Here are a few thoughts about how to play and land fish. Over the years, I’ve changed my tactics.

Metolius Rainbow |

I use a different leader size to fish my spring creek these days. I used a Rio Powerflex 9 foot 5x (5.0 lbs) leader right out of the package for years and was fortunate to catch some fish. Now I use a 12 foot leader tapered down to 6x (3.4 lbs). Why? I catch more fish using 6x tippet material. And the Rio Powerflex 6x is strong! Learn more about my simple leader system in the post Make Your Fly Fishing Leader Last Longer.

I’m not professing you use 6x tippet on all your fly fishing. In fact I’ll use a leader tapered to 3x or 4x for the Salmonfly hatch on the Deschutes River. Those redsides are strong and hit a dry fly with reckless abandon and can snap off a fly in no time with lighter tippets.

I used to hook fish with a goal of not letting the fish take much line off the reel. Or if the fish headed to fast water, I tried to hold them back. Doing this, I lost some really nice fish by breaking the leader or having the fly pull out of the fish’s mouth.

So instead of tightening the drag on the reel, I loosened it up almost to the point where it doesn’t backlash. And I let the fish run. If I feel the need to provide more drag when fighting a fish, I’ll use my palm against the spool to provide more resistance.

Do you get a little scared when looking down at the reel and begin to see backing through the remaining fly line? I sure did. I always worried that once the last revolution of fly line was off the reel, my knot would slip or break.

It never did, but I sure worried about it.

Now when I hook a fish, I take all slack out and keep tension on the fish and allow them to take whatever line they want. And most of the time, I try to get the fish on the reel as quick as I can while keeping pressure on the fish. (Check out the recent post Reel or Strip?) This strategy is scary the first few times you practice it.

My Winston B2X rod has a soft tip and I use it to apply pressure on the fish. As the tip begins to rise, I reel excess line onto the spool and keep tension on the fish. At first, the fish will probably make another run or two, but I’ll keep the pressure on and recover as much line as I can.

At times, I’ll move my rod parallel with the water to get the angle lower. I find it helps move the fish. I use this technique frequently if the fish is in fast water below me.

In addition, if a fish is stubborn, try moving the rod in a different direction. If pulling upstream toward you doesn’t work, rotate the rod in an arc so it pulls the fish sideways towards the bank. I find by performing this technique, it disorients the fish and I can gain more line onto the reel.

What happens when a fish heads downstream and tries to go around a corner where you can’t follow? Give it slack. Yup, you read that right…give it slack. Even using a barbless hook. I’ve done that successfully…and my wife has too…several times. Think about it. If you pull hard, chances are you’ll break off the fish or pull the fly from it’s mouth. Both of these mean you lost the fish. So what do you have to lose? Give it it a try. Most times the fish will swim back towards you. They really don’t want to go further down stream.

So try these tips when playing and landing fish.

Let me know if they work for you.

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  1. This is great way to fight fish. I started using the techniques you describe for summer steelhead fishing, then applied them to my trout fishing. I tell folks, “when they run let them run, when they stop take back all the line you can get.”

    1. Gary

      Thanks for your comment. It certainly isn’t a new concept, but it’s interesting how a fly fisher continues to learn fishing techniques as they fish more. Perhaps it’s because as we fish more, we aren’t afraid to try something new, because our experience tells us what we’ve been doing has had bad results!


  2. It takes a conscious decision to throw line at a fish stuck downstream (behind a rock or log, or even around the corner). But, more than once, they have come back at me almost faster than I could strip to keep up! And I might talk to them a little too! “Don’t go down there, don’t go down there, ah, you went down there”!! 🙂 It’s hard to do the first time, but your only other choice is to break him off. Don’t do that!

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