Setting the Hook






Different Fishing Methods Will Govern the Hookset :   When referring to fishing for larger fish, (say 10 pounds and over) the object of the hookset has always been all about driving the hook point past the barb of a barbed hook in the fish's jaw.  The barb creates resistance to getting past the surface of the hooking site, and the hookset (from being nothing but a firm 'pop', to all the way to the surfcaster's mega swing) is really just the angler's attempt to get that barb past the entry point and into something solid.   With the advent of required barbless hooks in many areas, there still is the required deep penetration of the hook point. 


Some fishermen say NEVER set the hook, while others differ.  Many things can come into play here depending on the circumstances and the gear used.


Different types of rods (lighter or longer whippier rods as compared to stronger more backboned rods) which could also be a determining factor.   Also different types of line will determine the type of hookset as monofilament as compared to using braid.  Mono being stretchy as compared to the braid being non stretchy, the hookset (if any) will be different.  Those who have used mono for years may have a hard time when converting to the more direct tie (braid) to the fish and may initially loose a number of fish because of them using the heavy mono type hookset they are used to.


Normal Trolling :  Normal salmon trolling (using bait) usually entails that the rod be placed in a rod holder and not picked up until the rod is bouncing or the tip is buried in the water by a fish.  Now that most all salmon fishing will require barbless hooks in Washington and Oregon, the belief is that once the rod bottoms out under a reasonable drag setting, from the rod being in a rod holder, the fish will have by then made a turn to the side and have imbedded the hook in the jaw.   In addition, the forward motion of the boat is plenty enough to drive that hook farther home.  Here no hookset is really necessary.  In fact with barbless, the heroic surfcaster swing can only be a liability... unnecessarily enlarging the hooking wound, making it all the more likely that the hook could back out at the slightest fish moment of inadvertent line slack.


The most important factor once that fish commits and turns away from the forward travel of the boat, is the amount of load in the rod when the deal is sealed.  Lots of load, the fish stays stuck…. not so much load, not so much stuck.

Those folks that insist on holding the rod while trolling will inadvertently set the hook as soon as they feel a hit, and usually simply pull the bait out of the fish's mouth.   Some other folks insist on holding their rod, and when get bit they may "feed" the fish… either dropping the rod tip or to actually stripping out or free spooling line to the fish.  Yeah, that can sometimes help the fish to commit, but it also means there is MUCH LESS load in the rod the instant it happens.  It takes more experience and precise timing than most folks can not muster.

So keep it simple. The best thing seems to be, when you get a bite… DO NOTHING!  It doesn't get any simpler than that.  WAIT for a couple of authoritative thumps.  Then wait some more for the rod to start to load (bend).  You might even have to wait a bit longer when the fish momentarily let's go.   And then wait some more for him to come back.

Then wait some more for that rod tip to fold…. and wait a bit more for the midsection to load up…. and finally, wait for the entire rod to bend right down to the corks as line peels madly from the reel.  Then he's yours!


I have seen many salmon brought to the boat with the hook barely into parts of the outer skin around the jaw.  Under these conditions, the fisher/netter needs to coordinate to where the fish is brought in and carefully netted ASAP, not allowing the fish time to pull the hook out, otherwise you have lost the fish at the boat.  Sometimes the fish may not realize what is happening and if the hook is just a skin puncture, the fish may come right to the boat early on.   If this is the case AND you can see the hook may not be into jaw bone, and have the chance, net it ASAP.   Either way, you are running a gamble as to being able to bring the fish aboard.   In situations like these, any hookset would likely have produced a unhooked/lost fish.

So most of the time, the best hookset is NO HOOKSET at all, unless you are using a light or wimpy rod.  Just get the rod out of the holder without losing the load on it and it's all a good show as long as you maintain tension on the fish.  No hooksets UNLESS it's one of those unusual sneaky pick the bait up and swim upstream past the boat kind of bites, which you may not detect until it is too late anyway.  


For forward trolling you may want to troll with the tiller in your hand looking for fish.  The key part of this process is after the fish is hooked is to keep the kicker in gear until the fish is in the net, or about to run into the prop.  This adds to your odds by keeping tension on the line, lets you stay in the trolling pattern which does two things for you. (1) Lets you stay on the fish school and gives you a chance at a double, as most of these fish run in schools. (2) Lets the boats next to and behind you stay on their potential fish because they don't have to change course around you (especially in the B10 or the I-5 combat zone).   You will loose way less Coho this way by "helping" the angler keep the rod loaded by using the kicker and keep it running and in gear.


Salmon trolling or sitting at anchor in a flowing river using hardware, (spinners, wobblers or plugs) is an altogether different thing.  Here you will probably usually be holding the rod instead of using a rod holder.  Even if you are using rod holders, keep a sharp eye on the rod and not far from your hand.  These lures are not bait and the fish will spit it out rather quickly.  These large spinners or plugs translate a thump/thump to the rod tip.  Watch the rod tip, if the action changes, set the hook or when the rod goes down, set the hook and/or at LEAST bear down by thumbing the spool to get the hook to slide in deeper.  That bouncing rod is the fish shaking his head trying to throw the lure.

  Bait = Wait       Lure (Spinners and Kwikies) = Grab and set hook.


Downrigger Trolling :  Normal downrigger trolling there is/should be no fisher originated hookset because with the rod placed under extreme pre-tension, when the fish hits the lure, popping the line out of the clip that is attached to the downrigger wire, the rod's snapping motion will automatically set the hook.  As mentioned above, it may be best to have the kicker in gear until the fish is in the net.


Fishing at Anchor :  Set the hook when at anchor or when backbounced close behind a boat that is anchored or tied off of a piling.   As soon as that salmon grabs the lure, it knows it is not soft food and is trying to spit it out.  These takedowns, will be a vigorous instantaneous hookset.  Wicked sharp hooks that snag the back of your fingernail every time are important.  A quick pop of a hookset followed by VERY quick reeling in to take up any slack (preferably with a 5:1 retrieve or faster reel for newbies) is what it takes.


Mooching :  For normal mooching, the fisherperson will be holding onto the rod.  In this situation, the fisher will feel the bite and can react accordingly.  Many times this is a learned situation.  If the takedown is dramatic, then probably no hookset is needed.  However if the bite is minimal where the fish may be only mouthing the bait, here is a situation where the fisher may need to "feed" out line, allowing the fish to feel no resistance, thinking the bait is drifting as if dead, where the fish will either return and/or swallow the bait.  Here setting the hook too early is detrimental to getting your fish box bloody, as you will usually pull the bait out of the fish's mouth before it is in deep enough for the hooks to engage.  However once the fish is hooked and pulling line, then most fisherpersons will usually give the rod a "pop" driving the hook's point into the fish's mouth.


Jigging :   Jigging will be basically the somewhat the same as mooching in this case.   Except most hits will be on the drop of the jig, where the fisher does not have direct contact to the fish, so here most hooksets will be simply because the fisher senses/feels something wrong as compared to other drops and does a hookset.  Many could be for naught, but occasionally you will be connected to a fish.


Drifting :   Normal side drifting in rivers for steelhead or salmon, you will know when the fish has taken the bait.  Again, usually just a "pop" if any, is sufficient for a hookset.


Casting :   Here the conditions may be close to those outlined under the mooching style, however the type of bait, (lures as compared to bait) will also make a difference as to your reaction. 


Hooks :  It will make a difference if the fisher is using barbed or barbless hooks.   Barbed hooks will usually need more effort when making a hookset than barbless.  It also will make  a difference as to the specie of fish targeted and the size of the hook as to just how much effort you put into the hookset. 


Different style of hooks can also make for better hooking/holding conditions for aggressive fighting fish.  The new Sickle style hooks have a definite advantage of being able to not have the hook work out during a battle, especially for a wild jumping/rolling Coho.  As seen in the photos below, the octopus style uses a smooth type radius, while the sickle has a more definite Vee shape.  Entry of the hook into tissue is the same on either, but the sickle has more holding power because once the hook is buried deep enough to allow the fish's tissue to rest in this Vee, this hook does not rotate as easily which can enlarge the entry hole, making it a lot harder for that hook to be thrown by any of the fish's efforts.


Octopus style Sickle style


All the above means very little if the hooks ARE NOT STICKY SHARP.


Other Observations :  Another thing you will see newbies doing is to quit reeling when line does slack, thinking the fish has thrown the hook.  Here the fish may be charging the boat, so REEL LIKE HELL until you see the lure with no fish at the boat, or you catch up with the fish and find the fish is still "FISH ON".


You can also set a tighter drag setting which will also do the hookset, let the drag do it.   However when using this method, you  may want to lighten it once the fish is hooked.    One thing that once the fish is on, don't pump and rod/reel unless when you crank in, you lower the rod, (called cranking down), otherwise you throw a slight amount of slack giving the fish a chance to spit the hook. 


Have an assigned assistant do the netting or get the net ready and then hand it to the netter at the last minute when the fish is ready to be netted. 


Copyright © 2013 - 2015  LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

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Originated 02-01-2013, Last updated 06-18-2015 *
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