Quick Tips — Set the hook at the end of every drift

by | Oct 3, 2018 | 7 comments

I watched the line, waiting for some indication of a strike and intently expecting a fish to eat the nymph. Then at the end of the drift I looked away, scanning for my next target upstream. When I lifted the line for the backcast, I was surprised to find a trout on the line. He bounced off quickly because I never got a good hookset.

That’s happened to you a hundred times too, right?

Nymphing is an art of the unseen, and no matter the material attachments we add to the line for visual aid of a strike, trout take our flies without us knowing about it — probably way more often than we can imagine.

That’s why it’s best to end every underwater drift with a hookset. Do this with nymphs and with streamers, at the end of every dead drift presentation, and you’ll find unexpected trout attached to your line. The short set also prepares the line and leader for your next backcast. Here’s how . . .

Do It

At the end of each drift, give the line a short and sharp hookset upward and downstream. On a tight line, you need only move the fly six inches.

If the nymphs are upstream of your position, this hookset is a simple and quick lift of the rod tip. If the nymphs are across or slightly downstream of your position, then the angle of the hookset may be more to the side.

Either way, this short hookset is a setup for the next backcast.

Set It Up

Aside from hooking the unexpected trout, the end-of-the-drift hookset gets the underwater flies and tippet in motion, making the coming backcast easier and more efficient. The short, sharp motion releases the tippet and flies from the tension of the currents, and it straightens out any slack in the system before the backcast.

The motion must be short, only a few inches of movement with the rod tip. Otherwise, your rod is too far back to make a full backcast. Remember, just a short pop of the line hand is all that’s needed. The backcast should immediately follow. From a distance, the casual observer may not even notice the distinction between hookset and the actual backcast, but an experienced angler sees it easily.

Nymphing is an art of the unseen, and no matter the material attachments we add to the line for visual aid of a strike, trout take our flies without us knowing about it — probably way more often than we can imagine.

The same tactic applies while fishing tight line to an indicator (a personal favorite tactic) or tight line to a dry dropper. A quick, short hookset downstream of the indy gets everything setup for the backcast while hooking the occasional undetected trout.

Likewise, while fishing streamers with any slack in the system, a good final animation of the rod tip — a hookset downstream — brings the line tight and ready for the backcast while tempting (and sometimes hooking) a curious trout.

READ: Troutbitten | Tight Line Nymphing with an indicator — A Mono Rig Variant

READ: Troutbitten | Streamers as an Easy Meal — The Old School Streamer Thing

Remember this: Cast. Drift. Set the hook. Back cast. Delivery. Repeat. That’s good fishing.

Fish hard, friends.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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  1. There are days when a few trout will taste your fly at the end of a drift and a short set comes into play.
    It’s not a technique I’ll use every day because it often results in foul hooked fish.
    There’s a fine line in the eye of a watchful C.O. which may be considered lining, lifting, or snagging too.
    Those here that fish the Great Lakes Tributaries are well aware of that regulation.
    Just be careful how and when you employ that hook set… and yes, it can be deadly at the right time.

    • Nah. There’s not a C.O. anywhere who would prosecute you for what we’re talking about here. It’s a simple, quick, six inch pop of the rod that is essentially a function of the backcast. As I wrote above, to most people it’s unnoticeable. It also doesn’t result in foul hooked fish. I can’t say that I’ve ever foul hooked a fish this way. Simply put, what we’re talking about here is not anything close to lifting or snagging.

      • If you “set the hook” as you describe at the end of every drift on the Salmon River in NY you will get cited. It’s an outright violation per regulations.

  2. Many years ago when I was starting to seriously fly fish for trout I noticed that when I pulled up for the next cast I found a trout. I’m not sure why it happened as frequently as it did that day, but since then I’ve ended my drifts with a hook set maneuver. This has payed off many times.

    It’s the little things you do without thinking rhat makes fly fishing successful. You writing about it reminds me to point that out to my eight year old grandson.

  3. Domenick,
    Thank for your many lessons and stories! Your frequent entries remind me of what I need to learn or get reinforced.
    Just lost a fish at the end of a drift Friday. It was on for about 5 seconds or so came up to the surface then I kept him underwater. I thought the hook was set as he was giving a good fight. Given it was the end of the drift he was more behind me then I wanted. The hook was size 20 I believe.
    Even if there’s a good tug do you still set the hook? I’m not clear on that once the fight is on.
    Perhaps it’s anyone’s guess as to what I might have done wrong. Any advice besides my obvious mistake of letting the drift go too long.

  4. Great tip. I’m laughing thinking of all the times I’ve caught s fish this way, and eventually…I just started hook setting every time. Sometimes it’s the rising motion of the nymph that I think gets them. The other thing I habitually do nowvtoo is always assume I’ve got a nice fish on until proven otherwise. I’ve lost some dandies because I was being lazy with my mechanics after booking up. Thanks for s great article.

  5. Don, When you go into you back cast following the hook set, do you normally go into an air born back cast then a forward cast to your next upstream target? Or do you lay the back cast on the water downstream before you cast upstream to your next target?


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