true. No, we all have enough firsthand stories about the desperate emptiness that accompanies a long distance release. So I fight all fish fast, and that strategy becomes especially important when tangling with the biggest trout in a river.

Big fish don’t come easily. So you either need unusual luck, or you have to do a few things right.

In another article, I’ll flush out all of the tactics for fighting fish. In this short tip, let’s talk about the most important one. Fight fish fast. Honestly, all the other tactics stem from this objective to get the fish in quickly.

Photo by Pat Burke

We know that fighting fish fast is better for the health of the fish. The sooner you stop jerking a trout around by the mouth and allow it to return to its normal station the better. But fighting fish fast also improves the angler’s chances of landing the trout in the first place.

I don’t subscribe to the idea of playing a fish out before netting. It’s not necessary to make a trout so tired that it stops fighting before sliding the net underneath.

I know it’s fun to let a big fish pull line off the spool and feel your $300 drag do some work, but it’s rarely necessary, even for larger fish.


As soon as I hook a trout, I go into fast fighting mode. I do all I can to get the trout above and to the side of my position. I move my feet, and I move the rod. I keep the rod flexing against the surging fish and never point the rod at the quarry. The rod stays low and bent, and I use side pressure — downstream and to the side of the fish. Maintaining that ideal angle between fisherman and fish puts the angler in better control of the fight.

A good fish often swims downstream, so wherever possible, I move with it. I hustle through the shallows or even run down the bank to stay below the trout. I do whatever it takes to regain the preferred angle, with the trout upstream and across from me.

With a fight-fish-fast mindset, you can get into landing mode very quickly, even on large trout. You don’t need to play a fish to exhaustion before attempting to net it. You just need the right position — and that starts with being downstream of the fish.

In this way, I’ve landed many large trout in less than thirty seconds.

It’s also worth mentioning that tippet size (strength, really) makes a huge difference in the speed at which you can land a trout. I very rarely fish under 5X, although I admit it’s sometimes necessary. My standard tippet sizes are 2X fluorocarbon for streamers, 4X fluorocarbon for nymphs and 5X nylon for dries. I prefer fluoro for the extra strength, and nylon for the extra flexibility. Certainly I’ll go smaller in diameter, but only when the fly is small enough to require it. (Such as 6X fluoro for a #20 Zebra Midge or 6X nylon for a #22 Trico dry.)

Whatever tippet you choose, make it a point to know its breaking strength. Take the time to hook the fly into a log; then step back fifteen feet and start pulling. Flex the rod. Pull until the tippet breaks. The breaking point is usually much greater than we expect. (Don’t do this with sizes 2X or larger, or you may break the rod!)

Bottom line: use strong, high quality tippet and you’ll get the fish in a lot quicker.


To fight fish fast, never let the fish rest. Either the trout is pulling, or you are pulling. The battle should never reach a stalemate. Pull or be pulled. Nothing in between. And keep that angle.

It takes a while to make all of this second nature. But fighting fish fast is the best thing to increase your odds of landing the trout of a lifetime.

Back in the spring of this year, I hooked into the second largest river trout of my lifetime. With the strategy of fighting fast, I landed a 25 inch wild trout in less than a minute. It was a quick, high-energy battle. I was left with a healthy fish to release, a great memory and a success story rather than another tall tale about the one that got away.

Read: Troutbitten | Anything at Anytime — Meet Honey Bunny

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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