Tactics and Techniques

Now What? How to Land Trout Before the Hookset.

I knew the ending as soon as he started.  The longer his story, the harder I laughed. 

“I couldn’t believe it Shem.  Seriously.  I climbed up onto this huge boulder – You know those big boulders up in Eleven Mile?  Yeah, the huge ones.  Well, I climbed up onto this thing, barely got up there, and now I’m looking down into this real nice pool below fast water right up against the boulder.  I think we might have fished it back in school.  From the other side though.  Not sure.  Anyway, I knew there’d be a fish in this spot.  Knew it.” 

My friend paused. 

“Sure enough.  Second or third cast down I had a monster rainbow on.  Yup.  And I just thought, oh man, I barely got up here in the first place and now I’m hooked up with a monster and I’m about to kill myself getting down, and I’ll probably lose this damn fish in the process.  Now what?”

I laughed because I have been there many times.  A nice fish on the end of my line, with no plan to land it, and usually only a funny story for my trouble.  The more these stories add up, the less funny they seem to become.

Snagged logs or rubbed boulders.  Unexpected runs into fast water.  Watching a fish escape, mere feet from my net after I forced landing it too soon.  The common thread in these scenarios usually involve the unexpected, and by the time that fish makes its move, it is too late for a glove save. 

The more I fish, the more I realize that expecting the best and planning for the worst leads to more fights won with fish.

Mindset – Expect the Fight.

There are three assumptions I try to carry with me on the river to help remind me to plan for fighting and landing hard to fight and land fish.  These assumptions, when embraced and practiced decrease your chances of being caught off guard and help force a keen interest in your surroundings.  They force you to look for the obstacles and predicaments that might stand between you and the fish of a lifetime. 

First, I will catch a fish on this cast. 

Second, it will be a big fish. 

Third, it will go where I do not want it to go. 

The first two assumptions require optimism and confidence.  Every cast could be a hook set, and every hookset could result in a monster trout.  Too often we doubt our cast, or fly, or presentation.  Or maybe we become distracted, so that our hook set fails or is missed altogether.  Be ready.  If every cast could be “the one that got away”, then you had better have a plan to catch it – every time. 

The third assumption is where the real planning comes in.  It is what drives you to see the river as an obstacle course.  The pessimism that keeps you on the toes of your wading boots.  The scenery becomes something to be engaged with.  Something to work through and around in pursuit of not just big fish, but any fish if needed.  That next fish may not go to those tough spots, but if it does, you’ll be ready.

Sidenote: “Hang on for dear life”, although fun, sometimes effective, and still a strategy I tend to employ, is not much of a plan for landing trout.

I try to imagine how I would fight the fish I cast to while I wade the river.  What if it goes to that boulder?  Can I get up on shore and move down to that slower water?  How am I getting my ass off this boulder?

Building a plan to fight and land a fish you have not yet caught, forces you to play out different scenarios so that you are reacting less and executing more.  Will trout still surprise you?  Sure.  But this mindset promotes anticipating the most likely and worst case scenarios, so you can best fight the fish regardless of what it does. 

You know it quick when you shake hands with a trout that knows what it is doing.  A smart fish has a plan when that bug digs into its craw.  If you want to land it, you better have a plan to fight back.

Fast Water and Downstream Runs. 

If I am fishing around fast water the hair on the back of my neck always stands up a little.  I expect that fish to head for the fast water like a magnet. 

I have lost enough fish in fast water to know, when they run for it, let them go and pick up the fight someplace where the fish does not have double the advantage.  I never want to fight the fish and a swift current.  It is too much strain and force on the line.  And too much risk of breaking off.


Trout can hole up in some hard to reach places and if you are a Wadeoutthere fly fisher, then you are likely in there with them. 

Log, bushes, trees, rocks, boulders.  All things we encounter constantly while wading the river.  They become part of the scenery, but for a crafty trout, they are the battleground.

When fighting fish around obstacles the thing I most want to avoid is allowing the fish to put those obstacles between us.  When I allow the fish to get next to, behind, or underneath any obstacles I risk my line rubbing against them and breaking off.  If I can keep a clean line between my rod tip and the fish, then I can keep clear of those obstacles.  I do this by moving the angle of my rod tip, or by moving myself.

Where to Land Big Fish.

Even if there is not a good place to land fish, there is usually a better place. 

Think about where you would most like to land a trout as you fish.  Especially, when you stop to fish a spot for a while.  The goal is to at least have something.  Something is better than nothing.

If it is easy to wade in, it is most likely easy to land a fish in.

Remember that you may have to move down, or upstream, to reach a better spot. 

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Get a Move on When a Big Fish Runs Downstream.

Know Your Path.

It is not enough to just identify the obstacles, fast water, and best places to land fish.  You have to be prepared to move to and around them.  Asking yourself, how will I get around those boulders?  How will I get downstream of that beaver dam if I catch a fish that goes down into the fast water?  How can I make my way to that gravel bar to land a fish?

When a big fish takes line and there are obstacles around, you had better move in order to avoid the fish getting those obstacles between you.  This means knowing ahead of time where you can wade and how you can move across and around the river.  It also means paying attention to the angles of your line and moving the rod tip to avoid the fish taking it through unwanted areas.

I also try to prevent the fish from getting away from me around obstacles.  The more obstacles in the vicinity, the shorter the leash I would like to keep on the fish. This gives me more control of the line and lets me move it around undesired rocks or snags.

The same principles apply if you are fishing from a drift boat, although you often have less flexibility.  You may need to get downstream or slow the boat up to best fight the fish.  Having a plan always helps. 

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Tips for Fighting Big Trout from a Drift Boat.

Now What?

If I had already written this, I might have had a plan.  Or should have.

The last time it happened to me was on the Provo River in August.  Fishing the lower section along the highway.  Wading along the far side of the river from the road.

I was casting out to the faster water and mending downstream to keep a natural drift.  Continuing along with the current, I fished this way until I reached a spot where the water was too deep to continue and too fast to cross.  The brush along the shore meant no chance of going up on the bank. 

But I knew there was a fish in there.

And I believed I was standing in the one place I could send my pheasant tail into the dark water that bumped off rocks downstream and show the big brown I knew was lurking below a presentation he would accept.  I was imagining that fish as I high sticked my line through the seam.

Fish on.  Now What? 

Have a plan and Wadeoutthere.


Jason Shemchuk

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  • Reply
    January 7, 2021 at 11:58 pm

    “Hang on for dear life” — Reminded me of a fish you landed in 11- Mile where you pretended to be A Brad Pitt stunt double. Thought I was going to have to run down stream and throw you a rope. Thanks for the read. Hope you and the fam are well!

    • Reply
      Jason Shemchuk
      January 8, 2021 at 6:38 pm

      Oh no…now that’s embarrassing. Thanks for reading!

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