It’s About Your Tip, Sir

Gary Graham Tip Flyrod

Ask a saltwater fishing guide what single instruction they give their client most, and odds are it will go something like, “Don’t use the rod tip . . . strip-strike!” If you fish conventional tackle, someone is always yelling, “Get the rod tip up.” And if you fly-fish freshwater, your guide insists that you set the hook with the rod tip to protect that light line tippet. Confused? Talk about a case of different strokes for different folks!

Gary Graham Tip Flyrod

So what’s going on here? Most sports have gear that is used for a single purpose: bats, gloves, racquets, and golf clubs, for example. These are all designed with a single idea in mind. I suppose there are other exceptions of sports using a device with more than one purpose, but I haven’t been able to come up with any.

Flyrods are a specialized tool designed to accomplish several different tasks. If you look at a typical 9-foot flyrod, the top half has a lot of action that allows the angler to propel the fly line to make the cast. The bottom half of the rod is much stouter and has little flex to it and, if used properly, will allow you to put plenty of heat to the fish at the other end of the line. So what, you ask? Now that we have determined the design differences of the rod, let’s see if we can figure out a way to capitalize on it.

When casting, regardless of the style of cast, side arm or overhead, it is important that the rod be pointed away from the body at a 90Ëš angle.

This will allow you to fully “load” or flex the rod and take advantage of the flexible top half of the rod. If you drop the rod too far down you lose the ability to load the flexible tip portion and the cast will be less than satisfactory.

Gary Graham Tip Flyrod

The next part of the equation is what to do with the rod when the fish strikes. Don’t use the rod tip to set the hook. Remember, the top part of the rod is designed to be soft and squishy for casting and will do a poor job of burying the hook in the mouth of the fish. Use the strip-strike method – with the rod no more than 30 degrees off center, simply tug on the line to set the hook. Once the fish is hooked and begins to take line, control the line between your thumb and forefinger until it comes tight on the reel or the fish stops running. The most frequent mistake made at this point is forgetting to let go of the line when the fish begins its run. Don’t try to force the fish to get to the reel. If the fish turns toward you, retrieve line with your hand to avoid allowing slack in the line. Many fish are lost by an angler trying to frantically spin the spool to pick up loose line on the deck instead of focusing on keeping the line tight. If getting a good hook-set is not enough for you, consider that if you use the rod tip and miss the fish, that 9-foot wand has moved your fly completely out of the zone where the fish was. If you strip-strike and miss the fish, your fly has only traveled a few inches and fish can easily resume its pursuit.

All right . . . you are there, fish solidly hooked, your reel handle spinning like a car wheel going 60 mph. You are standing there in the classic “Orvis position,” perfectly erect, rod pointed toward the sky and thinking how cool you must look. What’s wrong with this picture? Everything except that you are hooked up. When the fish punches it on the initial run, you let him go, rod tip never going above the top of your head, the bottom section of the rod bent almost as much as the top half. Don’t try to stop the fish going away. When you do, everything is in the fish’s favor. With the line coming over his shoulder as the fish accelerates, the angle is all wrong to stop him. After what seems like the final minute of a pro basketball game, the fish begins to slow and suddenly you are gaining some line back. Now you are cooking: rod almost flat to allow maximum pressure. When the fish squirts a few yards, let him go. Then, work the rod to the side opposite the direction the fish is headed, to help disorient the fish as it struggles to get free. Use the top of your head as the guideline for the best angle for the rod as you work the rod from side-to-side using that same angle to apply the maximum pressure. Another thing to watch for as you work the fish from side-to-side is how high it comes up in the water column. You can determine which side of the mouth the hook is in, if the fish comes closer to the surface when you are applying pressure from the left side, the hook is probably on the left side; if it doesn’t come all the way to the surface it is because the line is over its head or back and on the right side of the mouth.

When you are ready to land the fish, don’t high-stick the fish (more rods are broken at this point.) If you’re on a boat, back away from the rail so the leader and fish can be reached easily. From the beach, do the same thing: work the fish into the wave and back away until it beaches itself in shallow water; then pull off some slack line from the reel while moving toward the fish to remove the fly.

That Baja Guy-Gary Graham, the BD Outdoors Baja Editor, has more than five decades fishing experience off of Southern California and the Baja Peninsula. From light tackle and fly up to offshore marlin fishing, Gary has experienced all facets of this fishery. He's set several fly-fishing world record...