I put this in a blog post, but I figure that I should start a discussion in the forum about it as well. This has been the number one problem that I've encountered this month with my fellow anglers, and for those of you that have been losing fish it will also help out. If anyone else has more tips on getting those fish to stick, this is the place to share, because losing that fish you've worked hard to hook is a real bummer.
Throughout the month the main lesson to take home from our trips has been hook-sets hook-sets hook-sets! When you get that bobber down, yank back hard! There is very little worse than working all day for that hook up, only to have a faulty hook-set have that fish roll off and away halfway through the fight. Remember that there is a long length of stretchy mono between you and that fish, and the more line you have out, the more stretch you have in it. Your leader comes into play as well, where it may not be straight and if there is slack in your leader you have to make up for that with your set as well. Combine that with the bend of the rod as you load it up with your yank, and although you may be moving your rod tip up three feet, that may only account for three inches of movement at your hook.
These chrome fish have jaws on them that are pretty much solid bone. With the steelhead being the hardest and bright salmon coming in close second, it takes quite a bit of pressure to get good penetration into that thick jaw. Next time you bring in a fish, take a hook and try to push it through that jaw and you'll get a good idea of how vital that hook set is to making the difference between fish on the line and fish on the bank. Work on those reflexes, don't be afraid to set on anything that looks fishy, be it rock, line on the bottom, snag or simply your float rolling in a mini-eddy.
With float fishing being well suited to most types of water, and the easiest technique to pick up and master, this will be your go to gear for the novice angler. It is also the easiest technique to give you wimpy hook-sets. When float fishing it is imperative to keep up with your float and stay connected with your gear through a tight line. The seconds that you lose flipping that bail and reeling up the slack line before you can finally load your rod into the fish can make or break a hook up. When you've got hardware under the float, e.g a jig, spinner or pink worm, it's even more important to catch up with that fish because they are less likely to spend a lot of time with that gear in their mouths. Another thing to look out for is "jig creep". This happens when using the popular slip floats, you start to see that bobber stop start riding up and pulling your gear up off the bottom. I see this a lot, with guys on the long-line downstream while trying to keep up with their slack, there stop rides up while their gear gets pulled up off the bottom essentially rendering half of their drift useless. If your gear isn't on the bottom, you're not fishing, and every time that jig rides up it interrupts your natural presentation.
To counter this frequently encountered problem, there are two easy fixes. If you're using a spinning reel, that added moment of bail flipping can be the most difficult part of a solid hook-set. As you're letting out line, try to use your rod holding pointer finger to control the line letting so your free hand can flip the bail. This lets you do a 1-2 punch in a split
Even better start to hone your skills with a bait casting rig. Even for the die-hard spinning fans, we have a growing selection of left hand retrieve reels to make the transition more comfortable. I work with a lot of experienced anglers with their float fishing with casting set-ups, and it really helps with there fishing success. A well oiled reel will allow you to control the line leaving the reel in the downstream drift with your thumb, keeping a tight line for the extant of the drift. When that bobber goes down, you can thumb the spool hard, allowing near instantaneous hook-sets. And with float fishing, you can use excess weight so casting your rig can be easier for those just learning to baitcast.
The other trick that I like to use to control the "jig creep" is to simply use a dink or cheater float. These wrap around floats don't slip, so they are more forgiving when mending line. These are especially useful when you are fish shallow areas as casting a long leader while fishing deep can be difficult and involves lots of snagged branches, four letter words and frustrating rat nests. But with a moderate depth, this technique can ensure that your time with your line out is spent fishing, rather than wasting those precious minutes of first light with your jig miles above the fish's field of vision. Even when fishing deep, the experienced angler can learn to whip a ten or twelve foot leader, bobber bait and all through the air with a little bit of skill and patience. The trick is to get that bait moving and the line tight with a round-about your head before you make the final casting motion.
I cannot emphasize the need for a solid hook-set enough! Don't worry about looking silly when you're on the water, set that hook often. Even when you're not getting a bite, just give it a good yank every once in a while, just to make sure you've got the chops and you're on your game. Even the best of us can get lazy on a slow day and miss the bobber down by seconds and it will make the difference between a net that smells like skunk and one slimy and fishy! So whack that bobber every once in a while, just for the heck of it. Who cares what the guys around you think, when they miss their strikes and you limit out, you'll be patting yourself on the back while they're explaining to their wives why they spend the gas money without filling the freezer for the grill.
So if you're interested in working on these techniques, don't hesitate to give me a shout through email or give me a good old fashioned phone call. This is a great time to hone your skills on some of the more scenic rivers, catch some energetic summer steelhead and get your skills ready for the summer rush of fall chinook that will be filling our area rivers sooner than you think! I'll be on the water nearly everyday, and my schedule is filling up fast, so when you're ready to take your fishing to the next level, give me a holler and we'll get you set up!