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Pro Tips: How to Unhook a Snag in a River

Snags are an unavoidable part of fly fishing, but that doesn't make them any less frustrating. They take up time and can end up costing a small fortune in lost flies and leaders. Snags while wade fishing are particularly anguishing given the lack of mobility the angler has from shore to work it free. But with a few key pieces of information, you should be able to work your fly free without even moving your feet.

Find the Right Angle

Unhooking a snag is all about angles. Think about when you get snagged in a boat - either trolling or casting. The first thing you're taught to do is turn the boat back towards the direction of the snag. You wait until you get beyond the snag-point and apply pressure from the opposite direction. More often than not, this reverse-angle pressure is all it takes to free a hook from a rock or the bottom. 

When you're fly fishing a river from shore, getting in position to apply pressure in the opposite direction is obviously much more challenging. However, there is a technique that utilizes the current to achieve the same result.

Step 1: Roll Cast

When your fly gets hung up on your drift or swing, pull several strips of line off and make a long roll cast that repositions the head of your fly line beyond the snag-point. This is important, as your line must be in an outside water column from your fly for this work. 

Step 2: Downstream

Let the head of your line float downstream in the outside current until it's downriver of your snag. You may have to strip more line off for this to occur.

Step 3: Hook Set

Once the head of your fly line is downstream of the snag, hold your line in one hand and lift the rod with a firm and hard hook-set. Since the head of the line is downstream, this action will bring the head tight to the running line, thus apply pressure to the opposite side of the snag - just like in a boat. And just like that you're fly should pop off freely!