I’m not a purist, or elitist, nor traditionalist. I just like to see a bunch of fish hit the bottom of the bag. That brings me to my point regarding stripping versus spooling. I’m talking about using the fly reel for you crooked folks out there!
Lately, I’ve guided a few folks that prefer to use the strip method to play and land fish. Not ripping on anyone, but it got me to thinking, which at times, can be dangerous. Again, folks can bring fish in on the fly rod anyway they see fit, but I’m inclined to fight and land fish the way I was taught many moons ago. On the reel, let the drag do the heavy lifting.
Limitations of Stripping
The strip method involves using the management loop behind your “trigger” finger to play a fish. I have used this for small fish on occasion, but no matter the size of the fish, I have clients use the spool method. When stripping in a fish, the angler “feels” the fish’s strength, grit, runs, and jumps through constant with the line in their off or non-dominant hand. As the fish gets closer to being landed, a large spool of stripped in line forms at the angler’s feet.
A couple things come to mind: first off, that pile of line bothers me. Just another thing to get screwy in the process, especially on big fish where you may have to move several feet to keep the fish at proper lateral angles. There are thousands of hours and dollars put into today’s reel drag systems. The smoother the drag the better. Although some folks can do it, I think it’s hard for the average angler to match the smoothness of a reel drag system while allowing line to go out to a running fish. A ton of snap-offs and “unbuttons” occur if the drag is not smooth. Again, especially on bigger fish.
Spooling to “Attack”
I like to see people get into an offensive attack mode when landing fish. I feel as if using the strip method puts you into a defensive mode, which takes longer to land fish, which can eventually lead to higher fish mortality. The quicker the angler gets the upper hand, uses proper angles to move fish, the sooner that fish can be landed. That’s why I advocate spooling.
Spooling: How to Get There from the Hook Set
Some may say that it’s too difficult to teach spooling fish after they eat. It’s really quite simple, and the angler never takes his or her eyes off of the fish. Here’s my method: Once the set takes place and we have a solid hook-up, the angler simply keeps the rod in a high set position, the rod hand trigger finger pinches the line to the cork grip, and the angler simply uses the non dominant hand to spool the line tight. It takes less time than it took for me to write it out. After a hook-up, and when a fish makes a run directly at the angler is about the only time I’ll ask for the angler to strip in line. As soon as the run toward us is over, we quickly re-spool the line and get back on the reel. After the fly line is spooled entirely, just let go of the line altogether. Present-set-spool-let go……..
Today’s reels have a neat feature that many folks I fish with don’t even realize is there. You can quickly spool or take up line by simply placing your fingers on the outside of the reel spool or rim and spinning it. Many inches of line quickly are spooled onto the reel. Once that is accomplished, the angler simply lets go of the pinched line, and bingo, the fish is on the reel. At this point the angler can become offensive not having to worry about how much pressure to put on the line as they attempt to keep angles while stripping in a fish. That annoying pile of stripped line is non-existent.
Once spooled, your off hand now is ready for using the reel crank to bring in fish. This does take some teaching and practice, but one simply doesn’t steadily crank in a fish on a fly rod. The cranking is in a “machine gun” mode. Crank quickly when you can, and stop immediately when you feel the fish run or headshake. After a few fish you’ll have it. It’s like a relationship, give and take….Mostly take.
Years ago, I saw an article by Landon Mayer on how to set drag. Liked it so much that he gave me permission to use it in The Fly Fishers Playbook. To properly set reel drag, find a partner or something heavy, and tie your leader off to it. At full rod flex, the drag should be set so that it only releases line with a simulated fish head shake or run. I have found that most folks set the drag entirely too light. Experiment with it.
Spooling by Palming
Some of the older reels or low quality reels, have inefficient drag or no drag system at all. No problem. Simply spool up the fish as I described, and use your off hand to “palm” the drag. Your palm simply becomes a braking system on the reel for line going out, and is in perfect position to machine gun reel as needed. It’s referred to as “palming” because your palm alternately pushes against or releases pressure from the reel spool according to how the fish is fighting. Although not as smooth as the reel drag, palming is quite effective once you learn it, and again, that pile of line is not anywhere to be found.
Like I said, makes no difference which method folks use to bring in fish. It’s like anything else, it’s a personal decision. I just like to do it a certain way and thought I’d share it with you.
Thanks, and Fear No Water!