Quick Tips Tips/Tactics

Quick Tips — Unbutton Snags from the Backside

September 25, 2018

Get your nymphs down to the fish. Put them in the strike zone — low — where the trout live. Keep your streamer near the rock bed because that’s where the baitfish are. Cast your flies over by that wet log. Trout love structure.

It’s all true. And to fish well, to be effective with our underwater patterns, we must take chances. Get low, but not so low that you hang up every cast. Target the structure and get close, but not so close that you drive the hook into a dead log.

Snags happen.

I’ve fished with guys that see every hang up as a failure — every lost fly as a mistake. But inevitably, that mindset breeds an overcautious angler, too careful and just hoping for some good luck.

Hang ups are not a failure. For a good angler, they are a calculated risk — an occasional consequence after assessing probability against skill, situation and loss. We all hang up the fly sometimes. So what.

Now let’s talk about how to pop loose the underwater snag.

Don’t drive it home

Let’s assume you cast upstream and the fly is drifting back down toward you when the line stops.

Good fishing is about being in contact with the flies. So the instant the fly stops (whether it touches a rock or a trout’s teeth) we should see or feel it. Usually, we set the hook.

And that’s a good thing. Since we set when the line pauses, the fly doesn’t have much chance to bury itself underneath a complicated mass of rocks and tree parts. When the angler’s rig is in touch with the flies, most snags end up on the edge of something — like a rock.

When we set the hook on a rock, the worst thing to do is keep setting the hook into the rock. Don’t do that. Don’t pull downstream over and over and expect the fly to come out.

Instead, reach out with the rod tip and pull up. Then try a tug sideways.

Get on the backside

When that doesn’t work, wade to an angle that gets your rod tip behind the fly — upstream from where it came. Often, it takes only a step or two. With a long fly rod we can reach behind the nymph and pull it out in reverse of the way it went in.

The backside angle does not need to be direct. If you get any kind of upstream pull, the snag often releases with little effort.


So the next time you trout-set on a stick-fish, don’t drive the hook home with another hard pull. Change the angle and pull from the backside.

If you’re lucky, it’ll pop loose.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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I find throwing a roll cast or two on the back side of the snag will dislodge it most of the time


I learned from Front Range legend Ed Engle, you gotta lose flies to catch fish. So I do more of both now. I’ll take that trade-off! A guy near you, Domenick, Matt Kowalchuk of the Feathered Hook, helped me get better with this fly-freeing technique you just wrote about. I’ve gotten better at it and it really helps you save your flies, and reduces the time when you’re not fishing.


Yes, spot on, that works for me, I get upstream and try gentle pulls first, then tension on the line and tap the rod, and circular movements with the rod tip as well, final try is to let the line go slack, then pull again with the rod tip down in the water to get another angle. On most of my waters, I can wade over and reach down and pluck the nymph out if all thats failed-making sure my feet are well planted and bending slowly to avoid joining the nymph on the snag LOL. I like to get… Read more »

Nice post, another way is to do a roll cast that goes beyond where the fly is hooked then gently lift up at the end.


I have had some luck stripping some line off my Reel and sending a roll cast towards my fly.

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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