Photo: Ben Duchesney
Ben Duchesney reels in his fishing line with a dangerously bent rod.

Losing fish because of an improper hook set, which is the motion of pulling back on the fishng rod in order to secure the hook in the fish’s mouth, is most likely a result of poor technique and not power. Just because the pros look like they’re jumping across their boat to set the hook, throwing all of their weight into it, doesn’t mean you should. In a kayak, not only is this less effective, it’s also a good way to end up flipping your boat. Instead, use these expert tips to stop missing fish with a bad hook set and instead start catching like a pro. A pro kayak angler that is, not a bass pro. 

1) Stop The Bassmaster Hook Set

Yes, I want to repeat this. Like everything else, there’s a time and a place to use the “bass pro” hook set. (When you’re using a big hook, when you’ve had repeated fish on that have spit the hook, when you’re trying to impress a girl, etc.) But often the wind up to this big league swing is the exact moment the fish spits the hook. All they need is a moment that’s less than a second to spit out your hook. If you have to get a running start to set the hook, you’re just making it easy for them, Happy Gilmore.

Instead of this giant hook set and focusing on power, instead focus on reaction time. Instead of telling your body to get involved in the hook set, try to focus on moving your rod backwards as quickly as possible after you feel a strike. No, not move the rod as fast and as hard as you can, but try to start the movement backwards faster. The second you feel weight on the end of your line, your rod should be back and in the air before you even have time to realize it. That’s how a real pro sets the hook. Another tip is to keep your elbows tight to your side. If your elbows are extending you lose power and you’ll end up losing fish.

A bass with a lure still attached in its mouth is held up.

2) Get Rid Of That Slack

No matter what kind of lure you’re fishing, whether it’s a finesse bait, soft plastic, jig or spinnerbait, a slack in the line is going to weaken your hook set. Instead of trying to lift that rod back with slack in the line, turn the reel handle to get rid of that slack, without moving the lure towards you in any way, and you’ll get a cleaner, stronger hook set.

“But how can I reel up the slack if I need to set the hook faster as mentioned in tip #1?” It depends on the fish’s mood. If the fish are biting aggressivley, usually in around spawning periods, or warmer months, then the faster the hook set the better. If you’re fishing where the fish are biting softly, acting passivley or just barely nibbling, wait until you feel the fish actually has it and isn’t just playing with it. But, either way, once you feel the weight of that fish on your line, set the hook.

3) Sharpen Your Hooks!

The number one reason I see people lose fish, even after a hook set, is because of dull hook points. Sure, you could have a picture perfect hook set, the fish might even get cross-eyed with all your godly power, but if that hook isn’t sharp there’s still a chance it didn’t penetrate and be spit right out.

If you’re not sure how sharp your hooks are, give yourself a manicure. Wait, what? Yes. Take your hook point and drag it across your thumbnail. If it cuts into your nail and creates a white line, you should be good to go. If it just slides across your nail, you need to start sharpening. Keep a hook file in your boat, they’re small and easy to store, and give the hook a few runs across the file, on each side. Then, try the thumbnail test again until the hooks are sharp. Old hooks are also duller than new hooks, so even if you’re recently sharpened hooks aren’t doing the job, time to switch them out.

Ben Duchesney sits on his fishing kayak as he reels in a presumably big fish.

Tim Moore, the owner/guide of, producer of Tim Moore Outdoors TV and a Johnson Outdoors pro staffer, also shared his tips for making sure your hook set is up to par for catching trophies. Read his expert tactics below.

4) Watch your line

It’s easy to get distracted by the scenery, boat traffic, or watching your fish finder while you are retrieving a lure, especially a lure you fish all the time. but those distractions can cost you fish. Often, light bites are seen and not felt. Sometimes fish, such as striped bass, will hit from behind and you won’t feel anything at all. If you’re paying attention you will see periods of slack line that are otherwise unnoticeable. If you’re retrieving a lure and you see a quick stutter in line tension, set the hook!

A large fish splashes furiously as it breaks the surface attached to a fishing lure.

5) Drop the Tip

When fishing baits that require you to twitch them for a retrieve, such as plastics, or most top water, keep your tip low. These baits are popular because when most fish hit them, they hit fast and hard. You’re going to need a good solid hook set to take up any slack and drive the business end of the hook home.

6) You Set the Hook, Now Keep Your Line Tight

Nothing will so much ensure you’re going to lose a fish than giving it the opportunity to shake your lure. Those head shakes we all love so much? That’s the fish trying to get free. Give them any slack at all and you’re almost sure to lose them. Keep pressure on the fish with the rod and the reel. Always keep enough tension on the reel that allows you to gain line, should the fish make a run toward you.

Tim Moore holds up a large fish on the side of his fishing kayak.


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