Now, you really can’t hope to land any sort of decent fish unless you’ve set the hook properly. As a general rule, it’s better to wait a little rather than set the hook too soon.
When you are ready to set the hook, bring in all the slack line, bring the rod tip down and point towards the fish, or where you think it’s likely to be if you can’t actually see. Bring the rod up sharply, and the chances are that you’ve hooked your fish.
Of course, that’s neccesarily a very simple, basic description. Setting the hook consistently does require a certain knack, which comes only with experience and practice. Some species, those that grab your lure and run, are easy to hook, almost to the point of self-hooking. Others, which suck and nibble, can be a problem.
Catfish for example will have a few chews, then swallow your bait down. Carp, and other “sucking” species hold the bait gently between their lips, and they should be allowed plenty of time to suck it in before you tighten the line and bring in your fish. Perch, bluegills, sunfish, and other panfish will bite nervously at the bait. These nibblers require lots of patience and self-control.
Many anglers just can’t wait, and as soon as they feel a few light “pecks” or “knocks” strike back. This simply jerks the hook away from the fish, and loses your bait. It’s nuch better to wait till you feel a strong tug, or feel the fish move away with your bait. Then a sharp lift of the rod will often set the hook. You will learn from experience when the tugs are strong enough for you to strike.
The larger the fish, and the larger the hook, the stronger the yank needed. And to confuse matters slightly, speed in striking back can sometimes be essential. For example, if you’re fishing surface lures, you should strike as soon as the fish hits the lure. Waiting even a fraction of a second could lose you the fish. Often these fish will hook themselves, but the added pull from you will set the hook firmly. Even when trolling, when we are expecting the fish to hook itself, it’s wise to give the rod a good firm yank.
Water conditions can often determine the timing of setting a hook. For instance, in swiftly moving water, the trout doesn’t have much time to decide wether or not to take a dry fly. When he does decide to take it, he does it with a rush, often hooking himself in the process. In still water there is much more time for him to look at what you are offering and take it slow. In these conditions trout will rarely hook themdelves, and you must strike quickly to set the hook.
When small wet flies are used, the line friction alone is often enough to hook the fish. In nymph-fishing downstream, raising the rod tip smartly will generally be all that’s required at the moment the hit is felt.
Some fish are slow, deliberate hitters, so your strike should be delayed. For example, when an atlantic salmon takes a dry fly, let him turn after the rise, and he’ll hook himself when the line tightens.
Finally, to hook a fish, your barb must penetrate the fish’s mouth, and for this reason it must be sharp. A good angler will test his hooks for sharpness before use. He will keep a small whetstone in his tackle box to hone his hooks as needed. And if that’s too much trouble, hooks are cheap. Never use old, worn, blunt hooks. For the sake of a few cents you could lose “the big one.”