Worst Trout Set EVER! (Why fly rods don’t hook real fish.)

I hate posting this sort of thing but it’s one of those “it’s soooo bad, it’s good” situations! I mean, seriously. WTF, OMG, LOL and pretty much every-dang-thing-else. This guy’s (?) cast is pretty sweet but A) the amount of slack after each cast—wow, and B) the trout set is spectacular. I’ve seen less aggressive sets from Bill Dance on a 2 pound bass.†



I could end here. I really want to, but it would be nothing more than another spectacle, mere calorie-free amusement. So, I figured I’d just ask a couple questions that might shed a little light on the subject:

  1. How many pounds of pressure does it take to bury a hook in a tarpon’s mouth.
  2. How many pounds of pressure does the average 8 or 9-weight fly rod tip deliver in your average “trout set”.

Well? Ok, I don’t know either (and I’m too lazy to get out the ol’ Boga Grip* and actually do some tests), but from experience I will say it’s not enough to actually hook a tarpon… or a bonefish, or redfish, or striper, or bonita, or snook, or permit, or mutton snapper or (God help you) a bony-mouthed barracuda. And that’s only the Atlantic sportfish that readily cross my mind. You’re dang sure never hooking a Pacific trigger or parrot-beaked humpy with a trout set.

I sound pretty sure, don’t I? Pretty dang arrogant and bombastic. True, but that’s only because in near twelve years of guiding I have seen like one, maybe two bones hooked with a trout set (and zero tarpon). Of those that were hooked, a full 100% popped the leader within naught point five seconds.


The only bone I’ve actually seen trout-set successfully was landed was by one Big Charlie Neymour, who is a fly fishing Jedi and can pretty much do whatever the hell he wants. It is also the only fish I’ve ever seen him cast at, much less catch, so while far be it from me to suggest he could have gotten lucky that one time, but of the hundreds of bones I’ve witnessed the hooking and landing of that was the only one where a trout set worked. Just sayin’.


Ok, so here’s part of what I think is actually preventing a trout set from working: the tip of a fly rod is simply too flimsy to deliver enough force to drive a stout, salt-water hook into a fish’s mouth.

Of course, in fresh water—which in my feeble, unimaginative mind equates to trout fishing—you want a delicate hook-set because of all the X’s in your tippet, since, you know, trout are leader shy. Ok, maybe they are and maybe they aren’t, but what I am sure about is the size of most freshy hooks is much smaller than salty hooks. For example, the smallest bonefish hook I’ve ever used—usually to my regret—is a #8 while the first ever stream fly I used was a #12. ‡

About the only time a saltwater fly fishing guide uses the word “twelve” it’s either to refer to the weight of his fly rod or the number of beers in the pack you’ll buy for him as a tip.

Where was I? Right. Hook size. Freshwater hooks are freekin’ tiny, so the tip of a 5-weight can actually set the hook there. No problem.

The second issue is Slack. In saltwater you want none of it, but if you’re drifting a fly or bumping a black Woolly Bugger downstream for Smallies then you’ll have lots of it. A trout set is the only reasonable way to remove all that slack and come tight before the fish spits your fly.

Unless you’re doing something seriously wrong, you won’t have any slack at all in the salt. So, a simple long, smooth strip should get that hook in there nicely.

The final reason, the real reason trout sets don’t work and strips sets do, is actually a trade secret. I’d write it down but then serious looking men in black suits would pull up outside the address provide by my ISP and unpleasant things would happen. I am bound by protocol, morality (and fear) from going any further. But, the good news is you can rest assured that there is a secret, and it’s safe with me.

The better news? You don’t need to know the secret. In the immortal words of W. L. S. Churchill, Keep Calm and Don’t Trout Set. You can trust him on this.


† “That there’s a beaoootiful 4 pound bigmouth… call it 4 and a ha’f… heck 5.”
* Which has been lying idle in a drawer for the last 6 years except for the occasional knot or hook test.
‡ And even then they’re usually “2x Strong”, heavy-wire models.

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  • Reply

    That was the Mother of all Trout Sets. Amazing. The wind up and full yank was breathtaking.

    Some serious knowledge dropping there, Davin. Well done.

    Can you tell me the secret when we fish together in May?

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