Strippers and Spoolers – Part One

Of every fish that eats your offering, you probably recognize 60 percent of the takes. Of that 60 percent, you probably hook slightly less than 50 percent on the set.  Of that 50 percent the average fly angler lands, or brings to net, maybe 40 percent.  Face it folks, we’re leaving a lot of fish for the next angler!

The transition from loop to reel. Good pressure while spooling line
The transition from loop to reel. Good pressure while spooling line

As a guide, I try to get my clients into aspects of landing fish as quickly as possible. However, I don’t want to take an inordinate amount of time trying to explain it at the outset, because face it, clients are not going to remember a damn thing when that first fish eats and starts acting like it should belong in a circus. So, I try to leave them with a couple thoughts to prepare for that first fish.

First off, I tell them there’s a difference between patience and poise.  Patience is sitting on the porch waiting for the mailman.  Poise is patience under fire.  I want poise, the ability to be calm yet make quick, measured adjustments.  For this reason, I try not to get too amped when that first fish eats.  I want a calm theater to work in.

Next, I explain that landing a fish is like dancing, for every move your partner makes, you counter move. Don’t be the kid at the 8th grade dance that is simply swaying when he should be swinging.  His dance partner is moving to the music, and he simply stands and occasionally sways. Lose ‘em every time when you can’t match the fish move for move.  The longer you’re static as the fish is cranking, the easier it is for the fish to spit.

Try explaining to someone how to play a video game over their shoulder, while they’re playing it.  It’s not easy, nor

Initial position: Reel face high, elbow pointing at fish.
Initial position: Reel face high, elbow pointing at fish.

effective.  So, I have found it much more effective to relate a few basics that will give them a clean hook-up and proper positioning prior to the hook-up, and THEN coach them as they fight the fish.  This way, if they do lose the fish immediate reinforcement and feedback is meaningful.

Proper fly rod grip is paramount.  Build a management loop as only as large as can be handled by the angler, loop the fly line under the index (trigger) finger of the fly rod hand and keep it between the finger and the cork. First move after the set is to continue to pinch the cork with the trigger finger while trapping fly line and keeping the management loop in the off-hand.  The fly rod elbow at this stage should be pointed toward the fish, the reel should be at least face high, and the angler should be coached to be ready to strip if the fish swims directly at him or her.  Next comes the transition.

The transition is key and critical.  I believe the millions of dollars that have gone into reel drag research should be utilized.  Reel drag is a great tool and should be used.  It’s nearly impossible to try to meter out line as smoothly as reel drag can from under a finger pinching line and cork.  Just not possible. So, after the angler discerns that the fish is not screaming at him, and he does not have to strip line, he should quickly spool what’s left in the management loop to the reel. Heck, with larger fish or higher faster flows, the line is usually ripped out from under your finger and taut on the reel without you doing anything. Fish on the reel, just like that, in less time than it took to write this. Once on the reel, with constant positive pressure and proper fly rod alignment, then the game at this point is a draw.  However, it’s also very easy to lose at this point if you don’t react to each move the fish makes, and we all know there’s going to be some seriously athletic moves in-store.

I know some out there will say that you don’t need to put fish on the reel, stripping them in is effective and easy.  It is neither.  Small fish, yea, you can get away with it, but why not use smaller fish as practice, and put them all on the reel?

Alright, so the transition from finger pinch to spool is one of those points where fish can be lost.  Newer reels with large free spinning arbors can really help spooling fish.  Without taking your eyes off the prize, you bring your off-hand up and spin the reel arbor for quick take-up.  Minturn Anglers LR2 reel is one of the finest I have used with this function. If your reel has a small arbor or doesn’t free wheel easily, you’ll have to combine reeling and letting line out smoothly by hand to get on the reel. Most of my personal reels are made this way, and I really enjoy the struggle of stripping in line, letting out line, and reeling to get big fish on the reel.



Another critical area in this first phase is actually letting go of the fly line after the set and during the initial fish run. So many folks, beginners and intermediates, clamp up on the fly line at the initial hook-up.  I see the majority of fish lost at this juncture because the fish takes off and the angler pinches and squeezes the water out of the cork and line.  I’m constantly saying, “Let go of the line!”  Usually it’s too late, and the hook has been pulled or the tippet snapped. I’ve even had to reach over and pry white fingers off the cork on countless occasions in an attempt to help folks get fish on the reel.

So, it’s set, be ready for the fish to swim at you and strip in line as you get the rod into fighting position, once you determine you have constant positive pressure, spool the line onto the reel and let go of the fly line. That fast, that easy.

Part two, the rest of the battle, will be coming out soon.


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Duane Redford

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Justin Nolan

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