When And How To Set The Hook When Nymphing: Expert Advice

One of my clients setting the hook when nymphing.
One of my clients setting the hook when nymphing.

As a guide specializing in nymphing for trout, steelhead, and salmon, I have seen firsthand the results of setting the hook properly and setting it poorly. It is very important to know how to set the hook when nymphing and chances are you don’t do it well.

Setting the hook when nymphing involves setting the hook quickly at the first sign of a bite. You also need to set the hook in a downriver or sideways direction. A good hook set has enough speed and distance to set the hook without the fly launching out of the water.

I’ve watched over a thousand anglers of all skill levels stand beside me on the river and seen 90 percent of them set the hook poorly when nymphing. See Nymphing: An Experts Introduction To Nymph Fishing.

I don’t blame anyone for bad hook sets because setting the hook is something that is rarely on the top of the list of things to learn when fly fishing. It’s also rarely taught and rarely taught well.

I actually learned how to set the hook like a world-class tournament fly angler by accident. Now I set the hook very differently from the average angler.

I have had clients set the hook so hard that they launch small trout out of the water and hit themselves or me with it, or they fling the little trout into the bush behind them. This is even more common when tight line nymphing because there is no slack in the line and there is a direct connection to the fly and rod tip.

When To Set The Hook When Nymph Fishing

When nymphing, you can not set the hook too fast. Any sign of a bite should be instantly followed up with a hook set. I tell clients to set on everything and anything.

Do not hesitate. Do not wonder if that was a bite, just set the hook.

Trout are known to grab something in the water and spit it out within a second if they detect its unedible or if there is something wrong.

In my opinion, most anglers set the hook three to 5 seconds after the fish has already grabbed the fly. This is more than enough time for a trout to set the hook.

I promise you this, you, me, and the best anglers in the world miss bites. Missed bites happen due to slack in the line, daydreaming, and lightning-fast reaction of the trout spitting a hook out.

I tell my clients to think of it like this. Imagine a fly or bug just flew into your mouth, how fast are you going to spit it out? I bet less than a second. This is how fast a trout can grab an inedible object, like your nymph, and spit it out. I’ve seen plenty of underwater trout videos proving this.

What Direction To Set The Hook When Nymphing

The direction that you set the hook will almost always be downstream if your fly is upriver of you, or it will be sideways to your bank if the fly is downriver of you. Both ways should be with a lower hook set.

Be careful hook setting the rod straight up. Although a straight-up hook set will work, it’s not the best.

Watch the best tournament anglers set the hook, and they tend to set lower than the average angler.

Best Hook Sets For Euro Nymphing, Modern Nymphing, And Short Line Nymphing

When fishing with a short line, or any of the Euro nymphing methods, you must set the hook more with your quick wrist and less with your elbow. It’s basically a flick of the wrist in an upward or sideways motion.

With the wrist hookset, I am able to set the hook multiple times during the same drift without pulling the fly out of the water and while keeping the fly in the strike zone. But only if I use a short, fast flick of the wrist hook set.

Using a short line and the fly close to you, a fast hook set will often rip the fly out of the water and put it in the trees behind you. Or the flies and leader will tangle around your rod tip.

A fast hook set will even break off tippets on the hook set. And usually, those broken tippets are on the big trout that you do not want to lose. If you break a tippet on the hookset, it’s human error.

I have hooked and landed 26-inch brown trout on a 6x tippet with a fast tip rod, and I NEVER break off an undamaged tippet.

If you are experiencing any of these things, you are setting the hook wrong, so stop using your elbow and your whole arm to set the hook.

Some guys call the hookset I use a “check-set”. I’m only setting the hook quickly a short distance to check if I have a strike.

I recommend to all my clients to practice this short quick hook set at the end of all of their drifts until they perfect it.

To put this in perspective, I tell my clients that when your fly goes into the fish’s mouth, you only need to move the fly 2 inches to stick it to the fish. That’s it, two inches!! With my micro hooksets, my fly moves 6 inches to a foot.

However, a typical angler’s hook set can move over 20 feet which is why anglers end up putting flies in trees behind them on the hookset.

A short hookset means the fly never flies out of the water, and it means if I check-set and no fish are there, I can continue my drift. Sometimes I’ll check set, miss a fish or two, and then catch the third or fourth fish.

How To Set The Hook When Using Indicators

When using an indicator to nymph, oftentimes there is extra line on the water and extra slack. Extra slack means you need to set the hook harder to take up the slack.

With indicators, you may also have a long drift, and the further you drift, the harder you need to set the hook.

You are also often using split shots, and weights on the line can cause drag on the hook set, therefore you need to set the hook harder.

The key is knowing how hard you need to set the hook based on all of those things and adjusting your hook set rod stroke distance accordingly.

With indicator nymphing, you may also have slack under the water below your indicators, you so need to set it a little harder to accommodate for slack in the lower leader.

This is something that will take time to learn, but you should be self-diagnosing and practicing.

If your indicator doesn’t move on the hook set, you need to set the hook harder. If your indicator comes flying out of the water with your fly behind it, you are setting the hook way too hard.

A good hook set will “pop” the indicator on the water surface, and it might come out of the water 1 to 3 feet, but your fly should remain below the surface.

How To Set The Hook When Nymphing Q&A

If you have any questions about When And How To Set The Hook When Nymphing, or you want to share some advice, let us know in the comments below.

Tight lines,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *