The Easy Way to Release a Snag (with VIDEO)

by | Mar 23, 2022 | 26 comments

** NOTE ** Video for The Easy Way to Release a Snag appears below.

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.

Snags happen.

I’ve fished with people who 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’re a calculated risk — an occasional consequence after assessing probability against skill, opportunity against loss. We all hang up the fly sometimes. So what.

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

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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 It On the Backside

Wade to an angle that gets your rod tip behind the fly — upstream from where it went in. (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 needs to be deliberate and precise. Pull 180 degrees from the angle where the fly entered the snag, and the fly will release with little effort. Most often, that pull is directly upstream, so it takes a low rod angle and an intentional placement of the rod tip upstream of the snag.

What’s the best way to get that angle?

Photo by Josh Darling

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 it 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 fishing opportunities than we have to. Wading behind the snag and reaching in front simply saves more water for catching more trout.

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, and 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.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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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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26 Comments

  1. Thanks! This is a great tip! Very much appreciated!

    Reply
  2. I’m sure I’ll be practicing that a lot! Great tip!

    Reply
  3. Great tip, now show me how to get it out of a tree. 😉

    Reply
  4. I’d love to learn how to quick release snagged fish!! Some days it’s crazy,used to think totally random,but after fishing same waters and never snagging now sure it was some attempt at taking either fly. And there is nothing stronger then tail hooked 18 inch trout,or disappointing!!

    Reply
    • Hi,
      I point the rod tip immediately at the fish and take in all slack. The fly usually pulls free, often the line breaks but that is better than exhausting the fish.

      Reply
  5. I like this video a lot. It makes me think how wonderful a video series demonstrating the essential skills discussed in your podcasts would be.

    Reply
    • You bastard! You know it’s coming. But I’m a little burned out on the Nine Essential Skills right now. First I wrote the series, then I did a podcast on it. The videos will be there, though –in time.
      Dom

      Reply
      • Where is it written that being a fly fishing celebrity is easy? You have an insatiable fan base now, and they will never be satisfied!

        Seriously, you do have fans, and they appreciate everything you do.

        Reply
        • Ha. Celebrity.

          I certainly appreciate the support.

          Cheers.
          Dom

          Reply
          • If you don’t want to loose Nymphs, go dry fly-fishing 🙂
            It’s part of the game!

          • Sure is. I lose dry flies too, by the way.
            But when I get a snag out or recover a fly, what I’m out there . . . is TIME. That’s what we all value most. Breaking off a fly costs time. That can be as simple as the the fifteen or thirty seconds it might take to tie on a single, new fly. Or it might be more complex. If a two fly rig breaks off, and we lose the whole tippet section up to the sighter, we’ve now lost more time. And if there was an indy, split shot or drop shot in the mix, then even more time is lost. Rigging time is a real thing. No matter how fast are the knots under our fingers, it’s still a better time saver to recover the fly — most times.

            Cheers.
            Dom

  6. Why didn’t I think of your technique? Makes sense the way you explain it.

    I bet I’m not alone in yanking the exact wrong direction.

    Love Troutbitten. Thanks Dom.

    Reply
  7. Another way to get a snag loose is to throw a loop at it and then pop it free when the loop is on the other side of the snag. This pulls the fly out back upstream similar to your method. Strip off quite a bit of extra line then throw the excess line hard at the snag. As the loop passes the snag pop the rod up hard. The fly will come out. Give it a try.

    Reply
    • That sure is a great method that works, Jay. And of course, it uses the same principle of 180 degrees. But one thing we don’t have on a tight line rig is the roll cast. That’s a deficiency. And I’ve see it frustrate people when they realize they can’t do the trick that you described. This is just as good, really.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  8. Hi Dom,

    Thanks for that great lesson. No BS, it really works great.

    All the best!

    Reply
  9. Good topic and good advice but at my age, I’m hesitant to walk upstream against strong current. Instead, I let out more line, raise the rod tip to 12 to 1 o’clock position and force the rod tip upstream much like a whip motion. This approach frequently works and I use the same approach to remove a fly snagged in the trees. I believe that approach scares fish less often.

    Reply
    • Sure thing, Fred. You’re referring to roll casting to release that tension from the other side. That’s the common way to do things when using a standard leader and fly line. I employ that method all the time when fishing dry flies. But it doesn’t work very well when fishing nymph rigs. And it’s impossible when using ling tight line rigs. So this video and instruction approaches those problems.

      I will also say, if you can’t wade upstream five feet to release the snag, then the tight line nymphing approach wouldn’t be working for you anyway. Tight lining simply requires an angler willing to wade into great positions.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  10. Have you ever seen the “throw a loop at the snag” method of releasing a snagged fly? Works nearly all the time. Feed out some line (it takes a bunch of line), then throw a hard cast at the snag. As the fly passes the place your fly is snagged pop the line and the hook will pull back out upstream. Give it a try.

    Reply
    • Yeah for sure. We do that as well. But this video shows how to release a snag when fishing nymphs and streamers, especially on a tight line rig. No roll cast there. Cheers.

      Reply

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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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