I was reading content on a fly fishing forum about hooks and lost salmon, the post led to an article which was relating hooks to lost fish as in type quality and etc. I read the article and began to write my own take on hooks and lost fish. Within a short while I realized my comments amounted to a thread hijack and were out of place on a forum thread so I ‘Cut & Pasted’ to here and then went on at length. Maybe it can be helpful to others, I should say that I do the same thing (hooking) with trout and steelhead as the salmon.

I feel compelled to add this thought for you before you would go on to read what I am writing here. Every time I try to share what I think I’ve learned I ask myself how this will come off to a reader. Will I sound to them like some guy who thinks he knows everything or will what I say bring some memory back to the forefront of the readers mind?

Regarding the hooks, although I’ve been in possession of doubles since the late seventies and have tied many a pattern to them I’ve not used any. That I would guess is a subliminal thing going on somewhere behind my eyes that can’t be explained easily. With single point hooks I’ve used a variety beginning back when the major supplier was the Mustad Co. and continuing into this century with many brands that were previously unavailable.

You folks may be surprised to hear from a fellow who claims he loses very few salmon. I believe there is a reason for this win loss record I experience and it may have to do with opportunity in numbers. Other than early trips to Canada’s Maritime Provinces for Atlantic Salmon my experiences with other species have been in locations where one could have the play going ten or more times per day. These days happened fishing for salmon returning to tributary rivers to America’s Great Lakes and then continued on to Alaska and Pacific Salmons. Having this chance at numbers of hook ups daily allowed me to figure some things out (possibly) that would be difficult were I hooking one or two daily.

I believe the landing or loss of a fish is related closely with how we react at the first hint of one on the fly. By on the fly I would mean the tap, stop, or pull felt transmitted up the line to our rods and subsequently our hands. When I was new to this I tended to strike with the rod when I felt anything that may well be a salmon. This striking resulted in many missed fish and some which were hooked only to come undone before being brought to bay. Like many techniques developed in fishing my own came through years of interactions with salmon but for those who would read and then risk trying something new they may cut their learning curve dramatically.

What I’m about to say may no doubt sound strange but I find it working year after year so I’ll continue. When I have a fly swinging across currents or nearing the end of its transit of the channel from entry point to the dangle straight below my position and I feel a fish, I do nothing more than to become more alert. Often times even large King salmon will tap a fly not much harder than a good trout. Of course there are exceptions but generally speaking I find the grab of a salmon to be slightly less than ferocious. When I feel a fish I hesitate before even slowly raising the rod tip, this allows time for the fish to close it’s rather large mouth and to turn back toward wherever it was prior to moving for that fly. If there is not an immediate explosion of activity as the result of the fish driving the point in by itself and feeling the tension of the line, I lift my rod tip while slowly pulling in a bit of line with my free hand. If that salmon has that fly (and hook point) in its mouth and the hook has already found a chink in which to lodge its point, I will feel weight on my line as I raise that rod tip. When you feel the weight you drop the tip and point it at the source of resistance. Next move is to (using that same free hand) pull slowly back on the line until you can feel the fish there. Once you’ve reached this point I’d say there is a very high likelihood that you will hook and land the fish. Now you pull again while raising the rod tip simultaneously, pull with authority but do not ‘jerk’ the line. The idea of the raised rod tip during this second hand set is to allow for some buffering in case the fish decides to move at the same time that you are trying to secure that hook pint.

The result of the above described exercise for me in a very high percentage of encounters with fish is a hooked fish. I don’t ‘miss’ them, if I fail to hook one it is because the fish didn’t hook itself or as I like to say, it missed me.

When a salmon is hooked, especially large salmon, I have found that it is in the best interest of landing the fish if I do everything possible to keep the fish calm. So how do you keep a fish calm you may wonder? You don’t put a huge amount of pressure on them early on in your engagement with the fish. Keep the line snug but not tight, I don’t try to control them too quickly. Of course there will always be the fish that bolts, the one that heads down river with no intention of stopping within eyesight. These situations duly fall into the Indiana Jones category of encounters because you make it up as you go. Most fish I get involved with want only to return to where they were prior to being distracted – attracted by the fly and then getting hooked on it. If I allow them to, they move back to the holding spot and then I can develop a plan for getting them to shore as quickly as possible.

Once the fish is calm and holding; remember that it is securely hooked because you made sure of that, you didn’t overreact too soon and hook it in the flesh at the edge of the lip, you have him hooked good……….. This is a good moment to consider your position, are you still in the water? Is there a decent shoreline for you to safely back out to? Can you move up or down the shore safely? Lastly but importantly is there an area of soft water near by either up or down stream? All of what I just posed as questions can be ascertained in a few seconds time and you then move into the safest and most advantageous spot to continue the business of landing the fish.

I like the ‘pump & reel’ approach with larger fish. This involves using the length of your rod combined with your height and arms length to lift the fish as near to the surface as you can get it. When I say surface I mean surface but close is better than its being deep. When the fish is near the surface it is easier to move, when it gets near the surface you quickly drop the rod and reel like a mad man gathering as much of the line as possible before the fish has a lot of time to react. Some fish will be battling right away and like the ones who bolt down river we must do our best to deal with unexpected outbursts of activity.

I must say that when the fish is at or near the surface this is a touchy time when it comes to your connectivity via the hook. We don’t want it there thrashing for long, rather we are using this lifting and reeling technique to shorten the distance between ourselves and the quarry. With each lift and reeling action some fish will begin to show signs to us, will they be about to go off like an explosion or are they lacking the crazy man gene? I find that the majority are manageable and that during this lift and reel repetition the fish are to some extent worn down a bit also.

Considering that I or you have moved to the most advantageous spot to work the fish from it is time to mention one other contingency plan. If at any time while you are dealing with a hooked salmon or other large fish, the fish is turned directly at you, you can see that it is either facing the rod tip or is actually swimming toward you it is time for quick and dramatic reactions to this posture of the fish. Fish, salmon and others are good at moving forward and at turning side to side in their medium of water. What they are not good at is swimming backward or better said, in reverse. If I find one coming at me this is the time to reel as said before, like a mad man and at the same time back away from the edge of the water with haste also. Once one (a fish) is coming hard toward the shore you have a chance to end the encounter way ahead of schedule. This often results in the fish being dragged into very shallow water and there will be considerable flopping and mayhem associated with a hoot and lively fish being nearly beached. This is also a time when hooks come loose so the angler has no time to waste. Find a safe place to lean the rod and try to run on the line until you reach the fish. Once there get control of that tail as quickly as possible and back the fish out into deeper water. You’ve got the tail and that means you’ve landed your salmon!


There are negative aspects to bringing a fish into the shallows as I’ve described, likewise there are negative aspects to playing a salmon to the point where it will float on its side nearly lifeless over a net. I believe the method I use could be the better of the two methods. If we don’t have the opportunity described above with the fish headed straight to you then we lift and reel until we can keep the fish close enough to the surface that we can see its positioning in relation to the current and our own position. If the fish turns and begins swimming down stream, ease up on the tension and hope it calms down and turns back into the current. If they go down than you must refer to the Indiana Jones method which includes all necessary steps to get that fish to hand…….

If you are fishing with a friend and there is a net, this can be good or bad. I don’t know if there is a fisherman alive who hasn’t seen a salmon who otherwise appeared to be ready to surrender bolt with renewed spirit when the fish sees the net or net man coming. Generally I gage situations based on the anglers ability to safely beach the fish verses my going after them with the net. There are times when the net is the only way and in those times both the angler hooked to the fish and the net man must work in concert for there to be a harmonious ending to the engagement of man and fish.

What I said early on about not reacting to the feel of a fish at my fly is something that goes way back in my own angling history. There was a time when fishing dry flies that I jumped like a startled cat with every rise to my fly. We often describe this at days end by saying “I missed a bunch”. Time was the teacher then just as it has been in this century, don’t strike. Let the fish grab the floating fly and turn back toward the bottom, a very large majority of trout, grayling and char will hook themselves and all we need do is to lift the rod and tighten the line.




One of my favorite photos of a fish.

One of my favorite photos of a fish.

2016 fish

2016 fish

Once you’ve got the tail under control, you’ve landed your salmon.

No fish were harmed during the various photo ops.

  1. December 7, 2017
    Colin Brooks

    Good word Ard! Thx for taking the time that you often do to explain the intricacies of your approach. I have been following your posts for a while w/o ever thanking you. It is appreciated by many more than you know I’m sure.

  2. December 7, 2017
    Ard Stetts

    Hello Colin!
    Nothing like someone commenting to remind me that I have a website, I’ll get busy and add more content to bring things up to date here.

    Thanks for taking time to write,

  3. February 4, 2018

    Hi Ard,

    I am just curious, can I use kayak for salmon fishing like fly fishing. If you can write something about that then that will be really helpful.


  4. February 5, 2018
    Ard Stetts

    Hi Thomas,
    A kayak is a good way to drift down a river in order to spot good places where the fish will be either lying for rest or where the river creates a natural bottleneck. Once you locate your stops I would recommend doing just that, stop and get out to fish.

    To fly fish for salmon it is generally good to be stationary in a predetermined spot and to be able to cast the fly then swing it through salmon that are holding in the current.

    The only way you could fish from a kayak here would be to find a back eddy and anchor the yak which in most cases wouldn’t make sense. I’ve only ever hooked one salmon from an anchored boat and where do you figure that fish went on its big run? Correct! It went under the boat then upstream just enough to get above the anchor rope then turned back to where it had came from. I did not catch that fish.

    I think you may also find that having a good lively salmon hooked up that the last thing you want to try doing is handling a boat at the same time or to drift out of control…..

    If you scroll down you will see an article called; ‘Going To A Very Cold Place’, that story features using a Kayak to reach the fishing area.

    Thanks for your comment Thomas :)


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