The HIT!

In this lesson, I’m going to break down the three times you will have a hit and how to know the difference between a hit and when your fly is simply dragging on the bottom or when a fish has a refusal because he is not satisfied with what he is looking at.


During this lesson we will discuss the HIT. A hit is when the fish goes for your fly, and it’s one of the most exciting times in fly fishing. Most instructors do not focus at all on the hit, assuming that a new fisherman will automatically know when a fish is going for their fly. In this lesson, I’m going to break down the three times you will have a hit and how to know the difference between a hit and when your fly is simply dragging on the bottom or when a fish has a refusal because he is not satisfied with what he is looking at.

Nymphing Hits

We will start with nymphing hits, because that is when you are going to catch the majority of your MONSTER TROUT throughout the year. If you watched the introductory lessons or have nymphed before, you know that you have to position your nymph rig upriver continue to mend your line as it goes down past you.

What you are looking for is any unnatural movement in your indicator. What would be considered an unnatural movement? It could be a dip, a wave, a slow-down in the pace, or a speed-up in the pace.  

When I first started out, I found that I was not setting my hook as often as I should have. Even the smallest of takes can go unnoticed so even if you don’t think it was a hit. Set the hook, 9 times out of 10 it might have been a drag in the line or a bump on a rock. But that tenth time will reap huge rewards when you hook into that MONSTER.

How do you set the hook?

I have spoken about setting the hook after you get a hit or “take,” so let’s break down what that is. When you see your strike indicator make any unnatural movement in the water, you are going to want lift your rod over your shoulder and downriver.

The reason you are lifting downriver is because the fish are always facing upriver when going at your fly. This will set the hook in the top lip of your trout, giving you the optimal location for control when it takes off. You will be able to control the fish by keeping pressure on its head. We will go into detail about bringing in your catch in the next lesson, but for now just remember: lift up and downstream.

Dry Fly Hits

When dry fly fishing, it’s a lot easier to tell if you have a hit or take. When you dry fly fish, you don’t have an indicator. Your fly is the indicator, so make sure that you are casting at a distance where you can visually see your fly.  

When you make that perfect cast and you see the head of the trout come up to take the fly, try and keep calm. Beginner fly fishermen lose more fish by not waiting until the fish has taken the fly in their mouth and end up yanking it right out of them. Watch the trout come up and silently count a short “one-one thousand” before lifting your rod downriver and setting the hook.

As soon as you set the hook, the fish is going to take off because it is already actively feeding and will be ready to run. So be ready to run with it if need be.

So what if you see the trout come up but it does not take the fly? This is referred to as “fly refusal.” Why does this happen?  

It could happen for a few reasons…

1. The presentation was off.
Before changing out flies, make sure that your drift is natural. You might have had drag on the line or the fly shifted in a manner that was not natural. Try casting again with additional slack in the leader to assure a dead drift.

2. The trout was not actually rising, but chasing emergers.
You can tell this by when it comes to the surface; if you’re not seeing the whites of his mouth, then it’s possible he is merely chasing emergers and catching them before they get to the surface. In the Intermediate videos, we will show setups that will combat both of these situations to help you land more trout.

3. The trout has come nose-to-nose with the fly but still refuses it.
This typically means that you have the right pattern and size, but the wrong color. Because of the clarity of water, trout do not actually see the color of the fly until they are right up on it. If they refuse your fly at this level, try swapping it out for a different color of the same pattern. Also keep the same size, because the trout obviously liked what it saw before it came up to the surface.

Swapping out your fly will also give the fish time to rest and get ready for the next meal you place in front of them.

Streamer Hits

Streamer hits, in my opinion, are the second-most exciting hits on the water. You’re mending in your line, and all of a sudden it feels like your fishing buddy is messing with you on the other end of the line and tugging at it. Most of the time when this happens, your fly has been set. But you should still lift your rod in a downriver motion (as you do with nymphing and dry fly fishing) to make sure the hook is set. If you see a trout chase your streamer but not hit it, take this as a refusal. It most likely means that the movement of your streamer did not meet the standards of that particular fish.

Try adjusting your retrieve and angle before swapping out streamers.

What happens if you feel a hit but when you go to set the hook, nothing is there?

This type of refusal is common with streamer fishing. Large predatory trout will bump out smaller fish for territorial reasons, acting almost like a stun on their prey. If you feel this, rest your retrieve for a second and then continue with your mend. I have had numerous takes on the second mend after a slight bump.

Now that we have gone over hooking a fish, let’s dive into our next lesson on how to bring in that MONSTER TROUT!