VIDEO: HOW You Set the Hook Matters Most! — Hook Sets for Dry Flies, Nymphs, Streamers and Wets

by | Jun 26, 2024 | 0 comments

** NOTE ** Video for Hook Sets appears below

Setting the hooks is the most exciting part of the day. For all the time we spend planning, prepping, wading, tying, casting and drifting, it’s all in anticipation of that brief moment when a trout eats the fly. You fooled a trout. So, don’t screw it up. That’s why the hook set matters most. And planning for the hookset, thinking about how a trout might eat the fly and how we will respond, makes all the difference.

We fish with nymphs, streamers, wets and dry flies. We present upstream and downstream, in a dead drift with slack and sometimes with a tight line. We swing flies. We cast near and far. There’s a wide variety of presentations on a fly rod, so when a trout eats the fly . . . there’s a wide variety of ways to set the hook. We can find similarities between all hook sets, but there are also key differences.

A fly rod is the perfect tool for chasing trout in rivers, because we can present to them every food form. Streamers for baitfish? Yes, and sometimes wet flies. But realize that trout eat bugs more often. They eat nymphs and dry flies. That’s the bulk of their diet. Most gamefish eat other fish, but trout eat bugs. And those bugs, whether on top or underneath, don’t have the ability to swim far or fast. They’re small. So our best presentations on a dry fly or nymph come from a dead drift. We aim for an unaltered drift and accept that there will be imperfections. Up top, the dead drift is about providing slack to the dry. Underneath, getting dead drifts on a nymph must happen with contact on a straight line or very minimal slack. So this distinct difference in the way we aim for dead drifts with bugs, requires an equally distinct difference in hook sets with dry flies vs nymphs. The same goes for streamer and wet flies.

VIDEO: Troutbitten | Real Dead Drifts — Up Top and Underneath

My friends and I published an hour long discussion on this topic of hooksets on the Troutbitten Podcast, Season 11, Episode 8. The excellent comments and questions that followed prompted this video, now summarizing some of the key points and showing these hook setting skills.

PODCAST: Troutbitten | Set the Hook! All About Different Hook Sets – S11,Ep8

This video breaks down all of the important things about hook set direction, hook set distance and hook set timing.

Check out this video, then read below for more detail about the wide variety of hook sets.

Here’s the video:

(Please select 1080p or 4K for high resolution.)

Trout Set?

There is no “trout set.” It’s a bad term, because it allows no room for variety. As trout anglers, we match our hook set to the moment. When fishing streamers, we set the hook very differently than when fishing dry flies with slack, at distance. 

The term “trout set” really means a dry fly set, where (as shown in the video) we move the fly rod enough to pick up all the slack and get tight to the dry fly. That often requires a relatively large sweep of the fly rod, but that’s not the best set for streamer fishing, for wet flies or tight lining nymphs.

There is no trout set. Tell your friends.

Into the Backcast

In the video, I recommend setting into the backcast for every style of fly. Most hooks sets become backcasts, right? Especially if we’re fishing under the water with nymphs or streamers. So for simple efficiency, and to keep us in rhythm, setting into the direction of the backcast makes the most sense. But it also buries the hook back into the trout rather than pulling away from it. That’s a good thing. As I show in the video, even when drifting downstream of my position, I sweep the hook sideways, (downstream as much as possible) so the hook direction is not pulling out of the trout but somewhat sideways into it. And that . . . just happens to be in the direction of my next backcast anyway.

Even when fishing dry flies downstream, I set into the backcast direction.

For none of these hooksets do I lift up into the sky. That’s a fine approach for stillwater, but for trout in rivers, let’s set into the backcast, which is up and to one side or the other.

As soon as my fly hits the water, I know where the next backcast will be. And that’s the same direction the hook set will go. That mindset keeps me out of the trees, and it anchors the next hookset firmly in the trout’s jaw.

Hook Set Speed

Set fast but not far. Set no further than necessary to tighten up and drive the hook home. Setting fast is great — nice and crisp. But setting far is not always best  . . .

Hook Set Distance

How far should the fly travel on a hook set? Just enough to bury the hook firmly. So if we’re already in touch while tight lining to a nymph or stripping a streamer, then aiming for a ten-inch hook set makes sense. The rod travels very little. But while fishing dry flies or any other method where picking up slack is necessary, the fly rod may need to travel much further — even three to five feet, sometimes. But how far does the fly travel? Again, not very far. Just tighten it up.

Hook Set Timing

Timing is a different consideration than hook set speed. How long should we wait before setting the hook? That’s the question of timing.

Wet fly hooksets are probably the easiest, because the trout mostly set the hook for us. But with a streamer, it’s easy to overset or set too frequently, pulling the fly away from the trout when they simply flash next to it or merely bump the fly. This is common enough that many anglers choose to strip set only, on a streamer.

I don’t agree.

READ: Troutbitten | Why Always strip Set With a Streamer is Bad Advice

But the idea of the strip set is sound — it keeps us from taking the fly out of the water and gives the trout a second chance. (We can do the same with the rod, as shown in the video.) This comes back to timing. When do we set on a streamer? When you’re sure the fish has eaten the fly.

While fishing a nymph, it’s best to set as soon as possible. Don’t wait. If you believe a trout has eaten the fly, set immediately. Set now! And set fast, but not (necessarily) far.

READ: Troutbitten | Nymphing — Set on Anything Unusual

Dry fly hook set timing is more complicated. Some anglers suggest pausing to let the trout turn down, and other anglers insist on setting as soon as possible. Everything works sometimes. And we’re ready for anything. I find it best to match the trout’s pace or his eagerness. If a trout eats the dry fly swiftly, then I set as soon as possible. But if a trout comes up to lazily suck in a spinner or terrestrial, I match that mood by slowing the timing of my hook set. As in England, saying “God save the Queen,” allows just an extra beat for the trout to turn down with the fly, helping us secure a better hookset. So with the casual eats, find your own short phrase, speak it, then set the hook. Maybe try “Heeey Nooww/”

Fish hard, friends


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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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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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