The Timing of Your Fly Fishing Hookset For Trout

This post was last updated on November 15th, 2014 at 10:22 pm

How to determine when to set the hook on a troutHow to Properly Time Your Fly Fishing Hookset for Trout Under Various Conditions

The speed of your hookset will have to change to accommodate the various trout species and also the water in which you are fishing. Nearly every day on the river I watch people set the hook too soon or to slow. Setting the hook too fast is generally much easier to fix than a slow reaction time and super slow set of the hook. In this post I will go over when to set the hook fast and when not to in order to have you catching the most trout possible. The basic idea here is to wait for the fish to completely close it’s mouth and get turned into a position that will allow your hook the most real estate in the trout’s mouth to be in direct contact with your fly as you pull. If you don’t already know the proper procedure for the trout hookset, you can learn more here. These tips only apply to the use of dry flies. If you are using a strike indicator and nymph fishing you should always set the hook the moment you see your indicator make a move.

In Fast Water

For the most part, fast water will equate to really fast strikes by the trout. The fish will only need one second before it is turning back into it’s normal upstream feeding position with it’s mouth closed. These fish are in speed mode and will spit your hook quickly once it doesn’t feel like a natural insect. Usually these fast water fish will come up and crush your fly very hard making a rather large splash. On these fish you cannot move slowly, because they won’t be wasting any time ejecting your fly from their faces.

Slow Water Hookset Speed for Trout

These fish resting in gentle water will often times be moving extremely slow. They will frequently barely even break the surface of the water to take your fly. They are not really interested in doing anything quickly and they are trying to use the least amount of energy possible. On these trout it is advisable to wait up to 3 seconds before setting the hook. The current will not be forcing these fish to get back into their standard upstream facing position quickly, so they won’t be in a hurry to do so.

Watching the Trout’s Strike in any Water Type to Determine Your Hooking Speed

In general, by paying close attention to the speed and aggressiveness of the strike, you can easily tell how quickly to lift your rod and make a go at hooking the trout. A fast splashy aggressive strike will call for very little waiting between the strike and the hookset, while a slow “sip” from a trout will demand a slow 2 second or so waiting period before you pop it.

Hookset Speed Determination by Species

Cutthroat Trout Striking Speed

Most cutties will hit a fly much more slowly than any other trout species. They are almost never in a hurry and you can’t be either. Even in fairly fast moving riffle water you will have to slow down when you see the telltale gold flash of a mature cutthroat feed on your dry fly.

Brown Trout

Most brown trout tend to move much faster than cutthroat trout;  therefore if you are in an area with a lot of brown’s you can move a little faster, but you will still have to watch the speed and nature of the strike to determine how fast you try to pop your hook into it’s face.

Brook Trout

Brookies move quickly more often than not and there will rarely be cause for a lot of hesitation before the hook set. Large brook trout will often act like mature brown trout and will do a lot of semi-slow sipping, but for the most part if you are fishing a stream that only has brook trout inhabitants you will be able to set the hook very quickly and have a high hooking percentage. They tend to have fast splashy strikes making the timing very easy on this species.


It can be very difficult to get all of this down pat; even the greatest fisherman will frequently miss fish. If you have a naturally slow reaction time you should probably drink a little coffee or energy drinks before and during your fishing trips. More often than not however the main problem people have is jumping the gun and setting too soon. I have had a lot of days where I considered trading people’s polarized sunglasses away for a dark pair of cheap non-polarized glasses so they couldn’t see the fish until it breaks the surface. Just a few days ago I watched a guy pull his fly away from over a dozen really big fish simply because waiting for the fish to even make contact with the fly was too much. That day would have probably been one of the best big trout day’s I have ever seen if he only had a little more restraint…