Skill Builder: Ready, Set, Hook
If you can’t master the hook-set, you can’t catch fish.
By Will Leschper
You can’t actually die from missing a hook-set, but anglers know the acute pain of a lunker snapping up a bait only to become the proverbial “one that got away,” leaving a slack line and a broken heart in its wake.
Anglers today have the best tools at their disposal, but all that technology won’t do any good unless it’s applied correctly. There remain tried-and-true concepts about hook-sets that are easy and practical to utilize.
Here’s a rundown of reasons why an angler might come up short in an attempt to hook a fish, as well as a few ways to overcome obstacles.
Don’t slack off. One good reason to keep the line tight is the ability to feel live bait worked into a frenzy. Another benefit is the ability to see if a fish has taken an offering when you don’t yet feel its weight. Slack becomes more of an issue when an angler is working a bait using rod movement (popping, chugging or dancing a topwater), but the easiest remedy is quick turns of the reel. After all, that’s what it’s there for.
Bad form means goodbye. Keeping a stable stance is vital in almost any type of sporting situation, and fishing is no different. By keeping your knees slightly bent and having a solid base, you won’t lose balance and you’ll be able to put more force on tackle. Losing your balance even slightly and overcompensating could give fish the amount of slack they need to escape.
Strong-arm action. Some anglers use a wide sweeping motion with their arms or push their elbows out when a fish hits, but the key to a solid hook-set is keeping your elbows close to your body. Get the line as tight as possible as quickly as possible. When you keep your elbows near your torso, you’ll cut down on motion while increasing leverage.
Barbed tendencies. Circle hooks work better to keep from hooking a fish deep and don’t require a big hook-set. As a fish takes the bait, the hook should find purchase in the side of its mouth as the line tightens. For other hooks, a set of some kind often is needed. Think about the mouth type of the fish you’re targeting. If a fish with a tougher mouth (like a largemouth) has struck, a strong set will work. If you’re after fish with softer mouths, such as crappie, a big jerk could tear the hook out.
Timing is everything. The tendency is to give the rod a jerk whenever you feel a fish, but sometimes you’ve got to wait. Anglers who fish topwater plugs know fish will often blow up on a bait without getting a mouthful. In this instance, it’s important to wait until you feel the weight of the fish.
It’s a stretch. At greater depths, almost all lines have a stretch factor. If you’re fishing deeper, such as in the gulf, this can be a hurdle. Generally, you must apply more force to get a solid set in deep water, overcoming stretch in the line with power.
Missing a fish that blows up on a well-placed lure is inevitable for any angler, regardless of his prowess. The most important skill is to not get discouraged. Setting the hook is a crash course in physics; your local honey hole is the best classroom for this.
When in doubt, set the hook!