"DON'T #$!@ING TROUT SET!" ... for fly anglers on the flats, these are the words nightmares are made of. But why is a trout set on the flats so taboo? And why does a strip set work in some applications, but not all? To help answer those questions we've broken down the trout-set and strip-set techniques to shed some light on when and how you should set the hook.
What's the difference?
Trout set: The most common way to set the hook for freshwater anglers, the trout set is the motion of lifting your rod tip skyward at the first sight or tug of a fish on your line.
Strip set: As the name suggests, the strip set is the act of actually stripping line in a long, firm motion to set the hook.
How to set the hook:
Trout set: To ensure a successful trout set with a fly rod, be mindful of the fish you're targeting and the strength of the tippet you're using. It's important not to set the hook too aggressively, as a hard yank of the rod can either pull the fly away from the fish, or snap your light tippet before the fight even begins. While setting the hook, it's important to grip your fly line with your free hand as a way to provide tension on the line and hook when the rod tip elevates. Without this pressure, the act of raising the rod will simply the pull slack line at your feet, rather than applying tension to the hook in the fish's mouth.
Strip Set: When the fish has eaten your fly, give the line a long, firm strip with your free hand. A proper strip set is an art - pull too fast and you can yank the fly from the fish's mouth, but move too slowly and you won't be able to pierce the boney tissue so common among saltwater fish. To ensure that the hook will stick, it's important to maintain a taunt connection to your fly so the pressure to the hook will be applied immediately. Like with the trout set, slack line is the number one reason for a missed fish when you strip set.
Why each hook set works in different situations:
Trout set: The reason a trout set works when a strip set doesn't and vice versa is because of the way different fish attack their prey. When fish like trout and bass get their mouth around a fly, they immediately change directions. This is because most trout and bass lurk in hidden ambush points, waiting for food to appear on their radar before striking. Upon eating they immediately turn and retreat to their lair where they'll wait to repeat the process. Lifting the rod tip when the fish has turned means the fly comes tight when it's right in the corner of the fishes mouth - the best place to lodge the hook.
After inhaling a fly, trout will turn and retreat to their hideout
Strip set: Unlike trout or bass, saltwater species like tarpon, bonefish and permit hunt their prey. Instead of lurking for meals to drift by, they prowl the flats and give chase when they spot food swimming. Once they've eaten, they don't turn like a trout or bass, they continue swimming forward in search of their next meal. A trout set in this situation will often pull the fly clean out of the moving fish's mouth. For these saltwater fish, a long and firm strip set will keep the fly in the same vertical plane, and will have the force needed to pierce the bonier mouths of saltwater fish.
Saltwater fish like bonefish will continue in the same direction after chasing down a meal
Is it as simple as freshwater or saltwater?
As discussed above, the trout set is most commonly used for freshwater angling while the strip set is predominately used in the salt. However, this shouldn't be considered a hard-fast rule for every fishing situation. In fact, many anglers prefer a strip strike when fly fishing for pike or musky. Like a lot of saltwater fish, these freshwater predators will often chase down prey and their tough and boney mouths can present a challenge for flies to stick. Similarly, many saltwater anglers use a firm trout set to lodge flies in the softer mouths of striped bass. Before you head out with your fly rod, it's important to know the characteristics of the species you're targeting.