Just because the bass pros look like they’re jumping across the boat to set a hook doesn’t mean you should, too. Throwing your weight around in a kayak is not only less effective, it’s also a good way to end up flipping the boat. Instead, learn how to set a hook the right way and you’ll start catching like a pro. A pro kayak angler that is—not a bass pro.

Tim Moore, the owner/guide of TimMooreOutdoors.com, producer of Tim Moore Outdoors TV and a Johnson Outdoors pro staffer, talked with Kayak Angler web editor Ben Duchesney about how to make sure your hook set is up to par for catching trophies.

6 Tips to Set Your Hook Like a Pro

Setting a hook is the motion of pulling back on the fishing rod in order to secure the hook in the fish’s mouth. If you lose fish because of an improper hook set it is most likely a result of poor technique and not power. Try these expert tips to refine your hook set.

1 Stop the Bassmaster Hook Set

Yes, I want to repeat this. Like everything else, there is a time and a place to use the “bass pro” hook set. (When you’re using a big hook, after several spit hooks, or to impress a girl.) Often the wind-up to this big league swing gives fish the time they need—less than a second—to spit the hook. If you have to get a running start you’re just making it easy for them.

man shows how to set a hook while kayak fishing
Reeling in a fish with a dangerously bent rod, but a solid hook set. | Feature photo: Ben Duchesney

Instead of a giant, powerful hook set try focusing on reaction time. Move your rod backward as quickly as possible after you feel a strike. Don’t move the rod as fast and as hard as you can, but try to start the backward movement 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 extended you lose power and you’ll end up losing fish.

2 Get Rid of That Slack

No matter what kind of lure you’re fishing—finesse bait, soft plastic, jig or spinnerbait—a slack in the line is going to weaken your hook set. Don’t try to lift that rod back with slack in the line. Turn the reel handle to get rid of that slack without moving the lure toward you in any way and you will 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 mood of the fish. The faster the hook set the better when the fish are biting aggressively, usually around spawning periods or in warmer months. If the fish are biting softly, acting passively or just barely nibbling, wait until you feel the fish actually has the bait and isn’t just playing around. 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 go cross-eyed at your godly prowess, but if that hook isn’t sharp there is still a chance it will be spit right out.

Not sure how sharp your hooks are? Give yourself a manicure. Take your hook point and drag it across your thumbnail. You should be good to go if it cuts into your nail and creates a white line. 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 become duller than new hooks over time, so switch them out when a good sharpening still doesn’t do the trick.

4 Watch Like a Hawk

It’s easy to get distracted while you retrieve a lure, especially a lure you fish all the time. But watching the scenery, boat traffic or your fish finder can cost you dearly. 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. When you retrieve a lure and you see a quick stutter in line tension—set the hook!

5 Drop Your Rod Tip

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

6 Maintain Tension

Nothing will ensure that you lose a fish faster 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 if the fish makes a run toward you.

Reeling in a fish with a dangerously bent rod, but a solid hook set. | Feature photo: Ben Duchesney



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