A friend of mine once traveled to Montana to fish specifically for trophy browns and rainbows.
His days on the water were chosen with meticulous attention to the weather, river levels, and barometric pressure. After touching base with a local guide service, he arranged multiple days in a drift boat throwing nothing but streamers. Going in he knew he might not catch many fish doing this, but the ones he would catch would be quality specimens!
That first morning they met at the boat ramp in the pre-dawn light, with rods rigged and anticipation high. About 15 minutes in, the guide said to be ready as the upcoming spot was notorious for holding big fish. Sure enough, a monster flashed at the baitfish imitation. “Throw it right back!” barked the guide. As soon as the fly hit the water the fish violently attacked it, and the angler, an experienced one, set the hook straight up in a classic trout-set. Not shockingly, he was left wondering what went wrong and if he would have another opportunity at a fish like this again.
The scene here is not uncommon for folks accustomed to trout fishing with nymphs or dries. Adjusting from the trout-set to a strip-set can be a challenge when our natural instinct is to give the rod a quick jerk up or downstream when a fish hits. Keep these things in mind the next time the situation calls for a strip-set to ensure that your day doesn’t end in the same heartache that my buddy felt!
Retrieve Steady and Often
One of the differences between nymph/dry fishing and streamer fishing is the drift. Throwing streamers is much more interactive than other types of fishing, and that can be used to our advantage. A strip-set is basically a continuation of a stripping retrieve, only much sharper and more elongated. Keeping a retrieve going at all times gets us in the exact motion needed for a strip-set and reduces the time it might take for us to overthink it and instinctively trout-set.
Keep Your Rod Tip Low
This is easy to do when stripping streamers from a boat, but keeping your rod tip low will help shake the trout-set tendencies that might be firmly ingrained in our fishing subconscious. Doing this will also help get a more balanced retrieve and safeguard against wind that could play havoc with fly line. Anglers will find that it feels so unnatural trout-setting from a low rod tip position that a strip-set quickly feels like second nature.
Practice Before You Go
Whether you’re traveling to a faraway place in search of big fish or heading to a local bass lake, practicing before the trip can pay major dividends. As crazy as it sounds, rig up a rod at home and pull about 20 feet of line out. False cast it into the yard and practice stripping it in and then every third or fourth retrieve give it a harder strip-set. Getting the muscle memory going prior to being on the water will help shake off the rust and get your brain thinking about the correct set. It’s much better to get in the swing of things looking a bit funny in your yard rather than when a four-pound smallie smashes a clouser.
Something I like to do when I’m streamer fishing (especially at the beginning of the day) is say “strip-set” over and over again. Now, this might seem just as funny as practicing in the yard but it works! By saying it, I’m far less inclined to trout-set as the strip-set is constantly on my mind. After the first couple hits, I don’t say it as much because by then it’s stuck in my brain and the constant reminder isn’t needed.
Big trout and bass love to devour streamers, which means anglers have to be competent in strip-setting. It’s a learned skill that requires a good deal of patience and practice, but keep these tips in mind to help ease the learning curve!