Trouts Journal

5 Ways to Improve Your Hookset When Fly Fishing for Trout

Ivan Orsic / May 14, 2023

There is no fly angler among us that has not and will not miss a hook set. Even the masters of the craft duff their fair share of chances. It literally happens to all of us. You've picked the right fly, made the right cast, thrown the right mend, made the right presentation, a fish eats and whammy, you set the hook. Milliseconds later, you're overtaken by disappointment and frustration as that trout swims free. It's a frustrating moment for any angler and while you can always chalk it up to the trout taking a W, oftentimes, you could have executed your hook set better.

In the name of more hookups, we're going to talk about a handful of ways you can improve your hook set and put more fish in the net.


You'll often hear the advice - always set downstream. This is generally true - as water flows downstream and trout typically face upstream and let food flow to them - but eddies exist. (NOTE: An eddy is an area of circular current that tends to flow in the opposite direction from the main river current.)

While there are certainly exceptions (i.e. downstream dry fly fishing or streamer fishing), a down-current hookset will allow you to firmly sink the fly into the mouth of the trout. If you set up-current, you're pulling the flies out of that trout's mouth. Generally bad. When you're nymph fishing, you should also set at an angle and not straight up and down. That fish is facing up-current and a straight up and down hookset doesn't use the mass of the fish against itself or the current to your advantage. In a perfect world, you want that fly in the proverbial "corner pocket" of the mouth. That corner pocket positioning can really be advantageous when it comes to applying pressure during the ensuing fight.


Have you ever had a guide tell you, "Hooksets are free," as your indicator bounces mid-drift? Well, there's a reason that phrase is part of every self-respecting fly fishing guide's lexicon.

You want to hook more fish? Well, when you're nymphing, you should set on every tick, wiggle, hesitation, and shimmy your indicator makes. And set with conviction. Don't Jimmy Houston hammer set, but set with a little pop or answer the phone (see tip 3). A lazy hookset with a general lack of conviction will only result in eventual sadness.

Why? When the trout eats the fly, there is inherently some slack built into the nymph rig. That slack causes a delay between your fly being eaten and your indicator reacting. Every millisecond matters because it doesn't take long for a trout to figure out that it didn't eat a natural. Depending on how much slack is present (which is a function of fly choice, weight, current strength, length from fly to indicator), a fish can eat and spit the fly rather quickly. Over time, you will become more in tune with what kind of indicator movement is produced by an eat vs. the fly bouncing or grabbing off an in-stream obstruction like a boulder, cobble, gravel, or vegetation.

This is also something that can vary day-to-day, hatch-to-hatch, fishery-to-fishery, so, especially in the beginning of the day, it's always important to set on everything. It'll help you get dialed in and make your reaction to the actual eat a timely and swift one.


This is an old guide saying and it's one that's stuck with me since my earliest days as a fly angler. A good trout set involved a swift, sharp motion with absolutely zero follow through. You're aiming to move that fly an inch or two with authority, bury that hook into the trouts' mouth, but not too hard that you break the fly off. It should be no surprise that tippet strength is important to take into account. The lighter the tippet, the softer the phone call answer. The heavier the tippet, the more force can be applied when setting the hook.


Slack can be a gift and a curse. On one hand, adding slack in your line can allow for a more natural, drag-free drift. On the other, too much slack can delay your hook set timing in a major way. Find the happy medium and utilize as little slack as possible while presenting your flies. Small micro-mends are your friend. Only use big mends when necessary. Mend early and anticipate where the eat will come during your drift. Remember, you only need to move the fly an inch or so in order to set the hook and the more line you have to set, the longer it will take to move that fly an inch or two with authority. The longer it takes to set, the less likely you'll have a bent rod in a matter of seconds.


There's always one tip that seems more obvious than the others and making sure your hooks are sharp is just that one. A dull hook doesn't penetrate into the fish's jaw with nearly as much ease. There's a fair chance a dull hook will have you convinced that there are no fish in the river as every set seems to result in a distinct lack of fish. Some people believe that a barbed fly also has trouble (in comparison to barbless flies) penetrating the fish's jaw. Consider pinching your barbs for improved efficiency on your hooksets.

We hope this helps you get ready for your next trip to the water. If you have any additional questions about anything fly fishing, feel free to drop by either locations - Denver & Frisco, give us a shout at 877.464.0034, live chat with us on our website, or shoot us an email.

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