Get your nymphs down to the fish. Put them in the strike zone — low — where the trout live. Keep your streamer near the riverbed 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.
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 that 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 it 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, try a different angle. Try pulling up and then maybe sideways. Half the time, that works. But when it doesn’t,a good pull on the snag 180 degrees from the angle it went in is almost a sure thing. Unless the hook is buried in wood, you’re getting your fly back. Here’s more . . .
Get On the Backside
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 — reverse of the way it went in.
The backside angle need to be deliberate and precise. Pull 180 degrees from the angle the fly went in, and the fly will release will little effort. Most often, that pull is directly upstream, so it takes low rod angle and a very intentional placement of the rod tip upstream of the snag.
What’s the best way to get that angle?
Don’t Blow ‘Em Up
Wade directly behind the snag, stripping in slack as you go, until you can reach with the rod tip and get that low 180 degree angle on the upside of the snag. Then pull if free. This approach ruins far fewer fishing opportunities than if you wade upstream and beside the snag to get the angle. Wading above or next to the snag is simply unnecessary, and it blows up all the fish in a wider area.
Snags happen. We deal with it and get back to fishing. But we don’t want to lose more opportunities for eager fish than we have to. Wading behind the snag and reaching in front simply saves more water — far more.
The Push-Button Release
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 it from the backside –180 degrees. It’ll pop loose.
This trick is so reliable that my friend, Paul, calls it the push-button release. It’s just another tip that makes fishing more fun out there.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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