Fly Fishing Quick Tips — Put the fish on the reel

by | Jun 24, 2019 | 3 comments

With a ten inch trout, none of this really matters. The little guys don’t challenge your tackle or fish-fighting skills. But with a trout longer than your arm, if you don’t put the fish on the reel, problems are right around the corner.

Unique to fly fishing is what’s going on with all the extra line. We don’t reel in the excess every time. There might be two feet or twenty feet of line we’re working with. Strip it in and shoot it back out. But when a trout takes the fly, it’s time to get the extra line back on the spool and fight the fish on the reel.

Whether you have a high-end disc drag or you palm the spool with an old-school click-and pawl, getting the line on the reel is the first order of business. It’s the only reliable method of fighting fish.

With extra fly line slopping around, too many unexpected things can happen. A dreaded loop finds its way around the rod butt, so you become distracted while trying to untangle it. The trout surges and breaks the tippet. The excess line can tangle at your feet or around the gear hanging from your fishing pack. And with slack between rod and reel, there’s no drag system in play. Bottom line: If you want to land a trout, put it on the reel.

Do this even for smaller trout. Form the habit. Make it a default practice, and you’ll have no trouble when the next Namer eats your fly.



Retrieve line through your trigger finger, all the way through the drift.. Whether recovering slack or stripping, that finger is ready to lock down on the line. Trap it against the rod and set the hook. (Strip setting with streamers is a little different, but the line still comes over the trigger finger.) And after the hook set, immediate awareness of the extra line is critical. How much line is out? And where is it?

Often, there’s time to reel in that slack while the trigger finger stays locked down for a few seconds. Quickly reel in the extra line while the fish flexes against the rod tip for a moment.

However, big trout cover water at high speed. And after the hook set, a good fish may immediately run upstream or down. So give them the extra line — allow it to slip through your trigger finger — but always maintain control, keeping tension from rod tip to the trout’s jaw. Just feed the line back through the guides with your line hand until the trout takes all the slack and the fish is on the reel.

Only then are you in a fair fighting stance. Only then are you in a controlled, predictable position. Only then are you ready to fight and land the biggest trout of your life.

Fish hard, friends.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Fighting Fish


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. Totally agree. I don’t understand why people try to strip in a fish. I guess it’s fine for the vast majority of fish, but for the big dogs, the ones you really care about, I want the technology working for me – that drag. I do it on every fish because sometimes you don’t know how big the fish is at first, especially since we’re nymphing low in the water column. With all that moving water above the fish at the end of your line, you can’t tell how big he is initially. I don’t want to be unprepared when he takes off like a train!

  2. Oh hell yea always on the reel! On the reel + side pressure = big fish in the net.

  3. Glad you wrote about this. I grew up getting back to the reel as fast I could just cause it seemed right. Then I had some guy says to just strip them in and I never liked it. The problem for me with striping them in is that I can never get the right tension on the line when I need to release line for the fish. The line almost sticks between my fingers and if the fish runs it tends to break off because there no graceful release. In addition, I want to use my reel, its more fun.


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