Lessons From a Hookless Fly

by Timothy

Usually, at least for me, holding the fish is the point where the high from fighting it begins to wane. The heart thumping excitement from hook-set and tight lines is what really gets the adrenaline going.

Now, I wouldn’t portray myself as a meat hunter, but I’m not a puritan either in that I use barbed hooks and seldom pinch it down. There are times however, that the situation would appropriate a barbless hook.

On a past trip to the mountains I stood on the edge of a flirting, diamond-clear lake. I bent to slowly run my fingers through the water and watched the ripples spread throughout, shaking leaves that had sailed on unseen currents until my disruptive arrival.

My careful eye focused through the water and looked for the telltale signs of life. A shadow here, a flash there.

The mocking breeze muffled the clarity of the water's surface and I stood up, confident in the information I had gathered.

Like a sprinter taking in his last breath, I stilled mine and focused on the ghosting fog over the water’s surface. I inhaled the light air that swirled around me and took a moment to enjoy the scenery, drinking in the cool morning persona of the mountains.

Drawing upon this energy, I focused my attention on a submerged tree stump 30 feet out from my place on land. Out of respect for the land I was about to fish, I opted to pinch down the barb on my fly, a Copper John, and did so prior to tying it on.

The first few casts resulted in nothing; no telltale twitch in the line. I didn’t worry however, it only takes a single trout to come cruising by and let its curiosity test my fly.

I fell into the rhythm of fan casting. Starting off to the left of the stump and working my way right, I fished the fly slowly in steady pulls interspersed with quick frantic jerks and long pauses to let the fly sink into the blue depths.

While this patient vigil kept on, it was hard not to notice the environment- the great birds soaring overhead on unseen currents not unlike those that are formed in the water. The frantic splash of trout chasing after caddisflies. Great mountains mirrored on the lake's surface.

The wonder was cut short by the tick-tick-tick gunfire on my rod hand and I set the hook in a sweeping motion so as not to snap my thin tippet. Or rather, I tried to set the hook.

For a few brief moments I felt the weight of the fish and saw the bend of my rod. There was enough time to get my heart pumping before the hook came free and snapped up out of the water.

To be frank, I was sincerely perplexed.

Not often does it happen that my opponent gets the better of me. Especially with the relatively small size of fish that swam this lake.

Bad hook-set.

I silently berated my beginner folly.

Casting out a few more times, I managed a second chance.

I failed.

Every step of the process was perfectly aligned for me to land this fish and yet the same thing occurred. Twice in a row!?

I knew that it wasn’t a product of snapping the fly off on my hook-set because my fly was still on the rod after each failure.

I decided to pass it off on my strike being too early and tried once more to catch a fish.

By this time my heart was positively hammering! The fish were there and indeed biting, so I was excited by the prospect of catching a large amount of these beautiful Brook Trout.

Third time's the charm. I hope.

A few casts later, indeed I hooked up again. The rod bent, the silver flank flashed, the heart skipped, my breath caught, time slowed down, and…

The hook flew out into the clouds.

Needless to say I was reduced to a crying mess. Three fish in a row I missed. No way is it me. Too many missed chances.

My fly, the Copper John - The curved nature of the hook defines its purpose, to get caught in the prey’s mouth thereby trapping it on line to rod. 
I reeled in all the coiled and slacked line on shore and inspected the fly. It appeared that I had snapped the very tip of the hook off, right after the bend. So, there was just enough bend left to lodge for a few moments into the fish’s mouth- the few moments that made me think my hook-set was at fault.

I learned a valuable lesson that fateful day on the bank of that lake; be gentle and respectful to the tools you use no matter how excited you are to use them.

Timothy is a regular contributor at My Hunting & Fishing. He is also an author at TheOutLife.


  1. Timothy, I enjoyed reading about Lessons from a Hookless Fly. I have had similar experiences as a fly-fisherman. Got to watch that back cast!

  2. Three fish in a row, wow. I can totally feel your pain there. I do also have a similar experience as well... but twice in a row was overkill for me. so yeah, sorry to hear that.

    1. It's worse knowing it wasn't my hook set but the hook itself! I can laugh about it now... kinda.


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